The Wii U is still technically an active system. You can buy it at the store, games are on retail shelves, and there’s a Legend of Zelda game still to come. However, realistically, the Wii U’s replacement is less than a year away and there are so few titles coming to it in the next year that I can safely proclaim Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is the last truly great exclusive that the Wii U will ever see.
Announced years ago, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a crossover that seemed too niche to end up as the last big Wii U release. The game is a crossover between Fire Emblem, a long-running series that only just became known in America, and Shin Megami Tensei, an equally aged franchise that needs to be explained to most gamers. And yet, even with such obscure origins, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE quickly endears itself as one of the best JRPGs 2016 has to offer and the one of the most satisfying Wii U games in some time. What makes it so special?
Bright Lights, Big Dungeons
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a vibrant, gorgeous game that makes great use of the Wii U’s many qualities. You play as Itsuki Aoi, your average Japanese high schooler who joins his friends in a quest to save the world from demonic Mirages that are invading the quiet streets of Tokyo. Battling those creatures involves the dungeon exploration and turn-based actions that you expect from a traditional RPG, but it also means learning how to sing and dance to become a pop music superstar.
Unlike most role-playing games, you spend time building up a performer’s self-esteem, rehearsing for concerts, and planning photo shoots to help build up abilities and skills. It leads to a happy, campy atmosphere, and that bleeds through into the color scheme of TMS. Pastel green, blue, pink and more overwhelm the senses in a way that stands out from all the grey and brown of modern games. Though don’t let the bright colors trick you into thinking Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is for kids, as any encounter can send you straight to the “game over” screen if you aren’t careful. Few games balance alluring art design and challenging gameplay better than TMS.
Best of Both Worlds
TMS takes on some of the best qualities of its source material. As in Shin Megami Tensei, you’re dropped into modern-day Tokyo, only there’s a secret war going on that only a team of compellingly realized teenagers can battle. Meanwhile, it takes from Fire Emblem a large cast of support characters who will back you up against a collection of weird beasts that demand careful strategy. Taken together, you get to know protagonists like Itsuki, Tsubasa, and Touma, both with revealing conversations and through complex-yet-rewarding combat.
The inherited qualities of Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei follow to the smaller parts of the game as well. SMT’s Request System is in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, offering a straightforward and entertaining approach to the traditional fetch quest mechanics. Recent Fire Emblem titles added support options that allowed for devastating duo attacks in battle, and that makes an appearance as the badass combo system known as Session Attacks. Though the best use of the series’ qualities is in the weapon crafting, which takes elements from Fire Emblem’s dense vault of weaponry and uses SMT’s Demon Fusion system to create new items
The Spirit of the City
Whether you’ve ever been to Tokyo before or have admired it from a distance, TMS recreates the bustling capital of Japan in impressive detail. The main hub is Shibuya, Tokyo’s equivalent of Manhattan’s Time Square. Shibuya’s famous landmarks and buildings are recreated with great care and are used in some of the game’s most dramatic moments. You can see why the city’s name is the first word in the title.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is all about the spirit of Japan, but it never makes itself unapproachable to outsiders. Thanks to a great localization, concepts like Japan’s music industry or convenience stores are easily translated over to North American reference points. And while some may have preferred an English language vocal track, keeping the Japanese dialogue deepens the cultural awareness of the game. In the past, Nintendo might have shunned such a niche title, but when Wii U is so starved for games, beggars can’t be choosers.
So, if your Wii U is collecting dust or you’re counting the days until the NX goes on sale, don’t give up on your old system until you’ve played Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. It’s a terrific sendoff for the underrated console.