I like music and I like video games but music games have always been a bit of a hard sell for me. In theory, those should likely be my very favorite titles. And, in application, music and sound design are very important to an immersive gaming experience. Still, I don’t necessarily expect to enjoy a game just because of prevalent musical elements.
Despite all this, I went into the Atlus-produced Wii U exclusive RPG Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE with genuine interest and excitement. Equal parts Shin Megami Tensei, Fire Emblem, and J-Pop, it blends turn-based combat and an action-heavy narrative with pop idol polish for a truly exceptional experience.
Taking place in an obviously surreal interpretation of contemporary Japan, Tokyo Mirage Sessions opens with a flashback to a mysterious disappearance before unfurling before the player a glossy, candy-colored fantasy adventure with a distinctly musical underpinning. Therein, our growing roster of heroes, acting under the unlikely cover of the Fortuna Entertainment talent agency, become Mirage Masters—magical warriors who harness their uniquely human potential to protect the innocents of our plane from the demonic, otherworldly Mirages.
Childhood friends Tsubasa Oribe and Itsuki Aoi are initially drawn from an unassuming pop idol audition session into a parallel realm called the Idolosphere, where they discover that their own Performa, the very human energy source that Mirages wish to exploit, can be used to cleanse and combat enemy Mirages. Their Mirage partners, Caeda and Chrom of Fire Emblem fame, help them leverage their star power into brutal attacks and stunning combos in turn-based, dungeon-delving combat, all to the tune of an upbeat and infectious soundtrack.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE succeeds not in spite of its seemingly preternatural weirdness but because of it. It’s blend of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem combat—enemies are weak to specific elements, and weapon types supplement this via the traditional weapons triangle—and its own over-the-top bubblegum sensibilities makes it a rarity on both the Wii U and in the American market in general. Yet, as much as it borrows from both these fascinating and successful franchises, it truly manages to be its own thing.
In fact, my only knock against it has nothing to do with the gameplay or even its ceaselessly chipper storytelling; instead, it has more to do with the way in which the key concepts are related to the player.
It’s important to note that, while full English subtitles are available, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE doesn’t include a localized English-language soundtrack. This means that you’ll spend a lot of time reading dialog, and it also seems to have opened up the way for lots of game-specific terminology.
We’ll already talked Idolosphere, Mirages, and Performa, but that’s just the tip of the jargon-heavy iceberg. As in most turn-based RPG, special spells or character skills are more useful than standard attack actions. This is because they can be used to trigger multi-character combos if you exploit an enemy’s weakness with an attack for which an ally has a complimentary skill. Only they aren’t combos, they’re “Sessions.” Random power buffs are “Ad-Libs.” Special finishers are “Special Performances.” And, for some reason, craftable Mirage weapons are called “Carnages.”
It’s a whole thing, but it’s worth it.
With impeccable art design, a sparkling soundtrack (that’s accessible even to a guy whose exposure to Japanese pop music pretty much begins and ends with BABYMETAL), and solid gameplay all around, it continually wrings potential out of an often unassuming console.
While certainly not for everyone, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is serious fun for those brave enough to step onto the dance floor.
Rhythm Heaven Megamix, on the other hand, is significantly less high-concept. It is, as the title implies, a rhythm game consisting predominantly of elements from the franchise’s previous editions—including the 2006 GBA title that was never made available here in the West.
Gameplay is deceptively simple, challenging the player to tap along in time with the music for a given mini-game using simple button-presses, though 3DS/2DS touchscreen support is also included. The rating for a stage is given based on accuracy, with “Star Points” also occurring to award precision during specific times.
There is a core Story Mode, but it exists in only the broadest of strokes. You are tasked with helping return Tibby—who is, by all accounts, a bear with an afro—back to his home, Heaven World. This is accomplished, obviously, by completing the requisite rhythm-based mini-game activities.
Along the way you’ll earn prize coins, which can unlock additional content via the in-game Café, by chopping wood or translating alien speech or… plucking hairs out of an unruly onion. What you won’t likely do, though, is ever understand what the hell is exactly going on. And that’s okay.
The trick with Rhythm Heaven Megamix is just to keep playing, to relish all the weirdness–and things certainly do get weird. Even before you’ve experienced the game’s “remixed” content, you’ll likely break a sweat grappling with its madcap syncopations whether you’re going it alone or inviting friends along on the “Challenge Train” for multiplayer.
If you’ve dug previous Rhythm Heaven, titles, then Megamix is for you, but the same can be said for fans of any other brand of odd, rhythm- or time-based mobile madness. (I’m looking at you, WarioWare devotees.) Whether your own “flow”—Rhythm Heaven Megamix‘s name for humans’ (creatures’?) innate musical potential—is on point or needs some practice, this title will likely prove fun and occasionally frustrating but always wonderfully weird.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is ESRB-rated T for “Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol“
Rhythm Heaven Megamix is ESRB-rated E for Everyone