This week Marty discusses why Tokyo Mirage Session is a breath of fresh air for the JRPG series, how it adheres to classic elements of the genre while also revitalizing the stagnant genre.
Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) have been in a weird place lately, not knowing exactly what defines them and there doesn’t seem to be a leader in the genre. Final Fantasy has slowly been shying away from game play elements that had previous made the series famous to begin with. More often we are seeing a hybrid between turn based and active battle systems, and as time goes on games are leaning on the active battle system leaving the standard turn based battles in the dust. What we have known as a JRPG is ever changing, and some fans of the genre are being left longing for their comforting game of choice. Thankfully, last year Tokyo Mirage Sessions was released and it is a breath of fresh air to a confused genre, it adheres to some of the rules of classic JPRGs while adding it’s own fresh and unique spin on the genre.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions (TMS) is a crossover game combining the Shin Megami Tensei series with the Fire Emblem Series. While not the most popular, these two series’ are well respected and adored by hardcore JPRG lovers (Fire Emblem gaining a newfound spark of popularity due to its 3ds games and Shin Megami Tensei is now best known for spawning the Persona games). Tokyo Mirage Sessions plays a lot like the SMT games people have grown to love, keeping very few elements from Fire Emblem (mainly the characters you can summon and the weapons in the game).
The game play for TMS is turn based, meaning each attack in battle follows an order, and each enemy or ally acts when it is their turn, you can influence how often your turn comes up by increasing your speed. This is how a lot of older games operated, you pretty much stand around exchanging blows until something dies. What SMT and TMS does to freshen this up is to allow certain elements and attacks be able to hit weaknesses, when a weakness is hit it allows for extra turns. In Persona your character can act again and hopefully keep hitting all the enemies’ weak points and then do a rush attack to hurt all the enemies. In TMS when you hit a weakness your teammates can preform a follow-up attack if they have learned a skill that co-responds to the initial attack, this can chain multiple times depending on how well your skills sync. This allows for a very fresh take on a turn based game, and it works for the enemies too. It becomes very stressful when an enemy hits your weak point because it guarantees that at least one person on your team will die. I like that the mechanics work for both you and the computer, allows for a very engaging battle where the outcome isn’t guaranteed unless you remain diligent and pay attention. For people clamoring for a new turn based game, this would be it. Final Fantasy has ditched this method at the moment, and we know that the Final Fantasy VII remake will nix it’s turn based game play. It’s good to have some series’ that want to innovate the old systems instead of adopt the new ones.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions also strays away from the stand weapon procurement process, gone are the days of going to a store and buying the newest weapon. In this game you have to synthesize new weapons from components you receive from monsters, so in order to get the best weapons for each part of the game you have to tackle the new enemies with your old weapons, which can be a bit of a struggle at times. Each weapon has a set of skills to be learned, which level up as you utilize skills in battle, so it is important to use each and every weapon to get the most skills (and power up some of your favorites). The standard level up system is around for your character, but the real power comes from the skills you learn and the weapons you have. This puts an importance on regular battles, as it is a chance to level your character, your skills and hopefully be able to obtain new weapons; making grinding a little more bearable as you receive many bonuses from fighting often and vanquishing a wider breadth of enemies.
If adding extra elements to the weapons and making a very dynamic battle system wasn’t enough, Tokyo Mirage Sessions goes extra by adding an enormous amount of charm into the game. The dour silent protagonists of the past (and some the speaking ones of the present) can take several seats, because the characters, music and scenery of this game are a treat for the senses. The theme of TMS is being an idol (whether that’s a singer, actor or a model) and has a lot of J-Pop elements to it, bright visuals and interesting costumes. The battles take place on a stage with a cheering audience. The whole game is based on being a visual trip, at it’s very exciting to watch. Anyone who is sick of bland color palettes and characters who wear all black should take a look at this game, it certainly isn’t dull and will definitely captivate your attention. I could see some people ignoring the game because of it’s peppy visuals and pop star theme, but behind that is a deep game.
I can understand how this game isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions certainly is one of the best games on the Wii U and I would rank it exceptionally high in games that were released in 2016. There’s something comforting about a game that feels so much like a classic rpg but implements new mechanics to keep everything interesting. The game play is challenging (and often unforgiving), requires a bit of planning before you act, but also is turn based so you have the luxury to take your time and not just react. There isn’t a new shopkeeper in a new town selling the latest and greatest gadgets, you have to work to get new weapons (it’s not a lot of work, just fight- which you will want to do) and the game is such a visual treat, I am thrilled that there are games like this being made. The classic JRPG has a new idol to lead by example, and I’m excited to see what these developers bring to the table, and if we will get to see more in the future in the crossover world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions.