Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is unapologetically weird, unabashedly over-the-top, and it's utterly fantastic
I don't think anyone could have possibly imagined the end result from the dramatic reveal teaser of a Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover. I remember an incredible amount of late night discussions with friends, drawing in additional characters from spinoffs such as Devil Summoner and Persona, imagining possible scenarios, all star clashes between Demifiend and the forces of Black Fang, The Dawn Brigade staring down YHVH, and Ike dancing crazy.
Needless to say, absolutely none of that happened, and after years of radio silence the crossover was once again shown off in the idol-themed RPG of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. While a part of me still wishes to see the Shirogane-Kuzunoha Detective Agency taking cases from the trans-dimensional kingdom of Magvel or something like that, I can't say I'm too disappointed with what exists.
Bear with me here, because what I'm about to say is probably going to sound like I just had a stroke, but it's necessary for a point I'm going to make later. At an opera performance, mysterious ghosts attack the performers on stage and abduct nearly everyone in attendance. Flash-forward: High school friends Itsuki Aoi and Tsubasa Oribe are at some kind of Japanese Idol-type program. Oribe, the somewhat awkward, spacy type, whose sister (an idol/actress) was abducted at the opera, and who is one of the few not abducted from said opera, is on the program, wanting to become an idol like her sister. However, the emcee, possessed by a ghost similar to those at the opera, known as a mirage, kidnaps all the would-be idols on stage and takes them to the, and I quote, “Idolasphere,” the home dimension of the mirages.
Aoi, the player character, then rushes into the Idolasphere to rescue his friend. While there he rescues the idols by managing to talk sense into Chrom and Caeda, friendly mirages with the form of the Lord unit from Fire Emblem Awakening and a Pegasus Knight from the original Fire Emblem, being controlled by some nebulous evil force. By partnering with Chrom and Caeda, Aoi and Oribe, respectively, can biomerge into what is known as, again I quote, “Carnage form,” and can fight off other, evil mirages. This is because, and again, I quote, Aoi and Oribe are strong sources of “Performa,” a resource derived from a human being's creative energy. This gives them the title of, please stop laughing, “Mirage Master.”
After freeing the emcee from control of the evil Mirage (Garrick, from the prologue to Awakening), Aoi and Oribe find out that not only is this a common recent occurrence, there's an entire entertainment agency devoted to moonlighting as Mirage Masters, protecting the Performa of the people of Japan.
I told you it was unapologetic. And that's just the prologue.
None of that would work if the game didn't thrust itself gleefully down the pit of the absurd. There are no pretenses here. This game is absolutely ridiculous and it knows it, but not to the almost overbearing degree of a later Saints Row game or a Deadpool comic. There's a certain glee in how the game throws absolutely ridiculous situations at you, then provides the characters with enough reason and motivation to keep them invested in the situation that at face value is ridiculous, but in the context of the story is absolutely logical.
In the hands of a lesser localization team, this would absolutely crumble, and Nintendo wisely passed those duties off to Atlus. They have done what many people have tried and failed to do, and that's make me care about these anime characters. Unlike another recent release, these characters are well-developed, likeable, and while they certainly use anime tropes and character quirks, they also stand out by not wholly relying on them. This is especially evident in the side-stories, sort of a blend of the social link system from Persona and a Mass Effect 2-esque loyalty mission, which gives you the opportunity to really see how they twist and bend the tropes ascribed to them in ways that make them immensely likeable.
The gameplay, while certainly not a reinvention of any kind of JRPG wheel, is an enjoyable refinement of the genre. Effectiveness in battle relies on the use of “Sessions,” this game's Turn Press or One More system. Hit an enemy with an elemental or physical weakness, and your party will “Session” off of it, following up with an attack of their own. As you progress, this can become time-consuming, but not really irritatingly so. Ad-lib attacks (gained through side-stories or crafting) can be randomly triggered to add new effects to attacks, Radiant skills (gained through crafting) can be gained that allow inactive party members to jump in on Sessions, and Dual attacks (gained through side-stories) can reset the session and tack on another set of session attacks.
More general active or passive skills are gained through the Carnage you have equipped at the time. A mastery level increases during battle, and bequeaths skills as it levels up. While this may seem like a lot of crafting, it never feels intimidating or really all that difficult; materials are incredibly easy to come by.
Dungeons are longer and much more involved than past Shin Megami Tensei games, but each of them holds a unique theme and interesting mechanics that tie into the theme that makes them fun and interesting to crawl through. A dungeon derived from a TV production that goes awry due to mirage interference has puzzles and activities that rely on aiding a producer of a Mirage TV production wrangle unruly actors and fix last-minute set design problems. It's really quite clever.
If I had to level any form of a complaint at the game, it basically boils down to the fact that the only characters from Fire Emblem that show up are either from Awakening or Shadow Dragon, as well as a complete lack of SMT characters, but even then that hardly matters when the rest of the game is so tight, and at the very least there are references to nearly everything in the weapons so it isn't like the rest of the two venerable series' history is completely ignored.
I admit, I have a real fondness for games that eschew any sense of trepidation about what they do. Take for example, the Yakuza series. It's far and away one of my absolute favorite video game series. One of the key reasons is, and this is the most eloquent way I can think to phrase this, it doesn't care. It's going to have its long cutscenes because that's what it feels like it needs to do to tell its story, and it says “Yeah, people might complain, but so what? It's what I'm going to do.”
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE doesn't care. It's going to tell its zany, wacky story, and if you try to ask it a question like why, or how, or what for, it's going to give you a wink, a smile, and say “Because it's what I'm going to do. Hold on tight.”