Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

"Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is so much more than "idol Fire Emblem." It's a solid JRPG that can hold its own among some of the best out there."

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In the three and a half years since the original Wii U release, I don't know if I've played a game that I've loved as much as Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. I mean sure, I loved playing games like Persona 5, NieR: Automata, Breath of the Wild, etc., but I'm talking TRUE love here. A game that I loved from the bottom of my heart, supported by buying multiple copies (giving out said copies so others could experience it) considered speedruning, and would advocate for at every opportunity. Perhaps you've seen my passion for this game shine in a couple of our recent features (Switch ports, 2020 MA Games) and my stream on our Twitch channel last year, so imagine my excitement when I heard that it would finally be coming to Switch. In the interest of an unbiased review for this new version, though, time to take off the rose-tinted glasses, and take a good look at Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore.

Five years before the start of the game, during an opera performance featuring lots of star talent, the entire cast and audience suddenly disappeared with the exception of Tsubasa Oribe. In the present day, Tsubasa is auditioning to be an idol herself when the audition is taken over by evil beings known as Mirages. After her friend Itsuki rescues Tsubasa from the Mirages, they pair up with Chrom and Caeda, two Mirages that end up on their side. The two friends have now become Mirage Masters, and they are recruited by the production company Fortuna Entertainment to assist with studying the Mirage attacks.

While they set up a premise of investigating the Mirage attacks, that is only a small part of the overall story. A lot of what happens in the middle chapters is usually heavily character driven instead. For example, many early dungeons present Tsubasa with a challenge to overcome, and only through her self-discovery and improvement as an idol can the story progress. The Mirage attacks are only used as a major background of Tokyo Mirage Sessions' story until the later half of the game. The second half is more or less a re-telling of the first Fire Emblem's story (Shadow Dragon). The two halves of the story feel disconnected from each other; it's almost like playing two separate stories, and the early story is lacking a strong hook.

The story ends up carried along by its strong cast of characters, most of whom are a blast to hang out with. I enjoy the way they play off each other, which creates a great, friendly atmosphere. Tsubasa delights as the bright and bubbly airhead who goes from having no real confidence in herself to being the true idol she always dreamed of becoming. In many ways, I think of her as the true protagonist of this game. Kiria is the cool and aloof idol that has to deal with inner conflict: trying to find her identity and how she wants to present herself to the world. Touma is the group's supportive best friend that wishes to become an actor in his favourite sentai show. The cast that joins in later has their own individual personalities and aspirations to become the best in their respective fields.

Speaking of Tsubasa and Kiria, the two of them are the focus of this game's new content, labeled the EX Story. It's easy to see how fans of the original might demand more content with Tsubasa and Kiria together. At the start of the game, Tsubasa idolizes Kiria to the point of being an obsessed fangirl. Only Kiria's third side story focuses on two of them actively working together without the main story. The EX addition looks at Tsubasa and Kiria's relationship and how they interact to make each other better. Their respective side stories are also the most rewarding in the game.

This is an Atlus game, so it wouldn't be right if it didn't have a great battle system. Picking on enemy weaknesses is a staple of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games, and that remains consistent here. Typically, hitting an enemy weakness gives the attacker an extra turn. However, in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, weaknesses trigger Session attacks, which cause the other party members to jump in for an attack if they have the corresponding ability to do so. For example, if you trigger a weakness to electricity, a character that has a Session skill triggered by electricity will attack with say, a wind skill. Another character will then attack if they have a Session skill that relates to wind, and so on. Enemies can perform sessions as well, which usually result in a character losing at least two thirds of their HP, if not all of their health even on Normal. This battle system rewards careful choice of which enemy to attack and how to win as quickly and efficiently as possible. As someone who also played the original Wii U version, I feel the AI is improved, and enemies will now attack your weaknesses more often. I welcome the increased difficulty, especially on Normal where the game became fairly easy after the first dungeon.

Weapons, or Carnage as the game calls them, are the way to gain new skills. Each weapon comes with four skills that are broken up into active commands, passive skills, and session skills. Commands are your actions in battle, passives grant you extra bonuses, and sessions skills allow you to session with that particular ability. You get the ability to make Carnage through enemy drops, which incentivizes you to kill almost enemy Mirage you encounter not only for the experience, but to get cool new weapons to use in battle and new skills.

