Like many of you, I'm a passenger on the "I Missed Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE When it First Came Out" Shame Train. When Tokyo Mirage Sessions made its Wii U debut in 2015, I wanted nothing to do with it. Frankly, I wanted nothing to do with the Wii U at that point; it was clear the system was a flop, and I was a little mad Nintendo was trying to placate me with weird pop idol games instead of a new Metroid.
As soon as the Switch became a runaway success, we started lining up with hats in hand, asking Nintendo if it'd consider porting over some of the excellent Wii U games we refused to acknowledge the first time around. Nintendo's been accommodating, thankfully, and now we have another shot at pretending to be Fire Emblem-infused pop idols with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: Encore for the Switch. I'm over here mopping my brow in relief, because what a shame it would be for this strange, lovely RPG to exist as a mere footnote forever more.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions' pedigree is in Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series as well as Nintendo's Fire Emblem series. Stir in a thick ribbon of Japanese idol culture, and you've got yourself an RPG experience that's unlike any other. Tokyo Mirage Sessions looks and sounds unique, plus its one-of-a-kind, energetic battle system encourages you to seek out fights instead avoiding them. That's an impressive trick for an RPG, a genre that's infamous for repetitive, tedious fights.
Note that you won't do yourself any favors if you go into Tokyo Mirage Sessions thinking you're about to re-tread roads you travelled in the Shin Megami Series, let alone the Fire Emblem series. Once you free your mind, you can enjoy Tokyo Mirage Sessions as its own experience.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is about idol culture as much as it's about killing monsters and exploring weird Shin Megami Tensei-inspired dungeons, and that admittedly gave me pause at first. I don't care about idols, or K-Pop or J-Pop. I was worried I wouldn't be able to connect with the characters in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, most of whom are training to be idols and weave their songs and stage identities into their "Carnage Forms"—the fighting forms they assume when they bond with a Fire Emblem character.
Thankfully, it didn't take me too long to appreciate how expertly Atlus entwined the characters' stage personalities with Tokyo Mirage Sessions' battle system. Every fight is conducted in front of a roaring crowd that cheers you on when you flatten enemies using titular "Sessions." Fans of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona already know how vital it is to exploit your enemies' elemental weaknesses, and that's true as ever in Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Each character learns several skills that lets them utilize immediate follow-up attacks every time a partner hits a foe's weak spot. With a little care, you can chain several attacks into a Session that can potentially end a fight in a single turn. Sessions are excellent for burning through regular fights in a matter of seconds, and they're a vital strategy when taking on bosses.
Best of all, you don't have to memorize the requirements to kick off a Session; all your prompts are automatic once you've beaten an enemy and recorded its weakness. This is where Tokyo Mirage Sessions' idol theme really shines. In every fight, the faces of your fellow party members are projected on screens that hang over the audience. When you scroll through your attacks and highlight one that will trigger a session, your relevant party members' faces light up with a crowd-pleasing grin, accompanied by enthusiastic words of encouragement. (No translation, unfortunately, not even subtitles—but I suppose expressions like "Sugoi!" and "Yatta!" are self-explanatory by now.)
When you pull off your Session, the crowd roars its approval. When a new idol joins your cause and you use them for the first time in a fight, they stroll out onto the "stage" and transform in front of the audience like a singer making their debut. I've still got a way to go in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, but so far its battles exude an energy that helps keep them interesting, and exciting. Characters level up quite quickly, which helps everything flow like a well-written pop song. I enjoy picking fights in Tokyo Mirage Sessions as much as I enjoy picking them in the Trails of Cold Steel games, another series with a battle system that doesn't seem to stagnate.
Reviews editor Mike Williams reviewed Tokyo Mirage Sessions when it came out on the Wii U, and he enjoyed it a good deal. I'm in charge of the review this time around, and I'm on track to follow in his footsteps. Tokyo Mirage Sessions' battle system is seemingly its strongest trait from my current point of view, but that's not all it has to offer. The whole experience is so bright and energetic, I can't help but bop along. I might never be a fan of the idol scene, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a game that rewards me with "music videos" when I complete certain side quests. If you sing from the back of a Fire Emblem Pegasus, rest assured I'm going to listen to your ballad about love and feelings.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: Encore comes to the Switch on January 17. Look for our full review soon.