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Friday, February 17, 2017

Anime Hajime Impressions: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

The Set Up

Back in 2013, game developer Atlus released a short announcement trailer for their new game. No footage, no gameplay, just a quick montage of characters. One set was from Atlus’ own Shin-Megami Tensei series. The other from Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem. Again, not that long. But in the span of forty seconds, I lost my God damn mind.

I enjoy the Shin-Megami Tensei games and had a great time with IV. I’m also quite interested in the Persona series. Yet, I've only played Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth on the 3DS. It’s a franchise I’m familiar enough with to get excited when a new game gets released.

Fire Emblem, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorite video game series. Second only to The Legend of Zelda. And Fire Emblem: Awakening, for the 3DS, is one of my favorite games of all time. I’m thrilled to see this series starting to get a larger following in the West.

So when I heard these two franchises were crossing over, I got hyped. Plus, it was going to be on the Wii U. A system I will defend to the death as fantastic. A poorly marketed system,granted. But for those who do own one, I’m sure you’ll back me up on this.

I had no idea what this game would turn out to be. The core mechanics of these two series couldn’t be more different. Shin-Megami is a deep JRPG with an emphasis on exploration and exploiting enemy weaknesses. Fire Emblem's centers on long, turn-based battles of strategy and foresight. These franchises are similar in terms difficulty. One mistake can lead to hours’ worth of effort gone in an instant. But they’re difficult for different reasons.

Here was the possibility of something special. And then I heard nothing about it for almost two years. I was close to assuming the game was never more than an interesting idea.

Then during E3 2015, I was happy to learn, I was wrong.

At last, there was a trailer for my long awaited crossover. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. And my first thought was, “the f@#$ am I looking at.”

This trailer was bright and colorful. Something neither Shin-Megami nor Fire Emblem are that big on. There were also idols and singing and dancing. Which…what? But the biggest thing of all, this game looked anime as s@#$.

I suppose that shouldn’t have bothered me. Because of, you know, anime’s kind of my thing. But remember, I was expecting a Shin-Megami/Fire Emblem crossover. And what I saw wasn’t that. Thus my interest in the game went from unshakable enthusiasm to...maybe.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE released in Japan on December 26, 2015, for the Wii U. It saw a wider release in North America and Europe on June 24, 2016. And in Australia on June 25, 2016. I didn’t pick the game until the 2016 holiday season.

Now, after five years since that first trailer, here are my impressions on Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.



A bit more backstory, I picked this game up on a whim. It was there. I had the cash. “Why not?” I said to myself. While it may not have looked like my fabled cross-over, this was still it. I hoped to get at least some enjoyment out of it.

Having now played the game, yeah it was pretty good. I had a lot of fun with. It may not be my favorite game on the Wii U. Yet it’s a solid addition to an already solid library. A small library sure. But a quality one.

So, the question is, how is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE? Well, there’s two parts to that. First, how is it as a game? Second, how is it as a cross-over for the Shin-Megami and Fire Emblem franchises? Let’s tackle the former to start.

As I said, it's a good game. Sessions’ mechanics were inspired by Shin-Megami. Makes sense, these are both Atlus productions. If you’re familiar with this type of battle system, you’ll pick this up quick. If you’re not, it may be a little intimidating at first. But you’ll get used to fast.

If you do feel overwhelmed, it’s okay to stop and think. These fights are flashy and they do look fast paced. It appears as if a lot of things are happening. Except this is still a turn based game. You get as much time as needed to think. How Sessions’ created the feeling of speed, though, was my favorite part of the game.

Like Shin-Megami, you’re looking for weaknesses. Once you find them, you at last feel you have a chance. Some fights almost required you figuring this out much sooner rather than later. Yet, it’s not the weaknesses themselves you’re trying to exploit. You’re trying to initiate a session.

A session is a party-wide attack that can deal a massive amount of damage. During combat, you only have three members of your party fighting. This is usually enough to get the job done. But whatever you do, don’t neglect the other members. As you grow stronger, you then can pull off a full party session. Then, once you gain the ability to perform support attacks, these can extend a session even further. Warning, though, these support attacks, as far as I could tell, are random. So, while you may end up relying on them, they may not come up either.

This is the game. This is what you’ll be doing the entire time. By itself, this could get boring. But Sessions makes it work by making battles flashy. Any time a special move triggers, an animation plays to build up what’s about to happen. And what’s a great touch, when you’re in try hard mode and don’t want to waste time, you can skip these.

A few more things good things about the actual game. One, it’s beautiful. Sessions looks amazing. The source games may not be bright and colorful. But for what Sessions is, it works wonders. Also, I loved this game’s interpretation of the different Fire Emblem elements. Nowhere more so than with the character designs.

Now did I one hundred percent love Sessions? Not at all. There were some things that got on my nerves. For example, the story. It's average at best. It wasn’t that I couldn't get into it. It’s just, I knew what was going to happen. There was nothing this game did that surprised me. The character side stories were a lot more interesting than the main one. With that alone, there were not enough side character missions. And that’s another thing.

There weren’t a lot of side missions either. Or at least, I wasn’t incentivized enough to do them. The game world's not that big. It’s all incredible in detail. Yet you’re going to see the same places over and over again. I’m astonished there wasn’t an Akihabara stage. Then when you compare Sessions to Shin-Megami Tensei IV, it’s even more underwhelming. In IV, you explore much more of Tokyo. And you do it on a handheld. What’s this console game’s excuse? What this game build was phenomenal. I just would've liked to see more of it.

Oh, and there was one thing that pissed me the f@#$ off all the God damn time. Some of these boss battles were hard. I got my nuts kicked a few times. That wasn’t the problem. But when I have to watch a five minute, or longer, cutscene before I get to try again, then I get a little peeved. A fast-forward button isn’t good to quell my impatience. Let me actually skip the f@#$ing thing.

So as a game by itself, Sessions was fun. But how was it as a cross-over?

Well, it wasn’t the one I was expecting. It may not have been the one I wanted. However, it was a lot better than I gave it credit for.

Now, in the beginning, I thought Sessions dropped the ball. I could see elements of both source games. But I didn’t see them working together. Okay, this is a Shin-Megami-ish battle system. Yet it wasn’t really Shin-Megami. I see characters from Fire Emblem. I hear music from Fire Emblem. There are sound effects from Fire Emblem. But again, this wasn’t Fire Emblem. From the opening hours alone, Sessions relied on the names of its source material. Because, to be honest, this game wouldn’t have sold otherwise.

This did hurt to see. And it was beyond disappointing. But as the game went on, it got a lot better. In fact, it got to the point where Sessions was a respectable nod to the Fire Emblem series. Actually, Sessions had more to do with Fire Emblem than Atlus’ own Shin-Megami.

The last act alone was fan service-y as s@#$. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me giddy. It was corny. It was over the top. It was anime as hell. But God damn it, did I love it.

So, was this the game I wanted to play after seeing that announcement trailer? No, not at all. And I can understand why people wouldn't give it a chance because of that. But if you are a fan of both of these series, particularly Fire Emblem, give it that chance.

For both Shin-Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, the future looks promising. It appears new additions to these franchises are coming for the Nintendo Switch. As a side note, I am hyped for Fire Emblem Warriors and it's probably the game that will get me to buy the system.

I’ll end it with this. If there ever is a Sessions 2, I’ll be right there to play it.

Those are my impressions of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. But I would love to hear your own. Was this a legitimate cross-over attempt? Or did it fail to fulfill that promise? Please, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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