By Josh Speer / February 5th, 2020
|Title||Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore|
|Release Date||January 17th, 2020|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol|
Let me just get this out of the way – I was a big fan of the original Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. I’m well aware of the so called controversy of the original game, and it in no way impacted my enjoyment. So when I saw the original game was getting an upgraded port in Encore, I knew I had to play it. Not only did it feature a revamped build of the original Wii U exclusive, it came packaged with the optional DLC as well as some entirely new content in the EX Story. Thanks to the kind folks at Nintendo providing us the opportunity to review the game, I buckled down and got through as fast as possible. Four years later, am I still a fan of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, or did this Encore fall flat?
The first thing you should all know about Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is that it’s a game all about the theme of spreading happiness and creativity through art. In the game proper, that art is predominantly split between musical performances and stage acting. It embraces Japanese culture and all its many quirks, while showcasing the glamour of the entertainment industry. Besides that, the game is also a hybrid of two rather different series – Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem. You wouldn’t be faulted for wondering how easily those mesh together, but I can assure you it works shockingly well. Not only does Encore have key elements of both series, such as various character classes, a weapon triangle, exploiting enemy weaknesses and crazed extra-dimensional dungeons, it manages to also stand on its own two feet while inheriting the best aspects of both source materials. That said, for the majority of game, you’re going to see more SMT influence than FE, but once the credits roll, I felt both were well represented. This is also a game that benefits from being a JRPG, for one simple reason – this game’s strong suit isn’t the plot. That’s not to say the story isn’t interesting or entertaining, but after playing it a second time, I couldn’t help but notice several things the plot doesn’t adequately address. Thankfully, the genre is also known for having captivating personalities, and Encore has that in spades. You’ll really grow to love every character in the story, from the main cast to the supporting characters. They’ll all grow and become more fully realized as you play, and if you devote yourself to all the Side Story content (which I highly recommend), you’ll really get rewarded with some touching and hilarious moments.
While the story (split into several chapters broken up with Intermissions) isn’t the tightest or most complex, it does provide a good structure for how things progress. Tokyo is under assault by invisible forces called Mirages. They are after the distilled creative essence of humanity, called Performa. It’s found in crowds that are inspired by music or theater, so every time some big event happens, Mirages strike. They drain our Performa until we’re just empty husks, and it provides a powerful boost of strength to these Mirages. You’re probably wondering how you fight back against such a threat, at least if you haven’t played a Persona or SMT game before. If you have, you know that it takes fire to fight fire. A small percentage of humans can see Mirages, and by joining forces with heroic ones, they become Mirage Masters. These humans are empowered by their Mirage, granted powerful armor as the Mirage itself turns into their primary weapon, called Carnage. Thus equipped, you and your band of heroes fights back, repelling these otherworldly invaders (portrayed on the map as floating red wraiths) and returning things to normal. Just be wary, since some evil Mirages have possessed prominent humans to do their bidding. There’s other parts to the story, such as the mystery of Tiki’s lost memories and an incident a few years back where a group of people vanished, including Tsubasa’s sister, but I’ll leave those portions for you to discover.
Speaking of characters, let’s spend some time discussing the main ones. You play as Itsuki Aoi. He’s a mild mannered boy known as the Prince of Denseness, yet his support helps all his friends grow and reach their ultimate potential. He’s not quite an avatar, but he’s also the least fleshed out character in the game. Then there’s Itsuki’s childhood friend, Tsubasa. She suffered some serious trauma as a child, yet has still managed to grow into a loving and strong person. She’s also a ridiculous fangirl, and often gets so perplexed she walks into walls and gets tongue tied, inverting word order. Or take Touma, a hot headed action hero in training that uses confidence to hide his insecurity. There’s the old pro Kiria, entertainer extraordinaire and literal ice queen, at least until you reveal her soft and fluffy side. Then there’s Ellie, a girl of mixed ethnicity with a sharp tongue who has aspirations of Hollywood fame. For those who prefer innocence, there’s the sweet and demure Mamori, a young actress with her own popular cooking show that wants to protect those she loves. Finally, there’s the cold and brutally honest Yashiro. He starts out as a bitter rival to your team, but eventually you convince him to look past his misconceptions and discover the pain he’s hiding.
