Back in 2013 RPG fans on the Wii U went wild when Nintendo dropped a reveal trailer for collaboration between Nintendo and Atlus to make a crossover game between the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem series. Both franchises were extremely popular during that time thanks to games like Persona 4 and Fire Emblem: Awakening. Speculations started piling up about what players could expect from such a crossover and people were speculating about SRPGs with Shin Megami Tensei demons fighting Fire Emblem heroes or a Fire Emblem Persona game.
What the game turned out to be in the end, however, was neither the SRPG a lot of fans wanted or the Fire Emblem Persona game in the way most people expected it to be. Instead, the game that was released in 2015, late into the Wii U's life cycle, was a colorful JRPG with a heavy idol theme and it's own identity, ultimately including both, elements of the Shin Megami Tensei series and Fire Emblem called Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore.
About four years later, Nintendo is giving the game a second chance, releasing it on the Nintendo Switch with all DLC included new features and content to give it a right encore. In Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore you take the role of Aoi Itsuki, a teenage boy living in Tokyo, who rescues his friend Tsubasa Oribe from demon-like creatures. These creatures feast on the Performa of humans, a power you can compare to the creative energy of people, during casting with the help of so-called Mirages in the form of Fire Emblem heroes.
These so-called Mirages give Itsuki and Tsubasa the ability to enter carnage forms, which give them the ability to fight the demons. As it turns out they are not the only people with the ability to use these carnage forms and so soon after, they join their friend Touma and some other characters at Fortuna Entertainment that on the outside acts as an idol agency, but ultimately is an organization that fights demons to protect the people of Tokyo.
Gameplay-wise the game is split into different parts, story-heavy chapters and more laid back intermissions, which invite the player to explore the world, develop their party members in the side stories and complete requests from random people in the world. In each chapter, the cast faces a new challenge to overcome. Usually, a famous person in the idol industry is being possessed by an evil Mirage, feeding on their Performa. It is up to the player to enter the dungeon, hunt this evil Mirage down.
Each dungeon in the game has a different theme to it and puzzles to solve. One dungeon is has a theme of a boutique and you have to position giant maid costumes in order to access different levels of the dungeon to reach treasure or open up shortcuts. Another one is a big historic Japanese film set, where demons want you to help the film crew.
The bread and butter of the game is its combat system. If you have ever played a Shin Megami Tensei game before, you will feel right at home. Similar to SMT, each character or monster is strong enough to resist some skills and abilities and it's powerless against others. Additionally, you find Fire Emblem's typical weapons in the game, such as swords, axes, and lances. What makes the combat special is that when you successfully attack an enemy with a skill they are powerless against, you can trigger a so-called Session. Sessions let other members of your party and later even characters that are not in your active party, attack the enemy as well.
Additionally, instead of attacks or skills, a so-called Ad-Lib can get triggered, which are powerful random and flashy attacks with own cutscenes, that is even more powerful than your regular attacks and can trigger Sessions as well. And if that is not enough for you, during a Session there is a possibility that party members offer you to do a performance as well.
Performances are powerful attacks, almost like summons in other JRPGs, that usually involve two cast members and not only attack enemies, but give you bonuses like special point gain or status alignment effects. These performances lean on songs and other idol-themed jobs the characters had during the story.
All of these possibilities can lead to destroying a whole group of enemies in only one Session. These Sessions can be quite long later on in the game and you will spend over a minute just watching your characters do their thing. If that sounds boring to you, you are in luck because the developers implemented a feature to speed up Sessions, if you want to.
Reducing the time of combat is a welcome addition to the game, especially for the people who like to grind. And sometimes you really want to do that, because Tokyo Mirage Sessions is not the easiest game. Even on normal difficulty, the game gives you a balanced, but challenging experience. On hard difficulty or higher, you really want to grind and take more care of what your characters are learning and wearing. If you dislike running around a dungeon for the next level up, the game includes its previous DLC mini-dungeons, where you can hunt for experience and skill books, which speed up the leveling process as well.
In Intermissions, the game motivates the player to seek out optional content. It takes the pressure of progressing through the story and instead lets you explore Tokyo at your own pace. There are requests in the form of small side quests from various NPCs in the world. They want you to fight certain enemies, seek out specific places to pick up treasure or convince demons to be their girlfriend. You can also seek out the side stories.
The side stories let you get to know each character better and you spend some time with them, quite similar to some of the character-specific events in the Persona games. Sometimes they just want you to help them prepare for their performances in music, film or some commercial. The other time they want you to help them by fighting specific enemies or bosses by revisiting dungeons. Each time they learn a new performance or skill that will make them stronger while dungeon crawling.
Additionally, Encore added an extra dungeon to the game, where the player can pick up extra costumes for each character, based on the other Atlus titles such as Etrian Odyssey, Persona 5 or Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and earn a new performance for Tsubasa and Kiria.
The game is very aware of it's heavy and sometimes cheesy idol theme and fully embraces it. Sometimes this leads to heavy cringe, but most of the time the game redeems itself thanks to its self-awareness. Even characters like Barry, a big western Otaku, who often talks about 2D girls and limited figurines, have a back story that makes sense for his character and explains his behavior.
The presentation of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore encapsulates well the game's themes as well. Even though you can see the game is older, the stylistic choices the developers made, are holding up today. The streets of Tokyo are busy and have a lot of NPCs standing around. But instead of fully visualizing them, they are colorful silhouettes.
This decision may have been made because of the Wii U's hardware restrictions back in the day, but really fits the overall colorful look of the overworld in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. Overall the game has a more colorful and anime look to it compared to the darker take of the Shin Megami Tensei games. Loading times also seem to have been reduced on the Switch and most of the time the framerate is stable and pop-ins are reduced to a minimum.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore may have not been the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover a lot of people wanted, but it turned out to be a good JRPG. Even in 2020 the game holds up, especially gameplay-wise and invites the player to dive into the worlds of Japanese idols and fanservice. With all DLCs included and new content and features added, it's the ultimate package for fans of the game and is a great replay as well. For people who crave more JRPGs on the Nintendo Switch, it's also a great choice as it's challenging at times and will keep you busy for easily 50 to 60 hours and never gets boring. I give it 8.5/10.