Review: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

The Wii U is something of a tragic tale isn’t it? Despite having a sizable library of quality games, it was nonetheless doomed to failure by a combination of poor marketing and a lack of essential features. This meant that many of its games went unplayed by the gaming masses and would likely remain so unless Nintendo decided to salvage them with a port to the Switch. Not every Wii U exclusive has received such a lifeline yet, but one could say that Nintendo has done a great job of prioritizing so far. In addition to their own first-party games, the publisher has also been reviving the more unique entries in the console’s library; games that never really got their chance to shine because of the Wii U’s failings. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is one such revival via Encore and it’s one JRPG fans will be able to get behind.

The basic plot of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore sees modern day Tokyo afflicted with an influx of ghastly Mirages; that is ghostly apparitions bent on stealing vital energy (specifically creativity) from their human victims. Most are unaware of what’s going on of course, so it’s up to a small group of high school students to drive the Mirages back using the power of the performing arts. Aiding them is an equally small group of friendly Mirages who turn out to be heroes from the Fire Emblem universe. What they’re doing there and why is unknown, but Chrom, Caeda, Tiki and the rest are more than prepared to help their young fight-off the enemy, get to the bottom of all this and maybe even make a career in show business while they’re at it. It’s a ludicrous plot to be sure, but one that proves to be highly entertaining nonetheless thanks to an endearing cast of characters and the unreality inherent to the entertainment industry. It’s all crazy, but that’s Hollywood (or Tokyo in this case), baby!

The show business backdrop isn’t just for, uh, show either. Tokyo Mirage Sesssions #FE Encore is thoroughly suffused with glitz, glamour and bubbly positivity. Tokyo is shown as an idealized version of itself: a bright city lit up with dazzling sunlight populated by happy NPCs and neon-colored silhouettes; the various dungeons (aka “Idolaspheres”) all feature darker palettes with neon highlights; battles take place on a pop-idol concert stage rather than a generic battlefield and they even start to resemble musical performances once characters start unlocking their more powerful abilities. This is all backed-up by a well-crafted and catchy soundtrack that never wears out its welcome.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore - Yashiro Concert Crowd
It’s kind of funny to think that this is what the first crossover between Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei turned into, but one cannot deny that both games are present in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. In terms of structure, this is very much a Shin Megami Tensei-inspired game. Players split their time between talking with the other main characters, completing side-quests in the normal world and fighting Mirages in the “Illusory” dungeons that crop-up over the course of the game; its influence is also seen in combat through the matching magical elements.  Fire Emblem’s influence is here too, though only through the guest characters like Chrom and the weapon triangle that’s been baked-into the combat system. JRPG fans will likely feel that each portion of the gameplay is equally balanced with the rest, but players new to JRPGs might find it to be a bit too heavy on the dialogue. Even if that is the case, though, the combat system should more than make up for it.

Combat in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a turn-based system that’s simple enough for beginners to grasp but also complex enough to keep established JRPG fans entertained. The standard “attack,” “defend,” “item,” “escape” and “switch” commands are all there, but most battles are won and lost with what’s found under the “skills” command. These are the attacks that trigger the unique “sessions” mechanic, which allows other members of the party contribute to long chains of attacks. As long as the enemy is weak to a given skill, then a “session” will begin and continue until every member of the party has had a chance to attack.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore - Battle
These are the player’s primary means of dealing damage in combat, making them priority one when time comes to decide how best to build one characters. This system starts off slow and unimpressive at the outset, but becomes more and more entertaining as players level-up their characters, improve their weapons and acquire new skills. It really is a proper spectacle by the end of the game, especially if one takes their time when figuring out each character’s role and build. Even so, it does take time to get to that point, and one tired of seeing the same animations play out over and over again in the original. Fortunately, Atlus and Intelligent Systems took the time to make a few adjustments and additions for the game’s Switch debut.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore’s ensemble of enhancements range from subtle quality of life updates to a small helping of new content, all of which is very much appreciated. The first change players will encounter is a prompt asking if they want Tsubasa Oribe, a female party member, to wear glasses or not. This has no impact on anything whatsoever, existing as a purely cosmetic option. It’s an odd thing to include as part of the settings, but it’s not hurting anything so no big deal either way.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore - Topic Screen
More noticeable (and useful) are the changes to the map and the “Topic” device carried by main character Aoi Itsuki. Both of these functions were originally handled by the Wii U gamepad, but gone now so both have been relocated to a new pause menu. All one has to do is hit the + button to see all of Itsuki’s ongoing text conversations and the maps for all the areas he’s discovered so far. The game also features a mini-map now, which is extremely convenient in comparison to relying solely on the gamepad; no more having to constantly switch between chats and the map in order to see where one is going! This isn’t all that’s been added, though.

It’s not until the second dungeon that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore starts introducing new content. It all starts with the DLC Idolaspheres. These were add-ons for the Wii U version in which players could grind for extra experience, money and stat-enhancement items. Using them is helpful, but it would be best to do so sparingly, as one can easily over-level themselves and turn the combat into boring busywork. The actual new content doesn’t hit until after the third dungeon and is focused on giving players extra costumes, music and fleshing-out the main characters a bit more. This “EX Story” runs parallel to the main story and unfolds as Itsuki and crew make their way through the new “Area of Aspiration” Idolasphere. One can also unlock jump-in attacks for non-party members like Tiki, Maiko and Barry, something that makes the already entertaining session attacks that much more so.

Tokoy Mirage Sessions #FE Encore - Area of Aspiration
Closing Comments:

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the definitive version of a JRPG that was already quite enjoyable. The new features, content and high-definition visuals aren’t quite enough to make it feel like a brand new game all over again, but they do go a long way towards enhancing what was already there. Its story is easy to get into for those who allow themselves to go along for the ride; the main characters are a likable bunch and its generally positive atmosphere and bright presentation is even infectious at times.  The combat takes a bit to come into its own, but becomes a real spectacle once it does. Some might find that slowness and the large amount of dialogue to be annoying, but the game’s inherent positivity and silliness will likely still be enough to make it an overall fun experience.