When I shared my first impressions of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, I mentioned that when the game was first announced I was pretty determined not to play it. A number of factors worked together to change my mind before the Switch version was released. One of those factors was having Itsuki Aoi and Yashiro Tsurugi as competitors in the third annual Blogger Blitz competition. These young heroes, sponsored by Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie, ultimately became the champions of the competition, and seeing their friendship as portrayed by a fellow blogger helped to pique my interest in the game from which they came. So I knew when I finished Tokyo Mirage Sessions that the person I wanted to talk to about all the cool stuff that happened in the game would be none other than the Blogger Blitz champion herself. Today Pix1001 is here on Adventure Rules to discuss our favorite parts of Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
Below is our full discussion about the game. We begin with a short introduction before jumping into talking about the Idols. After that we move on to discuss the game’s many Side Stories, then share our opinions about the Mirages and their personalities. Finally, we discuss Protagonists and how Itsuki compares to other Fire Emblem leads as well as Joker from Persona. If you want to read about a particular topic, just use the search function on your keyboard to quickly navigate to the proper heading! One final note – there are unmarked spoilers for the game, so keep that in mind as you read.
Ian: Pix, it’s always a delight to collaborate with you, I’m really glad we could get this set up. So my first question just to establish some background for those reading: I’ve heard you say that you picked up Tokyo Mirage Sessions before knowing anything at all about Fire Emblem, Persona, or Shin Megami Tensei. As someone with no background in any of the titles that inspired the game, what drew you to play Tokyo Mirage Sessions?
Pix: Hi Ian! Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this, it is an honour to get a chance to discuss Tokyo Mirage Sessions with you! You are right that I had never played any of the related games before. I had an awareness of them, particularly Fire Emblem, as it was around the time Fates came out, but I’d never actually played one. My first encounter with Tokyo Mirage Sessions was an article in video games magazine Edge. What the magazine described sounded, quite frankly, bonkers. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a video game about idols not to mention the bright colours and session mechanic. Plus it was a new JRPG – my favourite sort of video game – and it sounded so fun and silly I just knew I had to grab it.
Ian: That’s certainly a great reason to pick it up, and that hits pretty squarely on the head one of the first things I’d like to talk about: the idol concept. This is something that admittedly for me was a turnoff back when the game was released on the Wii U. I am not a pop music fan, so the idea of playing an entire game about it didn’t really appeal to me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the game hits on multiple aspects of the entertainment industry, including acting. The acting portions of the game turned out to be very relatable for me. My college degree is in theater, so all the scenes of characters talking about memorizing all their lines as well as Tsubasa’s experience with a really overbearing director resonated with me in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I’d be curious to know if you have any background in entertainment and how that background (or lack thereof) affected your perception of the setting and characters.
Pix: That is a very interesting question. I did enjoy performance arts as a teen but never had the inclination to take it further. I wouldn’t say there is much in the setting and the characters that I directly relate to experience-wise, the closest I’ve come to the entertainment industry was probably a brief stint where me and a friend set up an independent record label, so perhaps Maiko is the character I can relate to the most as she is responsible for the organisational side of things, but even that is stretching it a bit! Like you, I am not a fan of pop music and the idol scene wasn’t something I knew much about before picking the game up, but I’ve always had an interest in Japan and I found the game offered the opportunity to learn a lot about a huge cultural phenomenon which perhaps isn’t so well known in my part of the world.
As an aside in relation to the music, my experience was that getting to know the characters meant I was able to get into the music despite not really being a fan of the genre. Somehow the fact that all the songs had a context in the game gave them more meaning. I grew to love many of the songs and still listen to them regularly. Did you find that you were able to overcome your initial misgivings about the music or did the musical style remain a bit of a turn off when you actually played the game?
Ian: It didn’t detract from my experience. There was never a song I thought was actively bad, though there were certainly a few I was neutral towards. I think your point about how connecting with the characters made their music matter is spot-on! The songs I really liked were those by Kiria and Yashiro, who were also some of my favorite characters from a story standpoint. I’d say from a strictly musical standpoint, Yashiro’s number was my favorite. That said, there’s plenty of music in the game that isn’t part of a big choreographed performance and I thought the themes that played over dungeons and battles and whatnot were generally pretty solid. Is there a song that stands out to you as a favorite?
