Tokyo Mirage Session #FE (TMS) was announced in January of 2013 as Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) x Fire Emblem. After 3 and a half years of waiting, we finally got the game in the west. Was the wait actually worth it?
While many might be disappointed with the lighter tone that goes against the series this spin off is based off of, I personally had hoped for this project to be more like Persona rather being a hardcore dungeon crawler like the mainline SMT series. I’m quite pleased with the results. TMS is indeed a SMT dungeon crawler but the changes it adds to the formula greatly improve the gameplay. The game borrows SMT’s Press Turn battle system and adds in its own twist via sessions. Instead of getting a second attack by finding the enemies weakness, your party joins in the attack and lands a blow one after the other. This is an extremely stylish update to the established gameplay that feels extremely satisfying and continues to evolve overtime.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE has a great way of handling progression. You’re constantly growing or leveling up stats in one way or the other. Fighting monsters give you enemy drops which can be used to create weapons called “Carnage Forms” which function similarly to demon/persona fusion in other SMT titles. Each Carnage Form grants you several abilities to add to your party permanently like new magic spells, passive abilities, or stat boosts making it a necessity. Progressing in the story and partaking in side quests gains you additional abilities which improve the combat system without being too complex. As mentioned previously, TMS also has the Session attacks which plays a huge role in all of this. As you gain more characters they can participate in Session attacks even if they’re not in the active party. This is great since it incentivizes you to keep all members in your party properly leveled instead of ignoring them once someone better arrives (a common occurrence in JRPGs #RIPYukiko). At the start of the game you’ll have one hit Sessions and end up with Session attacks that reach up to 15+ additional hits.
Dungeon Crawling, another franchise staple, also sees a big improvement over previous SMT games. Instead of the flat corridors of the series, each dungeon has a slight puzzle element to it. Puzzle dungeons aren’t new, and games like Persona 4 had some elements to it with Persona Q having way too many, but TMS strikes a nice balance where I was never lost for too long or stumped with what to do next. It’s pretty well done and adds a lot to the game. Finding secrets by solving puzzles is pretty satisfying and rewarding. Exploring dungeons is also made more enjoyable through special abilities which can slow down enemies, make more or fewer appear, spawn strong/rare enemies, etc. Hitting enemies with your sword in the overworld also stuns them so you can continue without fighting. Difficulty is overall pretty spot on for most of the game. All this combined with difficulty sliders makes the experience very personalizable and enjoyable.
Earlier when I said I was a fan of Persona and I was hoping that this game would be like it, I meant is specifically for relationship building and character interactions. While the characters don’t get as much time to get fleshed out like in Persona 4, the game pulls off this aspect fairly well. Each major character (including non playable characters like Barry and Tiki) has around 3 Social Link-esque events where the character grows and changes. These are story based events where you occasionally have to go into a dungeon to fight a special boss-like creature. They’re pretty good and they give you fairly big benefits like new moves and special abilities (NPCs give you benefits like reduced prices in stores and characters gain these special music video attacks which are very useful in battle). You can tackle these side quest whenever you choose and you can achieve all of them in a singular playthrough without the stress that Persona 4 provides (running out of time and not being able to S rank every character). The characters shine through in the little you see of them, leaving me wanting more which might be my biggest complaint thus far.
The game is very charming and funny. These are fun and varied characters that make the ridiculous premise of using performance arts skills to fight monsters actually work. The plot isn’t the deepest, but it’s quirky and character driven. It’s light hearted and just a good time overall.
All this is not to say that the game lacks flaws, of course. The save system is antiquated and frustrating at times. On easy/friendly difficulties you can retry a battle not losing any progress, but on normal you can get a straight up game over if you lose a fight. This happened around 3 times in my playthrough where I lost a lot of progress due to being surprised by a tough enemy and wiped out. I got used to this and saving became second habit after ever other battle, but it’s worth considering. There’s also no headphone jack option which seems like a massive oversight for this game. The gamepad is mandatory but outside of a bleep every once in awhile it doesn’t really take advantage of the gamepad’s audio. With the animu moaning noises it could make playing this game while living with others a bit difficult or embarrassing.
In terms of length, the game can be finished in around 40 hours or so, but I spent upwards of 100 hours finishing the game. There’s a lot of content for those that want to dive in deep into the game but it’s mostly optional for those that just want to experience the main story. As you could probably tell, I dove into the deep end. It’s rare that I willingly spend so much time on a game with it not feeling like such a long drag. SMT IV felt considerably longer for me despite only playing for 78 hours. I think I might have dragged things out a bit too much (doing every side quest that I could), but I had fun with most of my play time which is more than I can say with a lot of other JRPGs I’ve played recently.
While the story and relationships between the characters don’t reach the heights of Persona 4, the gameplay in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is the best the Shin Megami Tensei franchise has ever accomplished and as a whole it’s one of the best JRPGs in the market.
Cartridge Games awards Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE a: