[Review] Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore – Nintendo Switch

Written by Thomas Haroldsen
  • Developer: Atlus
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 17/01/20
  • Price: $59.99 / £49.99
  • Review code provided by Nintendo UK

Intro

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore was a bit of a conundrum to me when I saw the first footage of it during the September 2019 Nintendo Direct. At first glance I assumed it was a rhythm game. When I later heard it was a JRPG I figured it was a hybrid of the two genres. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Though rhythm, music and dance are the backbone of the story it was assuredly not a rhythm game. If like me you missed out on Tokyo Mirage Sessions the first time around, then read on for my review of this hopping JRPG.

It’s Show Time!

As I pointed out above, music heavily influences the story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions. The game opens with a stunning cinematic sequence where a young girl is enjoying a concert. Without quite realizing what’s going on, the main singer disappears. The vanishing act wasn’t a solo performance however. Soon everyone in the concert hall fades away until miraculously the young girl remains. Fast forward five years into the future and we learn that Tsubasa was the sole survivor of the famed incident and the singer who mysteriously disappeared was her sister. Now Tsubasa is attempting to break into the Idol scene in Japan to try and learn what befell her beloved sibling.

It isn’t long before evil strikes and Tsubasa is abducted into an otherworldly portal. Taking charge as the main protagonist, Itsuki Aoi, you dive headlong into the portal to save your friend. Ill equipped, Itsuki stumbles around a foreign labyrinth and runs from ghastly pursuers. As the story unravels, the main cast soon learn they have a knack for controlling certain spirits as Mirage Masters. These beings, despite varied appearances, will be familiar to fans of the Fire Emblem series. Hence the #FE in the game’s title.

The narrative isn’t unique in and of itself. Where the story shines is in its presentation. To fight these interdimensional fiends, you are recruited by a talent agency who thrust Tsubasa into the limelight as an idol. Everything in Tokyo Mirage Sessions focuses on the character’s journey to stardom with concerts, modeling shoots and television shows providing a colorful backdrop. Not only do our heroines and heroes have to overcome evil entities, they face challenges we can all relate to. Shyness, feelings of inadequacy, and hiding your true self are just a few issues individual teammates face. Fortunately they don’t have to face them alone, as Tokyo Mirage Sessions fosters a strong friendship between the team.

True to any good tale, there is a strong sense of character growth. You watch as each member of the agency become more than they once were. Early in the game Tsubasa is accosted by an evil which requires her to summon all her inner strength and boldly sing to break an enchantment. At first this was a sore point for me since the cutscene reverts to the main heroine singing, “La, la, la, la.” Over and over she sings a song devoid of lyrics. I couldn’t believe a game with such a strong focus on music wouldn’t use a real song. As we learn more about this girl who experienced a traumatic event five years prior, it’s clear she lacked confidence to open up her vocals and immerse the scene with her full potential. During the course of events that follow, Tsubasa learns to shake her fears and embrace her talents. It was nice to see her later performances and know she was more than just a hum.

There’s No Business…

When it comes to turn-based combat systems in role playing games, it can be easy to fall into the trappings of the past and offer up a stale experience. Just as the story is set in present times the combat is modernized to infuse vibrant colors, flashy combos, and exciting strategy into each battle. I haven’t had this much fun with a turn-based combat system in a long time. In Tokyo Mirage Sessions, you enter into battle with three active party members. Each enemy has a set of strengths and weaknesses. If you use a move which they are resilient to, it will result in a bad outcome, often negating the attack or even reversing it back to the attacker. However, find their weakness and you can chain combo attacks from your kindred fighters. This eventually goes beyond the three main combatants and can include the teammates on the sidelines.

If you’re not careful, enemies have the same ability to chain attacks against your team. Minor monsters can quickly KO your most stalwart defender. Since managing your team’s deficiencies is crucial to survival, you’ll take advantage of instantly swapping in benched players. This constant roulette makes the boss battles engaging so you aren’t just mashing the attack button while reading Twitter. If the strategy doesn’t keep you hooked, the visuals certainly will. One of my favorite inclusions during combat is the way each character autographs their spells when they cast.

Another staple of a decent JRPG is the presence of side quests. A way to learn more about each character and level up the party in between the main act. Yes, fetch quests are present as well, and sure they can be a tad grating but the major side quests tie into the main story. Ranging from learning how to flirt with girls, preparing for a modeling shoot, or greeting strangers the side quests are packed with ample entertainment.

…Like Show Business

Crafting is a necessity as well. Finding rare items from downed enemies (which can increase as you dole out combos) allow you to construct weapons and help you unlock new skills. Your skill selection is limited so you have to carefully choose what to keep, and what to discard. 

The way Atlus blends the core gameplay elements is fantastic. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is well polished with smooth transitions between cutscenes and even down to the minor menu options. Care was taken to port a lovely experience to the Nintendo Switch. Toward later parts of the game some balancing issues popped up which could hamper gameplay if grinding isn’t your thing. Fortunately the addition of a dungeon geared toward rapidly leveling your team can offset this issue. However, playing straight through can lead to several game over screens as you struggle to uncover the weaknesses of some bosses.

Break A Leg

From a graphical aspect, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is radiant. The in-game animation and cutscenes are beautiful. There are also frequent cinematic scenes which rival top anime shows. Each of the characters are wonderfully crafted with several outfit options to adorn. I will point out one flaw. As much as I enjoyed the animation and graphics, occasionally the facial expressions came off as oddities that didn’t match the rest of the splendor. If you’re a fan of anime, then Tokyo Mirage Sessions is definitely worth looking into. The dance scenes and musical numbers don’t take things too seriously and provide a fun experience all around.

Fire Emblem Takeover!

The addition of Fire Emblem merging with a universe created by Atlus may have seemed like an odd choice. It certainly drew me in and added to the appeal before I had any knowledge of Tokyo Mirage Sessions. That said, the game is strong enough to stand on its own merit. Having some of my favorite Fire Emblem heroes act as guides was just icing on the cake. Regardless of whether Fire Emblem made Tokyo Mirage Sessions stand out or not, it only adds to the already exciting experience.

The Show Must Go On

The soundtrack is paramount to the experience in Tokyo Mirage. There are several musical scenes which soften the overlying dangers and remind you that it’s all just a game. The songs tie directly in with how your characters grow and it was a well executed mechanic and plot device. The music is fun and upbeat. Aside from the scene mentioned above, it was a nice break. The game is voiced in Japanese which I thought was a good choice considering the setting. The subtitles worked well but I did notice their omission during battles. When character’s call out it goes without translation.

Exit Stage Right

The only technical issue I ran into is hardly worth mentioning. There was a brief freeze during a menu transition. Other than that, Tokyo Mirage ran exceptionally well both docked and in handheld mode. I typically favor handheld mode, especially with role-playing games, but the visuals were stunning enough to live out this musical melodrama primarily on the television.

Final Wrap

Tokyo Mirage Sessions is vibrantly upbeat experience about breaking out of your shell to improve yourself and those around you. The cast is relatable and endearing while the combat strategically exciting. With additional quests and dungeons, there is a lot of content to take part in making TMS well worth the asking price. A few odd facial expressions and balancing issues aside, I would strongly recommend visiting this digital reimagined Japan. 

Pros

  • Exciting Combat
  • Beautiful Visuals
  • Entertaining Story
  • Charismatic Cast

Cons

  • Robotic Facial Features
  • Dialogue Dropout

Verdict
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a bright blend of strong visuals, musical moments and superior gameplay backed by a charming cast.
4.5/5

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