Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore Review

by Bryan Clutter
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Three and a half years ago, the Wii U was a dying platform. We all knew that the then referred to as Nintendo NX would be arriving at some point in 2017, and the Wii U just failed to take off, largely based on its name, but also based on how underpowered it actually was when compared to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox One, which launched just one year after. When Tokyo Mirage Sessions burst out from behind the curtain on June 24, 2016 here in North America, it was met with critical success. A game that blends the best of both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, while looking eerily similar to the Persona franchise? Sign me and many a JRPG lover up on the dotted line, please! But remember what I said? The Wii U was a dying platform. It failed to move copies, whether it be digitally or physically off store shelves.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore Review
Available OnNintendo Switch
Reviewed OnNintendo Switch
Release DateJanuary 17, 2020
Time Spent Playing56 Hours
Game Purchased by Level Down Games for the Purpose of This Review

Fans of the game begged and pleaded for Nintendo to deliver that initial kickstart to the heart and port the game to the widely popular and successful Nintendo Switch. After all, so many other Wii U games were getting that opportunity. Why shouldn’t one of the very best exclusive games the Wii U had also receive the same treatment? My friends, our prayers were answered and the game is finally here! Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is an enhanced edition of the previous release, with additional story content, three new pieces of music, and all of the original DLC costumes included to be unlocked throughout the game. However, it still maintains a few frustrating features that plagued the game back in 2016, while definitely showing it’s age in the current year.

What results from this beautiful blend of two juggernaut gaming IP’s is a narrative set in modern times with a supernatural element to it. Interdimensional beings known as Mirages have seen their homeworld destroyed, and are now trapped on Earth… or just Japan. Fortuna Entertainment rises in place of all this as an Idol and Talent Agency, but there’s a secret. Everyone who is employed there has something to do with stopping the Mirages from destroying this world and stealing the Performa (basically your essence or soul) inside us all. Enter Itsuki Aoi, Tsubasa Oribe, Touma Akagi, Kiria Kurono, and a whole cast of characters that are Mirage Masters. These are your playable characters and ones that have something within them that allows them to control certain Mirages. The Mirages you’re put in control of are popular characters from the Fire Emblem universe, with their advanced classes even being based on jobs you can learn throughout the different FE games.

The plot is crazy but works quite well thanks to the intricate writing and attention to detail that the original developers instilled into Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Dialogue is oftentimes cheesy and silly, but that’s exactly what makes this release so damn endearing and charming in the first place. All too often I’d be sitting there, leaning back in my recliner, with a stupid grin on my face as Itsuki said something corny to one of the female characters and they’d get all embarrassed and start blushing. Much to my dismay since I enjoy romance options in-game, there are none to be found here, though it is often hinted at during side missions that you can basically pair Itsuki up with any of the female characters and it’d work somewhat well. The voice acting, though it is fully in Japanese with English subtitles, is wonderfully done and the emotion and range you can hear in each voice is a treat to the ears.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore nails the concept of joining an up and coming entertainment business and breaking into the industry from the ground up while forming bonds and relationships with those around you in order for everyone to succeed. This joyous feeling is pushed along by a vibrant color palette and artistic direction that gives the game a unique feel. Your main characters and those central to the plot in some shape are given actual character models… everyone else roaming the streets of Shibuya or elsewhere in Tokyo are solid colors of either green, yellow, purple, and blues. Imitating the fact that we see so many people on a day to day basis and remember almost none of them, I wasn’t too bothered by this and actually felt it gave the game that unique feel mentioned earlier.

Something I am bothered by are the graphics present in the rest of Tokyo Mirage Sessions. During cutscenes and when characters are conversing and the camera is zoomed in on them, they’re quite nice. When exploring the different sections of Tokyo and especially when inside one of the many dungeons found throughout the story, the game shows its age poorly, even for being only 3.5 years old, and does not hold up when compared to modern releases coming out in 2019 and 2020. But that’s the unfortunate case of the Wii U and the tools that were available on the platform when making the original game. Certain textures and models are upscaled and look better than they did before, but it doesn’t help in the overall.

Let’s talk about the battle system, something that is crucial to every good Japanese Roleplaying Game. In Tokyo Mirage Sessions, everything is classically turn-based, but with a twist. Each battle, from simple monsters found roaming the halls to the more intricate boss encounters, is very performance heavy since this is a game starring a bunch of Japanese Pop Idols and Actors/Actresses. Mixing elements of both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem once again gave birth to incredibly fun combat mechanics. Familiar spells from SMT and the strengths and weaknesses that come along with them are blended with the system of Rock/Paper/Scissor found in Fire Emblem with Swords, Lances, Axes, and Bows. Exploiting and taking advantage of the enemy’s weakness is the key to every single battle, as doing so will unleash an explosive set of combo attacks known as a Session. Everyone in your party is able to participate, and later on in the game, even those on the sideline can jump into the fun with an ability known as Open Audition.

Each character also comes equipped with special attacks that require SP in order to unleash on unsuspecting enemies, and that SP gauge is slowly powered up by triggering and participating in Session Attacks. It ends up being quite strategic, as you’d expect with elements being borrowed from Fire Emblem. What’s nice about the Nintendo Switch version is that three additional characters that aren’t technically members of your party can participate in these Session Attacks. Maiko Shimazaki (the boss of Fortuna Entertainment), Barry Goodman (the man responsible for training everyone), and Tiki (who plays an overall very important role throughout the entire story) are able to jump in with their own attacks. Plus, you can turn off the animations finally and speed up the battles a tad, though it would have been nice to be able to speed them up even more like some of the more recent re-releases and remasters have done from Nihon Falcom and Square Enix.

