Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a ridiculous gem that’s finally getting a second chance

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was a hidden gem when it was released in 2016 on Nintendo’s Wii U; a niche game released near the end of a niche system’s lifespan was never going to find a wide audience. Many of us never had a chance to play the game, or didn’t even know it existed.

We all have a second chance now that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is out on Nintendo Switch, giving what existing fans saw as an unfairly ignored game another chance to find a home on a system that may be a better fit for it.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Pfq1yFegQ0s%3Frel%3D0

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a J-pop infused, turn-based RPG. The events of the game unfold in a version of Tokyo (complete with real-world Tokyo locales), where the main protagonist Itsuki Aoi and his friends try to navigate the path to pop idol superstardom, and in the Idolasphere, a parallel dimension that is home to monsters that steal creativity. In Tokyo, I help my teammates find their stage presence and confidence, and help them land roles. In the Idolasphere, we’re a superpowered team of monster-slayers.

When I’m not fighting, the game plays out through conversations with my teammates and the occasional traditionally animated musical number. I run from location to location and talk to my fellow idols-in-training. Usually, we talk about becoming a better performer. Sometimes it’s about how to talk to girls. There’s not really interaction in the conversations beyond clicking to continue.

Even on the rare occasions where I have a choice of dialogue, the stakes are obviously low. And then, eventually and invariably, I’m led to a new interdimensional incursion where I have to fight for the fate of humanity.

Helping my teammate Touma realize his dreams.
Atlus/Nintendo via Polygon

As a newcomer to the game (and to the developer, Atlus, in general), it’s … a lot to take in. Depending on your sensibilities, the game is either flashy and upbeat or garish and saccharine. It’s based firmly in the world of J-pop idol fandom, and it’s all set to a fittingly J-pop soundtrack. I definitely find myself in the latter camp, tempted to write the game off as something that might not be bad, but also might not be for me.

Writing this piece was painful in general; it’s like learning that the last episode of Riverdale had the best cinematography in TV history. I’d want to check it out, just to see what the buzz is all about, but holy hell would I not be part of the target demographic for that show, nor would I understand what was going on.

But here’s the thing: I keep finding myself drawn back into the Tokyo of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. I go and grab the Switch out of its cradle while I’m waiting for dinner to cook. I sneak in a few minutes of play before bed. Not for the story, mind you, but for the combat.

The battles involving Itsuki and his friends are turn-based, with your team of idols/heroes trading blows with the enemies across a series of rounds. And there are dozens of different enemies to face over the course of the game, each with their own weaknesses and special attacks.

Whatever part of me wants to roll my eyes at the twee-ness of the characters quickly shuts up when I have to take on a new enemy. While the aesthetics are pure bubble gum, the combat engages me — my choices have real consequences and require planning. While my attention might drift while reading about finding the best pose for a photo shoot, I snap back when it’s time to battle a group of enemies.

The turn-based combat involves selecting attacks from a list of possible maneuvers. I can’t move, and I don’t actually control the attacks, though. It’s not about skill, it’s about finding the right move for a given enemy — it’s a turn-based RPG, so it’s more like a card game than a fighting game. Damage comes in 10 different flavors — like swords, fire, or poison — and, over the course of the game, I unlock countless new attacks.

An explosive combo during combat.
Atlus/Nintendo via Polygon

When I find the right flavor for a given enemy, I trigger a chain reaction of extra attacks from my teammates (and, later, NPCs that sometimes pop in to help). It’s a refreshing combination of calculated and chaotic action. I find the tactic that works, and then I watch as I trigger a combo and my entire team unloads a series of flashy, anime-inspired sword, spear, bow, and even motorcycle attacks to inflict a flurry of damage.

The Switch feels like the right platform for Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, as evidenced by how often I was able to play during my normal day, and how often I wanted to. It works well on both the television and in portable mode, but in many ways this feels like a game that benefits from shorter sessions and being able to pick away at it whenever I’d like. And during the sections that I find a little boring, or just don’t land with me, I can always watch some TV while trying to find a way to get back to battle, the part I do enjoy.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore’s story may appeal more to those already interested in this style of game, but even as a relative outsider the combat itself was more than enough to grab, and keep, my interest. I’m glad this hidden gem is now so easy to excavate.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is now available for the Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” download code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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