Video game review – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Atlus / Nintendo, 2016)

I approached Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE with an air of caution. I’m not someone who can recite hours of dialogue from the eighth season of Pok√©mon, nor can I name a single member of the group AKB48. But in terms of Japanese entertainment, I am certainly a dabbler. I like Studio Ghibli, read some manga, watch the odd anime series (Attack on Titan is a favourite), play video games that have good reviews.

With this in mind, I can confidently say that on a scale of 1 to 10 of how Japanese this game is, it’s over 9000. 

It’s part of the Fire Emblem series, hence the clumsily-included “#FE” in the title (though it could also stand for “Fortuna Entertainment”), though it apparently blends in elements of Shin Megami Tensei. I can’t comment on either of these, having never played anything from either series.

The jist of the story here is that the characters are all aspiring to become Japanese musicians and idols by being in tune with their Performa (a mystical force that allows people the pursue their dreams by being confident at performing). They can summon Mirages, which are creatures that help them perform or attack enemies. The action takes place in geeky Tokyo locations such as Shibuya and Harajuku. 

So, set in Tokyo. J-RPG. J-Pop. Geek culture. Mystical creatures. Journey of discovery for a group of relatable teenagers.

So far, so Japanese.

The thing that really saves Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is that underneath the facade – which will probably sell the game to the intended audience anyway – there is an excellent game to be discovered.

The Fire Emblem battle mechanics are pretty rewarding for those willing to get to grips with them. The battles get progressively difficult as your characters beef up, but they can become easy if you think about what you’re doing and use the right skills to tackle the right enemies. The key is using “sessions”, which involve stringing together powerful combo attacks to exploit your enemies’ weaknesses.

The story focusses on a young boy named Itsuki Aoi who becomes involved with the Fortuna Entertainment company, initially against his will. His classmate Tsubasa lacks his talent but makes up for it with enthusiasm to become an idol. Elsewhere there’s an aspiring actor named Touma, a famous idol named Kiria, successful actress Eleonara, celebrity chef Mamori. Essentially, a vast array of other characters, both real and mystical. We are treated to an overwhelming number of cut sequences that introduce us to them. 

The relationships between them are critical to the ongoing enjoyment, with a phone-based messaging service alerting us to their progressing storylines and the odd side-quest, bulking out the game from a simple JRPG to something a little more relatable. It’s almost like being in an interactive soap at times.

There are some negative points. The NPCs are almost always rendered as a silhouette rather than fully drawn, giving the real world areas a feeling of emptiness. This serves to undermine the effect of the Idolasphere, which is The Upside Down of Tokyo Mirage Sessions – we are forced to go in to this alternate dimension to rescue captured people from the demons and monsters that lurk there.

Some of the puzzles are needlessly convoluted. The worst moment is inside a building early in the game, where a selection of three mannequins can be chosen from to determine the configuration of a giant French maid torso to help you reach the correct floor inside a possessed department stall. It took a long time to complete not through difficulty but simply due to the time the animation took to play out when each configuration was input. It felt like a lazy attempt to increase the length of the game but really just derailed the pace for about 40 minutes.

Other than that, this is a robust game that will have given a great deal of enjoyment to those who picked it up in a time where the Wii U was drying up and no new games were being released. Destined to be a forgotten gem.