I was introduced to the Persona series by a friend in the fall of 2008, when he invited me over to his house to play the beginning few hours of Persona 3. I was mildly interested in the game and always toyed with the idea of playing it, but I did not have a PS2 at the time and the thought of getting one of those made it seem like it would take more time than it was worth. I wound up being wrong about that and about Person 3, because when the fourth entry of the series came out I spent many hours enthralled in its various adventures with the Inaba gang and their constant kangaroo courts. When I heard about the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover, the most I could hope for was a Fire Emblem style game with monsters and characters from the mainline Shin Megami Tensei mixed in. Here I am, being wrong again.
It turned up on my doorstep (I forgot I pre-ordered it) and I had mostly ignored or failed to keep track of the developments on the game so I was surprised to see how similar it was to Persona and not to the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, of which I have little experience with. Turns out this game is basically Japanese pop idol Persona with a hint of Fire Emblem stirred in and it is great.
The combat system relies on the classic turn based JRPG method that has been used for decades but adds a twist when it allows the characters you currently do not have in your party to attack in sessions, think chain combos. When one character uses a fire attack, for instance, another character can chain together an attack based on the fire attack. This can stack up to a whole lot of times and the combat system continues to add more and more elements as the game goes on. The sessions start out small but then turn into big huge things. After completing side missions each character gains new impromptu performances and that adds another layer to the combat with random stronger attacks that always lead into sessions. Eventually you will unlock duets that feature two characters giving a major boost or dealing major damage to the enemies. The characters seem to always have enough SP? to be able to do a special attack so working with sessions never seems to be a huge issue. The game almost punish you for not using sessions, which are fun and you should use. After awhile watching the same animations and transitions over does get a little time consuming but all things considered they could be a lot longer.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE carries very few things from Fire Emblem over to its mashup. The characters from mainline Fire Emblem games turn into the new persona-esque Mirages. In every Persona game (I’m not sure if it’s in Shin Megami Tensei or not), there is a super effective and resistance based combat system, which is mixed with the combat triangle from Fire Emblem. So not only can you exploit elemental weakness but now you also have to consider swords, axes, spears, and bows into your combat scenarios. I was nearly overwhelmed the first time I looked at a monster and saw how much information they gave me about it. None of the Fire Emblem turned based strategy elements make the leap over to the Mirage universe.
There’s a real weird weapon level up system that has you creating and leveling up new gear for each character. The weapon system seems a little wonky and maybe not complete all the way. I did a lot of grinding and getting different materials which are used to create these weapons and I was often stuck with the same weapon for entire dungeons because I could either not craft a new one yet or did not have the correct materials for the newest one. With each new weapon comes a new set of skills and additional upgrades to old skills. Later in the game, the ability to re-level old weapons opens up and useful skills can be upgraded even further. I feel as if the weapon upgrade system is betraying its shallowness with these attempts to add depth that leave out a lot of personalizing and the old persona mixing. Now if you could mix different swords together to get new ones, that would be something I would be very much into.
Atlus did not record any English voice-over for this game in, what I assume, was an attempt to save money and get the game out the door before Nintendo forsakes all Wii U owners, which it did about two days after the launch of that thing. Personally, I’m not one for reading everything that pops up on screen and I tend to turn subtitles off in most games I play as I find it very distracting because words can be read faster than they can be said. So, I find myself skipping a lot of the dialogue and just reading it. Since I do not know Japanese the voice acting is lost on me and that is very disappointing. I wish it didn’t take away from the experience or become a non-factor. Weeaboos and anime fans are probably not very happy about this stand but I think subtitles detract from the general experience of a game or movie. They draw the eyes to the bottom portion of a giant screen.
Speaking of screen time, the second screen on the Wii U gamepad is always a toss up when it comes to functionality with each new game. A lot of people were really into the ability to use the second screen as the main screen for gaming but I just don’t see a point when I’m going to do that when I have a TV. Well, Toyko Mirage Sessions does not even give you that options because down there, in that small screen that has really bad colors, is a messaging app. Basically, they wrote out a bunch of text messaging and feed it to you slowly as the story and side missions unfold. It helps to increase the immersion in a game that is sort of skirting its way through character development and plot.
Social Links were one of the best parts in the Persona series. Nothing beats hanging out with Yosuke listening to his shitty music or milf hunting with Kenji. Goddamn, Kenji, goddamn. The side stories in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE are a bad attempt to recapture the glory of Social Links. There are only about four for each character and they hardly reveal anything about them that does not pertain to the Tokyo pop idol scene. Sure, we all want to know about what in the blue hell the microwave show that Mamori does and how awesome Kiria’s cat outfit looks but I feel as if we do not get a real feel for these characters as we did in previous Persona games, or even Fire Emblem games, which have lately become more anime by including dialogue interactions, marriage, and children. Eugenics has reached Fire Emblem.
In the United States, we are still about six months and one Presidential election away from the release of Persona 5. A game that I will be thinking about daily until then. If you have been considering replaying Persona 4 because you did not finish the Golden version like I have and need a break then look no further than Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. The game differs enough from mainline Persona games and is just enough mixture of Fire Emblem and crazy Japanese pop idol culture to make the time a worthwhile experience. So if you need to find out what a microwave cooking show hosted by a thirteen year old anime girl is like, then probably play this game. It is so worth it.