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FGC #497.2 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Please note that this article contains distinct spoilers regarding Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. You have been warned!

Go Goku!There’s this moment in Dragon Ball Z at the end of the first significant story arc when Goku uses the Spirit Bomb. At this point, Goku has died, ventured through the afterlife, and returned from the grave when needed most to utilize a technique he could only learn from a nigh-god in another dimension. This attack, the Spirit Bomb, drains a tiny portion of power (“power” being vaguely nebulous in this case) from every living being on the planet, and combines all that strength into one focused “bomb” that he can hurl at his opponent, a giant monkey that is threatening everyone on Goku’s adopted planet (which is also Earth. You live there). In the grand scheme of narrative conceits, this is meant to be an important moment for Goku: he is the undisputed lead, the hero of this tale, but he cannot solve this problem with his own power. There is no solution here where Goku alone wins, so he must use this sacred technique, and, with the assistance of everyone on Earth, he can snatch victory from the hairy jaws of defeat. He can save the world thanks to the world. If this overarching metaphor isn’t obvious enough, Goku even whiffs his chance at pegging his opponent with this spirit ball, and requires another assist from another two fighters (one of which is best known for his propensity toward dying). Goku’s (currently) hated enemy is ultimately defeated by this spirit bomb, proving that it was not the super powerful Goku that was required to save the planet, but the strength of every person. Don’t put all of your faith in one “savior”, believe in the power of not one, but everyone.

And then Goku goes on to defeat every other opponent through hours and hours of one-on-one grunting ‘n punching. Goku is our Superman. Goku is our Jesus. All hail Goku, the guy that singlehandedly saved the world over and over again!

This happens often in fiction: the hero is the hero, and while there might be some moment or technique that uses “everyone’s power”, it all seems to come back to the one and only luminary. This is even more prevalent in videogames, as they are single-person experiences. Everyone in the party is working together to defeat the evil god du jour, but it all comes back to you, the exceptional player, making decisions, so the moral is muddied. And when you have RPGs that all but require the player to be the center of the universe, it gets even worse. That town lives or dies according to what sidequests you choose to complete, so it’s pretty obvious the world revolves around only you. Give me a moral about teamwork or whatever, fine, but in the end you intrinsically know that you are the only person that matters.

So you can imagine my surprise when Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE actually pulled off a “spirit bomb” finale without making its main character the center of the universe….

FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Let's go to TokyoTokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE contains possibly the best idea in all of crossover games, and it is a complete waste.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a crossover game involving the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises. However, while both franchises are unmistakably involved, TMS♯FE has much more in common with Shin Megami Tensei’s own spinoff: Persona. And, to be clear, that would the almost spinoff of a spinoff, the post-Persona 3 editions of Persona. Like those games, this is a story predominantly featuring quirky teenagers banding together to fight unknowable, wicked forces while also occasionally hanging out and buying maid costumes at the mall. In this case, the twist is that there is less of a focus on school and “mundane” daily life, as the heroes of the tale are also performers of varying disciplines. Singing! Acting! Whatever it’s called when you’re secretly a Power Ranger! The whole gang is entertaining fans by day, but clearing out monsters by night. … Or… also during the day… I don’t remember if there actually is a “night” in this game…

Regardless! While it’s always interesting to know whether or not your favorite is getting enough hits on Youtube or whatever, the meat and potatoes of TMS♯FE is based on beating back the malevolent mirages in dangerous dungeons. Mirages are essentially demons from another world that prey on the raw fan-power of citizens of our planet, and if these creatures are not defeated, then the whole of the population might not be able to enjoy the finer points of the latest Hatsune Miku release. And, somehow, it is revealed that the whole enterprise of this soul-sucking was supposed to revive an enormous black dragon that could theoretically obliterate the planet, so there are some stakes that go beyond whether some models are inconvenienced by a possessed pervert (it’s… a weird game).

