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Road to Stardom: First impressions of ‘Tokyo Mirage Sessions’

If you’re into anime, idols, and the like, you’re in for a wild, silly ride.

Considered to be one of the last great games of the Wii U before its time had ended, Tokyo Mirage Sessions was an odd RPG where you fight demons and become a pop idol sensation in Japan, while also smashing together Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei and Nintendo’s Fire Emblem. A bizarre game, but one met with lots of praise and quickly became a cult hit. Cut to September 2019, during a Nintendo Direct, a port of the game was announced for a January 2020 release.

This is my first experience with the game, along with the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. I have very limited knowledge of Fire Emblem as well. As such, I can only judge the game as is and not compare or contrast its differences with the original or what the other series are like. For this first impressions, here’s my thoughts so far after the opening, Prologue: Reincarnation.

After selecting your difficulty and whether or not one of the characters wears glasses, the game opens up with an animated cutscene. A young Tsubasa Orbie, one of our protagonists, is at an opera when everyone suddenly vanishes without a trace, including her older sister. Cut to three years later, and events seem to be unfolding again as she is kidnapped during an idol contest and her best friend, Itsuki Aoi, is forced to chase after her into an otherworldly dimension. The place is filled with weird phantoms and possessed creatures that kidnap people for their Performa, a magical energy within people. It’s up to Itsuki, eventually Tsubasa, and more to stop these monsters, alongside the help of Mirages, figures who can’t seem to remember their pasts.

Just going off the prologue, the story is simple and fun, if silly in an anime-esque way. The goal is to defeat weird monsters, enemy Mirages, and possessed people who are after humans’ Performa, while seemingly working towards a career in the Idol industry. Everything is fairly simple and easy to follow, though it tends to get very exposition heavy towards the end as someone just unloads on everyone. A lot of these ideas are goofy and familiar, especially if you’ve ever played an RPG or watched an anime in the past, but it gets the job done regardless.

The characters are more or less the same way with familiarity. Itsuki is a nice guy who would be willing to do anything for Tsubasa, even though he doesn’t seem to get that she likes him back. Tsubasa is the optimistic, but ditzy girl with a serious love for idols and their music, while also harboring a sad backstory with the loss of her sister. Their other friend, Touma Akagi, is an impulsive, full of himself guy who is the only one who can see the chemistry going on between them. Not much to them now, but they get the job done well enough.

While the story has only really started and the characters are perfectly acceptable, what really shines so far is the rest of the package. Visually, this is a very pretty game to look at. It leans heavily into its anime aesthetic with its character designs, visual flair, anime cutscenes, and wonderful, expressive character dialogue bits. The world is brightly colored and flashy, even inside the otherworldly dungeon with the bright teals and blacks. The monster designs are neat, and the costumes are ridiculous in the most amusing ways. I even like the visual way non-important NPCs are depicted, just these single colored silhouettes that fit perfectly in this world. The only thing off is that glasses option, since the character never wears glasses in cutscenes or in her animated portrait.

The game audio is wonderful as well. The background music is atmospherically perfect, capturing the mood of every scene right. Whether it be the energy of a music competition, or the lonely, empty world of an otherworldly dungeon, everything sounds good. The songs are catchy and nice to listen to, fitting this pop idol world well. The voice acting is all in Japanese, with no English dub at all. While it may be disappointing for some, the Japanese only dialogue does at least feel fitting for this game and I didn’t see an issue with the translation so far. Though, I do think it would have been nice to have some dialogue translation during the battles so you can understand what people are saying.

And on that note, let’s talk about the actual battle system, the backbone for a RPG that holds it together. One of the things I always struggle with an RPG is its overwhelming mechanics where there are so many systems on top of systems to understand. It can get really hard to keep up with, making playing the game a pain (looking at you, Xenoblade Chronicles 2). Tokyo Mirage Session is just perfect in this regard from what I’ve seen so far: not too complicated, but with plenty of depth to keep things in mind with how you want a fight to play out.

It is your basic turn-based RPG, where you pick whether to attack, use special attacks, use items, and so on. Turns are based around speed and a helpful indicator at the top tells you what the attack order is, allowing you to focus on certain targets in advance. Every enemy has their weaknesses, from the type of weapons used to specialized attacks, like lightning and poison. By that same token, your character does as well, so getting to know them and what kind of moves enemies have is vital for keeping on your toes. The best thing you can do is to always experiment on enemies and see what works and what doesn’t.

Now, where the twist in the battle system comes into play is the Sessions aspect. The best way to explain Sessions is where you get a chance to chain attacks together on certain enemies, depending on the type of attack and if they’re weak to it. Let’s say you got an enemy that’s weak to spears and you pull off a special spear attack on them. Depending on how things go, your partners may join in if they got an attack that’s effective against the enemy. This is a great way for chipping through annoying enemies fast, occasionally making it so you never get hit. It makes the combat faster and more exciting to see unfold

And that’s ultimately the basics of Tokyo Mirage Sessions so far. Again, I have only played through the prologue and there’s certainly more to learn as time goes on. But what’s introduced here makes for a fun, familiar, but aesthetically unique experience. It all really depends though if you’re into anime, idols, and the like, since this game leans incredibly heavy into those particular elements. If you’re not, this game will probably do nothing for you. If you are, you are certainly in for a wild, silly ride.

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