'Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore' Review: This Deserves A Place On Your Nintendo Switch
Five calendar years after its initial release on the ill-fated Wii U, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is back to wow Nintendo gamers all over again. Featuring the same great story, endearing characters, and deliciously labyrinthine dungeons, this heartfelt JRPG from Atlus is packed with hours of content to keep you enchanted at home or on the go.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the title has been updated to include the word 'Encore', and that's exactly what this game gives you. Its brand-new Extra Story expands upon an already ample playtime, and the original DLC support quests are included too. There's also new costumes added for your party members, including some inspired by the fantastic Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Honestly, there's so much to do in Tokyo Mirage that it would be overwhelming if it wasn't so charming.
One of the first things that stands out about Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is the visual style. This game is beautiful. I mean, it's a tad rough around the edges at times, but that's to be expected of a Switch port of a Wii U game. This doesn't massively detract from the overall aesthetic, thanks to a vibrant palette, rich environments, and magnificent character design.
Each of your heroes is rendered in ornate detail and brought to life with eye-popping colours. The costumes are rich in embellishments, especially the ones draped over your mirage allies (more on those to follow). Seriously, they're so stylish, and they play a big part in the game winning you over. Then there are the anime cutscenes, which are equally as gorgeous. The vivid depths of colour are especially striking, while the characters gel seamlessly yet still stand out.
You play as Itsuki Aoi, a down-to-earth young man who discovers the existence of a metaphysical world known as the Idolasphere. This realm is home to the in-game dungeons, where you and your party - made up of Itsuki's friends - explore, do battle, and generally save the day.
"But save the day from what?" I hear you ask. From the eponymous mirages, that's what. In the Idolasphere, you'll battle against these mirages, which are basically the same as the shadows and personas from the Megami Tensei and Persona series, both of which are also made by Atlus.
Luckily, Itsuki and his pals are 'Mirage Masters', meaning they have their own mirages to fight alongside them. These particular mirages are actually amnesiac Fire Emblem characters, such as Chrom and Tharja from Fire Emblem Awakening, but the reason for their inclusion is initially a mystery.
Combat is turn-based like the more recent Persona games, but with the order displayed at the top of the screen to help you best strategise. Gameplay is similarly Persona-like, with characters able to use basic attacks, skills (basically magic), items, and so on. There's also an escape option, and that's definitely worth using at times. As you roam dungeons, you'll encounter enemies, which cuts to a battle arena. If you get the jump on them, you go into battle with the upper hand; but if they grab you first then you'll be on the back foot, so stay alert (or don't, I'm not your dad).
Overall, the combat is excellently done. The interface is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. Transitions are smooth, and aiming is easy. The best part, though, is the Session Attack feature. If you hit an enemy with an attack that they're especially weak against, it will start a chain where your other party members attack them too.
Not only does this capitalise nicely on a strong hit, it's also a bonus action that doesn't use up their turn, instead merely expanding on the original attacker's. In addition, if you down an enemy but the chain is still going, your next character in the sequence will pick another target. Cleverly using this feature can make all the difference against stronger mirages.
Outside of the Idolasphere, Itsuki and his chums are enrolled in the world of showbiz as budding stars, or 'idols' as they're known in Japan. The game fully embraces this with a cast of colourful characters who sing, dance, and do whatever else it takes to dominate the world of popular entertainment.
The best part of this is definitely the music sequences. The in-game music videos are also anime cutscenes, and they are superb rewards for defeating bosses and completing missions. There's also the option to watch them back whenever you like, which is pretty great to be honest.
You can also interact with Itsuki's companions in the game's side stories. Each one will message you with requests for anything from a hangover cure to seeing a show with them, and these missions reveal more personal details about the cast. The quests aren't especially inventive, mainly consisting of going to a particular place, talking to a character, retrieving an item, and watching a cutscene. Sometimes you fight enemies too, which adds a bit more variety. Ultimately, these experiences are all about the dialogue between Itsuki and his friends, and that alone is enough to make completing each side story feel worthwhile.
Now, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore is a JRPG, so you're forgiven for expecting a need for some grinding. And yes, you do need to spend some time leveling up for those harder bouts, especially dungeon bosses as the difficulty spikes are significant. However, thanks to the training dungeon that you can access whenever you like, gaining experience doesn't have to take long.
You can also find tomes - items that basically fill your experience bars - letting you guarantee a level up after winning or escaping from a match, no matter how weak the enemy is. This feature is a must for anybody not wanting to spend too long in a particular dungeon, but it's not mandatory by any stretch.
The only real issue here is timing. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore releases just two months before Persona 5 Royal comes to PlayStation 4, and the latter is the superior title. Originally, Tokyo Mirage landed on the Wii U in 2015, before its Sony counterpart came to PS4 (and PS3) a year later, and you can definitely tell even when playing both games now, as P5 is an improvement in many ways. Supporting characters have richer stories, the visuals are slicker and more striking, and gameplay is more refined. So if you have a Nintendo Switch and a PS4, but are only in the market for one Atlus JRPG, you'd probably be better off picking Persona 5.
In short, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore fully deserves its place, its second chance, on Nintendo Switch. Its characters are charming, the dialogue is always enjoyable, gameplay is satisfyingly addictive, and the overall narrative is compelling. It may not be the best Atlus game coming out this year, but it's still a wonderful adventure that you won't regret playing.
We reviewed Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore on Nintendo Switch using code supplied by the publisher. A guide to our review scores can be found here.
Featured Image Credit: Atlus/Nintendo