Once More With Feeling: GeekDad Reviews ‘Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore’

Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE Encore
image: NOA

The 2015 Wii U release Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is generally remembered as… Well, it’s not generally remembered, and that’s a shame. Those who do recall the game typically mention its unique blend of Shin Megami Tensei‘s contemporary setting and Fire Emblem‘s high fantasy bombast, its saccharine-sweet pop idol narrative, and its surreal, day-glow visual aesthetic. This, too, is kind of a shame, as Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is far more than the sum of those parts.

Earlier this month the game arrived on the (significantly more accessible) Nintendo Switch as Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore, and if any niche Wii U title is deserving of an encore, it’s certainly this one.

The narrative follows Tsubasa Oribe and Itsuki Aoi as they pursue pop idol stardom—despite Tsubasa’s awkwardly shy nature and Itsuki’s initial ambivalence. It turns out, though, that idol culture isn’t just about carefully cultivated personas and grueling training to hone one’s entertainment chops, it’s also about protecting Tokyo from otherworldly invasion. (Naturally!)

Hostile inter-dimensional entities known as Mirages routinely breach our world in an attempt to harvest Performa, the unique human energy of artistic potential. Some rare and talented people, however, are able to not only partner with friendly Mirages—all of which seem to be analogs of existing Fire Emblem characters… for reasons—but even take them back into their source dimension, the Idolosphere, to combat the Mirage threat on its home turf.

Quickly Tsubasa and Itsuki are recruited by Fortuna Entertainment, a talent agency that’s secretly a front for Japan’s foremost Mirage Masters. In time they partner with other famous Fortuna actors, models, and musicians, and are further aided by former-idol-turned-big-cheese Maiko Shimazaki and instructor/otaku comic relief Barry Goodman, as well as Fire Emblem‘s diminutive divine dragon, Tiki, who serves as a weaponsmith of sorts. (We’ll get to that later.)

Gameplay typically involves main story chapters, during which a new or growing Mirage threat appears and Itsuki and his active four-idol team must enter the Idolosphere to combat it, and intermission periods that help flesh out the characters, showcase their performance skills, and otherwise build camaraderie amongst the cast whilst exploring Tokyo hotspots like Shibuya and Harajuku.

The combat comes fast and heavy, as the Idolosphere is positively lousy with malicious Mirages to both help you learn the ropes of the battle system and prepare you for the inevitable boss fight. Battles are turn-based, with hero idols and enemy Mirages unleashes attacks, casting spells, and using items in a turn-order displayed on an easy-to-see timeline at the top of the screen.

Characters and enemies each have strengths and weaknesses, with exploiting type weakness (a la the more traditional Fire Emblem titles) being key to your continued success. Automatic Session Attacks—think combo attacks but with a shiny coat of idol paint—commence when a combatant is hit with an attack for which they have a weakness and for which one or more of their party members also has a complementary move. This can lead to spectacular pile-ons and really whittle down HP on both sides of the field.

Careful combat earns your squad Session Points, which can be used to trigger extravagant Performance Attacks (think Summons but with better choreography). There are also Ad-lib Performances, free random ally attacks that, like Performance Attacks, can be unlocked via side stories or using Unities.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE Encore screenshot
image: NOA

Combat nets you money to use for more items and gear, experience that levels up your idols and their current Carnages, and components used in Unity rituals. In Carnage Unity rituals, Tiki harnesses necessary components and an idol’s earned Performa to create a new Carnage, a distinct weapon form for their partner Mirage. Leveling up a Carnage unlocks new skills and, in turn, helps newer, more powerful Carnages become available. Consequently, Radiant Unity rituals use an idol’s innate and ever-evolving Performa—generally unlocked through primary plot or side story progression—to grant them powerful, unique Radiant Skills, which can’t be learned via Carnage.

If you find yourself thoroughly confused at this point, that is totally understandable. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore, like real-world idol culture in general, is kind of a lot and not easily accessible to outsiders. The game, however, does a fantastic job of engaging, engrossing, and educating the player, even if its saccharin-sweet emotional overtures and show-stopping song and dance numbers do occasionally leave you simultaneously scratching your head and rolling your eyes.

As a hirsute heavy metal hillbilly, I was more than a little skeptical the first time I stepped into the world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, but I was quickly won over by its charm and the design team’s clear and unfaltering dedication to its wonderfully cohesive look, sound, and feel. I’m happy to report that its glossy visuals, complete with both pastel-colored NPCs and harsh gothic weapons and armor, have arrived on the Nintendo Switch perfectly intact. The same can be said for its soundtrack, which, while not always my jam, is no less awe-inspiring and enjoyable.

In fact, the only thing that seemingly didn’t make the jump from Wii U to Switch is the game’s original load times, which were often substantial. This makes the new Encore edition perfect for both docked console play, with its larger than life idol-worthy production, and on the go on the smaller, sleeker Switch Lite.

At its heart, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is about how working hard and dreaming big is often what it takes to make yourself and your world a little bit better. But in the end, we find the true power of Performa was the friends we made along the way.

I’m only kidding, folks. The true power of Performa is clearly rocket-powered unicorns and dimension-shattering pop music performances.

At any rate, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is another Wii U jewel that’s thankfully found new life on the Nintendo Switch, but unlike more ubiquitous titles like Mario Kart and Pokkén, there’s a good chance that this one is a totally new gaming experience for you and yours. Don’t let this unfamiliarity scare you off, though, because under its glossy surface and pitch-perfect melodies is a serious RPG—even if it doesn’t always take itself seriously.

Review product provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. Is it weird that I identified more with Barry than with Itsuki?

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