Pix: Totally agree about Kiria and Yashiro’s songs, particularly The Labyrinth and Black Rain. I felt the dungeon and battle music was decent, but there was one dungeon, the one with the wooden walkways (I think it is Illusory Daitou TV) where after a while the music drove me absolutely crazy and just stepping into the idolasphere made me want to scream. It is hard to pick a favourite song as I find it changes depending on what mood I’m in. The aforementioned songs by Kiria and Yashiro are up there, as is Smile Smile just because it makes me so happy that Itsuki gets a song, and I really like Give Me, but actually if I had to pick I’d say my favourite song is the Ellie x Tsubasa number, I think it is called Dream Catcher. I just find it so damn catchy! Generally I liked most of them, even Tiki’s weird dance/rave track Beastie Game which is not at all the kind of thing I’d usually listen to. I wasn’t so keen on the Tunnel Home (I mean… I really coulda done without that image of Barry in the dog outfit) and I wasn’t really a fan of any of Tsubasa’s solo numbers, I think she should stick to duets (and taking acting lessons from cats).
Ian: I completely agree with you about dog suit Barry, that’s a vision that will haunt my nightmares regularly for some time. That brings us to another topic I thought would be fun to discuss: side stories. So both Fire Emblem and Persona have social elements to their gameplay and Tokyo Mirage Sessions tied that in by having these side stories for the various characters. Each one has three opportunities for you to learn more about their background and to see them in more performances, either musical or acting. I really enjoyed the side stories and what they showed of each character, but of course there were some I loved more than others. It’s funny that you mentioned Tsubasa and the Little Devil because learning to be a devilish tease from a stray cat was certainly a side story highlight for me, but I’m curious which ones stood out to you as being particularly memorable?
Pix: The side stories are probably my favourite individual element of the game. I had two absolute favourites. The first one is the aforementioned one with Tsubasa and Little Devil. It was simply so funny, I couldn’t really believe what I was watching. The other one, and this may not surprise you, was The Hungry Man. It is of course one of Yashiro’s side quests and begins with him exhibiting signs of starvation because he seemingly does not know how to feed himself without the help of others. After Itsuki and Mamori manage to get him to the cafe, the story evolves and he and Itsuki eat a variety of delicious things whilst Itsuki teaches Yashiro how to act as a food critic for his upcoming performance on Mamori’s cooking show. The whole thing is just utterly adorable, and of course in the end Yashiro pulls off an awesome (if somewhat unlikely) performance on the show and everyone is happy. Other side quest highlights for me were Kiria’s Poker Face, featuring the plushy dinosaur Sir Gen, and also the one where Ellie takes Itsuki on lots of dates. I particularly appreciated quests which resulted in a new Ad-Lib Performance or other battle advantage, as I really liked the way the story linked directly to skills available to you in battle.
Ian: Absolutely, that I think is a key aspect of why the side stories work so well. Not only do they show you more about the characters and the world but they also give you a practical advantage for the combat portion of the game. It helps them to feel worthwhile. You’ve named a number of my favorites which either speaks to their quality or we just have the same tastes in characters, haha. Something I really appreciated about Yashiro specifically is that he comes across as this arrogant, unpleasant sort of guy who I assumed would turn up his nose at anything less than (to use a western point of reference) Broadway or Shakespeare, but he is so intense and passionate about his craft that he takes these ridiculous roles just as seriously. For him, being a professional is about doing nothing less than his absolute best regardless of the perceived quality or significance of the production he is working on and that was a pleasant surprise for me. It gave me a lot of respect for the character and I loved all three of his side stories as a result of that. Did you have any similar moments where a particular side story changed your overall impressions of a character (for good or ill)?
Pix: Ah yes, gushing about Yashiro. This is what I like! Ahem. Anyway, yeah, so that is a really interesting question. I would say that none of the side stories changed my perception of a character for the worse, but, as you describe with Yashiro, a few of them did change my perceptions of the character’s personalities. I think the most striking example of this for me was probably Kiria’s side quests. I really did not expect her to have a cute side or to want to embrace it and so when you complete the third one it really does seem as if she has grown as both a performer and a character. I’d also like to give Maiko a shout out here as well. It is easy to be judgemental about her, but the side stories really put a different spin on things – being forced to socialise and get drunk just to succeed in business is not something that had ever occurred to me but I bet it is a reality for a lot of people in the entertainment industry!
