Oh what dis nigga? Double whammy feature? The one-two punch? Let's goooo.
Oh. My. Gyad this game. Holy shit. When Nintendo and Atlus announced their crossover of Shin Megami Tensei (and then Persona?) and Fire Emblem, it sounded like a retarded idea. And it is. It doesn't make any sense to put those things together other than to capitalize on naive fanboys using double name recognition. But don't be like me and write it off. Look, I know. I know it sounds retarded, but I PROMISE you that this shit is good. It's more than just good. When Tokyo Mirage Sessions had its release date announced for the exact same day as Star Ocean 5 I was like "Welp. Who knows when I'll be able to play this game now. Into the backlog it goes." After all, why would I ever play this dumb garbage over the clearly superior Star Ocean 5? But oh how wrong I was. FUCK SO5. THIS is the shit right here. I cannot believe how good this game is. Atlus has gone and made an amazing game out of a retarded concept. How? Basically by removing almost every trace of Fire Emblem from the game and only paying lip service to the crossover concept in the most meager of ways. I thought Nintendo would fuck shit up like they always do, but it seems they've kept their hands off. Atlus did everything and they removed almost everything about Fire Emblem because it was too stupid to have a crossover in the first place.
So yeah. I started out super cynical with this game, all ready to flush it down the toilet at the first sign that it was total trash. All ready to get mad and roll my eyes at every little stupid thing. But my cynical outlook couldn't hold out against this game's radiance and I quickly fell in love. This game is pretty much the successor of Persona in a lot of things. Similar setting, visual style, battles, etc.
The art style is great and has that Persona vibe. You can really feel it as you're going through the dungeons, walking around the city, buying at Hee Ho Mart, eating at the different restaurants, buying from the ubiquitous vending machines. The city is similar in that it has a small number of small areas that you're going to be spending all your time in, but there is a lot to do and they always have new things to do popping up as the game progresses. The music is decent but definitely not up to the same standards as Persona, especially the main battle theme, which is particularly weak for some reason. It's a shame because that's the most important theme in a game, and TMS has a lot of better songs that are used for special battles that only happen a few times throughout the game.
I will say that it sucks a little bit that the game forces you to use the Wii U gamepad. That shit is just so big, clunky and unwieldy. It's not as nice as a regular controller and eats through its charge ultra fast because of the screen on it. What's the gamepad screen used for? Nothing special. Just maps and other information that could easily be shown on the main screen. But you are forced to use it because there are messages that can only be accessed through that screen and the game pauses and won't continue a lot of the time if you don't check them. The alternative would be to use a regular controller and then switch over to the Wii U gamepad when you need to access shit on it, and then switch back, but that's fucking even worse than just biting the bullet and using the Wii U gamepad exclusively. But whatever. I'm sure this was a requirement imposed by Nintendo. "Hey, you better incorporate this completely fucking useless gimmicky bullshit into the game or you won't see a cent of our incalculable wealth!"
Another thing is that this game has no english voice acting. They just left it in the original japanese. At first I thought it was another sign of Nintendo being a bunch of cheap lazy bastards, but after playing I can understand the decision and I agree with it. The game has too much singing. It's an integral part of it, and switching from english to japanese when a character sings would be too jarring. So I'll let 'em off the hook this time. It was the best decision and you get used to it.
The few connections this game kept to Fire Emblem are this: characters' personas are called mirages in this and they are Fire Emblem characters. Except that they don't look like the Fire Emblem characters they're supposed to be. They look like... personas. And they've lost their memories. Y'know, just in case anybody was getting any bright ideas 'bout talkin' about Fire Emblem around here. Bosses are also Fire Emblem villains, but again, they don't look like the characters they're supposed to be. It has a few FE skills like Sol, Luna and Aether and skills that are strong against specific units (wyrms/horseback/armored) as well as the sword/lance/axe effectiveness triangle, and the ability to class change your mirages using master seals. Plot-wise the connections are largely absent until near the end of the game. And that's more or less it. Maybe I forgot something but whateva nigga, I ain't got time to sit around rememberin' shit. I got places TA BE. The point is that the connections to FE are tenuous, and Atlus handles it tastefully to prevent this terrible idea from ruining this great game.
