Tokyo Mi­rage Ses­sions #FE

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Wii U

We doubt that, say, hav­ing a magic knight help you find a dough­nut for a vocaloid was the first thing on the white­board

De­vel­oper Atlus Pub­lisher Nin­tendo For­mat Wii U Re­lease June 24

OK, Ja­pan, this is get­ting a bit weird. Tokyo Mi­rage Ses­sions is the third game to grace these pages in the past 12 months to wed it­self to Ja­pan’s idol scene. Yet while it was merely a five-hour de­tour in Yakuza 5, and was a fine log­i­cal fit for Per­sona 4: Danc­ing All Night’s pacey rhythm ac­tion, here it’s the set­ting for a party-based JRPG. And though the Per­sona se­ries from which Tokyo Mi­rage Ses­sions #FE is drawn typ­i­cally has a youth­ful, mod­ern-day cast, here Atlus must also in­cor­po­rate the stars of the Fire Em­blem se­ries, which gives this al­ready awk­wardly named game its clos­ing hash­tag. The­mat­i­cally, it’s an ab­so­lute mess.

Yet, weirdly, it all hangs to­gether quite well. The Fire Em­blem char­ac­ters take the role of the tit­u­lar per­sonas, here known as Mi­rages, the mys­ti­cal be­ings who give these ev­ery­day teens their mag­i­cal pow­ers in bat­tle. The likes of Chrom, Caeda, Virion et al lend their might to the main party; Gan­grel and Aversa help out the an­tag­o­nists. Tiki, once a be­ing of such ful­some power she was locked away in a thou­sand-year slum­ber, is here a cutesy vocaloid who ad­min­is­ters the up­grade sys­tem.

Tiki re­sides, along with your ever-ex­pand­ing col­lec­tion of Mi­rages, in the Bloom Palace, a beau­ti­ful Ja­panese gar­den be­hind an in­nocu­ous door in the of­fices of Tokyo’s For­tune En­ter­tain­ment. Run by the dis­tract­ingly leggy, im­pos­si­bly buxom for­mer model Maiko Shi­mazaki, For­tune is of­fi­cially in the busi­ness of tal­ent man­age­ment, help­ing the youth­ful likes of Tsub­asa Oribe and Kiria Kurono make it big on the idol scene. Be­hind the scenes it’s also work­ing to pre­vent an evil Mi­rage force from de­stroy­ing the world by har­vest­ing Per­forma, a pow­er­ful en­ergy source hid­den in tal­ented peo­ple, with which it in­tends to sum­mon an an­cient, world-de­vour­ing dragon. You know, as you do.

So, yes, you will bat­tle. A lot. But in be­tween times you’ll help a young pop­strel over­come her so­cial anx­i­ety be­fore her first hand­shake event. You’ll seek out in­gre­di­ents for a mys­ti­cal hang­over cure for your still­drunk, party-girl boss. You’ll pre­pare the team for TV de­buts, mag­a­zine pho­to­shoots and fes­ti­vals. Ev­ery so of­ten you’ll be re­warded with a mu­sic video or live per­for­mance with a back­ing track pro­duced by renowned J-Pop hit­maker Avex Group.

It’s a cu­ri­ous blend of fan­tasy and re­al­ity that’s lent a lit­tle more of the lat­ter by its set­ting, though this is a Per­sona- style vi­sion of Tokyo – of small chunks of Shibuya, Hara­juku and so on linked by fast travel rather than Yakuza’s city dis­tricts. While there’s none of the lat­ter’s at­mo­spheric real-world brand­ing, it’s still a much-needed dose of re­al­ity for a game that is, in al­most ev­ery other re­spect, ab­so­lutely off its rocker.

De­li­ciously so, in places. The bat­tle sys­tem is al­ways the high­light of a Per­sona game, and so it proves here, though there’s a new di­men­sion courtesy of the J-Pop set-dress­ing, which Atlus uses to fine, flamboy­ant ef­fect. In the se­ries tra­di­tion, you must first iden­tify and then tar­get an en­emy’s el­e­men­tal weak­ness (here ex­panded with the ad­di­tion of Fire Em­blem’s sword, axe, spear and ar­row at­tacks). Do­ing so al­lows your on­screen team­mates to join in with au­to­mated fol­low-up moves, known here as Ses­sions.

Early on, that means a three-hit combo. By the end you’ll be hit­ting in dou­ble fig­ures. First, char­ac­ters earn up­grades that en­able them to join Ses­sions from off­screen when not in the party it­self. Then they gain the abil­ity to launch part­ner com­bos mid-Ses­sion; these ig­nore an en­emy’s el­e­men­tal re­sis­tances, kick­ing off another Ses­sion from the start. All the while you’re fill­ing the SP me­ter, which when full can be used to per­form one of a char­ac­ter’s su­per moves. Then there are ad-lib per­for­mances, which have a chance to oc­cur when you use a reg­u­lar skill. Com­bat hardly lacks spec­ta­cle, then, and the steadily in­creas­ing du­ra­tion and power of your moves, com­bined with a gen­er­ous flow of new abil­i­ties as you level up your party and their weaponry, mean bat­tles are a con­sis­tent thrill.

The dun­geons in which they’re set, how­ever, are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. How we found our­selves long­ing for the un­re­mark­able cor­ri­dors of Per­sona 4: Golden, where the search was sim­ply for the stair­case to the next floor. Here, themed lev­els in­cor­po­rate puz­zle el­e­ments, a fine idea in the­ory but one that serves sim­ply to ir­ri­tate as you try to re­trace your steps down iden­tikit cor­ri­dors, los­ing your bear­ings ev­ery 20 paces as a mi­rage rises up from the floor and rushes to­wards you.

A well-timed sword swing will knock the beast back, and it’ll des-pawn af­ter a few sec­onds. Tempt­ing as it is to ig­nore the com­bat and fo­cus on puz­zling, do­ing so means starv­ing your­self of much-needed ex­pe­ri­ence. Text pop­ups be­fore boss fights con­sis­tently rec­om­mended that our party should be three or four lev­els higher than it is. And the el­e­men­tal de­sign of the com­bat sys­tem means you need to keep the en­tire cast, not just your favourite trio, lev­elled up. Churl­ish as it may seem to chide Atlus for try­ing to in­ject some flavour into the rather bland busi­ness of dun­geon crawl­ing, it frus­trates more of­ten than it en­thrals.

And yet the whole thing is just so glee­fully off its head that you can for­give its lit­tle mis­steps. Tokyo Mi­rage Ses­sions was an­nounced just two months into devel­op­ment, un­der the even more awk­ward moniker Shin Megami Ten­sei X Fire Em­blem. Few of its core con­cepts were in place and we doubt that, say, hav­ing a magic knight help you find a dough­nut for a vocaloid was the first thing on the white­board. But it’s all the bet­ter for it. Recog­nis­ing that its core con­cept is ab­surd, Atlus has de­cided to sim­ply go for it. You think a fan­tasy RPG set in the idol scene sounds a bit weird? You don’t know the half of it.

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