The number of big Wii U exclusives that have still yet to receive Switch ports is well into single figures now, with Nintendo seemingly all too happy to continue queuing up its back catalogue and giving each title another chance at success (rightly so, in our opinion).
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is the latest game to get a second shot – or an Encore, as the new title puts it – and it probably deserves one more than most. Make no bones about it: the Wii U was already dead by the time this one launched, so this will be considered a first-time purchase even for many of those who owned Nintendo’s last system. With that in mind, let’s assume no prior knowledge for now, before we look into what’s new later on.
To explain the game’s plot fully would probably need a review twice as long as this one, but the general gist is that modern-day Tokyo is being plagued by Mirages, a bunch of ghost-like nasties who are sucking the energy out of humans (who are none the wiser as to what’s going on). You play as a bunch of Tokyo teenagers – led by a chap called Itsuki – who all have one thing in common: they’re secretly all Mirage Masters, which means they can merge with friendly Mirages and help them defeat the evil ones.
The twist is that most of these good guy Mirages are all represented by characters from the Fire Emblem series (specifically, characters from the first Fire Emblem on the Famicom and Fire Emblem: Awakening on 3DS). Each member of your party teams up with a specific Fire Emblem character, who essentially can morph into their weapon: Itsuki, for example, is accompanied by Chrom, who takes the form of your sword during battles. It’s the most enthralling "talking sword" gimmick we’ve seen since Sonic and the Black Knight.
Despite the game’s original working title of Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, this crossover is far more a Shin Megami game than it is a Fire Emblem one. The inclusion of those Fire Emblem characters and the occasional burst of the familiar Fire Emblem theme is about as far as the game goes in terms of representing Nintendo and Intelligent Systems’ series, whereas there are far more links to Atlus’s games in here, not least of all the combat system.
As a result, any Fire Emblem fans hoping for a Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright-style crossover incorporating both series’ gameplay will be in for a shock, because they’ll find none of the Fire Emblem games’ traditional strategic combat in here. Instead, it purely focuses on a turn-based RPG battle system, as is common in Atlus’s titles. That’s not to say this is a particularly bad thing, of course: just that you should treat this more as a Shin Megami Tensei spin-off that happens to have Fire Emblem characters in it.
The battle system in question is pleasantly uncomplicated for the most part. Your party members are armed with the typical Attack, Item and Escape options you’d expect from a game of this type, as well as the ability to perform special ‘skills’ which use up points. These skills are where the game really comes into its own, because each of the attack-based ones make up one of ten different types of weapon or magic – sword, bow, spear, fire, electric and so on – and each enemy is weak (or resistant) to certain types.
If you can attack with a skill of a type that the enemy is weak to, you’ll not only do much more damage, you’ll also potentially trigger a ‘session’ attack: this means any other characters in your party who also have a skill of that type will then chime in with their own move, dealing even more damage.
It’s a simple but satisfying mechanic, and as you progress through the game you’ll find ways to build ever-larger session combos, and also integrate the ‘Ad-Lib Performance’ buff attacks and ‘Special Performance’ finishing moves to ultimately make your battles a cavalcade of over-the-top, flashy moments. If you’re the impatient type, the Switch version adds the ability to speed up the session animations if you feel they’re too long.
Battles more or less take place exclusively in Idolaspheres, spiritual realms where Mirages can be seen. Each Idolasphere essentially serves as one of the game’s dungeons, and as they appear all around Tokyo your aim is naturally to head in and clear out the evil. While the combat is entertaining and full of spectacle, however, exploring the dungeons themselves can sometimes be a little underwhelming. They often have their own little puzzles that have to be solved so you can progress, but these are rarely entertaining and you’ll find yourself praying they won’t take too long so you can get them out of the way and get on with the fun stuff.
And "fun" is absolutely the word when describing the majority of the game: not just in how it feels to play, but its overall presentation. With a plot based on Japanese idol culture, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a constant barrage of colour, J-pop music and general unrepentant joy. Even during its less enthralling story moments or its more repetitive sections, it still does its very best to put a smile on your face with its constant positivity. You’re going to have a great time in this world, as long as you have a love for Japanese pop culture and anime (especially because there’s no English voice acting here, it’s Japanese only).
What if you already know all this, though? What if you already had the game on the Wii U and want to know what’s different here? Well, to its credit, there are one or two additions to the Switch port that may not necessarily be enough to justify playing through the entire game a second time for most people, but will please die-hard fans. Some of these additions are completely throwaway: for example, you can now choose whether Tsubasa wears glasses (which she didn’t do in the Wii U game), so fans of the bookish look can have their needs met there, we suppose.
Other changes include general tweaks to how the game’s played. As well as the aforementioned ability to speed up the session combo animations, the ‘Topic’ screen – which acts as your character’s mobile phone and lets you read through fairly entertaining text chats at various moments in the game – is now brought up with the press of a button, as opposed to simply being shown on the Wii U GamePad screen. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your own personal taste: we quite liked the double-screen gimmick.
Maiko, Tiki and Barry – who previously only featured as supporting characters – now get involved in battles from time to time, too. They can’t be added as proper, fully-fledged members of your party, but they can sometimes join in your session attacks, making for bigger combos. The game also adds some new songs, including ‘covers’ of existing ones sung by different characters. These are all welcome changes, if not groundbreaking.
The main new addition is a new ‘EX Story’, which includes a brand new dungeon called the Area of Aspiration and offers a little more backstory for the characters. It’s fairly short and lightweight but adds some extra detail to various characters’ relationships so fans should still get a kick out of it. It also lets you unlock some new costumes that are exclusive to the Switch version of the game.
Most of the previous DLC from the Wii U version is included here too, including the three ‘Mirage Hunter’ support dungeons which you could use to increase your stats and upgrade your skills fairly quickly. The only notable DLC that’s missing is the ‘Hot Spring’ set, which contained skimpy swimsuits for each of the characters. That’s because this is based on the western version of the Wii U game, which modified some of the outfits to make them a little less racy.
You’ll no doubt see some chat in the comments about how the censorship in this version is so outrageous that Nintendo and Atlus may as well have kicked your door down and slapped your mother right in the face, but the reality is that the few changes made don’t affect the game in any way, and simply make things a tad less creepy. Besides, this time Japan gets the ‘censored’ version too, so it’s not like there’s a special uncut Switch version the west is missing out on.
Ultimately, the new additions in the Switch version of Tokyo Mirage Sessions are almost entirely welcome, even if they don’t necessarily transform the game to the extent that those who spent upwards of 60 hours completing the Wii U version absolutely have to do it again. The reality is that those who’ll get the most out of the Switch port are those who didn’t play it on Wii U, but given that’s a fairly large percentage of the Switch userbase that isn’t much of an issue.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is one of the most colourful, approachable and downright endearing RPGs you’ll find on the Switch. Its new story chapter, music tracks and character assists improve on the original to an extent, but not enough to greatly affect its overall quality. Thankfully, what was there was already fantastic, meaning those who missed out on it the first time around really have no reason not to get stuck in now.