About how idols are all bubbly on the inside and not actually dark depressive tools.
So whilst we’re waiting for Persona 5 to give me the best Valentines’ Day I’ve ever had in my pathetic wretched life, let’s look at the other Shin Megami Tensei anime game that recently came out on the Wii U aka the tragic Nintendo offspring that’s struggling with its last breath to bring us entertainment before its younger brother inevitably crushes it in every conceivable manner apart from maybe affordability. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. The long-awaited collaboration between Fire Emblem and SMT that sounded like a fucking awful idea on paper and according to Amazon Japan was a fucking awful idea to play as well. But apparently Amazon Japan is run by a community more poisonous than IMDB because Mirage Sessions’ critical reviews in the US were actually pretty decent upon release. Okay, the story and characters were apparently tripe on a bike and my interest in idols is about as large as my interest in black hole theories, but the gameplay was reportedly a load of fun and we all know how much of a fanboy I am for refined Persona-esque gameplay, especially on a machine that I haven’t been getting much use out of these days. And incidentally, yes I am planning to play the new Zelda game on the Wii U bar I hear some really bad things about its overall quality. You can release all the news regarding its hardware specs you want, but a console is ultimately defined by its games and when one of the few announced upcoming selections is Sonic the Hedgehog, that doesn’t really bode well for anyone’s future.
But let’s focus on the actual game. The story is focused on (what else?) a bunch of teenagers fighting monsters culminating in them fighting the devil by the end, except in this game the teenagers are idols and the devil is a Fire Emblem dragon. You play as Itsuki Aoi, generic male protagonist #53422 and (surprisingly) not-silent protagonist who’s roped into the workings of a demon-hunting unit masquerading as an idol company when his childhood friend, Tsubasa Oribe, tries to make it as an idol in order to find her long-lost older sister and ends up getting taken to another dimension called the Idolosphere as a result. Whilst exploring this strange world, the two end up meeting characters from the handheld Fire Emblem games that came out after I stopped keeping up with the franchise and merging with them in a sort of “Persona meets Power Rangers“-esque manner in order to fight the monsters that steal people’s inner-self known as Performa in order to grow stronger. Dubbed as “Mirage Masters” by the demon-hunting idol company, the two team up with other Fire Emblem-users from their mutual friend, Touma, to the biracial Hollywood dreamer, Eleanora, in order to resolve incidents revolving around demons messing with Tokyo’s pop culture scene, culminating in the usual JRPG final climax that I won’t spoil but you’ll definitely see coming by the end of the third chapter.
First let me get out of the way that I love the gameplay for this thing. As a fan of both Persona 3 and 4, it’s neat to see the “dungeon crawling by running around with a sword in your hand and swinging it at bad guys in order to get the upper hand at the start of the turn-based battles” method of gameplay return to a current-gen console; and like all Shin Megami Tensei games, the best strategy in regards to defeating your opponents is to exploit their weaknesses. When you do, the characters band together in order to perform multiple attacks on the enemy called “sessions” and steal items from them when the consecutive attacks surpass the number three. Said items can be used to craft new weapons and skills that will allow you to hit harder, gain new attacks, and increase the amount of characters that can participate in a “session”. And since party members can only gain experience when they’re participating in battle and there are seven party members with a “three-fighter limit” during battle (including Itsuki, who always has to fight), you’ll want to gain these skills quite fast if you want to take down the bosses, which in also keeping with standard SMT tradition, are harder to take down than a brick wall when armed with only a shovel.
Yeah, this is a game where you’re going to need to grind a lot in order to gain the advantage, and even when you do, you’re going to need to exploit weaknesses to even have a fighting chance of getting through each level. Thankfully, if you’ve ever played a Fire Emblem game, you’ll now that flying units are weak against bows and wind whilst knight types with lances are weak against swords and certain magic, so it shouldn’t take too much intuition to exploit them. Of course, the bosses for the most part are a big swing-and-a-miss regarding what they hate, and it doesn’t help that the later ones change their weaknesses/resistances in the middle of the fight. Not to mention, these enemies can exploit your weaknesses as well, and chances are they’re going to attack first because a good chunk of your heavy hitters gain speed slower than Hideo Kojima gains self-awareness regarding what he’s doing. So make sure you remember to plan your attacks strategically, less you want to end up with the twenty game overs I got before beating the thing.
