Reviewing games is hard work, but choosing who gets to cover the latest releases can be even harder. That is, unless we’ve got access to multiple copies of a new game, in which case we like to give everyone who’s playing a chance to weigh in. Welcome to the latest installment of Invisible Gamer’s Review Roundtable, where we’ll have an honest-to-goodness, unfiltered discussion about what we like about a game, what we don’t, and ultimately whether we think it’s worth your time. Reviews in this format won’t be scored, but we think they provide something even more valuable: a chance for us to dig deeper on the parts of a game that really stood out to us—in both good and bad ways—and an opportunity to see how our different opinions are shaped by our individual experiences. Our latest installment covers the Atlus-developed, Nintendo-published Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, which fuses elements of the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem series into a single, solid experience you’ll only find on the Wii U.

michaelfb

Austin, we both had high hopes for this one, but I’m gonna let you kick things off because I think you have a stronger opinion than I do.

 

 

austinfacebookI thought Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was made for me. A Japanese turn-based RPG set in Japan? I’m all for that. Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem in one game? I’m salivating. Tons of J-pop? I sing that stuff in the shower.

 

 

michaelfb

Cute.

 

 

austinfacebookIt’s like Atlus packaged a box of Valentine’s Day candy just for me, then delivered it via Nintendo Express in the form of a Wii U game.

 

 

michaelfb

Sounds yum!

 

 

austinfacebook

I just wish I liked candy more.

 

 

michaelfb

Wait, I’m confused. I thought you said… never mind. Go on.

 

 

austinfacebook

So, Tokyo Mirage Sessions revolves around a group of Japanese teenagers working together in showbiz. After a fateful idol audition, friends Tsubasa and Itsuki get swept up in a world of Mirages, demons that feed on the power of artistic creativity called Performa. Once confronted with their own Mirages, the two friends are hired by Fortuna Offices to not only help fight the evil spreading throughout Japan, but also sing, dance, and act for the company. While the core plot is focused on the battle between good and evil, the characters and their side stories bring a heavy emphasis to the music and acting world; the highs and lows and the struggles performers deal with in the pursuit of success.

 

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michaelfb

That sounds a lot like a certain Vita-exclusive Persona 4 spinoff that came out last year. In fact, hold on… ah, that’s better.

 

 

austinfacebook

Huh?

 

 

michaelfb

Nothing, just cued up “NOW I KNOW (Yuu Miyake Remix)” from Persona 4: Dancing All Night. That song does my body good.

 

 

austinfacebook

Yeah, it’s good. So, anyway, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE…

 

 

michaelfb

Sorry!

 

 

austinfacebook

Look, revolving around the world of Japanese idols is an interesting direction for any game and I absolutely love seeing it play out, here or in P4DAN. The problem with TMS#FE is its characters, particularly the main character Itsuki. He may possibly be the most generic, lifeless character I’ve ever seen in a video game.

 

michaelfb

Hyperbole alert!

 

 

austinfacebook

I’m serious! I’ve honestly seen mute characters with more personality. And it wouldn’t be a problem if Itsuki played any other role in the game, but the fact is, the entire thing revolves around him, and that really brought the experience down for me.

 

 

michaelfb

I wouldn’t necessarily say I agree with you, but I hear you. Itsuki is bland. I think it’d be different if—and yes, I’m going to bring up Persona 4 again—I think it’d be different if this were one of those Yuu-type characters—one that represents the player. I like the other characters in TMS#FE. I wouldn’t mind living in their world for a bit. That’s not possible in this game, because we’ve got to fill another character’s shoes while we’re playing.

 

austinfacebook

I mean, the thing is, the supporting cast is fine. But it’s stuff so full of anime stereotypes: flirtatious boss—

 

 

michaelfb

—boob physics—

 

 

tmsmaiko

austinfacebook

—ehem. The cute and adorable youngster, the overzealous fanboy. We’ve seen these so many times before, and maybe I’m just growing out of my appreciation of this kind of storytelling, but watching them interact just felt like such a chore.

