Review – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

This is not the game anyone thought it would be. Which is not to say there was ever a solid singular idea for what the long-teased Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover would look like. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find two settings that are less compatible. The low urban fantasy of SMT with its strong religious themes is a natural foil for the high medieval fantasy of Fire Emblem, not exactly easy crossover material. Still though, going with a Japanese Idol theme was a decision. It certainly threw everyone for a loop, and that, alongside launching on the doomed Wii U, was not a recipe for success. However, the tale of the Nintendo Switch has been second chances, so it’s only fair that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore got its chance at a comeback.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore was originally announced just as Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem. Accordingly, the biggest complaint has always been how little it lives up to that premise. From the outside, I agreed wholeheartedly. Promos and the little gameplay segments shown didn’t do this title any favors, and they utterly failed to convey how involved either franchise would be. There was the superficial features of course, mainly the SMT styled combat and the Fire Emblem characters, but nothing about how deep it really went if at all.

Chrom Design

Character designs and animations are top notch. I wish actual Fire Emblem looked like this.

On the other side now though, after being sucked in for dozens of hours, I couldn’t disagree more. It may not look like it, but everything here was built from the ground up in the form of both franchises as seen through the veil of the other. The story, for example, is a classic Shin Megami Tensei dimensional invasion plot hook, but it’s told in the form of a Fire Emblem story. The combat is a form of SMT’s traditional Press-Turn system, with the addition of the FE weapon triangle. Character advancement is the standard Fire Emblem level-up and equipment systems, but skill and weapon advancement is done through an evolution of SMT’s demon fusion systems. Truly, both franchises are equally the heart of this game in a way most crossover titles fail at.

The story is a generic blend of both franchises’ clichés, but largely in a good way. The premise is standard SMT, as modern day Tokyo faces yet another demonic invasion from another dimension. Called Mirages and made up of enemies and allies from both SMT and FE, their apparent goal is to steal the creative energy (called Performa) from the entirety of Japan. You play as a Mirage Master, a person bound to a powerful Mirage spirit and capable of channeling their power. It also happens that your Mirage is the protagonist of Fire Emblem: Awakening, Chrom. Every Mirage Master is similarly bound to a mainline Fire Emblem character from either Awakening or Shadow Dragon. 

Level-Up

Just like in Fire Emblem, level-up bonuses to stats are random.

Your job as a Mirage Master is twofold. On one hand, you protect Tokyo by fighting and defeating enemy mirages wherever they pop up. On the other, you participate (loosely) as a fledgling Idol employed by Fortuna Entertainment. I say loosely because the game mostly uses the latter to simply kickstart the former. Don’t expect anything along the lines of Persona 5’s extensive social-sim systems, it’s not that kind of game at all. Your Idol career is conveyed through a bunch of easily skipped dialogues and cut-scenes; the main focus is on the dungeon crawling and combat. There are some optional companion sidequests, but they act more like Fire Emblem support ranks than social links. You might wonder what any of this has to do with Fire Emblem, and at first it does seem unrelated, but as things progress it becomes very much classic Fire Emblem. Yes, there’s even a dragon.

Combat is what you’ll be spending 90% of your time doing, so I’m grateful that it’s so amazing. If you’ve played any SMT styled game before, you know how it works. Turn-based, focused around exploiting enemy weaknesses like a much more advanced version of Pokémon, and very, very unforgiving when it comes to accepting your mistakes. Due to the FE influence, there’s some new twists here as well. First, there’s the famous Weapon Triangle that defines FE combat. It’s a natural companion for the Press-Turn system, and slots right alongside the standard elemental weaknesses.

Dungeon Themes

Each dungeon is dripping in theme, neon, and color. If this was the cost of the Idol theme, it was well worth it.

More interesting are Session Attacks, a far more interesting implementation of Awakening’s Dual Strike system. Using attack combinations, you can chain together your companion’s attacks for multi-strikes in a single move. While broken in Awakening, it’s pivotal to surviving TMS #FE. You need to keep track of not just your own attacks, but also what attacks your party triggers off on. Also, only exploiting an enemy weakness will trigger a Session Attack, so you need to know your enemy too.  There’s a lot to keep track of, and failing to do so can easily end in a full party wipe. Even on Easy, the game is not afraid to knock you around for not paying attention. On the higher difficulties then, good luck.

Exploration is pure SMT and the better for it. As has been the standard for the franchise since Shin Megami Tensei III, you navigate dungeons in a third-person perspective. Enemies appear on the field as robed Mirages which can be avoided and/or stunned. Unlike the modern trend towards linear short dungeons, TMS #FE’s are long and winding, which was a highlight for me. They’re filled with traps, treasure, and each one has a gimmick that helps it feel different. They aren’t intended to be beaten in single delves, and you can easily teleport out and regroup if need be. It’s very much a standard dungeon crawling experience, and a quality one at that. I only hope that when SMT:V does get here, it’s more of this versus IV’s disappointing dungeon design.

Skill Transference

Interestingly, while all icons and skill names are straight from Fire Emblem, spell names are from SMT. Session skills just use generic typings.

While the exploration was pure SMT, character progression is pure Fire Emblem. From the level-up screen to the equipment screen, it’s business as usual. The same weapons, the same classes, same skills, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it after all. There are some minor tweaks and SMT influences though, namely the Unity system. Basically demonic fusion, you combine Performa taken from defeated enemy Mirages to create new and more powerful weapons and unlock character-specific skills. It’s basically weapon drops with an extra step, but it doesn’t feel grindy or extraneous and fits right in with the game.

The Encore at the end of the title isn’t just for looks, as there is some new stuff here. There’s not a whole lot to be honest, but it’s quality over quantity, I guess. The highlight is the brand new EX story quests, which come with a brand new dungeon. Inside the dungeon are a bunch of new costumes and support skills. There’s also a mountain of quality of life changes, which are honestly far more valuable, like the ability to skip any cutscene or dialogue, being able to fast-forward through the sometimes overly lengthy Session Attacks, and some tweaks to the localization. There’s also a new song, which much like the rest in this game is far too catchy for its own good.

Class Change

Class Change is honestly more interesting here than in Fire Emblem. Instead of just promotion, there’s actually a choice between two Advanced Classes. Choice is nice.

While Fire Emblem: Three Houses has been more than enough to sate FE enthusiasts, who knows when Shin Megami Tensei V will come out for those fans? It’s been three years since that vague announcement trailer and then it’s been total media silence from Atlus. While titles such as Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Complete Edition do a decent job at scratching that itch, there’s something only a proper SMT title can fulfill. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is that title, and is more than able to hold its own compared to mainline titles, let alone spin-offs. The sublime battle system, engaging character advancement systems, and proper dungeon design are all anyone could ask for. I don’t know if it makes the wait for V any easier, but it sure makes it less painful to deal with.

Graphics: 7.0

It’s a decent looking Wii U game, but a Wii U game all the same.

Gameplay: 10

Turns out blending only the best parts of two of the biggest JRPG franchises leads to great things. Who knew.

Sound: 8.5

Not only is the soundtrack stupidly catchy (especially the vocals), but the sound effects ripped straight from FE and SMT make it feel real. There is no English dub though, keep that in mind.

Fun Factor: 9.0

This is a game that knows it has an incredible battle system, a varied roster of monsters to fight, fantastically designed dungeons to explore, and just lets you go all in.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is available now on Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

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