Over the past few years, Nintendo has shown a greater willingness to collaborate than ever before. By welcoming outside studios to play around with Nintendo’s stable of popular characters, whole new games are being born and reaching audiences neither company could on its own. Hyrule Warriors combined Zelda and Dynasty Warriors for a beat-’em-up with oodles of fan service. Pokkén Tournament mashed up Pokémon and Tekken for a nuanced brawler that was appropriate for players of all skill levels. Now, Nintendo has partnered with Atlus to merge the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series of role-playing games (which include the popular Persona spin-offs) with the Fire Emblem series of strategy games. The result is something less familiar in appearance than what came before but all the more exciting for its individuality.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (that’s “sharp,” not “hashtag”) is set in modern-day Tokyo. Players take charge of a group of young friends who aspire to become pop idols, taking lessons to learn how to sing, dance, model, act, and also travel into a parallel dimension to combat the monstrous “mirages” that are stealing people’s talent. Yes, somehow an army of horrible creatures who feed on talent have found their way to our world and are draining all the energy from our singers, talk show hosts, and stand-up comedians. Our young heroes translate their skills as performers into combat-ready techniques. One actress’ tense soap-opera love scene becomes an electrifying flurry of arrows, while a singer’s chorus of independence and isolation transforms into a whirlwind of ice crystals. By improving their skills as entertainers, the kids are better able to defeat the dark mirages, and vice versa.
When successful series cross over like this, they can sometimes focus too much on their core fans, excluding newcomers. For the most part, Tokyo Mirage Sessions avoids this problem. There are winks and nods to the source material: Shin Megami Tensei fans will recognize spells like Agi and Bufu, while Fire Emblem fans will recognize character classes like Pegasus Knight and Cavalier. This gives returning players a slight advantage only in that they already know which strategies to use against the imposing baddies, but these details are shallow enough for newcomers to learn over time. Though several characters resemble the past Fire Emblem cast members, familiarity with either series is never necessary. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a separate experience with no prerequisites for new players.
Even though the game features the familiar trappings of teens fighting monsters in secret, the game never ignores the pop idol aspects of the story. The two sides are linked at all times, as boss battles will inspire the music videos the heroes release, and facing off against imposing demons will give them the poise they need for photo shoots. Just as combat affects their stardom, each new skill the kids acquire in their careers informs their abilities in combat, like how performing on a cute kids’ show helps them shake off intimidation effects in battle or hosting a popular cooking show increases the potency of their healing techniques.
Mirage Sessions’ most defining aspect is perhaps the “session” attack. These are skills each of your party members learn in order to chain their attacks together as a coordinated effort. The primary attack is launched by whoever’s turn it is in combat, but the rest of the team acts as backup singers, supporting their spear attack with a lightning bolt, then an ax swing, then a large ice crystal, and so on. These moves take a bit of forethought—as you have to consider that enemies are weak to certain skills, as well as which performers complement one another when attacking in succession—but it’s worth it to see your whole team working in harmony, especially as each new attack starts with a chyron on screen announcing each “artist” as though it were a block of music videos on MTV.
There’s a mystery to be solved and adventure to be had, sure, but that’s standard operating procedure for fantasy games like this. Where Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE stands out is in its approach to modernity. These are all kids who want to be big stars, to have their own TV shows and sold-out concerts, but they quickly learn that they can do so much more when they work together—not just splitting the bill but truly complementing one another’s performances. They are not a band, but a collection of solo artists working together, more Mickey Mouse Club than ’N Sync. That spirit of collaboration, of helping one another so we can all achieve our goals together, is where the game ekes out its edge against similar RPGs. It’s not simply enough that we all combine forces to beat the bad guys; we also help each other realize our dreams and become the very best we can be. And also beat the bad guys.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE
Platform: Wii U
Price: $60, $80 for special edition with art book and downloadable costumes