Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a Persona game in all but name, make no mistake. It may be a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, but it gets almost all of its DNA from the SMT-spinoff turned Atlus flagship series, and that is a very, very good thing. Surreal, psychological dungeons, a mash up of an ultra-modern setting with bizarre otherworldly beings, deep, fascinating characters, and stylish flair that just drips out of the screen are the defining aspects of Persona, and all are present and accounted for in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.
Set in modern-day Tokyo, the game follows a group of idols working at a company called Fortuna Entertainment. These idols are some of the most popular entertainers in the country, but when they’re not performing, recording, and doing all the work that comes with that position, they’re moonlighting as Mirage Masters – people able to summon the aid of strange beings called mirages in dimensional rifts known as Idolaspheres.
In their basic form, mirages are monstrous creatures that feed off “performa”, the manifestation of creative energy in humans; entertainers, being flush with performa, are prime targets. The mirages that Mirage Masters call upon, however, are those that have been cleansed, so to speak. They also happen to be characters from various Fire Emblem games – Chrom and Tharja from Fire Emblem Awakening, Cain and Caeda from the original Fire Emblem, and so on. Practically, they perform a similar role to Persona’s titular personas: they imbue regular humans with the supernatural powers needed to face the threats they face.
Like Persona, it’s a framework that allows for deep and insightful exploration of psychology of core characters and the society around them, only this time the focus is on the entertainment industry and everything that comes with that: the fame, the glory, and the fun of performing, but also the pressure, the invasions of privacy, and the lack of freedom that comes from having your whole life determined by the expectations. It’s mainly focused on the uniquely Japanese idol culture, but a lot of the underlying ideas at play are universal.
This theme runs right throughout the presentation of Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Battles are performances – on a stage, in front of thousands of cheering fans. Instead of “Equipment” and “Status”, the party menu has “Wardrobe” and “Artists”. In casting spells, characters sign their autographs in the air in front of them. A key battle mechanic allows party members to team up for attacks called Sessions. Outside of dungeons, much of the game has you living the idol life – going to singing and dancing practice, meeting with fans, frequenting places like Shibuya and Harajuku, and so on.
The Idolaspheres are a real treat. As with Persona’s dungeons, they’re surreal and metaphorical, drawing on the particular psychological demons of the cast. One early Idolasphere has you posing giant, empty costumes in order to create bridges between levels by walking through the sleeves – costumes dwarfing people, symbolic of the pressure that the idol Ayaha Oribe faced. In another dungeon, based on Tsubasa Oribe’s discomfort with modelling, you have to avoid cameras that reset your progress should they spot you – the puzzles are built around literally avoiding being photographed.
True to its Persona and Shin Megami Tensei roots, encounters are turn-based affairs with a strong focus on exploiting weaknesses. Hitting a foe with an attack type they’re weak to can trigger additional attacks from allies, forming a Session. Whether a Session triggers depends on the attack used in the first place, and the Session skills equipped by the rest of the squad. For instance, using the basic electric spell Zio would spark a Session attack from an ally with Elec-Lunge; being a lance-based attack, that could in turn chain a third attack from another member with a Session skill like Lance-Slash. As such, there’s a lot of emphasis on party synergy – not unlike a performance.
It’s also a clever way of combining key aspects of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem battle systems, being elemental properties and support attacks respectively. As little presence as Fire Emblem may have on the surface, this is absolutely a crossover game, and a faithful one at that. Even with their redesigns, Fire Emblem characters will be immediately recognisable to fans of that series, and that is the source of character classes and almost all foes encountered. There’s even Fire Emblem-style class promotion through the use of Master Seals – for example, Caeda, who starts out as a Pegasus Knight, can promote to Falcon Knight or Dragon Knight.
This is the rare kind of crossover game that isn’t just about fan service and inside jokes. Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei / Persona fans will probably get more out of it, but it stands on its own well enough that people with no experience of either can come in and just appreciate what it has to offer. That might be its greatest achievement of all.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a must-buy for anyone with a Wii U, and I’d say is even worth buying a Wii U for. It’s not just a killer app for the console (well, the latest in a long line of killer apps), but a smart, beautiful, funny, thought-provoking, brilliant game – the sort of game we’ll be talking about for years to come.