Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore review

One of the Wii U’s best releases gets time to shine on the Switch.

Some pairings are a match made in heaven: gin and tonic; Bert and Ernie; Bonnie and Clyde; pineapple and pizza…

That last one was a joke, you sicko.

The crossover pairing of Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem, however, is absolutely no joke. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE was released worldwide in 2016 on the Wii U, and was widely considered to be one of the best releases on that console.  The enhanced port now graces us on the Switch, under the short and catchy title Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore.

Tokyo’s next top idol

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is a turn-based JRPG where the “J” may as well stand for J-pop. The protagonist Itsuki Aoi and his friends at Fortuna Entertainment live double lives as idols and Mirage Masters – committed to defending Tokyo from evil monsters in the “Idolasphere” dimension, while also trying to make it big in Japanese showbiz.

To summarise: you walk, talk, sing, talk some more, then kick some monster butt.

Monster-butt-kicking is done in dungeon instances via turn-based, tactical combat, where attacking an enemy’s weakness allows you to chain attacks together with other party members as a “session”. It’s basic stuff, but it’s incredibly satisfying when the rest of the team joins in on a savage beat-down.

Different party members have different strengths and weaknesses, and learn various skills as you progress through the levels. Your team members not only level up in the traditional sense, but gain “Stage ranks” which allow you to progress their character development via side-stories.

This leads to the classic JRPG experience of grinding dungeons to level up. Much to my surprise, this didn’t bore me at all. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore works hard to keep things fresh, with a huge array of character dialogue, the ability to set tactics for auto-play, and a new option to speed up combat animations.

Stay sharp

Your first clue that this game has a musical theme should have been the sharp symbol in place of a hashtag before FE.

While all elements of the Japanese entertainment industry are touched upon, music is the true heart of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore. Key story beats are regularly punctuated by animated musical numbers; characters are referred to as “artists” whose attacks are “tracks”; enemies drain entertainer’s charisma-based “performa”.

If you don’t enjoy unapologetically upbeat pop and plotlines solved by the power of friendship and music, this isn’t the game for you. Even I, with my famously high levels of cringe tolerance, struggled at points to take the plot seriously. However, it’s hard not to fall in love with Tokyo Mirage Sessions when its main cast are so endearing. The started-from-the-bottom idol storyline is well executed, from girl-next-door Tsubasa’s singing career to best-friend Touma’s action hero exploits.

In contrast, the protagonist Itsuki is bland. His voice actor has been quoted as playing Itsuki with no personality so he could better act as the player’s avatar. The effect is not unlike many anime on the market, where women fall inexplicitly in piles at Mr Bland’s feet.

I like a man with more personality than a ham sandwich, but to each their own, I guess.

While the graphics are sometimes a little obviously from the Wii U era, the care taken in Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore’s development is obvious. I really enjoyed the creative touches of colour, like how background NPCs were represented as coloured silhouettes. Most named NPCs have something different to say each and every time you progress the story, and even decorative posters and descriptions of items will change to reflect the growing fame of your team.

As for the locale, it seems like every second game I play at the moment is set in Tokyo. Tokyo is undoubtedly an endlessly vibrant setting for a game, but having lived there, it gets more and more difficult to distinguish between a genuinely compelling game environment and warm feelings brought on by blurred nostalgia.

Please excuse me while I stare at old photos and sob into my wine.

A little bit of Tharja in my life; a little bit of Chrom by my side

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is most clear an Atlus title, using gameplay and visuals borrowed from their Shin Megami Tensei series and spinoffs, albeit with a lighter tone. The context is different, but you still gotta band together with your friends to beat otherworldly threats with the help of summoned warriors.

The influence of Fire Emblem: Awakening’s widespread success at the time of Tokyo Mirage’s original release is also apparent, with most of the crossover characters hailing from that title. Characters like Chrom, Virion and Tharja, (along with convenient amnesia) function as “summons” who assist during battle.

The common sentiment at the time of original release was that Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE was disappointingly light on Fire Emblem. The enhanced port doesn’t change this. The Fire Emblem franchise still plays second fiddle, often relegated to sound effects and elements of the Weapon Triangle system (e.g. “sword” attacks are good against “bow” enemies, etc.).  

Never played any Atlus or Fire Emblem games? No problem – Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is completely standalone and doesn’t require knowledge of either franchise to play.

Tsubasa can have little glasses, as a treat

So, is it worth getting the Switch port over the original Wii U edition?

Ha, I can’t even type that without laughing out loud.

We are now free to enjoy the gang’s musical shenanigans on the superior Switch. And that’s not all, folks – this is more than a simple port. This is an Encore! As such, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore has a few new additions over and above the original.

Encore contains new side stories, a new training zone and many, many new outfits. The new training zone feature has game-breaking consequences, to the extent that the game itself warns that over-use of the training area will hurt your overall enjoyment. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t grind your way to a high-level in the core game if you really wanted to – but the new area lets you do this at light-speed. Use at your own risk.

While the switch to Switch also necessitated a few minor UI changes (for instance, the map and messages from your companions now pop up over the screen, instead of on the Wii U Gamepad), the other real big change in Encore is that the female lead, Tsubasa, can wear glasses.

As someone who also rocks corrective eyewear, I very much approve.

Time to shine

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is J-pop at its most fun, paired with satisfying, addictive combat. If you can get past the cheesiness, the 50+ hours you’ll spend with Itsuki and friends will be some of the year’s most heart-warming and gratifying.

While the additions to the enhanced version aren’t necessary to the gameplay experience, Encore is empirically better. It feels only just that a game as fantastic as Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, a classic that was confined to an end-of-lifecycle release on an unpopular console, will now get the time on stage it deserves.

J-pop themed combat that dreams are made of.
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