Thoughts on Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

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.

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‘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.

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ENCORE! ENCORE!

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.

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Sexism at E3: Real and Perceived

My goodness is that headline uncomfortable to write. Let’s be straightforward. I’m a man. Ethnically speaking, I identify as white because, while my bloodline isn’t completely true to that (hispanics are the fastest growing demographic if you haven’t heard), culturally, that’s what I am. I’m a millennial male devoid of any sort of significant ethnic heritage and fully assimilated to the American way of life. In other words, I am square in the middle of what’s considered to be the gaming industry’s key demographic.

So with that in mind, I have to be mindful of what I say regarding this topic. I don’t want to be misunderstood or have anyone put words in my mouth. On that note, at this very moment, there are people having heated discussions over sexism in the gaming industry in this country. I guarantee it.

There are a lot of ways to tackle this issue – a lot of instances and examples that can be covered. I’m focusing on one event (E3) and two games: Battlefield 1 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

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EA’s Battlefield 1 launches this fall as that series once again looks to dethrone Call of Duty as the most popular first-person shooter franchise. The game’s peculiar title stems from it being set during World War I – the first game of its stature to have the distinction of retelling one of the great wars in quite some time. Because of its historical reference point, EA let it be known that players would not be able to play as female characters in online co-op, as women largely (understatement) did not see combat during WWI. However, the game’s campaign mode, which is said to jump across multiple perspectives, will feature a woman’s perspective in some way.

Due to how relevant a topic sexism is in gaming today, EA quickly drew detractors. People were quick to point out women did serve in WWI.

During WWI, about 12,000 women enlisted in the United States Navy and Marine Corps. About 400 of those women died, though not necessarily due to combat. Keep in mind that the U.S. suffered over 116,000 military deaths during the war (over a third of which were directly in combat). So while it is true that there were women in the war, at least on the yankee side, it would be more correct to say that there were virtually no women.

Was EA’s choice to not have women in Battlefield 1’s co-op sexist? In my opinion, no it was not. Granted, co-op, in terms of storytelling, is a bit ephemeral. Are we to believe that each round of the countless co-op games that will be played in Battlefield 1’s history is an accurate representation of any given battle during the war? I suppose so, as ridiculous as that sounds. I’m not here to argue whether that’s feasible or whether the co-op should or shouldn’t be part of the ‘realism’ of Battlefield 1’s WWI inspiration. I merely think that is what EA would like you to believe and there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that.

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That brings us to Zelda. Nintendo’s famed franchise saw its first extended gameplay demonstration and title reveal this week. Many questions were answered about the long awaited game’s identity. One of those questions was whether or not this would be the first main Zelda game to give players the option to play as a female incarnation of the series’ iconic hero, Link. The answer was no.

Admittedly, this caught me by surprise. Nintendo has been a fairly progressive company when it comes to equality in the gaming industry and there had been a noticeable push from their public to include a female Link. That push was fueled in no small part by the fact that a female Link, known as Linkle, debuted in Hyrule Warriors Legends for Nintendo 3DS earlier this year.

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And yet come time for the main game, Linkle is nowhere to be found. Naturally, people had questions. Zelda director Eiji Aonuma had this to say:

“So yes, there were rumors [about a female Link], and we did discuss as a staff as to what would be possible if we took that route… We thought about it and decided that if we’re going to have a female protagonist it’s simpler to have Princess Zelda as the main character… If we have princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do? Taking into account that, and also the idea of the balance of the Triforce, we thought it best to come back to this [original] makeup.”

If I’m understanding him correctly, and to be fair, I and the rest of the English speaking world may not be because these words were through an interpreter, he and his staff are of the opinion that the only proper way to have a female lead in a Zelda game would be for Zelda herself to be the player’s character. However, doing so would apparently emasculate Link and leave him without a purpose. I guess that means in their eyes, you couldn’t have a game where the roles are reversed: where Zelda goes on a quest to save or aid Link. That may be what he was referring to when he noted the balance of the Triforce; where Link has always represented the Triforce of courage and thus, to stay true to the universe and Zelda timeline, you could not have a passive character holding the Triforce of courage. When thought of that way, I can see what he means.

However, this still does not answer the real question, which is why Link, the character that holds the Triforce of courage, cannot be female. There remains no good answer as to why the player cannot simply choose to have their Link be male or female other than Aonuma and his staff just not wanting that to be a reality. At this point, you can only ponder why that is and I struggle to find a logical reason.

It’s ironic to me. Here I am, examining two major games showcased at E3. One, Battlefield, is in my mind, very much at the center of uber-masculine, violent gaming culture just as its rival Call of Duty is. Zelda on the other hand, is a classic Nintendo title predicated on artful design and storytelling alongside inspired, cutting edge design philosophies. Yet somehow, Battlefield is the game I’m defending and Zelda is the one that is coming off as sexist. No offense to EA and Battlefield players, but that’s really disappointing to me because I expect a lot more out of Nintendo and the Zelda franchise.

It is shameful. This issue and Aonuma’s comments, are a blemish on what was otherwise a perfect coming out party for Breath of the Wild. It’s not too late. The game isn’t releasing until March at the earliest to coincide with the launch of the NX platform. How difficult would it be to make this change? Perhaps too difficult, but I can wish. Regardless, I hope Nintendo feels blowback from this decision and Aonuma’s comments. This decision and what was said, are both incorrect from an ethical standpoint and a public relations standpoint.