The battle system is really fun and they've done a lot of interesting things there. The maximum party size is three, but they've designed the system so that all of the characters get usage and screen time. First of all, they allow you to swap characters at will during battle with no penalty. You don't even lose a turn for doing it or anything. You can even swap multiple times and back again. You can do things like start a battle with characters with high speed in order to get the first turn with them, and then immediately swap them out for slower characters to make the slower characters act before the enemy in situations where they normally would get their turn afterwards. Secondly, they've made it so that even characters in the sub cast still get some exp from every battle. Third, when you hit enemies with attacks that they are weak to, the other characters are able to follow up on the attack with what are called session skills, if they have the appropriate one. This includes both the other two characters that are currently fighting but also the entirety of the sub cast that is not actively being used. This is a really fun and interesting take on the weakness system and has a lot of neat little nuances like how if you kill an enemy during a session, the rest of the attacks will continue to hit the next enemy but they will gain the added effect of ignoring the enemy's resistances. So for example in a situation where normally you wouldn't be able to do an effective session on an enemy because one of the attacks gets nulled, drained, or repelled (and if that happens the entire rest of the session ends, so that's terrible), you can set things up so that a different enemy gets killed early during the session so that the rest of the attacks hit the resistant enemy that would normally cut your session short. This also means that the skills you choose to learn with ALL of the characters are extremely important, because you want to have the proper session skills on deck to effectively chain them all, and the amount of skills you can learn is limited. Furthermore, you can unlock special duo skills between 2 characters that you will randomly have the chance of activating during a session, and not only do they have their own effects but they also cause a whole other session to start afterwards for an even longer combo than usual. If you're especially lucky you can sometimes get two duo performances and get a triple session going. That shit feels like hitting the jackpot when it happens. It's pretty satisfying racking up big combos and also necessary for both dealing enough damage and filling up your SP meter to be able to do special skills, so the battle system works well, though I will say that you probably need somewhat of a patient personality type due to the high amount of animations that you have to watch during battles. But maybe I don't need to say that, 'cause if you don't got the patience what you even doing playing RPGs nigguh. Go play your shootan games or whatever it is stoners do.
Coming from the comparatively disappointing Star Ocean 5, I also want to take the time to praise the slew of excellent design choices taken by this game. When you bump into an enemy on the field, the actual battle takes place in a separate abstract arena, AS IT FUCKING SHOULD BE. While it's loading the battle it shows you pictures of the characters' faces that change depending on if you got a pre-emptive strike or not. I like that. When you're selecting commands for each character the camera zooms in on them and they say things/talk with their mirage/each other every time. I love that. Same deal when you're about to attack depending on if you're going to hit a weakness or if an attack is going to get resisted. The battles are very cinematic, every individual skill, session skill (even the stronger EX versions of every session skill have completely new animations), special performance, ad-lib skill, duo skill (a lot of the time they even come with their own special song!) is well animated, voiced, looks cool as shit and it has all the dramatic camera angles, sweeps, zooms and even character win animations that SO5 is lacking for some dumb ass reason. Oh, and it has a PROPER. ASS. Post-battle results screen. AND it shows you exactly what stats went up each time you level up along with a picture of the character. This might all sound like really tiny trivial stuff, but after playing SO5 which stupidly removed all of this, I'm so happy that Atlus exists and that they keep things the way they were meant to be. Fuck all this misguided "innovation".
And I'm not even done. Praise be to Atlus for the proper ass well designed dungeons in this game. They are SO MUCH better than the dungeons in SO5, it's not even fucking close. No question. They are not randomly generated like in Persona. They're true actual designed dungeons with multiple floors, switches, traps and puzzles. All with good size, length, and complexity. WAY better than the trash, lazy, uncreative, baby mode dungeons of SO5. These dungeons are actually fun and interesting to explore. The final one is about what I expect from a final dungeon. You shouldn't be able to get through it in minutes walking along mostly straight corridors like fucking SO5. It should be huge, full of interesting things required of you, and it should be an epic struggle that takes days to get through. Alright? Days. This is a basic fucking concept and it's beyond me how niggers are still failing it, but I'm glad that at least Atlus understands and made this awesome game that shows how shit is supposed to be done.
That being said, one of the very few flaws with this game is that Atlus has gone pansy mode and allows you to change the difficulty setting at any time. That sucks. The difficulty level of the game is acceptable on Hard (especially early on when there are certain situations that are guaranteed game over, certain savage enemy encounters that are almost unwinnable, and certain side story fights that are extremely difficult to do at the earliest moment you unlock them because you're far below the recommended level), but only on Hard, and the game becomes way too absurdly easy on anything else. I tested the easy mode to check whether it was possible to actually beat a boss that you're supposed to lose to because of plot (spoilers: nope. turns out it's impossible to take off his last hit point no matter how many times you hit him) and the difference is very huge.