 

 

michaelfb

Sort of like when we were kids and we’d go to the anime section at Blockbuster, and the only thing they had was Akira or Record of Lodoss War or that terrible ’80s dub of Nausicäa called “Warriors of the Wind.” We’d rent the same three tapes over and over and over, and when we finally found something new to watch, we’d be let down by how similar it was to those movies we’d become so familiar with. You’re sort of getting that feeling from TMS#FE, it sounds like.

 

 

austinfacebook

Well, I mean, that changes a bit about halfway through. The story starts to pick up, but you’re also given more side stories to go through, and those inject a healthy dose of personality into the cast because they reveal some much-needed depth to the way the characters are written. It puts a nice focus on the notion that there’s always a struggle going on behind the scenes, whether it’s in showbiz or in your heart.

 

michaelfb

Funny you should mention that, because no matter how many games or movies I consume starring gangs of plucky Japanese teenagers, there’s always this same throughline of “let’s do our best for our friends.” There’s such an overwhelmingly positive mood to this kind of entertainment, and so while I can understand why you’d be tired of the stereotypes… honestly, it’s still such a nice change of pace for me from the dour writing we get in most Western-developed games. We’ve talked an awful lot about the characters, though, and haven’t said a whole lot about the gameplay. Should we move on?

 

austinfacebook

Definitely.

 

 

michaelfb

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was originally announced as Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem. I think given this is a Nintendo exclusive, we were all expecting maybe something a little bit more Fire Emblem than what we actually got. I love Fire Emblem, but I’ve also always really wanted a proper Persona-type game on a Nintendo console—something which Persona Q failed to deliver for me. How’s it stack up for you as far as being a crossover?

tms2

 

austinfacebook

So, yeah, this mash up of the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem properties ends up skewing heavily toward SMT from a gameplay standpoint. I do think the Fire Emblem tie-ins make for a unique and interesting twist to the formula. Beyond the Fire Emblem characters that appear as Mirages and partner up with the main cast–

 

michaelfb

Personae!

 

 

austinfacebook

Yes, more or less like that. Especially because the turn-based battle system feels like it was ripped right out of the SMT series. But it also takes a cue from Fire Emblem, with attacks adhering to a rock/paper/scissors system of strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

michaelfb

Fire beats water, and all that.

 

 

austinfacebook

Well, yeah, but actually water beats fire. Also, I was more referring to physical strengths and weaknesses… like how mounted/horse-type enemies are weak to spears, and flying enemies are weak to ranged attacks but strong against melee attackers.

 

 

michaelfb

I recognize that is something they were going for, but honestly, it doesn’t feel all that special to me. It does feed into the one aspect of combat that I think is wicked awesome: Session Combos.

 

 

austinfacebook

Right. So, basically, if you target an enemy’s weakness, your party will initiate a Session Combo, so as long as the next character in your party has a related Session Skill, you’ll do extra combo damage to the enemy. You unlock these skills through the use of multiple weapons—

 

michaelfb

—which you have to craft. And also they’re called Carnages for some reason.

 

 

austinfacebook

I feel like the system stems from the way you partner up characters in Fire Emblem. You can even get Master Seals to unlock more powerful job classes for your Mirages.

 

 

michaelfb

So, maybe a bit more Fire Emblem than we were saying initially?

 

 

austinfacebook

Sort of, though it’s not all that deep, I guess.

 

 

tms4

michaelfb

You’ve gotten farther than me, and you have a big problem with the battle system that I haven’t encountered yet, right?

