Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore Review

Some games come packaged with a premise that demands examination. You’re grabbed by the shoulders, shaken vigorously, and dunked in the river. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore’s central conceit still shocks you awake, even years after its initial release. On that wide-eyed note, the question remains: is this game worth returning to on the Nintendo Switch?

Let’s imbibe that premise at once, no chaser provided. Mirages are sneaking into our realm and stealing the Performa of helpless citizens, leaving them as husks or worse. It’s up to a team of Mirage Masters masquerading as Tokyo pop idols to save the day. Only they can beat back the Mirages and save the day, mostly through bombastic special attacks and bite-sized Japanese pop anthems. The whole affair is a torrential downpour of uplifting speeches, extravagant outfits, and ridiculous villains. Also in a shocking twist, the game is ummmm, quite difficult.

It Was Persona The Whole Time

The aesthetic and the difficulty seemed like a strange mix to me, until I realized that this is just a Shin Megami Tensei game in disguise. If you’re not familiar with that franchise, it covers all the Persona games, as well as the actual SMT titles. This means Tokyo Mirage Sessions isn’t unfair, merely unrelenting. To that end, choose the easy difficulty when starting the game, maybe? Don’t worry, your scoffing retort that you’ll do no such thing can be easily remedied at any point in the settings menu. I caved after the chapter 2 end boss took me from full health to zero in a single turn… three times in a row. But in a totally fair way!

I’m not being facetious, I promise. The combat system unfolds like a razor-blade rose once you master it, leading to insane Session combos that can annihilate most enemies on a whim. The road to this point is brutal, though. Your party can exploit enemy weaknesses to get in extra hits, known as Sessions. Conversely, your enemies can use the same system. It’s how that chapter 2 boss wiped me out with a shrug. Some fights are all about striking first, and striking hard. Thankfully you can save your game at anytime, so terrible mistakes hardly set you back. Assuming you actually remember to save, that is.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

While Mirage Sessions will feel familiar to any Persona fans out there, there are also treats in store for any Fire Emblem players. Those Mirages you fight with? All of them are Fire Emblem legends. Some cuts are deeper than others, but who doesn’t know Chrom, or Tharja? They might be thoroughly Persona-fied, but their old essence still shines. At least, Tharja is still rather unsettling.

For all my talk about toughness, the rest of the game is cake. Sweet, fluffy, and a joy to consume, Mirage Sessions dresses a hardcore dungeon-crawler in uplifting stories of success amid personal hardships. Believe in yourself, believe in your talents, believe in your ability to kick-start a successful pop career. Everyone (beyond the plain yogurt protagonist) is a delight, full of tender, funny moments that kept me plugged into the story. Even the stereotypical plot beats are handled with attention and care, such that I was never assaulted by talking heads and their draining aura. Although be prepared to see characters break up exposition by repeating the last two words of every statement, like parrots in hot pants and tiny skirts.

Cheesecake In A Barb-Wire Cage

Okay, so there are a few tropes in tow. Any game structured like an anime will inevitably run into these problems. Beyond the usual weird exposition/reaction/repeat conversations, more or less every problem is solved by believing in oneself to a greater degree. Every villain you encounter will either be redeemed or recycled into a brand new ally. The chapters descend into formula, a comforting rhythm of personal problems, conflicts, and twinned resolutions. This all sounds like a condemnation, which it sort of is, but these bugs are features as well. Anyone well-versed in anime knows these tropes, expects these tropes, pines for these tropes. The narrative is peppered with highlights, emotional payoffs snuck in among the exhausted archetypes.

Going into this game, I was incapable of expectations. The strange premise could hide an infinite number of genre mashups and mechanics. Somehow, the actual experience retains a portion of that jumbled energy. You divide your time between merciless dungeon exploration and sparkling idol training. Your allies are a hit parade of Fire Emblem heroes, while your party is a checklist of anime tropes and muzzled insecurities. If you must prepare for this game, then prepare to be exhausted, elated, and energized. I found the Persona/Fire Emblem mix to be a bit unbalanced for my tastes, with too much tough and not quite enough touching. Still, under the layers of glitter, music, and misery, there’s a rock-solid JRPG to be found. If any of these disparate ingredients caught your eye, then Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore will almost certainly keep you hooked.

***A Nintendo Switch Code was provided by the publisher***