The weapon and skill system is really fun because it allows for almost constant progression. You're pretty much always working towards something. Fusion is sort of in this game but it's a bit different. Each character has their set mirage which is linked to their weapon. So the mirage is both the traditional humanoid persona and also your weapon. By using materials that you find throughout the game, you can fuse those with your mirage to create new weapons. The skills you learn also come from your weapons, but you keep them after you learn them (though obviously you can only have a limited amount of skills learned at one time, so you gotta think about which ones to drop after you're full). So to learn new skills for your party and become stronger you keep fusing new weapons. As you fight in battles you gain mastery for your weapon which lets you learn the list of skills that weapon has to offer, until you've learned all of them, and then you go and fuse a new weapon. But what makes this system even better is that they've made it so that apart from creating entirely new weapons, you can also choose to recreate stronger versions of weapons that you have already fully mastered. What this does is that it makes that weapon stronger (it can go from +1 version all the way up to +9), it unlocks a new learnable skill for that weapon, which could be really good and unique, and it allows you to relearn all of the old skills that weapon has to offer, which is good if you later decide that you want a skill that you had dropped earlier, but also especially good because if you relearn a skill that you already have, it causes that skill to become a stronger version that does more damage or is more effective. So for example if you have Zio and you learn Zio again, it becomes Zio +1. And then if you learn Zio again it becomes Zio +2, and so on. This makes it so that you are almost never in a situation where you aren't working towards something tangible with your weapons and skills, even if you haven't gotten new materials for a brand new one yet. It keeps battles very rewarding because you're always gaining so many things from them: exp, money, items, materials to fuse weapons, weapon mastery, skills (new ones and strengthened versions of old ones). This is extremely important for an RPG. You have to always feel that fighting battles is valuable, and the more value you can give to them, the better. These developers understand this important concept and they've done an excellent job with this game.
It's pretty cool because at first I thought that maybe you gained mastery and learned skills a little too fast, and that you get too many materials for weapons, but once you unlock the ability to strengthen old weapons it makes sense and works much better than if you only had a few things that take a long time to work towards. Aside from that system you also have an entirely different subset of skills called radiant skills that are a part of the character themselves and don't come from your weapon. You gain these by gaining "ranks" from using the character, by using materials that you gain through battle but also unique ones that you find in treasure boxes and also through side stories. Then there's class changing which opens up more possibilities with new stats, skills and weapons. That's the thing with this game; it has so many cool little things that keep you engaged like shop lotteries that let you win special items/posters/costumes, the arena (well WHADDYA KNOW. Yet another thing this game has that SO5 doesn't), trading with mirages, savage enemy encounters that are much more difficult than normal and give you special drops, rare golden enemy encounters that try to run away and give unique materials if you can kill them, candy and vending machines that have chances of giving random rare shit if you keep buying from them (but they run out of stock after a while ala P4 vending machines, so you gotta come back for more later), or hunting/trading for incense to raise your stats (which was always one of my favorite things from SMT games. Getting an incense is always one of the best feelings meng).
Then you've got all the quests poppin' around town as well as side stories for all of your party members that become unlocked as you rank them up and progress in the game. The side stories are pretty cool because they develop the characters' personalities and gain you really powerful abilities with them as well as anime cutscenes and songs. And you know how fuckin' expensive that shit is to commission, so clearly a lot of resources went into these. Then again Nintendo does have a retarded amount of money, so it's probably nothing to their wallet. As I also said, the side stories (at least the earlier ones) bring the greatest amount of challenge since you tend to unlock them long before you reach the recommended level for them, so those boss fights tend to be the more fun ones, and they even have the best battle themes to boot.
But seriously, this game is fucking ridiculously good. I never expected things to turn out like this, but there you go. It could well be the game of the year. No bullshit. It's excellently designed in almost all areas with very few flaws, it's got charm, it doesn't try to force misguided innovation and changes on established things that have been proven to be good. It keeps things smart and common sense. I'm thankful that there are still people in this world who can make a game like this. I feel a connection with these developers. These guys understand. And that's exceedingly rare in this increasingly fraudulent videogame industry where assholes who obviously aren't gamers, with no knowledge, experience or integrity regularly get put at the helm of important projects. Fuck them. But at least we still have games like this one. The Wii U might be a barren wasteland of a console with almost no games that's apparently already getting replaced next year, but whatever bad things you may say about it, at the very least we can say that it had Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
Final Verdict: A
Final Playtime: 182 hours