Monday, January 2, 2017

[REVIEW] Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U)

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
Played on: Wii U
Genre: JRPG
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Nintendo

Initially announced as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an Atlus JRPG that mixes several elements from those beloved franchises. Luckily, the result is a game that's very much its own idea.

The protagonist is Itsuki Aoi, a high school kid who finds himself involved in an interdimensional war with mythical beings of another world. The force that allows humans to fight those beings is called 'performa', which gets more powerful depending on each person's artistic talents. As such, the cover-up for Itsuki and his ever-growing group of comrtades is Fortuna, a developing talent agency.

In his quest, Itsuki roams Tokyo to find special gates to another dimension (called the Idolosphere), where colorful turn-based battles take place. Exploration of the overworld is very limited, as the game's Tokyo is made of several self-contained spaces instead of a single open world. Each of the game's several Idolosphere-based dungeons, however, offers more secrets and hidden passages to uncover.

One of the game's best traits are the battles, which are extremely colorful turn-based affairs. They're technically deep without being overwhelming, and require players to carefully choose between several attack types and magical elements in order to maximize combo sections. The enemies are all based on the Fire Emblem universe, which adds a great layer of fan service.

Equally interesting is Tokyo Mirage Session's focus on the Japanese music industry. As the story progresses, Itsuki and his friends go through several side quest to awaken their performa, which invariably lead to music videos showcasing their development as artists. Now, I don't really know the first think about J-Pop, nor am I really interested in it, but even so I though this was a pretty nifty idea. The music itself, while not my cup of tea, should be pleasant to fans of the genre, and the insight into Japan's ubiquitous idol industry makes for a novel background.

There's also a weapon-crafting side that's vital to progression in the game. Each character has their own weapons, and each weapon offers different attacks and static abilities to learn. There a lot of depth here, and I often spent many minutes lost in the intricacies of transforming hard-earned loot into fine new swords, lances, and axes. The one problem is that the process is a bit obnoxious, as you're forced to skip the same animation every time you make a new item.

Finally, there's the elephant in the room: the censorship. This is something that almost never bothers me, and sometimes it even rids otherwise fine releases of cringe-worthy sections. (Hey there, petting minigame in Fire Emblem Fates!) But here, there's no two ways about it: it's a problem. It gets to the point that whole plot points stop making sense altogether until you search the web and discover that critical details were censored. It's a bummer, and makes it harder to actualy care about the story.

TMS has all the characteristics of a classic Atlus RPG, which means satisfying turn-based combat, but also some anachronic conventions (such as limited exploration and animations that get repeated over and over). Although marred by censorship of critical plot points, the final package is a fun adventure with a music industry-based background that I hadn't seen in a game before. It's admittedly a niche title, but if you're a fan of JRPGs, or Fire Emblem, or J-Pop (or all of the above), this one should be right up your alley.

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