Do your best!

I want you to understand straight away that those picking up this game solely because they’re into Fire Emblem are going to be extremely disappointed. The #FE connection is dubious, at best, offering only a few characters, some musical cues, weapons, and references. All that remains of the Fire Emblem battle system is the weapon triangle, and all but one of the FE characters featured in the story are covered in masks. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is no more a Fire Emblem game than is Super Smash Bros.

All that said, I absolutely love it. It was one of my favorite games on the Wii U, and now it’s one of my favorite games on the Switch.

The game takes place in modern-day Tokyo where ghostly figures called mirages are stealing “performa” from the unexpecting citizens, causing them to become mumpish. Most people can’t see these mirages, but there are a few out there called mirage masters who can not only see them but also control one of their own. Here’s where the Fire Emblem characters come into play, as each of our heroes gets a mirage based on a character from a couple of Fire Emblem games. They interact with the mirages throughout the game’s story, but more importantly, the mirages become weapons during battles.

Speaking of the story, we mostly follow Itsuke Aoi and Tsubasa Oribe, a young “will-they-or-won’t-they” couple living in Tokyo. Tsubasa has dreams of becoming an idol like her older sister before she disappeared in the first mirage attack five years prior. Itsuke accompanies Tsubasa to a big public audition, and must quickly save her when she’s taken by mirages into an Idolasphere (various alternate dimensions with gateways scattered throughout Tokyo). There, Itsuke discovers his mirage, Chrom from Fire Emblem: Awakening. Tsubasa gets one of her own—Caeda from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon—after being rescued.

It ends up that Itsuke’s best friend—an aspiring actor named Touma Ikagi—is already a mirage master, so he takes these two to his boss, Maiko Shimazaki. To the public and idol industry, she’s the head of Fortuna Entertainment. She’s to the mirage masters as, say, Splinter is to the Ninja Turtles. Only sexier. And more flirtatious. And probably a heavier drinker. You have to know how to deal with those the idol industry, after all.

The beginning chunk of the game introduces us to the playable characters (seven good-looking young entertainers and their respective mirages) as well as plenty of NPCs both in and out of Fortuna Entertainment. The story is told in chapters, each involving an idolasphere to explore and a boss monster to overcome. Some bosses are named after villains from the Fire Emblem series, but never really bear a resemblance to their namesake. The idolasphers are all inspired by the various components of the Japanese idol industry: pop music, TV, film, modeling, etc.

I’ve focused thus far on the story and scenery because it’s all so absolutely bonkers that it really carries the game. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a constant explosion of color and pep that somehow manages to keep up its frantic pace without ever getting too sugary. There are darker moments, of course, and many of the enemies you’ll battle along the way are quite creepy (if you’re afraid of clowns, just wait until you have to take on Nickelwise), but it’s nothing that friendship, hard work, and a fully animated J-Pop video can’t overcome.

Between each chapter are intermissions in which you can pick up sidequests from the people about town (find this thing, talk to this person, attack these monsters, etc.). The best ones come in the form of side stories for the main characters, through which we learn their motivation for entering the idol industry and help them overcome their insecurities. These are important because they open up new performa that can aid you in battle. Also, they’re often very funny and occasionally quite touching. Every single controllable character in this game is distinctive, interesting, and entertaining.

Of course, none of this would matter if the game wasn’t fun to play, but it is. The turn-based battle system is amongst my favorite ever devised. Although each character has his/her own strengths, you can augment these with skills learned throughout the story—Nintendo fans familiar with Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei games will feel right at home here. Whether you choose to enhance your natural strengths or try to balance your characters with new ones will affect how they perform in battle.

Battles begin when you bump into an enemy in the Idolasphere. You can avoid them if you prefer, but engaging at all times will keep you appropriately leveled. All battles take place on a “stage” in front of an “audience.” Three members of your party will fight at a time, but you can swap two of them out at will (only Itsuke must remain active). A timeline shows you the order of who attacks when, so that along with your strengths and your opponents’ weaknesses (revealed as you attack them) shape your strategy for battle.

You have a standard physical attack you’ll hardly ever use because the special attacks can set up chains. Here, your attack is followed up by one from your party members who have a complementary skill regardless of whether they’re actively in the battle. I especially like that swapping out party members doesn’t penalize you; the person you pull in gets to attack right away instead of having to wait until the next round. And here’s a pro tip; be sure to swap in everyone during the boss battles as everyone who gets in at least one attack will get experience points, even those who aren’t active when the battle ends. That experience (along with the items you collect after battles) will lead to better weapons, new skills, ad-lib performances, duo attacks, and more. The game helps you keep an eye on your upgrades by pushing them on you after battle and through the game’s Topic system, which is basically a text messaging app that originally popped on the Wii U GamePad and is now called up on the screen with the + button.

Assuming many of you have already played that original Wii U version, I’ll spare you the further gameplay intricacies and look at whether the Encore edition is worth a second look. Honestly, you don’t really get much. The original’s DLC for easier level grinding is now built in, and you get a bonus dungeon that provides new costumes and story elements. The dungeon is perfunctory, but maybe that’s okay considering the complicated and discombobulating mazes that make up the standard Idolaspheres (especially one towards the very end). The costumes are fun, however, and it’s good to not have to spend the in-game cash in order to change the look of the characters (unless you want to, of course).

More helpful is the fact that Tiki (another Fire Emblem character who runs the Bloom Palace where you enhance weapons and learn new skills), Maiko, and Barry (a former metal guitarist and mirage master who’s now a trainer for Fortuna) get to join the end of your session attacks to provide a bit more damage. There’s also a new song to enjoy. None of this is really enough to call previous players back into the arena, but the game is so much fun that it’s worth a double-dip regardless.

I feel I should address the controversy that arose when it was announced that the Encore edition for Switch would be based on the western version of the game which “censored” (some people have difficulty distinguishing censoring from editing for content) certain elements from the Japanese version. Specifically, cleavage is covered up in parts and sexy imagery is randomly toned down. None of this impacts gameplay, and it’s not like there’s not enough fanservice spread throughout the game. It’s much ado about nothing. We still don’t have access to the hot springs DLC, however, and that’s too bad. I couldn’t care less how animated characters are dressed in a game, but it annoys me when there’s available content to which I don’t have access.

Still, none of that alters my overall opinion of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: Encore. It’s a vibrant, bonkers, incredibly upbeat game that’s as fun during the downtime as it is in the battles. The lack of an autosave is going to annoy you more than once, and the game does seems to repeat itself quite a bit, but that’s the extend of my complaints.