 

 

austinfacebook

Yeah. So, Sessions are an absolute joy to pull off and watch, especially when you can continually hit an enemy’s weakness for major damage. But it becomes a required tactic as you progress through the game.  And then the enemy starts using it. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE will beat you to a pulp if you’re not prepared for what it has to throw at you. It will also do that most of the time you think you are prepared, because enemies can Session too, and wipe your entire party out in a turn or two.

michaelfb

Yeah, I’ve actually had that a little bit, too. Seems unfair from a player standpoint, though I’ve always wondered why player characters are inherently more powerful than enemies in most games. TMS#FE is a good reminder: it’s not very fun having to play the same section of a game over and over because you’re just not capable of dealing with the bad luck the game sometimes throws at you. Enemies being able to do Session Combos on player characters feels like a never-ending string of bad luck.

 

austinfacebook

Right, so you actually are with me on this one?

 

 

michaelfb

Yep.

 

 

austinfacebook

So, this ends up being one of the most frustrating things about Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, because each dungeon has a wide variety of enemies that can hone in on your party’s weaknesses. You don’t know what type of enemy you’ll encounter—

 

 

michaelfb

—because they all look the same in dungeons, until you’ve made contact and it switches to the battle view.

 

 

austinfacebook

Exactly. and you can’t swap out a party member for someone who might be better suited to a specific type of enemy until it’s their turn. So in a worst case scenario—one that’s happened countless times for me—you could have two thirds of your party wiped out before you even get a chance to react.

 

michaelfb

And by that point, you’re just doing everything you can to bring your party back from the brink, never mind trying to do any actual damage.

 

 

austinfacebook

Nearly every time I found myself in this situation, I was too far in the hole to survive. Thankfully after a few frustrating restarts I learned to save often. Very often.

 

tms5

 

michaelfb

Video games! I wish there was a save/restore option in real life.

 

 

austinfacebook

It’s okay, buddy.

 

 

michaelfb

Anyway.

 

 

austinfacebook

Anyway, despite that one frustrating aspect, the battle system can be a real highlight when you’re strategically laying out the proper actions and figuring out the most efficient ways of dispatching the opposition. This is in part due to the fact that there’s a ton of statistics and variables to tinker with throughout the game. There’s a huge selection of weapons and equipment to unlock that in turn grants your characters new abilities. Outfitting your party with the proper equipment, and discovering a complementary strategy for the specific dungeon you’re in… that part feels great. I just wish I didn’t have to grind as much before a boss fight because the difficulty ramps up extremely high during these fights. At least you get a warning before each boss fight.

michaelfb

Yeah. I mean, I felt that way the first time I played—

 

 

austinfacebook

—Persona 4. I know. But it’s worse here.

 

 

michaelfb

Maybe you’re just getting old, papa. Have you asked Clementine if she wants to fight the bosses for you? Maybe you could have her grind for you while you’re at work. As long as she remembers to save often.

 

 

austinfacebook

You’re not a parent yet…

 

 

michaelfb

Soon!

 

 

austinfacebook

Listen, I’ve enjoyed my time with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Just… well, nowhere near as much as I’d hoped. The themes and ideas feel fresh enough to push through, but the structure of the game just feels so uninspired.

 

 

michaelfb

I’ll attest to that. Every time I played TMS#FE, I couldn’t help but wish I was playing a certain other—

 

 

austinfacebook

—Persona 4. Michael. I know.

 

 

michaelfb

I’m just saying! This just feels like another lesser take on the Persona series for me. The great combat and dungeons are there. The music is fantastic. Phenomenal, even. But where are the Social Links, Austin?

 

 

austinfacebook

If you want a familiar JRPG gameplay loop with vibrant visuals and a pleasing bubbly J-pop soundtrack, you’ll absolutely love TMS. I just wish they’d broken from tradition a bit here.  At least the anime cut scenes were incredibly well done.

 

 

michaelfb

Worth all that grinding?

 

 

austinfacebook

I don’t know about that.

 

 

tms6

 

Invisible Gamer’s review of Tokyo Mirage Sessions # FE is based on both eShop and physical disc copies of the game. The game launched on June 24th, 2016.