For those who do not appreciate grinding out levels and skills in JRPG’s, there exist a few different catch-up mechanics. Now, I strongly urge you to avoid going into these dungeons and taking advantage of them when they become available.. because they do so during the first intermission of the game. There are different sets of catch up dungeons… one that awards Tomes for instantly leveling your party members and one that awards Skill Books for instantly leveling up your weapons for example. These can severely diminish the fun and entertainment value found in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, as it’ll make every enemy encounter, including the bosses, simple. The game is already quite easy as it is on Normal difficulty, and for those struggling, there’s a setting under Easy known as Friendly that almost anyone should be able to just breeze on through.

Speaking of dungeons, they are known as Idolaspheres in Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Offering gameplay similar in style to Shin Megami Tensei, you’ll be dungeon crawling and filling in portions of the map while looking for treasure cubes to open and enemies to best on your way to reaching the ultimate boss in each one. Unlike SMT, everything is done in third person and not first person, which to me was a big positive about the exploration system since I do prefer being able to see my characters as opposed to being in a first-person viewpoint.

New to the Encore version of the game, the EX Dungeon (which can be accessed from the Bloom Palace from the same Idolasphere entrance as the catch-up dungeons) offers new side stories that tell additional information about the characters we grew to love back in 2016. You also are able to unlock all of the DLC costumes that were included in the original release, so long as you are actively doing each character’s side mission, as the blue treasure cubes in the EX Dungeon are directly tied to those.

Side missions are a big part of any JRPG, and that is no different in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. What irks me is that each one is tied to another mechanic known as Stage Rank. Stage Rank slowly (very slowly, at that) levels up the more each character participates in Session Attacks and uses Skills instead of basic attacks. It’s a tedious system and often times restricts characters you can use in battle to those that need their rank increased in order for a new side mission to unlock. I disliked this mechanic before, and I dislike it even more the second time around as it was just as frustrating feeling as would often leave me entering trivial battles and just spamming Attack Increase Skills, Defense Up Skills, and bullshit non-offensive Skills while burning through each characters EP (basically your mana) in hopes that their Stage Rank would increase after each battle. It is a solid way of grinding it out, but it still takes forever and shouldn’t have even needed to be done in the first place. It artificially inflates the length of the game for no reason when it could have been tied to story progression or simply being level-based. I pushed through once again as the stories told between Itsuki and each of the other characters in the side missions are often more heartwarming than the main narrative. Kudos for trying something different… but it just didn’t work well for me.

The soundtrack, composed by Yoshiaki Fujisawa, is relatively unknown in the gaming scene and has only worked on this release and a few Animes. Fans of Japanese Pop Idol music are going to fall in love with the soundtrack, as it features many catchy tunes that I’d find myself nodding along with and smiling ear to ear every time a music video would pop up in the game itself for one of the new songs. Songs like the title track, “Reincarnation” and “Feel” both sound like they’d fit in perfectly on any Japanese Radio Station and sell out packed Arenas of Pop Idol fans. The rest of the soundtrack, featuring original compositions from Fujisawa, is clearly inspired by Shoji Meguro and the Persona side of Shin Megami Tensei, as tracks like “Audition” and “Imminent Disaster” sound like they’d find a nice home residing in either Persona 3 or Persona 4, and people would be none the wiser.

Which brings us to the question on everyone’s mind. Is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore worth the price of admission? That’s a loaded question, and one that must be answered in two different parts. For anyone that has played the Wii U version, I’m specifically talking to you right now. Did you love the original game? Purchase this. The added content, extra music, all the DLC costumes, and getting to revisit this wonderful world is worth your time. Were you satisfied with the outcome of the original game and don’t care about 3 to 4 hours worth of an additional dungeon and songs? Absolutely skip this release. Now, I’m talking to everyone else. Did you own a Wii U and for whatever reason not pick up one of the best exclusive games it had to offer? Or did you not own a Wii U and this is your first time potentially getting to experience this game? BUY IT! This is the Persona game you’ve never played, and you’re a fan of that series in any way, there are so many things to love and appreciate.

A sequel would do wonders for Tokyo Mirage Sessions. It would be fun if ATLUS took it in a similar route to that of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Without diving into any spoilers, we could see Fortuna Entertainment years down the road with a new cast of playable characters as the Mirages are breaking into our world once again, and throughout the story, we could run into many of the previous playable characters from this game and have them join our party as cameo members for an Idolasphere dungeon or something. Sound too good to be true? It probably is, and my biggest fear is this is a one and done series. But I hope not. There’s so much to love here, and even though it’s a few years old and doesn’t look nearly as modern as some of the other games coming out in 2020, it’s still one of the best JRPG experiences you can find on the Nintendo Switch.

Final Words
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the long-lost cousin to Persona, and if you skipped this gem once before when it was on the Wii U, don't you dare skip it again on the Switch!
Best of both worlds from Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei
Vibrant color palette and artistic direction
Uniquely fun turn-based combat mechanics
Japanese Pop Idol Soundtrack infused with Persona vibes
Likeable cast of characters
Many areas of the game look dated
Stage Rank is as annoying as ever
May not be enough content to warrant an additional playthrough if you've played it on Wii U
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