But it’s not all about fighting to get stronger in Mirage Sessions. Oh no, it’s strongly recommended that you also take on party member side quests where Itsuki gets to know his fellow employees/fighting companions/love interests because they learn new special moves in doing so, including team-up attacks that trigger randomly in battle and will always ALWAYS help you out when in a tight spot. Of course, in order to undertake a side quest, said party member needs to participate in sessions a minimal number of times and you need to progress quite a bit into the story, so think of them as level-up bonuses that you’re going to need to go quite a ways from the main plot in order to achieve. Or alternatively, watered-down Social Links/improved Support Conversations that may or may not require you to fight a tough opponent.
Either way, they develop the characters and make you stronger with minimum fuss as long as you undertake them at the recommended level, so make sure you do them whenever they become available and constantly involve the entirety of your party in on your strategies whilst gaining the skills required to make that more bearable. Also make sure you realize you can skip the attack animations unless they’re part of a Session, because whilst they look awesome the first time, it doesn’t take long for the constant candy-coated thirty-second attacks to become tiresome after a while.
Overall though, I like the core game on principle, so naturally I’d like Tokyo Mirage Sessions on the whole right? Well yes and no. The actual story that the gameplay carries is kinda meh, resembling something Kawamori would put out if he was on a few depressants. It never really says anything interesting about the idol business besides it being hard work, and the few horror elements in the story that introduces an actually interesting edge to that shit aren’t constant enough to make the journey anymore than a light-hearted time with light-hearted characters experiencing light-hearted problems. Basically, the only reason I have any interest in Mirage Sessions’ plot at all is because I’m playing it. If this had been an actual anime, I’d probably react to it the same way I react to the new Macross aka with a resounding “I forgot what I watched. Did the male lead have a dead dad or something?”
Which isn’t inherently a bad thing. A lot of video games’ plots are rather silly when you take away the interactive element. Fire Emblem itself hasn’t had a good story since Path of Radiance on the Gamecube, but it’s grown in popularity within the community in inverse proportion to that quality for a reason. A really shitty reason, but a reason nevertheless. And speaking of Fire Emblem, I’m pretty sure most of you have noticed from my description of the gameplay that most of its contribution to this crossover is entirely aesthetical. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is basically a Persona game where Fire Emblem guest-stars as the monsters doing all the fighting, and when you see Chrom in this game, you’re going to wonder what the hell Atlus did to him. In fact, you’ll mostly be wondering why this game has Fire Emblem characters at all throughout most of it, although without wishing to spoil anything, the final chapter does connect the main plot to the lore of that series (particularly Shadow Dragon) to the point that you can see Mirage Sessions as a sort of alternate universe/spiritual sequel to certain entries. Of course, at the end of the day, you need to like Shin Megami Tensei games to like Mirage Sessions because there’s not a hint of FE’s grid-based tactical strategy anywhere in this. Although there’s no perma-death, so depending on who you are, that’s either a relief or further reasons to complain.
However, one thing that’s true of both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei is that their main characters are generally interesting, and I can’t say that for the cast of this game. They all have stereotypical dreams, they don’t struggle too much to gain them, they don’t have too much importance in the main plot other than to be there, and because of the Wii U’s graphics limitations, they all look kind of ugly in 3D. This is a game that really could have used some Windwaker/Symphonia-like cell shading, because nothing ages faster than realistic graphics, and the graphics in Mirage Sessions look like Play-Dohs set on fire. One good example of a mismanaged character is Ayaka, Tsubasa’s sister. The whole reason Tsubasa wants to be an idol in the first place is to save Ayaka after she mysterious disappeared five years ago along with a bunch of other people. However, you save her really early on (thus eliminating Tsubasa’s reason to be in the main plot) and from there on out, she does nothing but give you random sidequests whilst having absolutely zero story presence. She doesn’t even bother to contact you on your touch screen, which makes me wonder why the creators even bothered to include her in the first place. They could have easily given Tsubasa another motivation to fight demons. Like maybe her dog disappeared. Hey, given the way Ayaka got treated in this game, there’d be no difference.
But at the end of the day, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is fun. It’s not a game I’d play more than once, but it was a good warm-up for Persona 5 and it gave me an opportunity to dust off that Wii U (and by the way, there’s absolutely zero chance it’s going to appear on another console) for one last hurrah, the same way Persona 4 gave one last hurrah to the PS2. It also reminded me how much I love Japanese games and that I should really start making time to play more of them. Of course, spending two hours writing almost 2000 words on a game doesn’t exactly help me on that front, but what I can do? Other than end this review right here, right now I mean?
- Incidentally, whoever designed the final boss to have two phases that are incredibly long to get through and have attacks that can wipe out 90% of your health in a single sneeze coupled with the ability to attack twice in one turn needs to go to his room and think about what he’s done.
- Maybe I’ll play Xenoblade Chronicles next.