Ian: That’s a good point. I can remember in college having lessons where the focus was on networking and how significant it was to succeeding in the industry. The cast parties after a production were essentially mandatory, which I always found frustrating because after spending months with these people the folks I really wanted to celebrate with were my friends and family. I also distinctly remember a time when I went to a department store with one of the faculty and she helped me select a wardrobe for a specific event we were traveling to. Not for when I was on stage or for any particular occasion, just “trendy” casual clothes to wear so I would look stylish when we were doing nothing more than all hanging out and chatting. That stuff was honestly a big turn off for me when it came to pursuing theater as a career so I can empathize with Maiko in that regard.
Also I will try to keep any Kiria gushing to a minimum but yes, she is great. One of the little touches I love about this game is the Topic system, which is essentially just the Messenger app for the characters in the game. But the way each character has a funny little bio in their profile is a cute touch that really helps to capture their personality. The first time I really noticed it was right after Kiria performs Labyrinth, her Topic bio changes to say something like “starting to find my way out of the maze,” and I related hard core to that. Like, vaguely posting references to a production I was just in as a substitute for talking about my drama online was absolutely my jam when I was around Kiria’s age.
Ian: We’ve talked a lot about the human characters in the game, but there’s a whole ‘nother half of the cast we haven’t really touched on yet and those are the Mirages. I’m curious as someone without a Fire Emblem background how they came across to you. Did anyone stand out as interesting or as a character you would be interested in learning more about?
Pix: I really enjoyed meeting the Fire Emblem characters although I didn’t think they were given quite enough attention. Despite not knowing the series I found most of them easy to like and they filled typical video game niche’s quite nicely – Chrom as the strong, quiet type and Cain as a more fiery, in-your-face type etc. They also, on the whole, complement their human partners well. Itsuki and Chrom, and Touma and Cain are probably the most obvious examples, but I found the Ellie/Virion pairing worked well because their personalities clash a bit. Tiki was probably the Mirage I felt the most invested in, possibly because she is quite vulnerable and needed the protection of the others. The whole divine dragon thing is still a bit of a mystery to me so I’d definitely like to know more about her backstory. Of course, I can’t possibly talk about mirages without mentioning Tharja… I mean… that girl is just amazing. I love how Kiria has no clue what to do with her. I kinda want to find out more about her but I’m a bit worried that saying that might give people the wrong impression. Did you find that the representations of the FE characters were quite true to the original versions? Also, (and correct me if I’m wrong about this) but I think I remember you saying that you usually play the FE games with English voices – was it weird seeing the same characters with not only different voices, but speaking in a different language?
Ian: That’s a great point! So since Shadow Dragon was not voice acted characters like Cain, Draug, Caida, and Navarre weren’t too shocking for me since I had no frame of reference for what they “should” sound like. Awakening, on the other hand, did feature some voice acting in the form of little grunts or few-word interjections during dialogue, or things they tell during critical hits. So it was a little jarring reading Chrom shout “gods!” but not hearing Matt Mercer. I was able to move on from that though and I do think the actors fit the characters well, especially Virion. I didn’t need to know what he was saying to know his tone was condescending!
As far as whether their personalities were true, for the most part it seemed fine but some were better than others. Caida, for example, I think was portrayed as a little more soft and feminine than she is in the games. She’s Marth’s right hand and one of the toughest units in his army, with a wit to match. It seemed like they shoved her pretty firmly into a stereotype of a “leading lady” at the cost of the more interesting parts of her character. Other characters were spot-on, with Virion and Tharja being notable examples. Tharja is a fan favorite from Awakening so I’m not surprised they chose her as one of the representatives from that game. They captured that she is something of a stalker, but the usual subject of her affections is not present in the game so it was interesting to see how they handled her without that core aspect of her personality to lean on.
As far as Tiki, this is honestly my favorite version of her and I felt similarly attached to her over all the other Mirages. I think they gave her a lot more devoted attention because she wasn’t half of a pair; it allowed her to have her own spotlight while the other Mirages are only viewed in the context of how they compliment their human partner. When she gained her physical form during the side story and Itsuki just stood there like a dunce I was nearly shouting at the screen “HUG YOUR LITTLE SISTER WHILE YOU CAN YOU MORON!” I love Itsuki but goodness he can be oblivious.