Let's rockBut how do your mundane teenagers save their humdrum lives from this wholly fantastic threat? Simple! They team up with their own, benevolent mirages. These “good” mirages transform into weapons and armor (or at least costumes) for our heroes, and now our leading lady is hurling supernatural blasts from a flying, mechanical pegasus (is noting a pegasus as flying redundant? I suppose it could be a lazy pegasus…). And for anyone familiar with the Persona series, yes, these mirages essentially function like the titular persona “spirits” of that franchise. Everyone gets their own unique mirage, and it is technically this spirit that levels up and learns new skills. Itsuki Aoi can’t really handle himself in a fight against eldritch horrors, but his mirage, Chrom, has got the situation well in hand.

Yes, I said Chrom. Yes, that’s the star of Fire Emblem: Awakening and incidental opponent in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s a luminary of the Fire Emblem franchise, and he’s the prime mirage of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. He is the main character’s mirage, so he’s the headliner of the Fire Emblem characters.

And that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a brilliant thing! The number one obstacle to anyone starting a JRPG is that it is inevitably going to be “new”. The Final Fantasy franchise is amazing, but right from its first sequel, it has changed dramatically from edition to edition. There are always new characters, new systems, and new menus to navigate with every version. And it seems like the JRPG genre as a whole has followed suit, as we can nary get through a new Dragon Quest or Breath of Fire without a significant shuffling of the deck. Mario might get a graphical upgrade, but he’s always going to be able to jump on goombas, and it doesn’t matter if there’s a water gun strapped to his back this time. Meanwhile, the latest Final Fantasy might introduce its hottest protagonist as Sticky Wicket the Gibbering Thicket, and he may or may not even have a basic “fight” command. Final Fantasy 16 features the ARQ battle system, and you may only attack when the global price of oil has reached a high point. You’ll get used to it!

We're all real!But the benefit of the crossover integral to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE allows the user to skip that horrid “getting to know you” phase. Most obviously, the battle system of TMS♯FE combines the basic flow of Persona encounters with the nomenclature of both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, so if you’re familiar with either franchise, you’re going to recognize the myriad of arrows you’re supposed to rain down on this mounted opponent. And the mirages serve much the same purpose, but to grease the plot in the same way as the battle system. Itsuki Aoi is a completely new character created exclusively for this adventure, and, out of the box, he could be anything. Is he aloof and distant like Squall? Is a he a debonair playboy like Zidane? What kind of protagonist is he? Well, his mirage, his “persona”, is Chrom. And that tells us a lot! This isn’t just a nebulous mythological creature like what we’re used to seeing in Persona: this is a particular, defined hero that has appeared in another game. Chrom is the star of Fire Emblem of Awakening, and there’s an entire game’s worth of story and plotting that will tell us exactly how Chrom would react to a situation. This isn’t to say that Itsuki Aoi is Chrom, but given these characters are inextricably tied together practically from their respective introductions, we do have a general idea how Itsuki and Chrom are similar. We don’t need to wonder what kind of protagonist Itsuki is supposed to be, because we’re quickly given a definitive answer: he’s like Chrom.

And this is an amazing way to handle a crossover. You can have your cake and eat it, too! You get to introduce all-new characters with unique motivations and designs, but their immediate association with established characters from another established franchise allows the player to instantaneously identify and, more importantly, identify with the new class. It’s the reason there is always a Link in every Legend of Zelda (he is always strong, but kind), and even the reason Chrom exists in the first place. Back in Fire Emblem Awakening, you were supposed to see “this guy looks like Marth” and immediately assume he is the next heroic lord of the franchise. New character, old archetypes. And using this immediate familiarity in conjunction with a crossover grants players an opportunity to see disparate franchises come together and immediately understand their apparent links.

It’s just kind of a shame that this idea was wasted by relying on the Fire Emblem franchise.

