Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE Encore review: even better on the Switch

At this point, there are vanishingly few reasons to hang on to a Wii U. Since the debut of the Switch in 2017, Nintendo has steadily been porting the Wii U’s best games to its hybrid device, titles that originally didn’t reach a massive audience because the console was largely a flop. That includes everything from Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to Mario Kart 8 to New Super Mario Bros. U. So far the strategy has worked. In fact, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the Switch’s bestselling title, moving close to 20 million copies.

This week, one of the last great Wii U games is making its belated debut on the Switch. Tokyo Mirage Sessions may not be a huge Nintendo franchise, but for role-playing game fans, it’s worth checking out. It blends elements of Persona and Fire Emblem, and then covers them with a fine layer of candy-coated J-pop style. It’s yet another experience that benefits tremendously from the flexible nature of the Switch.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions takes place in modern-day Tokyo, and puts you in the role of a young kid named Itsuki, who, along with some friends, gets pulled into a strange struggle for the fate of the world. Hostile beings called mirages have been attacking the city, often resulting in the disappearance of citizens. In order to fight them off, Itsuki and team have to travel into a sort of parallel dimension filled with dark monsters. Practically speaking, it’s a dungeon-crawling RPG with turn-based battles, where you slowly make your way through various dangerous spaces.

What makes the game stand out is its pop music theme. It’s infused into virtually every aspect of the experience. The main characters aren’t just teens who save the world in their spare time, they’re also budding pop idols. When they enter into battle they’re thrust onto a stage full of screaming fans, while the in-game cut scenes are more like animated J-pop videos. Even the menu reflects the musical theme: characters are called artists, and you adjust their gear by heading to wardrobe. The result is a game that features much of what has made the Persona series so beloved — minus the social links feature — but with a much brighter, more colorful tone.

(For more on the game itself, be sure to check out our review of the original.)

It’s becoming cliche to say that a game is perfect for the Switch, but RPGs in particular benefit from the platform. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a great example of this. So much of the experience is slowly trawling through maze-like dungeons, with plenty of strategic battles along the way. These moments are perfect for playing on the go, while the story sequences — particularly the gorgeous cut scenes — benefit from a bigger screen. Either way, the game looks great, and the copious text and menus are still legible on a small display. Functionally, the two versions of Tokyo Mirage Sessions are virtually identical, but when a game takes dozens of hours to complete, being able to play how and when you want is a huge deal.

There is one notable change. One of the more unique aspects of the original was its in-game smartphone. Much of the dialogue took place via group texts, and the game handled this in a novel way: you’d pull out your phone in the game, and then look down at the screen on the Wii U’s GamePad to actually read and reply to messages. It was one of the few games that actually made smart use of the console’s unwieldy controller. Obviously that isn’t possible on the Switch. But surprisingly, it still works just fine; the messaging app simply takes over the TV screen instead. It’s not as cool, but you don’t lose anything aside from the novelty factor.

One of the most-requested Switch ports right now is the sprawling JRPG Persona 5. But, aside from an upcoming spinoff, it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the next best thing, and yet another perfect fit for the Switch. It’s a game that didn’t get nearly enough attention as it deserved at launch — but one that will hopefully find new life on Nintendo’s tablet.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions launches on January 17th on the Nintendo Switch.

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