|Japan is happening. And it's oh, so good.|
Oh, it's also about Japanese pop stars.
-Snappy dialogue, a bright color palette, and utterly weird monster and character design, TMS has a great deal of personality that makes it a fun romp, despite its formulaic plot.
-A JRPG is nothing without its combat system, and guess what? TMS unique blend of weakness exposure and added turns is bolstered by its deep skill inheritance system.
-In addition to having interesting combat, the dungeon design in TMS is top-notch, throwing a variety of different challenges at the player while also possessing interesting, multi-tiered structures.
-The plot and scope of the game are admittedly rather tame, with a great deal of retreaded ground and predictable twists.
-If you hate waiting, there's some loading times.
As a huge fan of Atlus' work, as well as someone who lived in Japan for a time and visited several of the locations within this title, it's hard for me to not be a bit biased about Tokyo Mirage Sessions. The aspects of Japanese culture that are present here are honest, much like Atlus' other adventures throughout Japan, but it also covers some of the performance genres, however shallow they might be. As a former performer (heh), it's amusing to see these caricatures of performing artists, and much like the majority of the dialogue, it's just over-exaggerated enough that you don't have to take it seriously.
The absurdity of Tokyo Mirage Sessions is where the enjoyment of the title stems from, actually. From the ridiculous rantings of Barry Goodman, to the wacky plotlines regarding soul-stealing cameras, performing the job of an Assistant Director, to supporting a character with simultaneously being cute and cool, to teaching a perfectionist actor how to not-be a weirdo robot in real life. The game is full of personality, and though the Fire Emblem characters play more of a supporting role, there's actually a surprisingly faithful integration of the franchise within the plot of the game.
Enough about how the plot almost-kinda-works. though. While that's certainly the most difficult part of the game to justify, the other mechanical aspects of Tokyo Mirage Sessions are excellent- finely-tuned combat and exploration being the highlights. Grinding is well-integrated into combat, where higher-numbered-Sessions grant greater rewards. The weapon triangle is more integral here than magic, since the first half of the game rarely throws nullified or repelled elements at the character and there's truly only one mage (until you unlock more customization options). But each character plays an important role in combat, able to pinpoint weaknesses, utilize buffs and debuffs, and repel or dodge attacks based on the "class" they represent. If you're playing on anything less than Hard, however, you're doing a disservice to the combat system- the boss fights require careful planning and full-use of each character's abilities, and embodies the trademark difficulty of the series it is comprised from.
While the customization never really goes beyond the class-changing seen later in the title, the combat itself is so satisfying (and features a fantastic character-changing system) and the dungeons so unique, it's hard not to get swept up and look forward towards what comes next. However, the low number of chapters and oft-retread dungeons might feel a bit lazy at times- in fact, the game reaches its halfway point so quickly, it is a bit of a regret to see things barrel towards their conclusion. Yet, ultimately through utilizing a wonderful (and colorful) setting, silly characters, and an epic finale, Tokyo Mirage Sessions manages to become a wholly original and utterly bizarre JRPG that fans of Atlus are sure to enjoy. however, it is certainly inapproachable to Fire Emblem fans unless they're ready to slog through a long journey (so maybe not, then).
In the end, is Tokyo Mirage Sessions an essential JRPG in the overall scheme of the genre? Well, not exactly. It is well-crafted, which is unsurprising given the track record of both Atlus and the development team in particular. Rather, if you are remotely interested in the subject material (i.e. the Japanese idol industry), enjoy listening to some good tunes, and have a passing interest in Fire Emblem, this is likely a good choice. I implore you, however, to play the game on its higher difficulties- that's where the real fun begins, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions shows off its brightest, most neon colors.
Final Verdict: This is the type of game that requires high difficulty to pad its light-content, which means anything lower than Hard mode will likely feel like a weak experience. In that regard, I can only recommend it to the seasoned JRPG fan, or those who love Japan. Also, if you want to hear some Japanese voice actors sing the Fire Emblem theme, it's in there, too!