Away we goLook, I know I’m biased. As I pointed out back when I first reviewed Fire Emblem: Awakening, I am not someone that has ever been a big fan of the FE franchise. I’m not generally a fan of strategy/tactics based RPGs, and, frankly, the way the franchise introduces a new cast of fifty randos with every sequel is daunting. I don’t have the time or inclination to go down the gargantuan rabbit hole that is the complete 30 year history of Fire Emblem.

But, that said, it would be nice if I even could.

Let’s see here… The first Fire Emblem game released in America was in 2004, far from the Japanese 1990 debut. From there, we saw the games featuring Ike on the Gamecube and Wii, but that was likely just because Nintendo was still smarting from the N64 years, and looking for a “Final Fantasy” killer… or at least one or two RPGs it could promote on its latest systems. Despite the Wii’s popularity exceeding certain kinds of bread (screw you, rye), Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn wasn’t a shining new dawn for the franchise. However, Fire Emblem Awakening, Fates, and Three Houses have been revelations across the board. If my twitter feed is any indication, Lady Edlegard is now the official Queen of Earth. However, that kind of popularity did not apply to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a Nintendo DS release from 2009. It was a remake of a game that was not released in America, and this remake was released in America with about the same level of hype as Blue Dragon Plus. Remember Blue Dragon Plus? Me neither. But it’s not like half the cast of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is based on characters from Blue Dragon Plus…

It’s my own fault for not playing a random DS title from a decade prior, right? If I wanted to see Marth in action, I should have taken the chance back when I could. And I did play Fire Emblem: Awakening, and that game is featured as much as (if not more than!) Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. I should recognize everybody from that game!

Except…

Here she isThe second good mirage from Fire Emblem: Awakening that is introduced is Tharja. Tharja is a sorceress that is one of the most popular characters to come out of Awakening (apparently #3 in a Japanese poll that I have to assume is part of the national Japanese democratic process). She is a mage that is very shy, but very willing to use her magic and curses to damn anyone that gets in the way of her goals. She is also canonically bisexual, as she will fall in love with the main character regardless of gender. And her outfit is about 90% transparent nylon, so there’s probably a not insignificant portion of her fandom that simply wants to see her use her dark magic in more gratifying ways. In short, Tharja is a popular and unique character in FE: Awakening, so it makes sense she would be revisited for a crossover title.

And I’d love to tell you more about her, but when I played FE: Awakening, I kinda killed her on our first encounter. Look! I was trying to rescue a queen, and…. It was a bit of a whoopsie, okay? My bad!

Which brings us to the other issue with this Fire Emblem crossover: Fire Emblem is a very variable franchise. You saw it back in the day with permanent death options meaning some support buddies might not live to see the plot past the first chapter, and you see it today with Three Houses and three entirely separate stories dividing everyone’s experiences. Did you choose the Golden Deer route? Well, sorry about that reference to Edlegard being beloved earlier. You probably think she’s a bitch! And even within Fire Emblem: Awakening, you not only have the option of popular party members being killed, but about a third of the cast might not even exist if you don’t get the other 66% to breed like bunnies. Is Morgan your favorite character? Well I missed that dude or dudette, because my Robin knew how to keep it in her pants. There is a war happening, people!

Bye, friends!So this is Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE’s greatest strength and most glaring weakness: it relies on a complete familiarity with Fire Emblem. Rather than going the “easy” crossover route of only featuring the most obvious titans of its parent franchise, it features random dudes and ladies from across a few specific titles, and thus requires the player to be unerringly knowledgeable about everything in those games. It takes days to complete a Fire Emblem: Awakening playthrough, and you better have found everything if you want to truly understand the nuances involved in another hours-long JRPG experience. What could have been an excellent introduction to the Fire Emblem world is instead hampered by its own requirement that you already be an expert. It’s a crossover by fans, for fans, and it squanders its supreme strength as a result.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a great crossover title, but it would be even better if I knew what the hell a “Draug” is supposed to be…

FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

  • System: Nintendo WiiU, and now (finally) on the Nintendo Switch. No excuses! Go play it!
  • Number of players: Three man party, one man player.
  • Just play the gig man: The music is great. I mean, this is a game that is based on half the cast being in the music industry, so the music better be good, but… yeah. It’s good. It’s very easy to see how this game is the secret Persona game before Persona 5’s crazy soundtrack.
  • I assure you!Favorite Character: Ironically enough, it’s Kiria Kurono, the songstress associated with Tharja. While I’m always going to be annoyed when a character is built up as some incredible badass, and then the gameplay reveals she’s just kind of a middling mage (see also Persona 3’s Mitsuru), she also appears to be the only member of the team that actually knows what she’s doing at any given moment. And, yes, her whole “senpai” role seems to be literally designed to be appealing to the average Persona/SMT/FE player (again, see Mitsuru), and her “cool, but secretly cute” personality is obviously engineered to be endearing. But I still fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and I’m not going to over think it. Maybe I’m just happy she could hit that black dragon’s weak points.
  • Is there any other reason you like this game: Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    ITS NUTS

    None at all.

  • Did you know? Draug is apparently a knight from Shadow Dragon, so that explains why I’ve never heard of the dork. According to the FE wiki, he is shown to have a comradery with two other characters, but this “link” only appeared in official art, and not actual gameplay, in his original games. So, yeah, that sounds like par for the course for the Fire Emblem franchise.
  • Would I play again: I’ll answer that shortly, as…

What’s next? We’re sticking to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE for the moment, as I still want to talk about this game in a non-crossover context. So please tune in next Monday as crossover week is finished, but talking about the same stupid game in a slightly different way is back. Please look forward to it!

Achoo

FGC #402 Metal Head

So metalIt’s rare that a videogame so perfectly encapsulates everything about its era of origin.

Many people reading this blog “grew up” with videogames (hi, target audience!). But, for anyone that missed that nonsense, let me give you a rundown: it was terrible. No, wait, it was pretty great playing videogames as a kid, and watching as the graphics and gameplay grew up with our own highly sophisticated tastes (Final Fantasy Tactics is the height of literature, obviously). But one unfortunate side effect of being impressionable children that just happened to want to see Mario conquer a turtle was that we were inevitably exposed to every speck of videogame advertising under the sun. If you wanted to know the latest tips, straight from the pros, you had to also learn that Nintendo is releasing a new line of multicolored Gameboys, the Sega Genesis does what Nintendon’t, and the Sega Game Gear isn’t nearly as bad as your neighbor claims. The sheer volume of videogame advertising seemed dramatically more intensive than it is even today… but that was mainly because, if you were a certain kind of gamer, they might be literally the only advertisements for anything you would ever see.

And, as impressionable children, we were suckers for every damn ad.

Blast Processing might not have actually been a thing, but we all knew that was the only thing that could get that hedgehog going. An experience like Yoshi’s Island could never appear on the ailing Genesis, because it couldn’t produce enough colors. And the gorgeous symphony of Final Fantasy 3? That midi was all Super Nintendo, baby. Nintendo Power probably gave a solid 2-4 page spread a month over to proving all the ways that the Sega Genesis was the inferior product, and Sega Visions was little more than a propaganda rag that maybe remembered to mention Toejam & Earl once a year. As every child was conscripted into the console wars, we all were granted our proper indoctrination.

WHOOP WHOOP WHOOPBut the magazines tended to err on the side of “technical”, which was only natural, as that complete rundown on why Blast Processing was a scam was likely written by a fiercely pedantic nerd. That may have technically been advertising, but it wasn’t advertising. That wasn’t a page of a magazine telling you that the latest game was good because it smelled better than chili dog farts. That wasn’t an ad inviting you to some bizarre sex dungeon because you decided to purchase the latest fighting game. And that wasn’t Play it Loud.

Let’s talk about Play it Loud.

