Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a beast of a game. Not content-wise or from a particularly ambitious story, but by the measure in which starting directly at it can cause blindness from sheer overstimulation. Okay, so it’s not quite an eldritch horror in that regard, but the game is weird. No way around it, and yet I adore it. In celebration of the game’s recent Switch rerelease, I will examine just what the title means to me. Something about combining these two previously somber series and dipping it in a lethal amount of cotton candy results in the strangest, most charmingly sincere, silly package that I had an incredibly unexpected amount of fun playing. Like many others, I saw this game’s release cycle with a dabble of cynicism. “Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem turned into this? It’s like the two series crashed into a How to Draw Manga book from Barnes and Noble”.
Joking aside, the game just pops. The main color motif of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a vibrant green, often within a field or on a specific character. This reflects a sense of vibrancy and is a true celebration of the bustle of city living and creating relationships. Like the acclaimed The World Ends with You by Square Enix, TMS highlights and presents the “life” the city can contain, here through the focus is placed on Idol culture more than the general activities of the city. The game is treated as a whirlwind of performances and flashy showmanship through-out its 40 odd hour runtime. Imagine a BABYMETAL concert but each member engaged in active turn-based combat during the show. That is this game.
Similar to the strange though charming nature of Earthbound or Kingdom Hearts, eventually one just accepts the inevitability of a Hot Topic-clad Chrom from Fire Emblem entering the scene at a moment’s notice in this game. At a point, your suspension of disbelief rounds into a real sense of enjoyment, and that I believe is the joy I found myself gathering from this game. There is a certain moment in the endgame that has become famous within the community since when the game came out in 2015. The main characters, in a desperate plea to overwhelm the main antagonist, begin singing a J-Pop rendition of Fire Emblem’s main theme as they fly into space all garnered in their idol costumes. This is by far one of the coolest moments in the game, and by the end I found myself unabashedly happy at the sheer nonsense happening on screen.
Pictured: Me and the gang going to McDonalds outside Comic Con
Countless reviews since TMS’s initial release have talked about this game’s curious nature. If it were a tree frog, it would have those bright yellow bands that mark the game as some sort of poisonous pariah shunned by either community it claims inspiration from. Yet, I find that in viewing the game as a festival showcasing the combat of ATLUS titles and the nature of modern Fire Emblem, the game succeeds in its goal. Though not what many expected from a crossover of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, I think it strives for a different vision rather than just a simple blend of the two properties. One could have Lucina as a playable party member a la Dante in Nocturne, or you could be the intern who suggested they all become idols and fight with their song based abilities. Personally I enjoy the latter significantly more.
This is where I find the game was a title made for me. Like a chimera of all the controversial aspects of either series, this creation is one Atlus and Intelligent Systems would sooner have put out of its misery than publish. Yet, it came out on a sinking little system (being the WiiU) and with an appearance that was off-putting, to put it mildly. Even owning the very system it was released exclusively on, I never gave the game a proper shot. It was understandable in the moment, but If I could tell 2015 me, freshly into Fire Emblem, that this game was the lovechild of Awakening and the aforementioned TWEWY with a dash of the fashion show minigame from Pokemon Black and White, I would’ve bought it in a heartbeat.
Yep, looks like Fire Emblem to me.
This style of turn based combat also reminds me of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. There, battles also took place on a stage, though instead of JPop idols it was good ol’ Mario Mario instead. Growing up with performance and acting experience personally, I find this is an extremely fun and stylized vessel for combat (and one not often explored in the medium of video games as a whole). With all of these positives lined up I feel like this game was an experience that could become one of my favorites as time goes on. My only regret was not seeing past the initial repulsion and picking up this game sooner.