It’s hard to imagine a game like Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE existing even just a few years ago. Born of two franchises, stewing in the rampant fandom surrounding the Persona series, and completely obsessed with idol and anime culture, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a sign of the times. It reaches for style over complacency, for jovial bliss over brooding melancholy, and for pulling the best of two stellar series without feeling beholden to either.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is pure, concentrated anime fun, a constant ride of effusive style and willingness to double-down on what makes it unique. It’s incredibly niche, but so much so that it becomes a microcosm of a trend in modern RPG design, a Greatest Hits of the aspects that have made modern Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem so compelling.
In Sessions, you play the role of Itsuki Aoi, a teen boy with two best friends, Tsubasa and Touma, eager to become a part of Japan’s budding entertainment industry. At an idol audition, Tsubasa disappears into an alternate dimension, and Itsuki chases after, with mysterious monsters close behind.
As the story unfolds, the pair partner with two Mirages, ethereal beings of immense power (who also happen to be famous characters from the Fire Emblem canon). They soon discover that behind the facade of Japan’s idol industry, there’s a war raging between Mirage Masters, idols and entertainers who moonlight as monster hunters, and these evil beings who feed on people’s Performa, a physical manifestation of their hopes, dreams, and happiness.
The story is partially a coming-of-age tale, with your characters struggling to learn the ropes and deal with issues of fame and idol culture while also growing into the person they wish to be. Each member of your party is endearing, from Kiria’s cold demeanor but soft heart to Ellie’s constant Hollywood name-dropping. There are questions of integrity, courage, confidence, and love, thinly veiled behind an overt, physical struggle with the dark monsters that inhabit the Idolasphere, the alternate dimension of Mirages. There’s also a TV director named Kuen Taranchino, so it’s not afraid to have a little bit of humor in the process.
Battles and exploration will immediately feel familiar if you’ve ever played a Persona game. You travel around an overworld, shopping in different areas and carrying out requests and side quests, venturing into the Idolasphere to complete main quests. Combat is turn-based, with you and your party acting in each “round,” attempting to poke at the enemy’s elemental or weapon weaknesses in order to do more damage. Mabufu, Mazio, Maragi — it all lifts heavily from Shin Megami Tensei, in ways familiar enough to not feel like a complete rehash, but those who have played Persona before will be immediately comfortable.
Where Tokyo Mirage Sessions differs is in its use of Sessions, its answer to follow-up attacks. If you hit an enemy weakness, party members can then launch Session attacks that can be linked together for even more damage. An enemy Red Mage might be weak to fire, so casting Agi will not only cause extra damage, but if a teammate has “Fire – Lance” as one of their Session moves, they will follow up your Agi with a lance attack. This continues to escalate, as party members can continuously link their attacks together. Special Performances take it further, dropping a massive attack on enemies that will trigger Session combos regardless of the enemies’ weaknesses.
Layered over all this is a smattering of modern Japanese culture. The menu is a beautiful depiction of party members laying on the grass together, growing as your party grows. You can spend money to buy healing items, or buy fashionable outfits to wear during combat. Everything in Tokyo Mirage Sessions oozes style, from cutscenes depicting pop concerts and story beats on trying to record a new hit single, to actual combat moves being full song performances.
An Ad-Lib Performance can randomly trigger when using a special move, which will transform it into a cinematic cutscene that ends in a massive damage spell. Kiria, for example, has a chance to trigger her Ad-Lib Performance “The Labyrinth” whenever she casts a Bufu spell. In it, she dons her concert attire and performs the chorus of the eponymous song, while a raging blizzard attacks her foes. It’s basically Disney’s Frozen, and it’s pretty awesome.
This double-down on the style, melding it into the combat and story, makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions a silly but incredibly fun experience. It falls squarely into the camp of Saturday Morning Anime, but in a way that’s fresh and compelling, especially when the combat is surprisingly intricate and challenging. It’s a game that will test you and push you, while laughing and cheering you on.
Of special note is the manner in which Tokyo Mirage Sessions presents itself, not just on the main screen, but on the Wii U gamepad. This is a Wii U exclusive, and the game makes clever use of that feature, using the Wii U to detail enemy weaknesses and notes during combat, and a map and quest log inside dungeons. Outside of that, you can always tab over to your Topic interface, the social media messenger app you and your party uses to communicate throughout the game. Characters will send you emojis, side quest prompts, or just words of encouragement when you’re struggling in a dungeon. It’s a constant source of little laughs and smiles throughout the entire game, and I got excited every time my gamepad buzzed with a new notification.
And really, that’s the heart of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. It’s a blending of two franchises, a complex and long (40 hours or more) JRPG, a coming-of-age story that deals with fame as much as it deals with young adult life issues, but it’s also just fun. Constant cheer, effusive style, willing to be exactly what it wants to be and double-down on all things. It’s novel in the best ways, unafraid to put the brakes on a giant boss fight for a rousing J-pop chorus. Between the catchy music, compelling battle system, and the excellent cast and their crazy misadventures through idol life, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is simply easy to get lost in, and enjoyable enough to make every minute spent contemplating new wardrobes or training new idol party members memorable.