With the premise that love and music can save the world, Tokyo Mirage Sessions reminds me of two games: Final Fantasy X-2 and Persona 4. Unfortunately, despite managing its own unique style, tedious gameplay and frustrating item management eventually forced me to stop playing before I could finish even half the game.
The good points of TMS #FE shine brightly though. Set in modern-day Japan, the graphics do a great job of showing downtown Tokyo, especially the famous Shibuya crossing. There are bright, sharp colors everywhere, even jazzing up NPCS into distinctive neon silhouettes. In fact, the game takes several opportunities to adapt the backstory of the entertainment industry into the rest of the game, leading to a unique spin on battle. Instead of your fighters performing a combo, your “artists” perform a “sessions”. Sometimes your character will “ad-lib” performing a powerful attack set to a music or dance number.
Another novel innovation is the use of the WiiU Gamepad as an SMS between you and your party members. While you will still often talk to your team in person, you’ll also get texts from them at random. Sometimes the messages are as simple as a sticker, while other times they initiate side quests that let you learn more about them. So few RPGs are set in the present day that this (plus the entertainment industry elements) makes the game world feel fresh and unique.
Unfortunately, where the game gets bogged down is in its dungeons. The game quickly settles into a formula: evil character shows up, dungeon opens, complete a tedious puzzle or two, redeem the evil character by beating the boss. Other games made my Atlus (like Persona) do a better job of breaking up the dungeon activity, allowing you to tackle side quests much more at your own pace. While the dungeons in Tokyo Mirage Sessions are broken up by “intermissions” in the main storyline, much of the content is strictly gated behind completion of the next dungeon.
Further cluttering up gameplay is the Unity system, the method by which characters earn new skills. Your party members gain skills by equipping certain weapons, with weapons crafted using items dropped by various monsters throughout each dungeon. Each weapon has 4-5 skills, and you can easily master more than 1 weapon per party member during each dungeon. However, you are limited to carrying 1 weapon on each character, and others can’t be stored in your inventory. If you need to re-equip, you must return to your party’s home base, which in total turns into a 5 minute operation.
The resulting mess requires inching through the dungeon, stopping every few minutes to return to your home base and equip the newer versions of everyone’s weapons. There’s no opportunity to get into a flow: it’s a negative feedback loop that just feels like work. I didn’t try playing without constantly upgrading, so maybe that is a viable path, but I’m suspect the developers would make a core system that wasn’t relevant to gameplay. Even if you were to only do upgrades occasionally, it’s a bad feeling to see you’re not maxing out your team’s potential.
Despite being an Atlus game, the music is not a standout like usual. The tracks seems slightly muted, missing the usual catchiness that makes them enjoyable even after hours of grinding. Controls are functional but not outstanding. Rarely incorporating the touchscreen features of the Wii U’s gamepad. Unlike other aspects of the game, the sound and controls are as conservative as can be.
If you really enjoy traditional JRPGS, and the prospect of exploring downtown Tokyo really excites you, you might be able to overlook Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE’s shortcomings. Otherwise, the tedious aspects of party management and dungeon combat will bore you long before you reach the game’s finale.