About a week ago, I finished Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE on Wii U. Truth be told, I went into the game not having the faintest idea of what to expect. As many know, the game that was ultimately made is nothing like what was shown in the initial reveal trailer from over three years ago.
This game was supposed to be Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem; a true crossover of two of Japan’s most iconic role playing series. Atlus was to develop a JRPG that blended the dark story telling and turned based combat of SMT with the signature tactical role playing of Intelligent Systems’ and Nintendo’s Fire Emblem.
Instead, what came out was this:
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a JRPG set in modern Tokyo that revolves around Fortuna Entertainment and its teenage performers doing battle inside of alternate worlds called “Idolaspheres.” Each party member is a “Mirage Master.” Using their Persona-like Mirages which are based on Fire Emblem characters, the cast fights against the evil Mirages that are causing havoc across Japan’s entertainment industry.
The game’s story takes place across six chapters plus a prologue and epilogue. Each chapter and the prologue features some sort of Idolasphere dungeon gameplay. Between each chapter is an intermission that allows the player to focus on “Side Stories” designed to flesh out characters similar to Fire Emblem‘s Support system and Persona‘s Social Link system. The dungeons are a mixture of combat and puzzle solving with no randomly generated areas.
Combat is turn-based and mixes both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem naming conventions. When the player strikes at an enemy’s weakness, they initiate what is called a “Session.” Sessions allow for the other party members to do a follow-up attack. As your party members grow stronger and gain more Session skills (including being able to join in when not in the active party), it becomes possible to chain higher and higher Session combos. Additionally, special attacks called “Ad Lib Performances” and “Collaborations” can randomly occur to add even more style to your battles.
Characters level up their Mirages by using weapons called “Carnage Forms.” Each Carnage has skills that can be learned by leveling it up to its maximum experience. As you progress, the goal is to create stronger and stronger Carnages so that your Mirages learn the strongest skills available to them.
Carnage Forms are created from material called Performa. The player collects Performa from the enemies they slay. When an enemy is defeated through a Session, it is common to reap more and more rewards such as money and Performa – so there’s always an incentive to Session as often as possible. Use Sessions to get as much Performa as you can so you can fuse new Carnages to learn new skills and use those skills to get even longer Sessions and reap more rewards and so on. It really is a brilliant system.
Performa can also be used to for characters to learn “Radiant Skills,” which have varying effects. A Radiant Skill could mean increasing HP, EP (the equivalent to SMT‘s SP), adding a slot for an additional skill, or unlocking the trait that allows the character to join in Sessions even when in the sub-cast. Radiant Skills tend to require special Performa that are gained from increasing a character’s “Stage Rank” – a stat that rises the more often a character sees battle.
‘WHO IS THIS FOR?’
That’s a really good question. ♯FE isn’t quite SMT or Fire Emblem. I would say from a game feel perspective, it feels closer to SMT or Persona. The ways which you navigate dungeons, conduct battle, and the way the story and characters are written certainly is in-tune with what I’ve come to expect from Atlus.
On the other hand, in its late stages, ♯FE‘s story does begin to draw further from Fire Emblem. The established characters from games of the past and the revelation of the true conflict in ♯FE are completely related to Intelligent Systems’ franchise.
Ultimately, fans of Atlus’s games will find a lot here to enjoy. You could rework the game by removing all Fire Emblem references and have the start of a really fun new IP from Atlus. Likewise, if you’re a Fire Emblem fan that’s never played a Megami Tensei, then ♯FE is a gateway to Atlus’s games, but also will have a decent amount of Fire Emblem fan service to get you hooked.
‘DOES IT WORK?’
Hell yes it works. As a year-one adopter of the Wii U who has played and owns just about every exclusive title on the console, take my word for it when I say Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is one of the best games to be released on the Wii U. It took me just ten days to burn through the 65-hours worth of content it offered me, and it would have taken less than that if it weren’t for my pesky real life getting in the way.
♯FE is one of the most satisfying games I have ever played and features perhaps the best turn-based combat I’ve seen in a JRPG. For as excited as I am about Persona 5 and think that it will be a better game overall, I don’t expect P5 to have a battle system as enjoyable and rewarding as ♯FE‘s. That’s how good it is.