The thing that I love about this battle system is the way it evolves. Later on in the game, characters that are on the sidelines will be able to join in, and even some of the NPCs that you meet along the way will join in thanks to the new EX chapters. Ad-lib Performances will trigger randomly, allowing for an AoE attack and a full session whether the enemy can null the attack or not; Duo Arts can extend the combos to ridiculous numbers. Every character can learn a multitude of skills with many different effects in battle. Tsubasa and Eleonora can gain skills that allow for full sessions if an enemy has a status condition; Mamori can take attacks for teammates and even guard while doing so, preventing enemy session attacks, etc. New elements are introduced throughout the game, which adds to the enjoyment of the battle system. Grinding never feels like too much of an issue, as watching your party coming in to decimate multiple enemies in a turn never fails to be satisfying.

A lot of the technical issues I had with the original Tokyo Mirage Sessions have been fixed in Encore. Long loading screens plagued the original game from top to bottom, so much so that I planned out exactly what I wanted to do in any given area (or even put off certain things) to avoid sitting through another loading screen. The frame rate would occasionally drop even in regular combat, and adding on some of the flashy special skills in the game, it would drop to comically low levels. It was most noticeable during the skills that use songs, since the visuals would lag behind the song due to the frame rate drop. Session attacks, while never boring to watch, would slow down combat in the later half of the game when the combos reached pro fighting game numbers. All of these have been addressed in Encore, and the game now runs smoothly across the board. One thing I do miss from the Wii U version is its Gamepad integration, believe it or not. The Gamepad served as your map in dungeons, dedicated use of reading your characters' text messages without interrupting gameplay, and displayed enemy stats on the fly. Now all of that is done through the use of extra buttons, which doesn't flow as well with gameplay.

>Nintendo contacted Avex Group to come up with the soundtrack for the game, and Avex Group went to Yoshiaki Fujisawa, the composer behind the Love Live! Series — the music anime series that took Japan by storm. The background music across the board is fairly solid, but the highlight of course, is the songs. I know the idol theme is a point of contention for some people, but the songs are easily one of the highlights of the game. They're all incredibly catchy, and their accompanying music videos almost never fail to get my body moving to the music. Kiria, portrayed by Yoshino Nanjo, is a singer with a powerful voice so she performs more of the 'cool' songs in the game. Tsubasa takes on the light and fluffy songs, usually songs about romance. Mamori even sings some modern enka.

The team sought out voice actors that could both act and sing well in order to keep the performances consistent. In a pleasant coincidence, Avex Group picked up mostly up-and-coming talent for the main cast back in 2015, and most of these voice actors have grown into genuine stars in their own right. Stand-out performances include Inori Minase as Tsubasa, Yuki Ono as Touma, and Yoshino Nanjo as Kiria. Some characters shine less for me, namely Yuuichi Nakamura as Barry and Kaori Fukuhara as Mamori, but that's possibly due at least in part to the writing and their general trajectory in the game's plot. As with the original release, there is no English dub. I personally think having an English dub for this game would be awkward, due to its heavy emphasis on Japanese idol culture.

I don't think I can review Tokyo Mirage Sessions without discussing the issue regarding changes to the original Western version, and now the worldwide Switch release. It's been a topic of conversation around this title ever since the changes were first discovered, and people to this day will cite it as the main reason they won't play the game. Some of its DLC, particularly the hot springs DLC, was removed and some costumes were altered or changed altogether. The biggest change was in Chapter 2, where the localization team removed all references to Japanese gravure idol modelling, likely changing it because of its heavy emphasis on sex appeal. The chapter instead focuses on general modelling.

I don't want to go into a super long discussion on this topic, but know I am personally opposed to censorship in any form, including implementing these changes. Aside from the changes to Chapter 2, it doesn't affect that much. The core of the game is still the same and it has not affected my score.

The Switch release also includes all of the original DLC (except the aforementioned hot springs episode), and this comes with a note. The DLC contains dungeons where you can get Skill Books and Tomes, items used to increase Carnage mastery and experience, and the note explicitly warns against using these dungeons to break the game (which is easy to do). A lot of the enjoyment of this game comes from its great battles, so I would also advise using these dungeons too much as well. It does help to have them if you're truly stuck, especially on higher difficulties where it saves hours of grinding, but everything in moderation.

I'll admit my fourth playthrough of this game made progress a little bit slower than I would have liked. Still, it was a joy to return to it again with its new features. Tokyo Mirage Sessions was, in my opinion, the most underrated JRPG of the 2010s. If you like JRPGs, please play this game for the love of everything that is holy. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is so much more than "idol Fire Emblem." It's a solid JRPG that can hold its own among some of the best out there. Now that it's finally on Switch, I'm hoping it will succeed and people can see what they likely missed out on four years ago.



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