When promotional trailers for the game were first released, I saw a comment along the lines of "[Tokyo Mirage Sessions] may be the first crossover game that contains elements of neither franchise". That's not an inapt description, either; the game's storyline is centered in Japan, following the exploits of a group of teenagers working for the Fortuna Talent Agency, who find themselves in conflict with evil beings known as "Mirages". They subsist by extracting an energy called "Performa" from people, making them lose their passion and creativity, and battle them with the aid of friendly Mirages (modeled after Fire Emblem characters). So while its storyline somewhat resembles that of the Persona games, it ultimately bears little resemblance to either Shin Megami Tensei proper or Fire Emblem; there is little opportunity to customize characters, no breakable weapons and no iconic demon designs to be found. It ultimately feels like the game was an unrelated project that had elements of two fan-favorite franchises thrown in at the last minute as a ploy to boost sales.
Further compounding the game's tenuous ties to Fire Emblem are the occasional enemy type targeted attacks, such as ones that do extra damage to flying enemies or mounted (horse-riding) enemies. However all of the ones I encountered in the time I played were classified as "weak" attacks, and I continued to gain these well past the point when my low-tier elemental spells were being upgraded to mid-tier ones. Furthermore, they didn't seem to sync up well with any of my characters' Session skills, making them seem more like a token inclusion than a well-planned element of the game's strategy.
In addition to the character-based sidequests, random citizens around the city also have "Requests" that generally require the player to enter a previous dungeon in search of specific enemies to kill or placed items to find. However, these generally prove to just be a waste of time; as enemies never cease to chase you down and attack even when vastly outleveled by your party, you end up having to sit through dozens more tedious battles that give paltry amounts of experience, and when you do actually find the items/slay the enemies and return to the quest giver, the reward is generally a low-tier item you've likely found or bought at least a dozen of by that point. Doing just a few of these gave me flashbacks to Fallout 4's boring radiant quests, and trust me, that is no good thing!
On the plus side, Tokyo Mirage Sessions definitely gets points for its presentation. The game features colorful environments full of neon lighting, detailed character costumes, fluidly-animated characters, and even has some surprisingly good lip syncing, which fits in perfectly with its pervading theme of stage performances. The dungeon designs are equally creative, showing the flair and excess of stage life while also providing for some clever layouts that allow for multiple pathways, enemy traps and even the occasional timed objective, which is a step up from Persona's mundane, randomly-generated corridors.
This emphasis on flair also leads into another major disadvantage for the game, however. For a game themed around music and stage performances, the soundtrack is largely low-key and forgettable, which saps a lot of the energy that should accompany the combat and dungeons. The lack of an English voice track is also disappointing, making it difficult for non-Japanese speakers to get invested in the on-screen performances when they constantly have to look away from the gorgeous animations to read the subtitles for the songs. Once again, Atlus tried to hand-wave away this flaw by saying that adding an English voice track would subtract from the deeply Japanese themes of the game, but I call bullshit on that; having English performers certainly didn't hamper my experience with any of the numerous Shin Megami Tensei games set in and around Japan, so why did they cop out here? It's just one of many things about Atlus' recent excursions which makes me worry that the company is slowly going the way of Square Enix or From Software by churning out generic cash-in games, excusing legitimate criticism of their shortcomings as "artistic choice" and relying on the particularly unpleasant apologists in their fan base to bully their critics into silence...
At the end of the day, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is neither a terrible game nor an outstanding one; it's certainly playable in spite of its problems, and it provides a passable, if not especially inspired, stopgap while we wait for the long-postponed Persona 5. That said, I personally didn't have the patience to complete it, and I don't see myself ever revisiting it, especially in light of there being so many better options available for games in its format. If you're looking for an experience that better combines the character interaction and gameplay style of Fire Emblem with the dark themes and strategic elements of Shin Megami Tensei, then do yourself a favor and pick up one of the Devil Survivor games instead. Or if you'd rather have a game that combines a heavy emphasis on character development with occasional bouts of dungeon crawling, then just replay Persona 3 or 4, because both of those games did it far better.
Platform: Wii U
Recommended Version: N/A
Tags: JRPG, Urban Fantasy, Prefab Characters, Turn-Based, Dungeon Crawler, Grindfest, Long Load Times, Save Anywhere, Long Campaign, DLC (Ripoff)
Review by spoonshiro © 2016