Does keeping it the way it’s always been mean Zelda has always been sexist? I don’t believe so. But acknowledging that you were well aware of the public’s growing desire to see a female Link in the game but choosing not to make that available based on illogical, gender-biased reasoning is definition sexism. That is disappointing to even write. I am in no way a white knight for gender equality in gaming. But as I’ve made clear countless times through social media, I hold Nintendo and Zelda in particular to a higher standard in gaming. Zelda has once again let me down – only this time, it isn’t because they’re trying to make another Ocarina of Time clone.

Star Fox Zero to Have Mode That Stops It From Being a Game

You read that correctly.

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Star Fox Zero, the upcoming title for Nintendo’s Wii U, will include what’s called an ‘invincible mode’ for inexperienced players that want to play and win, but don’t want to actually have any of the stakes that make a game a game. Director Shigeru Miyamoto had this to say in a recent interview with Time.

We have additional ones for people who like the game but find it too hard to get past certain levels. So for instance there’ll be a way for them to get an invincible Arwing, so that they can fly through and see the levels. But at the same time, we’re also preparing modes for Star Fox fans looking for an even harder challenge, such as a ship that does more damage, but which also takes more damage.

This may sound surprising to some, but it’s par the course for some of Nintendo’s recent releases. Super Mario 3D World for Wii U also featured an invincible ‘golden tanooki suit‘ that would appear for players to equip if they died on a level several times in a row.

This is all subjective of course, but I couldn’t be more adamantly opposed to this kind of feature in games. Maybe it’s because it fundamentally contradicts what a game is supposed to be. Or perhaps I’m just bitter that the games of my own youth didn’t have this sort of thing built in. Of course, I’m also aware of the crowd that exists to mock people that do what I’m doing right now.

I don’t want to get on too big of a soapbox and talk about how easy kids have it these days or sound like the old man who’s upset that every team in his son’s little league gets a participation trophy. Still, at some point, you kind of have to wonder what the point is if these kinds of games just hand success to the player. It isn’t as though Star Fox Zero is going to blow you away with its character building and storytelling. Like almost everything Nintendo develops and publishes, it will likely be gameplay centric. So if there’s no need for the player to master the gameplay, what is there?

It’s frustrating, to be honest. I’m one of those people who’s objective enough not to swallow everything Nintendo gives me, but will defend them for their amazing reputation from the segment of people in the industry that wants everything Nintendo touches to turn up in flames. It’s hard to defend Nintendo from being the ‘kiddy company’ that is out of touch with the modern audience when things like this continue to get built into their titles. Help me help you, Nintendo.

Nintendo is Butthurt About Federation Force Hate

Remember Nintendo’s 2015 E3 Direct? I know this is the Internet, where news has the lifespan half that of the common housefly, but think back. It was then that Nintendo announced to the world that the 3DS would be getting a new game called Metroid Prime: Federation Force.

The video above, which has over 1.2 million views to date, is sitting at about a 90% dislike rating. People weren’t happy about Federation Force last year. People aren’t happy about Federation Force today.

Yesterday, Nintendo aired a lengthy Nintendo Direct to the world which detailed upcoming titles for the Wii U and 3DS over the coming spring and summer, and even announced a couple of new ones. Among things shown in the Direct was an update on Federation Force. Like for most things featured, after the Direct aired, Nintendo uploaded the new preview by itself to its YouTube channel. That’s what the following is.

The difference between last year’s trailer and this year’s? The ability to like and dislike the video has been disabled. Was the same done for anything else posted yesterday? No, of course not. It was done to silence the negative reaction to Federation Force and nothing more.

Just in case you’re confused by all of this, allow me to explain why Federation Force is so unpopular. Metroid fans are starving for a proper new installment. The last major title was Metroid: Other M for the Wii in 2010, and even that game was met with a lukewarm reception. The Metroid Prime line of games, which Federation Force is borrowing its full name from, last saw an entry with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption all the way back in 2007. For players, a casual spinoff game like Federation Force is an insulting response to the demand for a new, full-length adventure starring Samus Aran.

Fans haven’t been shy to voice their displeasure about the game. Nintendo’s attempt to silence them is, in a word, pathetic. I guess Nintendo of America still needs some public relations improvement, which, as someone who regularly keeps up with NOA’s movements, is hardly a surprise. Silencing your customers’ grievances is rarely a good idea.

Federation Force may be a good game when it does release. However, this has been a lesson in timing and understanding your audience. Sadly, for franchise director Kensuke Tanabe who appeared in the Direct and seems very dedicated, this game may end up bombing in sales at this rate. The reality is that a game like this should only be released when the public’s desire for a main title has been satiated. Had the Wii U received a Metroid game in the first few years of its lifespan, I don’t believe we would be seeing the kind of reaction to Federation Force that we are.

Federation Force can truly be seen as a microcosm of Nintendo’s overall dilemma with its release lineup. Both platforms, the 3DS and Wii U, lack third party support – much more in the Wii U’s case. There’s a demand for quality titles from owners, but with the exception of a few major third-party 3DS releases here and there, Nintendo has had to fill the libraries themselves. Even with all of their manpower and the third-party studios they work with, there’s only so much that can be developed and published in such a small amount of time.

So what ends up happening is you get games for the Wii U like Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash instead of a proper Animal Crossing or Mario game. The same can be said for Federation Force on 3DS. All of this is concerning with the Nintendo NX looming on the horizon. I’m as excited for Nintendo’s next step in its lineage as anyone else, but I don’t know much I can stomach another stretch like Nintendo’s been on since last year’s E3.