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Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 24, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Slay strategically in deep, stylish RPG battles as the worlds of the Fire Emblem series and Atlus games have crossed paths again and the result is coming with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore.

Buy Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

Tokyo Mirage Session #FE: Encore is set in a modern-day version of Tokyo. Aspiring idol Tsubasa and her best friend (and not-so-secret crush) Itsuki are attending a musical tryout. Unfortunately, the tryout is interrupted when a black aura coats the area and monsters drag Tsubasa into another dimension: the Idolasphere. While rescuing Itsuki, both Tsubasa and Itsuki acquire friendly Mirages, which are magical beings that are powered by the energy of human performances. They're promptly recruited into a combination talent agency/monster fighting squad to track down the source of the monsters and save the world.

Although TMS was originally billed as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, it has infinitely more in common with a Persona title. Aside from the name, it's basically a Persona title. You play as a group of teenagers who get magical spirits who grant them magical powers, so they can go into another dimension and battle monsters. It predates Persona 5, so it lacks some of its polish and flair, but it feels like it could slot in easily between Persona 4 and 5. With that said, it has a more lighthearted plot with a greater focus on people figuring out their entertainment careers than defeating a great evil. (There's some of that, of course.)

If there's one element of TMS that is disappointing, it's that the Fire Emblem elements feel perfunctory. The weapon triangle appears in combat, and the Mirages are named after various Fire Emblem characters, but you could replace those with generic characters, and nothing much would change. The use of Fire Emblem leads up to a hilariously cheerful and oddly delightful ending sequence that could only work if Fire Emblem were part of the game, so perhaps it's for the best.

The core gameplay is simple. Your goal is to reach the end of the latest dungeon, beat the boss, and save the day. You can enter and leave the dungeon at will, which is important because the dungeons aren't designed to be finished in one trip due to the way the combat and skill learning are handled.

Rather than learning new abilities by fusing Persona or recruiting demons, TMS has you crafting Carnage Forms from materials that are dropped or found in dungeons. Each Carnage Form functions as both a weapon for the character and a way to learn skills. As you fight with an equipped Carnage Form, you'll learn the skills associated with it, and once it is mastered, you no longer gain a benefit from it. You'll need to swap to another weapon or return to base to upgrade the weapon, which unlocks a fifth skill to learn.

Combat has almost everything to do with Persona more than any other game in either of the franchises on which it's based. You have a party of three characters, but you can rotate the entire cast in and out of the party at will. (Itsuki must be part of your party until NG+.) Each character excels at different things, with some focusing on offense and others on defense, and each character has one strong element and weapon type.

The core of the combat system is elemental weaknesses. In addition to the usual fire/ice/thunder/wind/dark/light in the Shin Megami Tensei games, TMS also features bows, which inflict major damage to flying enemies, and the ax/spear/sword weapon triangle from Fire Emblem. Regardless of which weakness you hit, the important thing is that you hit a weakness.

When you hit a weakness, the other characters in your party (if they have the correct skill) follow up your attack with one of their own. This starts off with a basic follow-up attack, but as you progress, you unlock more combos and special duo attacks that deal massive damage and starts a second session on the back of your first one. This is the primary way to deal damage in TMS, and to emerge victorious, it's crucial that you create a team that can effectively "session" off another enemy. As you progress, you'll even gain the ability to initiate sessions from status effects or enemy types.

TMS isn't an overly punishing game, but it is a feast-and-famine one. Enemies hit extremely hard and have the ability to "session" off you if they hit a weakness. It only takes one wrong move for the enemy to wipe out one of your party members, after which things can get bad pretty quickly. There are options to minimize the risk, such as defensive spells or healing, but if you want to succeed on the harder modes, you need to know the best order to beat enemies.

In essence, the combat system revolves around performing sessions in the correct order to minimize enemy turns while maximizing your own damage. A good chunk of this involves building your characters correctly and understanding enemy weaknesses and strengths, so you don't accidentally break the chain with an element that won't harm the enemy. It's an engaging system that's similar to what was in recent Persona titles. It's simple on the surface, but it feels enjoyable and engaging, while still leaving room for different builds and strategies. Each character has at least two potential builds, and even within those two builds, there is a lot of potential for different characteristics.

The biggest problem in combat in the original release of TMS is that it was long. You had to sit through upward of 10 animations, and each was relatively lengthy. It really started to drag as the game went on. Thankfully, Encore fixes this by adding a fast-forward toggle that lets you speed through the animations or slow them down at the touch of a button. It might sound minor, but this fixes the single biggest problem with TMS's original release. The combat system feels so much better with that extra speed baked in.

Unfortunately, that is about the only significant change made to the game for the Nintendo Switch release. The only other change, the "EX Stories," is an extremely brief set of dungeons designed to add the previous DLC costumes and the new bonus sessions. It has a plot, but it's pretty thin and focuses on two characters. One nice bit is that it includes new bonus costumes, such as Joker from Persona 5 and a uniform from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Don't expect anything akin to recent re-releases of Atlus titles. The new features are basically just an excuse to port the Wii U title to the Switch.

Beyond combat, there's something akin to Social Links for your party members and support staff. These unlock new abilities or bonus attributes for the characters. There's a bonus arena where you can take on swarms of enemies without the aid of items. There are some special fights that are only available on NG+, and that's about it. The game will probably run about 25-30 hours, but it's brisk and well-paced, so it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Visually, TMS looks pretty good. It has heavily stylized visuals that are a precursor to Persona 5's over-the-top style. The character models are simple but well animated, and there's a lot of effort put into making a Wii U game look good. The animated dancing scenes are particularly noteworthy and give the game some charm. The voice acting is Japanese only, but in a surprising twist a lot of effort was put into making sure the Japanese dialogue matches the English script — even where the two versions differ from one another in the original. The music is quite good, but it depends on your tolerance for cheesy J-Pop because it's in a whole lot of the game.

For good or ill, Tokyo Mirage Session #FE: Encore's biggest strength and biggest weakness is that it's pretty much the same game you may have played on the Wii U. It runs better, it looks better, and it has some nice quality-of-life improvements, but it's basically the same game. Is that worth $60? It depends on how much you enjoyed the game in the first place, or if you missed it due to it being a Wii U title. Anyone who is a fan of Persona-style games will almost certainly enjoy it. JRPG fans hoping for something to tide them over until Persona 5 Royale should find a comfortable home in the weird world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions.

Score: 8.0/10

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