Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem.
There’s something so enjoyable about diving into a game that is unabashedly Japanese. I’ve both played and reviewed some games from the country before, and while some of them hit on everything vaguely anime but were still uninteresting, none of them put a smile on my face quite like Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.
Billed as a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, TMS follows a group of teenaged popstar hopefuls who use their inner performing talent to defeat evil beings (known as Mirages) from another dimension hell-bent on turning the entire population of Tokyo into depressed, talentless, grey silhouettes. [Sounds like an everyday episode of Sailor Moon. ~Ed. Nick Tan]
After a haphazard encounter with one of these talent-sucking demons, you and your friends are recruited by a local talent agency, which doubles as a Mirage-fighting corporation. Basically, this is the Ghostbusters we deserve... but will never actually get.
You just don’t find this level of ridiculousness in American games. Every mainstream title is focused on being gritty and realistic (essentially copying the new Tomb Raider four times over), whereas TMS and its ilk never forget to be video games and fun ones at that.
Unfortunately, though, getting the bad out of the way first, it can take a long time to get to the fun. TMS is not short on cutscenes and encounters with heavy dialogue. So while I’m tempted to praise the game for its impressive length (it takes about six hours to get through the first chapter), I have to wonder how much of that playtime is sucked up by clicking through text boxes.
If you’re immediately interested in this story or otherwise captivated by anime, this won’t really be a problem, but I can see how these segments could lose people who just want to indulge in a turn-based JRPG without too much interference. That being said, once you break through this first segment of near-non-stop talking, you will be rewarded with near non-stop action.
For those of you expecting a smooth blend of TMS’ inspirations, you’ll soon find out this is much more of a Shin Megami Tensei game filled with Fire Emblem characters and references. Think Street Fighter X Tekken. As TMS is developed by Atlus, the studio behind Shin Megami Tensei, this shouldn’t be too surprising.
The point is, you’ll be playing a character traversing large dungeons and encountering mirages to battle in turn-based RPG combat—no tactically moving units around on a grid or anything like that. While some of the framework for how different combat moves interact with one another is taken from Fire Emblem, it will still feel like Shin Megami Tensei.
TMS does borrow Fire Emblem’s stat system, including its random stat-growth system: every time a character gains a level, they’ll get a random number of their stats increased by a random amount. While this may take away the freedom to build your characters how you want, it’s actually an enjoyable experience. Each level up is like opening a pack of trading cards, replicating the disappointment when you don’t get what you wanted, but also the sheer excitement when you pull that one rare for which you’ve been searching high and low.
This system might even be better-fit in a Shin Megami Tensei-style game. I find the stat gains to be the least interesting part of turn-based JRPGs, so I was fully willing to hand over the reins to RNGesus. The only thing I could really say against this is that it may hinder replayability.
Probably the best original aspect TMS brings to the table is in its session attacks. Given that we’ve already gone over the Tokyo and Mirage aspects, I’m led to believe that this title is simply three words that pertain to the game smashed together, rather than actually being a session of mirages in Tokyo, but I digress.
Almost every enemy will have a type of attack against which they are weak. Striking an enemy with such an attack will prompt one of your other party members to do a quick follow-up attack, sort of hitting them while they’re down, so long as they have an eligible chain attack. This attack can be further chained by your third party member depending on their skillset.
Once you unlock the ability to chain onto other enemies in the case of an overkill, the strategy of the game is ripped wide open. No longer are you just attacking the weakest enemy to thin their ranks, because now you can potentially kill multiple enemies in one fell swoop if you line up your chains correctly. Not only is this effective, it’s viscerally satisfying, and I found myself cheering at the screen when things went my way.
While this game has already released in Japan, it fizzled out for reasons I don’t understand. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE seems to be mostly faithful to both wildly popular games from which it draws inspiration. Hopefully it will find a second wind and catch on in NA and EU, as I’ve stumbled upon quite the treat with Tokyo Mirage Sessions.