Pix: I know right! Itsuki is so oblivious and Tiki is so attached to him as a big brother figure – he could definitely have done better! I do like him, I feel he has quite a lot of personality as ‘silent’ protagonists go, just that his personality is quite sensible and not big on emotional reactions. Fire Emblem uses silent protagonists like that too right? Where the player makes all the conversation choices etc on their behalf. I find that it sometimes works better than others and I found it interesting comparing Itsuki to Persona 5’s Joker, as although both are silent they still come across as very different characters. On another note, as a Fire Emblem fan what did you make of the whole Marth/Itsuki thing at the end? It kinda weirded me out a bit!
Ian: Actually, the Three Houses protagonist is the first silent protagonist in Fire Emblem since the GameBoy version just called “Fire Emblem” in the States. Normally even when the player has some customization options for their main character (like in Awakening or Fates) the character has an established personality and isn’t just a blank slate avatar. In Fates for example, you make the one big choice totally outside of gameplay based simply on which version you buy, and outside of that decision the character speaks and behaves in a scripted way. That said, I wouldn’t personally consider Itsuki a silent protagonist as he does have dialogue that isn’t chosen by the player in addition to having dialogue choices at multiple points. The choices do give you some meaningful control over how he acts, though; one of the most notable for me was that when Maiko teases him or flirts with him, you can choose to either lean into it and make comments back or to totally shut her down, which can lead to some funny moments.
And yeah, that ending…I knew Itsuki had one more costume because I hadn’t gotten his wardrobe trophy yet, but it played out in an interesting way. I definitely didn’t expect him to fuse with Marth or whatever the heck that was. As you said, it was rather weird. What I did love about the ending though was finally getting to hear Itsuki sing! I knew pretty early on that the game was angling for an “Itsuki is the leader” storyline but I was hoping he would still get a musical number, and thankfully the game did not disappoint in that regard. It felt like a fitting end and also added to the feeling of the whole game being a big production.
Pix: Ah! That’s really interesting about Fire Emblem – I wonder why they went back to a silent protagonist for Three Houses? You are totally right about Itsuki – he isn’t a silent protagonist – I’m just not sure what the correct term for his type of protagonist is – it’s like he has a personality but is not developed in the same way as the other characters? It is a phenomenon I’ve seen in a few games. Anyway, that doesn’t matter!
Totally agree about Itsuki singing – it is the perfect end to the game. I mean, he doesn’t have the assured singing voice of Yashiro or Kiria, but it is such a joyful moment. The group rendition of the Fire Emblem song (which includes Itsuki singing) is both beautiful and hilarious – I thought it was a great touch, and then when he finally gets his own number with Smile Smile it is just wonderful – I regularly listen to that song when feeling a bit down and it always cheers me up! My one regret about the ending was that Itsuki didn’t get a music video or stage performance to go along with his song – I don’t suppose that is something they have rectified in the remaster? I really wanted to see Itsuki up on stage busting a move with his friends around him.
Ian: No unfortunately they did add not a music video for Smile Smile. They added a new performance for Kiria and Tsubasa, and then some mechanical changes like new costumes and the ability for Tiki, Maiko, and Barry to join in on session combos. It definitely seems odd that you don’t get to enjoy one final dance number while the credits roll – not really a big deal but that would have been one more thing to enhance the experience.
Well Pix we have pretty well reached the end of the discussion topics I had in mind. Do you have any final thoughts to share on Tokyo Mirage Sessions before we call it a post?
Pix: Crikey! That was a long chat, and may I say it has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me along, it means a lot to get to geek out with you about Tokyo Mirage Sessions!
Ian: I appreciate your enthusiasm to jump in and talk about the game! For those reading, if you want to read more from Pix, the best place to go do that is her very own blog at Shoot the Rookie. You can also give her a follow on Twitter @Pix1001. And if you want to read more about Tokyo Mirage Sessions, whether reviews or guides, just click the game’s title on the sidebar in the upper right corner of the page to navigate to all the articles about this fantastic game!