Release Date: June 24, 2016Platform: Wii UDeveloper: AtlusPublisher: NintendoGenre: JRPG
When JRPG fans think of a Shin Megami Tensei: Persona crossover, Fire Emblem usually isn’t the first game to come to mind. The two series certainly feel worlds apart—Fire Emblem is based in a magical fantasy setting, whereas Persona largely follows high school students dealing with a demonic infestation from an alternate dimension. While both series remain wildly popular in the West, it’s rare to find the two franchises mentioned in the same sentence.
Truth be told, even after playing through Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Nintendo and Atlus’ crossover still seems like quite the novel idea. Developed by Atlus and Intelligent Systems, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the brainchild of Nintendo producer Kaori Ando. After a five year production cycle, the game was released in Japan in December 2015, with a localized version published six months later.
The story follows Itsuki Aoi and his friends Tsubasa Oribe and Toma Akagi, three Japanese high school students fighting against otherworldly Mirages invading Tokyo from the Idolasphere. In order to protect the world from the evil segment of the Mirage population, Itsuki, Tsubasa, and Toma partner with the Fortuna Entertainment idol company and become Mirage Masters. Each character receives their own Mirage—who proceeds to transform into a weapon for their Master’s use. Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ references to Fire Emblem come into play here, with Fire Emblem: Awakening‘s Chrom and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light‘s Caeda and Cain serving as Itsuki, Tsubasa, and Toma’s Mirages, respectively.
The crossover premise behind Tokyo Mirage Sessions can be a little confusing at first. Particularly, Chrom, Caeda, and Cain are namedropped immediately without much background given regarding their roles in Fire Emblem. For a game that largely draws on the Persona series, this can be confusing for Shin Megami Tensei fans unfamiliar with the Nintendo franchise. That said, the two series are fused together quite cleanly. Itsuki, Tsubasa, and Toma feel like characters straight out of Persona—they’re funny, well-written young adults with their own personal demons to overcome. Likewise, the Fire Emblem crossover characters look gorgeous on the Wii U, and the weaponry they provide for the main cast feels straight out of the series. While it helps to be familiar with both series, even newcomers to both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem will quickly feel at home in the game’s setting.
Gameplay itself largely draws on the Persona series. The story alternates between cutscenes and visual novel-esque dialogue moments where Itsuki speaks face-to-face with his fellow characters. Combat relies on two stages: dungeon roaming and turn-based RPG battles. All dungeon segments end with a boss battle against a powerful Mirage, with dialogue segments reminiscent of the Shadow battles in Persona 4.
During battle, players can choose from various skills and items to enact on their enemies (or aid their friends) while attempting to find an opponent’s weakness. Many of these names— such as Cleave and Skewer—are drawn straight from Persona. The game also uses a timeline feature to initiate individual character turns during combat, which mixes up the battle dynamic, and requires the player to prepare their party’s defenses in advance between enemy attacks and abilities.
By far, the most interesting combat feature in Tokyo Mirage Sessions is its Session Attacks. Session Attacks allow characters to perform combo attacks together without using another character’s turn. By using skills that exploit an opponent’s weakness, these attacks can rip away at even the heaviest enemy’s health. Not to mention, each character’s moveset is incredibly entertaining to watch, with Session Attacks bringing out the kind of fluid battle animations that so many JRPG fans have come to love. Landing a three-person combo against a major boss feels rewarding in a way that makes the game’s tactical planning enjoyable and exciting.
That said, it’s important to stress that Tokyo Mirage Sessions is first and foremost a Shim Megami Tensei game, not a Fire Emblem game. As Famitsu originally pointed out, Fire Emblem elements are largely added peripherally into the world. The game’s combat system plays and feels like Persona, down to the combat system and character design of the high school protagonists. While this isn’t necessarily a problem for Shin Megami Tensei fans, the game feels more like a nod to Fire Emblem’s world, rather than a full blown crossover with shared gameplay elements. This may leave Fire Emblem fans disappointed, especially for a game published on Nintendo’s home console.
That certainly isn’t Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ only issue. Tokyo Mirage Sessions also significantly draws idol culture for its story and setting. Human “performa”—or the ability for humans to naturally perform and entertain—is the main drive that Mirages feed off of, leading to the evil Mirage’s invasion. Music plays a large role, too, as Tsubasa trains to become a nationally-renowned idol, a young Vocaloid-inspired Mirage named Tiki performs Unity power-ups for the player, and chapter cutscenes feature idol music produced by Japanese pop label Avex Group. While the game handles the presentation of idol work with the complexities expected of a Persona game—in some cases, even discussing the severe anxiety and pressure that comes with stardom—it’s certainly not a setting that will appeal to every fan.
Of course, don’t discount Tokyo Mirage Session for these few issues. The game’s world is clever, and its combat mechanics are particularly well thought-out. Dialogue is localized quite well, with Japanese vocals left intact as the default (and sole) option. The “Topic” contact feature is particularly unique as well. Characters can reach the player through an in-game text messaging system, which feels exactly like the iPhone’s iMessage UI format. Each character even has profile statuses, and, in Tsubasa’s case, localized emoticons for in-game texting. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a game that has a lot of care put into its creation, and it certainly can be felt throughout the world.
Overall, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an excellent crossover title. The game handles its Shin Megami Tensei elements quite well, while finding a fair amount of room to reference Fire Emblem’s characters, setting, and design style. Granted, it’s definitely a Persona game first, with Fire Emblem largely interweaved within the story. If you’re expecting primarily the latter, you might be disappointed in the focus on the former. But for the rest of us, it’s an excellent Wii U JRPG to usher in the summer. Now, let’s hope the wait for Persona 5 next February is a little easier thanks to Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
Ana Valens is a freelance contributor.