Recently I wrote an article about my Top 5 Wii U games, which I posted on my blog a couple of weeks ago. While I still very much stand by my choices, in hindsight I think there’s one other game that’s at least deserving of an honourable mention. If only I’d actually played it by then! This isn’t a new game, but it is new to me… and I really wish I’d discovered this gem sooner.
Let’s be blunt about it. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a weird game. I mean, it’s pretty weird and wacky in terms of how it looks and how it plays anyway, but on a purely conceptual basis it’s just absolutely bonkers. At its core, the game is a crossover between Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei and Nintendo’s Fire Emblem– and it was announced exactly as that, many moons ago. Based on previous form, we were all expecting some sort of medieval style strategy game. So when the first trailer debuted and we saw it was a hyper-colourful RPG inspired by Japanese pop music and anime, fans were a little bit unsure what to expect. Two iconic franchises, and they somehow come up with this?!
Except, of course, this is one of those rare games that completely surprises you. I’ve never played an Atlus title before but at first glance this is actually more akin to their Persona series than either Shin Megami Tensei or Fire Emblem. In fact, the links to Fire Emblem in the early stages of the game seem tenuous at best. The story sees Tokyo falling under attack from evil ‘Mirages’, so it’s up to a band of ‘Mirage Masters’ to team up with spirit-like versions of Fire Emblem characters and take them on. There’s a small if decent mix of FE representation, from big names like Chrom and Tiki to lesser-knowns like Cain and Virion. But aside from that, and the influence of the weapon triangle in battles, that’s basically as far as it goes (until the end, but… spoilers!).
Instead, you’ll be getting very familiar with the cast of new faces. You eventually gather seven characters onto your party, and each essentially falls into a stereotype – the heroic leader, the shy beauty, the comic relief, the dark and broody rival… you get the idea. Together they form Fortuna Entertainment, which is literally an all-singing all-dancing crew of magical heroes, managed by an alcoholic ex-glamour model and trained by a wannabe rock star who’s obsessed with collecting pre-order bonuses. There’s a heavy emphasis on Japanese idol culture (to the extent that the entire audio dub is in Japanese with English subtitles), so if you’re not into that sort of thing you might want to give this game a miss. But, if you do enjoy (or can at least tolerate) copious amounts of anime and J-Pop, you’re in for a treat. The soundtrack is gloriously catchy and upbeat. I defy anyone not to want to dance along to the main vocal track, “Reincarnation”.
The campaign is split up into chapters that all follow the same basic formula: Mirages attack, you go to the scene and enter a trans-dimensional ‘Idolasphere’, hunt down the baddies, and beat them up. In between chapters though you’ll also get Intermissions, which gives you a chance to take on some of TMS#FE’s many side quests. These are completely optional, but in context they all feel pretty pivotal. Each mission focuses on individual party members, not only giving them a chance to grow as a character but also allowing you to build a stronger relationship with them. Plus, completing the side quests grants you access to some pretty sweet special moves and abilities, so you’re really missing out if you don’t give them a look.
So, that covers the Tokyo, Mirage, and even the #FE in the game’s title. What, then, are Sessions? Why, they’re the real draw of the game and a crucial part of the RPG battle system. Every battle takes place on a stage and Sessions kick in when you pull off super-fancy combos. If you hit an enemy with a super effective move (either based on elemental powers or Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle) and your party has a chance to jump in for an extra hit too if they have the relevant abilities. To begin with you’ll only be pulling off Sessions that reach 2 or 3 hits at most, but by the end of the game you’ll easily be getting the best part of 10-15 on a regular basis. It’s a really satisfying mechanic and yet another way of making you feel connected to each and every character on your team. No one feels useless and everyone has their part to play, which is more or less the entire message that the story tries to get across.
Outside of battles, there are thankfully no random encounters – enemies pop up sporadically in the field, but you’ve got the opportunity to strike them down with your sword, either letting you get a first strike or avoid them entirely. This is especially a blessing as the dungeons are easily the game’s weakest point. They’re not inherently bad and they do contain some interesting puzzles, but you’re forced to backtrack through the same four or five locations a lot. On one hand it makes it easy to memorise and get around (complete with fast-track teleporting), on the other hand it all gets a bit dull and repetitive after a while.
Conversely, one area where TMS#FE does feel particularly unique and innovative is in its use of the Wii U GamePad. As well as acting as a map in dungeons, it doubles as your character’s mobile phone. Throughout the game you’ll suddenly receive messages from your party and associates (yes, the controller even rumbles like a text alert!) – sometimes they’ll push the plot forwards, sometimes they’re just random chit-chat. Y’know, like normal texts. It’s a clever and effective inclusion in a game so rich in character interaction. The fact that the script is so madcap and witty doesn’t hurt either.
As a final bonus point, I just want to talk about the extras in the game’s special Fortissimo Edition. As well as a vocal sound selection CD featuring six of the game’s best tracks, you get a set of lyric cards, stickers, and a beautiful art book. There’s also a code to download all of the game’s DLC for free, and it really is a worthwhile addition if you’re serious about the experience. Even if just for the extra EXP dungeon which lets you level up in a flash, it’s definitely a good investment whichever version you buy.
All in all then, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a game I never thought I’d ever be interested in – but somehow ended up completely adoring it. I simply couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t stop until I’d seen everything and unlocked the true ending for my efforts. It’s the best RPG on the Wii U bar none, and the last truly great game on the system. If this is the last game I ever play on my Wii U before jumping ship to the Nintendo Switch, the console will certainly be bowing out with some wonderful memories.