Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore was easily one of my most anticipated games for 2020 and after more than 60 plus hours of game time via multiple accounts, I can safely say that it has lived up to expectations. The original Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE for the Wii U was a game that not many played – myself included but it wasn’t for a lack of interest. People just didn’t fancy the Wii U. With a crossover of Shin Megami Tensei from Atlus and Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series, what’s not to like.
So when Encore was announced for the Nintendo Switch I knew it was going to be a game I’d sink many hours into and I have. The game begins with the player choosing their difficulty and then glasses to a character we’ve yet to be introduced to. This confused me at first since I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to already know who this character was. After making your choices, we’re treated to an anime cut-scene of a young girl gleefully viewing a concert only for everyone in the hall to mysteriously vanish. After which the game jumps to the future with the credits rolling. Here we’re treated to another beautiful anime intro which loosely introduces the rest of the cast.
The reason I choose to describe the into as such is because it’s similar to an anime in that you’ll spend a lot of time watching cut-scenes while on this spectacular journey. The game is split up into chapters which emulate anime episodes. In the early sections you’ll spend each episode being introduced to new characters and concepts. The game doesn’t overwhelm the player with too much at once, so by the time you’re a few chapters in you’ll be managing everything with ease.
The gameplay involves a similar dynamic to that of the Persona games but with a twist. Instead of going to classes, you’ll be working as an idol at an agency in modern-day Tokyo. At the agency you’ll be able to complete quests for NPCs, train your characters, and advance the plot. Most of the side activities are tied to Japanese idol life but don’t expect it to be too complicated. They primarily involve the player talking to NPCs, then finding other NPCs, items or defeating monsters. These are simple tasks which will unlock new abilities, costumes and dialogue. If you’re a fan of highly story driven experiences then Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the game for you.
If combat is your thing then don’t worry, it has that in spades as well. Remember it follows a similar style to the Persona series, so the idol agency actually acts as a front while the main cast try to solve the mystery of people vanishing from the city. Similar to the Persona games, we’re thrust into a world filled with aggressive creatures. In this world they’re called Mirages – creatures who harvest energy known as Performa from humans. Early in the plot it’s revealed that some humans have the ability to merge with Mirages. Our protagonist – Itsuke is one of these titled Mirage Masters. During your journey you’ll meet more Masters while slowly unraveling the mysteries around the Mirages, disappearances and the cast of characters.
Each member of the main cast is fully voiced in Japanese, including Itsuke and they all have detailed sub-plots for the player to discover. Finding these involves using them in battle, unlocking new abilities and completing their individual side-quests. Once completed the character gains new carnages – weapons, and abilities. Some of these abilities are received via a process called Radiant Unities. By doing these characters gain special permanent abilities such as extra buffs, teleportation and special attacks. The best of these are ones which are tied to the characters completing unique performances.
New weapons also come with their own abilities – 4 each and they can be mastered by the character so they can be used without the weapon. Since the weapons all have their own stats it’s best to learn abilities you like from a weapon then upgrade to a new one. Some may even have the same abilities so you can stack them for even more effect but you can’t learn them all.
Deciding what to teach your characters is a careful balancing act depending on how you wish to chain them in battle. Characters can chain attacks with each other once they learn new abilities called sessions. An example of this is Tsubasa using a spear attack after Itsuki performs a lighting attack. Once you have a full cast of characters these chains can become quite long with even side characters getting involved. They’re so long sometimes that there is a speed up mechanic to alleviate the monotony of having to watch these long chains over and over. It’s also important to know where attacks pop up in your chains because some enemies will interrupt them due to immunity.
This whole system is tied into a rewarding turn-based battle system similar to titles like Persona, Ni no Kuni and LEGRAND LEGACY. The sessions happen to be their own twist on the turn based style, but the rest of its execution is more or less standard. Each character and monster has an elemental weakness and it’s your job to learn to exploit them to your advantage. Though you can only have three characters in battle at a time, you can swap them in and out during battle once they’re not downed, all except Itsuke. As such it’s a good idea to focus on leveling him up the most so as to protect against poor elemental match-ups for him. If your entire party falls then you’ll be taken back to the title screen where you can load again from your last save point. This game has no auto save system so you’ll need to make sure you save as often as possible before taking on challenging enemies.
Each dungeon has a unique theme with enemies wondering their floors. You can see and avoid enemies or initiate battle by attacking them first. Doing so gives you an initial edge while avoiding them results in sometimes being swarmed. There are even stronger Mirages coloured in a dark blackish hue who will pop up at random in dungeons. You’ll not be able to preemptively engage them like the regular enemies so avoiding them is a valid tactic if you’re not prepared. These enemies are usually a few levels higher than your team and if not careful can KO the entire lot quicker than some bosses. Speaking of Bosses, they were surprisingly manageable. Which may have been due to level grinding – something that is possible in this game thanks to the training systems. Training can provide items to instantly level up characters and weapons in seconds so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a challenge.
Visually the game looks just as good as most other top JRPGs on the Nintendo Switch. Character models are well detailed with a sort of Cel shaded anime look with black outlines similar to Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. They closely emulate the anime look of the cutscenes and animate well during gameplay. As mentioned before the dungeons are uniquely themed and look gorgeous under closer inspection, especially some of the later ones. The towns are also well designed with some buildings you can enter and NPCs wandering the streets. It all looks like you’d expect the streets of Tokyo to look, well sort of. There are some creative choices which some will like while others won’t. One is the multi-colour look of unimportant NPCs. This may be a choice for performance but it gives the game a cool distinguishable look that others lack.
Another is related to localization choices. This is a one that annoyed a lot of potential fans, myself included. Since this game is a port of a Wii U title with all the DLC. Many expected it to be ported using the Japanese release which had swimsuits, more mature dialogue and some more risque costume designs but instead we got the western version. This meant ridiculous censorship and removed content. The whole choice to do so was weird since both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei titles feature fan service, especially the newer Fire Emblem games.
Stupid design choices aside, the game is still spectacular. This is impart to the mostly untouched engrossing plot and the fist pump inducing music. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore features music by Japanese entertainment company Avex Group – a company which manages J-pop talents like Ayumi Hamasaki. (I honestly don’t know who she is. Thank Wikipedia for that factoid). With the game being based on an Idol theme, music is a big part of it. Important moments in the plot and side quests culminate in full on anime idol music videos. Even the battle music changes due to some attacks and circumstances.
Despite the mind blowing idiotic decision to port the western Wii U release, the game is still easily one of the best JRPGs on the Nintendo Switch. Thanks to its addictively great combat system, lovable cast of characters (shout out to my waifu – Eleonora “TSUNDERE FO LIFE!”), catchy OST and engaging plot, this is easily a must buy. Usually it would be advisable to grab games during sales but this is one you should ignore that rule for if you’re a fan of JRPGs with a Nintendo Switch. What Atlus have developed with this title is a gem that should be made into a franchise, just drop the # from the title.
The copy of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore used for this review was provided by it’s publishers, Nintendo.