Play it Loud was a reactionary advertising campaign enacted by Nintendo of America. Basically, Sega was eating Nintendo’s console lunch, and it was determined that this was the direct result of Sonic the Hedgehog and the Sega Genesis oeuvre appearing to be more mature than anything offered on Nintendo systems. And “mature” in this case was a very loose definition of the word, as it was more or less a desperate grab for Nintendo to hold on to that kiddy demographic that was now growing into a pre-teen demographic. Thus, like Sonic the Hedgehog, everything had to have attitude. A chubby Italian guy wasn’t going to cut it, and every last Nintendo mascot needed to bear their shiny white fangs. Thus, the Play it Loud campaign did its level best to portray the Super Nintendo and Gameboy releases of the day as loud, attitude-enriched experiences featuring mature, cynical, and downright violent protagonists.

And here are some games advertised under the Play it Loud banner:

Yes, it doesn’t get any more “loud” than fantasy miniature golf with a pink ball baby!

But advertising campaigns are ephemeral, and now, a couple of decades later, barely anyone remembers that Tetris 2 was apparently supposed to be hardcore. While NOA may have been trying to appeal to teens with at least one ad that seemed to be based on nose picking being cool (look it up!), the actual games advertised didn’t contain a sniff of their attached advertising. So, if a neophyte player were to sit down with Kirby’s Avalanche today, they’d have no idea it was once supposed to be Played Loud.

But Metal Head? Metal Head is 90s Sega all the way.

Released upon the 32X in February of ’95, Metal Head starts with a random voice shouting, “Sega!” Then it proceeds to tell the story of a future where all nations have become one, but, I dunno, I guess there are some jerks that are against that, and they’ve got tanks. But we can do ‘em one better, because we’ve got GIANT FIGHTING ROBOTS. So, player, it is your turn to strap yourself into a mech, skulk around the city, and blast anything that moves (or, sometimes, doesn’t move. You will be rewarded for destroying parked cars). And, since this is a 32X game, it’s sharp polygons all the way down, and maybe this game is the entire reason we never saw playable walkers in Star Fox until 2016.

And everything about the game is 1995 Sega as heck.

RUH ROHA real world setting that is just as “real world” as a Saturday morning cartoon? Check. Impressive graphics that aren’t all that great at actually allowing you to see your objectives? Check. Incredibly stilted voice acting? Check. Anime as hell concept, but with Western soldiers and themes? Double check. And the whole thing being touted as some kind of revolutionary title, despite the fact that it’s just a reskinned, lousy version of Doom? That’s a super check. Throw in a blood code, and this title would be the wet dream of the 1995 Sega of America advertising department.

It’s also, ya know, not very good. And, what’s more, it was identified as terrible even at the time of its release. Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it a 4.75 out of 10. That probably means something!

But, despite being a complete turd of a game from start to finish (and, trust me, you’re finished after the first stage, as you’ve seen everything this game has to offer), Metal Head should always be remembered as one of the few games that perfectly captured the shouting, futuristic Sega of the mid 90’s. This was the Sega that would force another company to hoist angry eyes onto a pink creampuff, and that should never be forgotten.

The console wars had many casualties, so let this Metal Head stand as a memorial.

FGC #402 Metal Head

  • System: Sega 32X. I always have a hard time acknowledging the 32X as its own system, because, come on, Nintendo Power told me it’s no different than a Super FX chip.
  • Number of players: So this game advertises two players on the box, but Sega offered an official apology that claimed there just happened to be a misprint that implied the game would be better. One player, whoopsidaisy.
  • Just play the gig, man: Okay, one feature in this game that should be repeated in every game ever is that it has a sound test, but the sound test actually displays an onscreen keyboard to show you how to play along.

    PLAY ALONG

    None of the music is good enough to really warrant such a feature, but, man, I would have killed for such a thing in Final Fantasy 6 back in the day.

  • Favorite Weapon: None of the weapons seem all that different from each other, so I’ll just go with the chain gun. It is theoretically weak, but I was able to take down a tank with it in no time at all, so it seems to do a good job.
  • Did you know? With a secret code, you can make this anime as hell game anime as hell.

    KAWAII

    Metal Head Crisis!

  • Would I play again: Nope! You don’t justify the 32X at all, Metal Head. Maybe I’ll just play Turtles in Time instead.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Contra 3: The Alien Wars! Now there’s a game that can play it loud! Please look forward to it!

DOOM!

WW #10 Persona 5

Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. Barring some terrible graphics, we’re sorta aiming for PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware…

Also, this article will absolutely contain spoilers for Persona 5, assuming that is something you are concerned about.

GrabbySo, as I mentioned on this site a couple of times last year, Persona 5 could have been my “Game of 2017” in a much less interesting year for gaming. This is entirely because of the general “style” of the game, and how, if I had unlimited technology and budget back when I was approximately 12 (or whatever year I first played Final Fantasy 6), I probably would have made something very much resembling Persona 5 (though probably shorter). Cool thieves, cool tunes, emphasis on “role playing” as well as dungeon sneaking: it all kinda clicks together to be the perfect JRPG in my mind.

Or at least my 12 year old mind.

This is because I know when I’m being pandered to, and it probably has something to do with an entire high school full of women that only want to jump “my” bones. So, with that thinking in mind, I’m going to approach Persona 5 from the perspective that it couldn’t be more built for horny boys if it tried. And, as a corollary to that, the game is rather off-putting toward that entire “other” gender.

With that in mind, I enlisted a guest. Rosella, please say hi, or something like that.

Rosella: Hello! I am excited to be here to say inflammatory things about a generally beloved game.

Goggle Bob: Excellent! So what’s your relationship and/or past with Persona 5?

Grabby!Rosella: So I was a big fan of Personas 3 and 4, and played both of them multiple times. I preordered the ultimate “Take Your Heart” Edition of Persona 5 and was very excited to finally get my hands on it, but, uh, it didn’t quite work out that way. I streamed P5 for a little over 113 hours, when you count all the times I had to pause to rant about how the game seemed to have a giant “Women Aren’t Real People” sign on it. It was an experience.

Goggle Bob: And so we’re here to talk about said “experience”. Again, I’m theoretically the target audience for this, and, while the whole thing should supposedly wash over me and be generally subconscious, even I was a little put off when the final(ish) dungeon takes a time out so the female cast can hop back into bikinis.

Rosella: Of course, you can have them in bikinis the whole time with the free swimsuit DLC!

Goggle Bob: DLC I will not publicly admit to using…

Rosella: I will, and I am extremely upset that Yusuke’s beach outfit did not come with lobsters.

Goggle Bob: Just to put you at ease:

Crusty

Rosella: The one and only time I thought “Man, I’m glad Yusuke was in this scene”

Goggle Bob: Yes, well, speaking of which, given P5 is a gigantic, 100 hour experience, we could recount every last bit of the game until the end of time and still not cover everything. So, with that in mind, let’s take a more focused look at the female cast. Would you like to start with anyone in particular?

Rosella: Makoto Niijima was my (one) romance during my playthrough, so she holds a special place in my heart.

Goggle Bob: Haha, we seem to have that in common. I mentioned it in my original P5 article, but I seem to gravitate toward the student council across Persona games

Rosella: To me, she just seemed like the person with the most healthy relationship with our protagonist. She’s trying to re-examine her life and figure out which of her goals are actually hers and which ones she picks up just because she “should,” and our protagonist helps with that. It’s very charming!

Goggle Bob: And she just incidentally can punch demons through walls.

Rosella: And rides a motorcycle.

Goggle Bob: A motorcycle that is parenthetically attached to a ridiculous dirty joke.

Rosella: Oh no, did I miss something incredibly obvious?

Goggle Bob: Haha not obvious: There’s a keyhole on Johanna’s seat. It’s a reference to the myth of how certain chairs were used to confirm future post-Johanna popes were male.

Rosella: Yikes.

Goggle Bob: Hey, Persona is all about the history…