[REVIEW] Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore Brings Niche JRPG to the Switch

Although March through May will be an exciting time for gamers, early 2020 has been fairly light. Few, if any, big titles have released. One could argue that the first major title to kick off 2020 will be Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons on March 20th. But for those looking for a game to hold them over until March, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore offers a unique JRPG experience.

Ported over from the Wii U, Tokyo Mirage Sessions follows Itsuki Aoi and his group of Mirage Masters at Fortuna Entertainment as they harness creative energy known as Performa in order to save the world from evil mirages looking to steal this Performa. Through battling these evil mirages and gaining Performa via celebrity training exercises, Itsuki develops relationships with his teammates, learns new skills, and views/partakes in various entertainment events like concerts, photo shoots and television shows.

While this story seems a little strange – I could never get my head around why Atlus based this game in the Japanese entertainment industry – it does a good job of fully immersing itself into this ridiculous setting. Almost every major conflict in both the main plot and sub plots relied on the characters overcoming stage fright of some kind, resulting in an anime-style cutscene often accompanied by original arrangements. Feel, Reincarnation, She is…, and more were all incredible musical arrangements in their own right and you could see the characters entering into new entertainment markets, just like they would in real life. Although these animated cutscenes didn’t fully give access to character interiority, they were funny, cute and definitely on brand with what the game was going for.

If the story was rife with several inherent weaknesses – shallow overall narrative arc, major events happen seemingly at random, and Itsuki lacks any emotional register – the gameplay felt oversaturated. The game combines gameplay elements from both the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem series to varying degrees of success: enemies, the combat system, and story elements largely come from the former while the level up system, major characters like Chrom, weapons and certain musical arrangements come from the latter.

Both games feature gameplay systems complex in their own way and the combination wasn’t exactly successful. For example, stat boosts in Strength and Resistance can help determine how well your character will do against an enemy unit. In Fire Emblem, this comes up in a pre-battle menu where you can see the exact amount of damage you will inflict on them. However, no “preview” screen appears in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, meaning that you as a player cannot see directly how gains in stats affects your battle strategy.

Given all of this, it’s fair to say that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is without a question a flawed game. Its story leaves much to be desired, the gameplay seems half-baked, and the characters have little to no true development. It was frustrating because I expected and wanted more, because things weren’t quite clear and didn’t make sense.

Yet, there was something that kept me pulling me back to the game until I finished. I wanted to see the game through and finish the arc the narrative tried to create (no matter how convoluted it was). Even with everything the game didn’t do quite well, I’m glad I saw it through. If anything, it showcased just what makes Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei so special even if this particular combination wasn’t perfect.

Perhaps a controversial opinion, I hope Atlus and Intelligent Systems learn from Tokyo Mirage Sessions and develop a more faithful collaboration that works through some of the growing pains this game had.

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