Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a refreshing RPG with a fun cast and an intriguing world. Progression is always exciting, and the catchy J-Pop tunes will be stuck in your head for weeks to come.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore presents a fresh take on turn-based JRPGs that combines elements from Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. In it, we take control of a group of teens that fight monsters in a parallel world using their ability to perform in front of an audience.
From High School Seniors to Pop Idols
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore begins when Itsuki Aoi meets his school friend Tsubasa Oribe in a Japanese “Next Idol” talent show. After a series of events I won’t get into, they acquire the ability to use avatars called “Mirages,” based on key characters from the Fire Emblem series. Popular characters like Chrom, Tharja, Cain, and Caeda make an appearance here, but with a modern aesthetic that builds upon their original designs. With their newfound powers, our heroes battle evil Mirages that seek to steal the power of inspiration – “Performa” – from regular humans.
In each episode, evil Mirages attack a different destination in Tokyo’s fictional entertainment world. Our heroes need to invade an Illusory Maze in a parallel dimension to save the day. But as the threat becomes more menacing, our heroes must get stronger too. Since the power to command Mirages comes from their ability to perform, each character needs to train and grow as an entertainer.
The story centers around Tsubasa’s personal road to stardom. She learns to sing, model, and even act as she is groomed to become an Idol. We also get to experience other characters’ career development through side stories that unlock as we make progress in the main story. In these side stories, our player character Itsuki assists the characters in overcoming their personal issues and achieving new career goals. The side stories also help us by unlocking new combat abilities that reflect their career milestones.
I really enjoyed following my characters’ careers. While they aren’t very developed, they do have fun personalities. It is satisfying to see them overcome their difficulties and become better human beings in the process. You really don’t need to be a huge J-Pop fan to be excited about Tsubasa’s breakthrough hit and be genuinely happy for her.
In addition to the central and side stories, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has some less interesting side quests. These usually involve talking to a bunch of NPCs, defeating specific enemies, or searching for a lost object in one of the mazes. Aside from these requests, the Switch port includes a new, gradually developing EX Story. The EX Story lets you explore a smaller Illusory Maze and adds a bit of additional story revolving around two characters: Tsubasa and Kiria. It’s a tiny bonus, but it fits well and adds a bit more volume to the game’s content.
Between Two Worlds
Throughout the main story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, you travel between two worlds – Modern Tokyo and Illusory Tokyo. The primary and largest area you can explore is Shibuya Ward. However, you only explore a small and confined part of it. It stretches from Shibuya Station to the famous 109 building (although it’s referred to as Shibuya 106). Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of places to go or people to talk to.
The other areas in the game are even less expansive. Most of them are made up of a small space with a few NPCs and an entrance to a maze. If you’re looking to explore a vast and detailed Tokyo, look elsewhere.
But the game gets truly intriguing when you’re invading the Illusory Mazes. Every maze is designed around a theme that relates to where it is located in the real world and has different kinds of traps. Illusory Shibuya 106, for instance, is based on a shopping mall and has giant mannequins that can be used to travel between floors.
When exploring an Illusory Maze, enemy Mirages will appear in your way. You can battle them or wack them with Itsuki’s blade to avoid the fight. It’s very convenient, and I was able to avoid battles that I was not in the mood to fight, as opposed to many other RPGs with random encounters.
At the end of every maze is a challenging boss fight and occasionally a challenging mini-boss somewhere in the middle. The game always warns you before you’re about to enter such a battle. This way, you can always save your game moments before and prepare.
Stealing the Spotlight at Every Turn
Like many other Atlus games, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore uses a turn-based battle system. Each turn, you can attack, use a skill, or change the character you’re controlling. This is where the game adds a unique system called Sessions.
When you activate a skill and use it to attack an enemy with a weakness, other characters can join in with consecutive attacks. You can activate Sessions to earn extra opportunities to attack, rack up massive combos, and get rid of dangerous enemies efficiently.
At the game’s best moments, you find yourself planning your attacks carefully to trigger Sessions, exploit weaknesses, and take out multiple threats at a time. As the game progresses, your ability to create longer and more complex Sessions improves, but enemies become more resistant to them. You’ll need to carefully plan which enemy to attack to avoid hitting it with a less effective Session or even worse – a Session that will heal it.
In addition to their regular abilities, your characters can learn special skills called Performances and Ad-lib Performances. These are more powerful and cinematic abilities that are based on key events in the characters’ career development, such as their latest hit song. It’s another excellent example of how Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore incorporates the story into the battle system.
Throughout the game, your characters grow in two main aspects: experience points to level up their stats, and Stage Ranks that unlock new abilities and side stories.
The characters’ Carnages, the weapons that the Mirages can transform into, level up as well. Every time a Carnage levels up, it unlocks a new skill you can use in combat. With a large variety of Carnages available, there is a lot of depth to character customization, especially in the latter stages of the game.
Customization does not end there – the game features a costume shop where you can purchase new outfits. Among those are some that were never available in the Wii U version, such as Joker from Persona 5 and a student uniform from Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Aesthetics at Center Stage
From the very first moments, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore shines with beautiful animated anime-style cutscenes. You can rewatch all of these cutscenes from the office that acts as the heroes’ headquarters, a feature that I needed in many other games.
But whether it’s the animated cutscenes, menus, or combat animations, the game’s entire aesthetic is bright, colorful, and energetic. At no point does it get too messy or noisy – everything is always neat and blasting in full spectrum.
Even when it’s not an animated cutscene, the game excels with full voice acting and lip-synching. The voice actors do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life and filling them with personality. It is thanks to them that I became so invested in the story.
But my favorite part of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is its incredible music. The upbeat battle music and the chill sounds of the different Illusory Mazes are all part of the energetic and catchy soundtrack. I didn’t expect to be humming and singing J-Pop songs with squeaky vocalists while writing this review. Yet here I am, singing and humming Tsubasa’s breakout song “Feel”. Man, is it catchy…
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore captivates from its very first moments and never lets go. The story and world are original and intriguing, and the characters and their difficulties had me glued to the screen. It’s just a little too bad that the areas you can explore are so limited and disappointing.
The combat system can be very satisfying. Especially when you manage to land a long combo Session with every one of your characters attacking. The Session system gives turn-based combat a new depth that I never knew could exist.
Fire Emblem fans looking for a little fan service and a few references, JRPG fans searching for a new Atlus game on the Switch, or anyone in need of a dose of sweet, sweet optimism – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore might be your next big hit.
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2020
Available On: Switch
Reviewed On: Switch
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