When the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover was first teased in a 2013 Nintendo Direct, gamers had no idea what to expect. It then vanished into obscurity for two years before reappearing at E3 last year in the form of a game called Genei Ibunroku #FE, causing even more confusion.
Even after finishing the game, I’m still confused, but maybe that’s the point.
What Is It?
While Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE will most likely be remembered as the Wii U’s Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem crossover, from the standpoint of a JRPG veteran, it’s really just a modern Persona game without the day-and-night system.
#FE takes place in a semi-realistic version of Tokyo and puts you in the shoes of your standard RPG’s humble main character, Itsuki Aoi. When attending some anime knockoff of American Idol, you find out that your shy friend Tsubasa Oribe is actually competing in the contest in the hopes of finding her sister Ayaha, who mysteriously disappeared during one of her own vocal performances.
In a forced plot twist that isn’t much of a spoiler, Tsubasa gets abducted too, and we find out that both she and her sister got stuck in an alternate dimension called the Idolasphere and had her “performa” stolen, which resulted in her being in control of a “mirage”–or what they call the game’s Fire Emblem characters. Luckily for us, Itsuki finds out he’s a “mirage master,” and his mirage turns out to be none other than Chrom from Fire Emblem Awakening. With this, he’s able to fight alongside him, and it doesn’t take long before we find out others are part of the crusade too, with other popular Fire Emblem mirages in tow.
Your party enrolls in the Fortuna Talent Agency, where everybody can train as a performer as they investigate the happenings of the inductions happening in nearly every big stage performance in the game’s world.
At its core, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is really about figuring out what significance the Mirages have and what the Idolasphere is all about, all while being a J-Pop performer. That’s about as anime as it gets.
Why Should I Care?
While the game’s plot is utter insanity, it works for what the game is trying to accomplish. The setting in modern Tokyo with the busy streets of Shibuya and the intense high fashion in Harajuku really give the game a human and cultural feel, and all the fantasy stuff that animes like to portray are all had within the Idolasphere, which we’ll address in more detail a bit later.
Not unlike Disney Parks, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE treats itself like one huge performance. The game is divided into chapters with “intermissions” in between–yep, the game is really pushing that stage performance aspect. Completing a chapter typically involves plowing through new Idolasphere entrances that pop up within Tokyo. The first one is at the concert hall you start the game in, another one is at another concert venue, another pops up in Central City Shibuya, and so forth. Each of these Idolaspheres has a midboss and endboss, so that pretty much gives players the idea of the progress they’re making.
After each chapter is an intermission which allows you to do whatever you want to do. But aside from some character building with the game’s various sidequests, there isn’t much to do outside the dungeon, but they’re worth doing because of all the upgrades and experience you can get for battle.
The real world doesn’t offer much as far as exploration goes. Much like the rest of Shin Megami Tensei series, traveling to different destinations is limited to a map and menu, and to make matters worse, the loading screens are excessive. While they’re not excruciatingly long, an install pack similar to what Nintendo did with Xenoblade Chronicles X would’ve been nice, because as good as #FE looks, it’s not the extraordinary visual marvel that Xenoblade was.
That aside, the sidequests award you with experience as well as performa that you can use to build your Carnage and Radiant Unity. What are these? Carnage Unity equips your characters with weapons or magic that follows Fire Emblem‘s weapon and magic triangle–swords best axes, axes best lances, and lances best swords. Radiant Unity gives your characters different abilities in battle to chain up for devastating combos. As great as these are, they’re also a pain to get. In order to activate your unity, you have to go back to a room in your main base and talk to a character to have it done, which just tacts on time that it doesn’t really have to.
Tying everything together in the real world is your smartphone that actually serves as your main usage of the Wii U GamePad. You’ll receive texts from other characters informing you of what you should be doing, as well as when certain Unity powerups are available. I found this pretty clever, but it was also a bit confusing considering I usually play with my real phones within my arm’s length.
The bulk of your adventure will take place in a dungeon called the Idolasphere, which is pretty much #FE’s version of Tartarus. You’ll travel up from floor-to-floor solving puzzles both interesting and annoying, all while deciding whether or not you want to fight the monsters that appear. I’ll warn you here–you should definitely fight those monsters.
The battle system itself is where the game truly shines. The turn-based system marries Fire Emblem and Persona in such a way that everything just works. Using your knowledge of the weapons and magic triangle, whenever you hit an enemy’s weakpoint, it triggers a “session” where other members in your party get an extra attack that doesn’t use up EP, making battles both quick and satisfying. Of course, the boss battles will require a little more attention to detail, as they are significantly more challenging than standard battles.
While the battles aren’t randomly generated, the game does require a sort of painstaking amount of grinding for success. In my first playthrough of the first and second chapters, the Idolasphere’s endboss dominated me pretty bad, and this is after fighting every enemy that showed up on the screen beforehand. I had to grind up to level 15 and 25 respectively to really take have a fighting chance against bosses in the game, and it got frustrating primarily due to the fact that you can’t just start the fight over after dying. The game resets itself and you start from the last place you saved.
That being said, old-school RPG tropes are in effect here. You can save anytime you want, so save early, and save often. You’ll never know when you’ll get wiped out, especially if you run into a battle with a “savage” enemy typically seven or so levels higher than your party. Of course, if you’re used to Shin Megami Tensei’s unforgiving nature, this challenge isn’t exactly surprising.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The game really is a love note to Wii U owners that also happened to be anime lovers. It revolves around being a part of a singing, dancing, and modeling talent agency as front for solving dark mysteries involving medieval demons taking away the living charisma of other pop stars. As weird as it is, it’s still interesting, and that’s anime. To make the experience more authentic, the original Japanese voice acting has been kept intact, with the written dialog serving as our subtitles.
The wildly colorful visuals, unique 40-hour adventure, and superb battle system all outweigh #FE’s issues and make for a really dynamic Wii U experience. The callbacks to both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei are both extremely subtle, but they work and it would be tough to fault anybody for calling Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE a worthy entry in the Persona series and it’s another fantastic addition to any struggling Wii U library.