Every battle feels important. Every time I hit a Session and was collecting Performa, I could feel myself getting stronger. Compared to other games in this genre where you only have your character’s level and experience to earn, there’s a lot of moving parts to ♯FE. There’s still a character level and experience to earn, but there’s also the level attributed to your current Carnage Form, the characters’ Stage Rank, and how close you are to fusing new Carnages and learning new Radiant Skills. Every victory – every bit of material earned – feels like a significant step to becoming stronger, rather than just a drop of EXP being added to the bucket like in other games.
‘SOUNDS FUN BUT I HEARD THIS GAME WAS CENSORED!’
Well, you… Heard… Right.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions♯FE released in Japan last December and in the west this past June. The localization, which was handled by Atlus USA at the discretion of Nintendo, did have changes made to it. Here’s a video from Censored Gaming detailing the changes:
The topic of censorship in gaming has become a hot-button issue as of late due to the stigma attached to the industry placating to pressures issued by ‘Social Justice Warriors.’ It also isn’t an easy thing to write about because it’s difficult to find middle ground in this dispute.
When it comes to the gaming community, if you take a stance against any sort of changes made in games – especially ones regarding the sexualization of women – then you’re labeled as some sort of sex-crazed pervert that gets off to anime girls while living in your mother’s basement. On the other hand, if you defend changes and stand up to the long oppressive depiction of women (amongst other issues) in gaming media, then you’re a crazy radical SJW that is trying to take away the freedom of expression and force your beliefs on others.
Let’s be real and call ♯FE what it is: a game marketed towards teenagers. Like it or not, that comes with two different sets of standards in Japan and North America. In Japan, ♯FE received a B-rating by Cero, which is for ages 12 and up. In North America it has an ESRB T-rating for ages 13 and up. It’s very possible that without those changes, ♯FE may not have retained its T-rating and may have slipped to being rated ‘M’ for mature.
Nintendo certainly isn’t against publishing 2nd-party games that have M-ratings – at least not any more. Bayonetta 2 and Devil’s Third were each published under Nintendo’s banner for the Wii U and received M-ratings. Each game has a fair amount of sexual content (on top of copious amounts of violence). It isn’t that Nintendo won’t put out a game with sexual content. It just won’t go overboard on a game that is made and marketed for minors.
In an interview with GameSpot, Nintendo’s Hitoshi Yamagami had this say regarding localization changes:
The changes made during localization are optimizations intended to bring to as many customers as possible the things that we want to convey. No major changes are made that would change what we want to convey.
That certainly is the politically correct answer to give. Personally, I don’t agree. It is true that most of the changes in ♯FE seem arbitrary and even inconsistent at times. However, the changes in Chapter 2 concerning Maiko’s past career as a gravure idol hurt the story telling in the English game, in my opinion. Without the context that the conflict surrounding the photographer and Tsubasa’s apprehension towards modeling are sexually driven, the entire chapter made a lot less sense. I had trouble keeping up with the logic being employed even knowing beforehand that the chapter had been heavily altered from the Japanese game.
In all, I don’t think the changes are enough to make the game unplayable in the west. I would have liked to have seen less liberty be taken with Chapter 2, but aside from that, the changes made to the costumes are arbitrary and don’t affect the game in any way. As it is, ♯FE is too good of a game in its own right to not play just because the localization wasn’t 100-percent faithful.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a charming, unique Wii U game that finds itself in elite company in my mind. Personally, I would rate only Bayonetta 2 and Super Mario 3D World as games I’ve enjoyed as much or more than ♯FE on Wii U.
Sadly, I don’t think it will ever be remembered for the success that it is. Despite reviewing well in the west and abroad (including garnering a 9.5 on Polygon), ♯FE hasn’t been a sales hit. First week sales in Japan were mediocre, and activity on the game’s North American Miiverse was scarce as I played it.
If you like bright colors, great music, exciting battles, and fun characters in your JRPGs, then go buy ♯FE. As small as the user-base is on the Wii U and as few units as it seems to be moving, who knows how hard finding a physical copy of ♯FE is going to be down the road. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see it hit cult classic status someday.
Personally, I’ve added ♯FE to the list of Atlus-made games that warrant multiple playthroughs. Once the game hits its one-year anniversary, I plan to give the cast of Fortuna Entertainment the encore they so rightfully deserve.