Straight up, I think the main reason I wanted to get this game was the use of colour. I’m not really much for J-Pop, and I loved Fire Emblem Awakening, but really… just the header image shows how colourful this game is. It might be the fledgling graphic designer in me, but the more I saw of this game, the more I loved the colour.
Anyway, let’s talk about things other than colour for a bit.
The story of TMS is fairly light on, with the focus of the game being mostly about the setting, music and gameplay. That said, there still is a running narrative through out, with each chapter of the game playing out like a very long episode of anime.
At first, the Fire Emblem crossover stuff seems fairly shallow, with characters from Awakening and the NES original basically taking the place of Personas from the Persona series (Atlus developed both, so that makes sense). The main character, Itsuki, gets Chrom as his sidekick, with the rest of the cast getting these characters, known in-game as Mirages, that compliment, or strongly contrast their personality/cliche.
The main story is a blend of “the daily life of an idol” and a very shallow Fire Emblem plot, with the last few chapters being very Fire Emblem focused, which was interesting. On top of that, each cast member has a series of side quests with their own personal journey. The characters are actually pretty entertaining, which makes doing these side quests doing just for their sake, but the rewards for completing them are also pretty cool.
Which leads me to the next topic- the battle system. One reason I don’t play many JRPGs (or even RPGs sometimes) is the massive grinding using a fairly unoriginal or uninspired combat system. But in TMS, the combat is addictive, and even when you feel like it’s getting stale, it starts to change and gets even more complex, adding to this feeling of being very powerful. Each battle, even the smallest, turns into an event.
To elaborate- the battle system relies on Session attacks, which is basically a combo. If you land a hit that the enemy is weak to, it’ll trigger a Session attack. When you learn more Session attacks, they get longer. The characters not in the active party (the sub-cast, as they call it) start being able to attack in Sessions, leading to even longer Sessions. And then you have a random chance to activate a Duo art, which has two character attacking in unison (even healing/buffing/debuffing) that resets the combo, so you can go for even longer. The longest I got was 13!
All of this sounds overpowered, and in the smaller battles, it can be. But for boss battles, it’s essential. The game is tuned around these Session attacks, so you have this feeling of being all powerful, while still being challenged. Some harder battles usually involve the enemy performing Session attacks against you too, so it can be a double edged sword.
Outside of that, the rest of the game plays very similarly to Persona, so it’ll be familiar to all those who are familiar with the series. The dungeons are straight forward, and interrupted frequently by enemy encounters, which helps to level up, but makes the dungeons feel longer than they actually are.
Absolutely gorgeous in some places, and a bit flat in others. The “other world” in the game, called the Idolasphere, is a bit hit-or-miss, with some areas being interesting and daunting, and other areas being bland and colourless. While understandable, to give the game contrast between two worlds, the Idolasphere is where you spend most of your time in the game, so it feels a bit boring to be in there sometimes.
The game shines during the idol performances though, with most of the characters having a music video with their songs, or a live performance of some sort. The set and costume design during these moments are very striking and awesome. And when you unlock more of these performances during side quests, they also sometimes become attacks in game.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was the battle arenas. When you encounter an enemy, you’ll be taken to this stadium/arena stage, with the design drawing from the dungeon you’re in. Each character in the battle has a screen behind them that gives you an idea of their status or how they’re going to do in a Session (red is bad). It’s not in your face, but it’s their to really flesh out the battles, making them feel like events.
Well, we can’t talk about a game about idols without mentioning the music!
Most of it is good. It’s not bad by any means at all, but a lot of it doesn’t stand out for me. It might be because I’m not a big J-pop fan, but a lot of it is forgettable for me. There are a few stand outs for me, though.
Dream Catcher is one of the Duo arts in the game, and it reminds me so much of the Squid Sisters from Splatoon. The outfits, and even the melody.
Reincarnation is fairly ordinary, but there’s a section I can only describe as a “breaking down” that always gets me. A lot of J-pop songs have a key change…
I absolutely loved Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I’ve always been unsure of JRPGs, but TMS was much more newbie-friendly that most, with a very colourful and vibrant atmosphere for the most part. If you’re here for the Fire Emblem cameos, you might come out a bit disappointed, with most of the gameplay being Shin Megami Tensei focused. Which does mean if you’re a Persona fan, you’ll probably also enjoy this.