When I reviewed Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE for the Nintendo Wii U back in 2016, I remember being enamored by it for reasons that are very specific to me. I called it a niche game back then and I still believe that’s true. Despite its release on the Nintendo Switch, meaning a giant audience will have access to the game now, I still don’t think this game will appeal to everyone due to its immense focus on J-Pop culture. However, if, like me, you’re enamored with the Persona series, you enjoy a flashy turn-based combat system, and bop your head to J-Pop bangers, then Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is 100% worth checking out. Let me explain.
A lot of my feelings about TMS #FE Encore remain the same from the Wii U version but I will run down what the game is about in case you’re not interested in reading my old review.
First and foremost, the game is absolutely drenched in J-Pop or Japanese Pop music culture. When I say drenched, I mean head to toe soaking in it, as it’s basically the game’s entire premise. The game revolves around a home base established inside a Pop Idol agency called Fortuna; character development arises from overcoming fear of showbiz and singing their heart out, and music/song jargon is used for basically everything from standard conversations to battle mechanics. I led with this because this might arguably make or break the game for you.
The game is split into two distinct parts, the city section which allows your character to explore various hotspots around Tokyo, containing various shops for upgrades and item purchasing. This is also where a bulk of the side quests will happen during your downtime when you’re not on a story quest. Each party member has a variety of personal quests that helps to flesh out their personalities. You’ll get to explore Tsubasa’s sheltered personality and her struggle to be more outgoing, or Kiria’s more sensitive side which is a hard contrast from her harsh exterior. Completing these will, in turn, unlock Performa, or special skills that will further enhance that character in battle.
The second part revolves around dungeon crawling through the various Idolaspheres that pop up all around Tokyo. All of these take place during the main story quests, are heavily themed after the current plot device, such as a photo studio with camera lights and portraits when taking down an obsessive photographer turned monster, and usually revolve around solving some kind of puzzle mechanic to get through.
This is where a majority of the combat takes place, in fantastic turn-based fashion. Anyone familiar with Persona, or even the simplistic Pokemon battle formula will feel right at home here. The bulk of the combat revolves around figuring out enemy weaknesses and then exploiting them for maximum damage. Each time you hit an enemy with a move it’s weak to, you automatically activate an attack called a Session, assuming your character has learned them, which will make your party members hop in and also perform attacks without wasting a term or any energy to expend those attacks.
Unique to the Switch version are a few notable extras that certainly help enhance the game. First and foremost, it includes all the extra DLC from the Wii U version, which means the EXP and money farming dungeons located within the Fortuna offices are available very early on.
Among those, however, is now a brand new EX Story which focuses on Kiria and Tsubasa that unlocks new chapters as the story goes by. This is where a slew of extra costumes can be earned, like the fantastic Joker costume from Persona 5 for Itsuki. Non-party characters such as Tiki, Barry Goodman, and Maiko Shirazaki can now participate in Session attacks, which is always welcome. And lastly, and this is a big one, Sessions can now be sped up, which means you no longer have to sit through a string of automatic combos, and will instead play out super fast so you can keep the battle going at a steady pace.
I guess the only unanswered question remains, how is it on the Switch. The Wii U version inexplicably didn’t allow the game to be played on the Gamepad, a personal gripe of mine back then. Of course, the Switch version remedies this as it’s fully playable both docked and undocked, so that’s one nitpick I can thankfully remove from my list.
Another was that since the game is entirely in Japanese, it irked me that some dialogue was not subtitled, such as in combat. While it’s not a dealbreaker, it still bothers me that I don’t know exactly what they’re saying each time.
There is, however, one completely unforgivable mechanic that’s missing from the game, and that’s a lack of an autosave feature. There’s nothing more demoralizing than running through a dungeon, get ambushed by a tough enemy, and wipe, only to realize you didn’t save at any point during that run, meaning that last hour or two are completely wasted. It is absolutely criminal that this game requires you to save manually.
I’d excuse this if saving was a little bit quicker, such as pausing and pressing a button to quicksave, but no, you have to navigate to the System settings, go to Save and then choose a slot. Admittedly not a long process, but an annoying one to remember. And if this rant didn’t already make it obvious, I fell victim to this a few times during my time with the game.
Aside from the ridiculous lack of an autosave feature, I absolutely adored my time with this bright and colorful game. If I wasn’t admiring the gorgeous aesthetics, I was bopping to the catchy soundtrack filled. And on top of that, the combat system proved to be engaging and fun enough to keep me engaged from start to finish.
Like I stated in my intro, this game is so specifically tailor-made for me and my love of Japanese culture. If you don’t find the Japanese culture of pop idols at least partially fascinating, and can’t fathom listening to catchy J-Pop songs sprinkled in through various parts of the game, it sadly won’t be for you. But this music-focused dungeon crawler was fantastic in 2016 and remains absolutely amazing in 2020, despite its niche appeal.