But that’s just the main characters. There’s three other important supporting characters, and they’re all tremendous as well. Your boss is the busty and flirtatious Maiko, a one time model that runs the Fortuna agency with iron determination. There’s nothing she won’t do to help her stable of artists prosper, and that especially includes getting completely drunk while making connections. Or there’s Tiki, an ethereal green haired maiden whose name may sound familiar to Fire Emblem fans. Devoid of any physical form, Tiki only exists in the Bloom Palace, a extra-dimensional realm accessible from the Fortuna office. Though she has no memories, that doesn’t prevent her from showing off her loving and helpful side, always willing to help out her Big Brother! And finally there’s my favorite, Barry Goodman. A former metal rocker and Mirage Master, Barry has seen better days, but he’s always willing to train new talent. He’s also a worse fanboy than Tsubasa, and his brash and quirky personality provided some of my biggest laughs.
Now, none of the plot or character would much matter if the game wasn’t fun, but Encore is a delight. In large part, that’s due to the complex and kinetic combat. You fight with a team of 3, and your goal is to attack the enemy to pinpoint their weaknesses. Once you’ve done that, by using a Skill that exploits it, you’ll initiate the titular Sessions. Essentially, this is a giant chain of attacks that proceeds from a single one, ignoring enemy defenses. Initially this only involves your current team, but eventually you’ll acquire the ability to include your sub cast of characters, leading to massive combos. When you have one foe left, you’ll deal Overkill damage, providing great rewards of cash and Performa. As you level up, your Carnage learn new Skills, and you get to choose which you keep and which you toss. Additionally, you can change out any member of your team whenever you want, other than Itsuki. This allows you to bring in the right character for the task at hand, and manipulate the field of battle to your advantage. Just keep in mind, only the characters in combat level up their Carnage, while everybody levels up their character level regardless.
You also have at your disposal powerful Special and Ad-lib Performances. Special Performances use energy you’ve filled up in your meter by attacking, and has some tremendously powerful effects. Some of my favorite examples are temporarily increasing enemy weaknesses, healing your entire team, fatally killing enemies and much more. Ad-lib are also quite powerful, but only activate randomly when characters use Skills with the corresponding attack type. For example, if Ellie uses a Bow attack, she may use One-Sided Love, which damages all your foes and charms them to boot. If instead you use a Lightning Skill like Maziodyne with Itsuki, you might activate Back Chorus, zapping the entire field. Last of all are Duo Arts. You won’t have access to these until the latter portion of the game, but once you do, they make a big difference. They often trigger during long Sessions, and have two of your teammates join together for tremendous and powerful attacks. A great example is The Tunnel Home, where Barry, dressed like a giant dog, races to catch Mamori’s axe, and then charges the foe headfirst with it, ripping them to shreds. Keep in mind that while both Ad-lib Performances and Duo Arts are random, having a higher Luck stat seems to trigger them more often, since Ellie, who has very high luck, seemed to trigger these types of attack the most.
Like any good RPG, you can upgrade your gear, crafting more powerful weapons. This process is called Unity, and it’s done at the Bloom Palace with Performa dropped by defeated foes. When you gather enough, you can have Tiki conduct a Carnage Unity, making a new weapon with enhanced stats and differing weaknesses by fusing the gathered Performa with your Mirage. Eventually you can craft +1 or higher versions of the same Carnage, which is useful when you can’t find the right Performa to make a new weapon. Also, whenever you make a new one, you have a chance to learn a new Special Performance, meaning it’s in your best interest to keep on fighting so you can make stronger weapons and learn more abilities. For the most part, I felt this loop worked very well, and only hit a wall that forced me to grind for parts a couple of times in my near 50 hour experience. Another type of Unity is Radiant Unity, where you use special Performa found only in the many Side Stories to learn new abilities that you don’t have to equip and which are constantly in use. A good example is Open Audition, which lets your sub cast of characters jump into Sessions. An integral one is learned by Itsuki, called Director Itsuki, which lets you switch foes after you kill one and keep the Session going. Finally, like any good Fire Emblem, you can change your class. You do this with (you guessed it) Master Seals, which are either mission rewards or found in hard to reach corners of dungeons. This lets you further customize your experience and changes the look of your Mirage, though I admit I found the starting forms preferable to many of the downright strange looking upgraded classes. But that’s just a matter of personal preference, you might find that you love the look of these new forms.
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