There appears to have been a fusion accident. Bot the Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei series are two very different kettles of fish. The former is a turn-based tactics series that emphasizes positioning and exploiting a rock-paper-scissors-style strength and weakness system, whose story tends to favor optimistic themes of comradeship and overcoming evil. The latter may also be turn based, but its gameplay focuses on a more traditional system that has a huge amount of customization and insanely in-depth and challenging battles.
Likewise, the stories in the games tend to be about the constant struggle humanity has to face between order and chaos, made all the more worse by the fact the world is usually on the brink of ending (if it isn’t already dead or dying).
Both series are great fun in their own kind of ways — but what if you combined the two? What would happen if you took the tactical action and grand adventure of #FireEmblem and joined it with the challenge and grit of #ShinMegamiTensei’s grim world? It sounds like an idea that two slightly drunk friends might come up with, right after debating if Master Chief could win in a fight against the Doom Marine. However, against all odds, an official, full-on crossover game was announced — and holy hell. Can we talk about this announcement trailer for Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE?
While it's incredibly simple and only serves to announce the game is being made, it captures the feeling of each game and decently joins the two concepts together. Shin Megami Tensei has foreboding music for each of its characters that appears on screen, flickering into existence through a haze of static, as if the video is barely able to render them. The chilling drums of this segment flow almost seamlessly into the Fire Emblem portion of video, the uplifting score of which is all the more pronounced thanks to what preceded it. The Fire Emblem characters soon dwarf the effect of fire on the screen.
The two styles differ yet complement one another. Shin Megami Tensei’s gritty and serious aspect is on full display when placed next to the more fantastical Fire Emblem, whose triumphant grandiosity is only enhanced when placed next to the sombre SMT. But it’s the final few seconds of the trailer that really catch the eye. We’re given a view of a city bathed in a blood-red light over an eerie body of water. The moon looms large over the city, the light reflected coming off as harsh and glaring. Something resembling embers seem to be flying from the city, directly up to the moon, before the camera shorts out and everything is replaced with blackness.
Bait And Switch
So we have a trailer that doesn’t give away much, yet its last few moments leave a lasting impression. Considering SMT’s signature mature tone, and the fact that Fire Emblem isn’t exactly free from the occasional tragedy, popular speculation places the tone as somewhat more serious and dark; closer to SMT’s vibe, or at least darker than is usual for Fire Emblem. And honestly, who could blame the developers for taking that dramatic route?
Even at its lightest, Fire Emblem stories always take place during a war, where all the magic and pegasus (pegasai? Pegal? Whatever) in the world can’t distract from the fact that people are dying left and right. This speculation was furthered by the fact the publishers were tight-lipped about the project. The above trailer was the first and last piece of news anybody would see about the game for years — until just a few months before it came out.
The trailer that was unveiled a few months ahead of release awakened the sleeping giant that was the combined might of the SMT and Fire Emblem fandom. After two years of near radio silence, we were eager to see what the heck this crossover looked like. We were more than a little surprised that this is what we got:
So from a series known for its fantasy setting and varied character designs to a series known for its mature and serious edge, we were gifted:
- High school students
- Japanese idol-style singing
- And most confusing of all, a design style that is more in line with Persona, a subseries of the SMT franchise.
To say there was confusion and outrage would have been an understatement.
In classic fashion, we like to strike while the iron is completely frozen over, by talking about a game that came out in international territories over a year ago, and more than two years ago in Japan. Still, we like to think all this time has allowed us to disconnect from the sheer emotional reaction to the game, and will hopefully allow us to get some objective perspective on the game.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (try saying that five times over) would be the game’s name, and it would go on to suffer a lackluster release both in Japan and the West, perhaps as a result of this whiplash of expectations. To its credit, Tokyo Mirage's lifetime sales were not abysmal, but considering this was the marriage of two pretty big franchises, it was a letdown.
Who Was It For?
I'm not going to throw shade at the game. But I am fascinated by its design in the context of it being a crossover game.
First thing's first, why the singing? That struck me as the most unexpected element of the game. There are singers in the Fire Emblem series, and they make for OK units, but idols don’t gel with the themes of either franchise. Heck, #Atlus — the game’s developer and the creators of the SMT and Persona games — had been critical of the Japanese idol scene in one of its previous games, Persona 4.
I suspect this idol vibe didn’t help the Western sales; it’s a popular scene in Japan, but not only is it practically unheard of in the West, a fair number of people are probably uncomfortable that performers are so sexualized despite being under the legal age. Indeed, many fans thought it was a left-field pull that doesn’t evoke either of the games it was apparently based on.
The other problem for Tokyo Mirage is that the game doesn’t feel like it came from either Shin Megami Tensei or Fire Emblem. At best, it kind of feels like it came from Persona; the stylistic menus and effects, the huge and varied color palette, the fact the core cast are all high school students. To the game’s credit, the boss fights are definitely spawned from the creators of SMT, in that they’re incredibly challenging.
Other than that, there’s no real connection to Shin Megami Tensei's themes or characters, and the only thing it has on Fire Emblem's side is that there is one named FE character who is involved in the plot. Other familiar characters do show up, but those appearances are closer to references. The characters look, sound, and act fairly differently, making it seem like the character on screen is just loosely based on their namesake. I wouldn’t have faulted anyone for looking at the screenshots and assuming this was some kind of Persona spinoff, rather than an SMT-meets-FE crossover extravaganza. More than anything else, it’s disappointing that a game that was supposed to bring together two fan bases ended up turning away many fans of both.
The next question I have to ask is why the heck did Atlus keep fans in the dark? The game was announced and fans were left to stew on the idea for two years, with barely a scrap of info. I get that game development is an extremely painstaking process, but this tactic seems like a recipe for disaster. Fans didn’t know what kind of crossover this could be, if it would use characters from either franchise, or if it would simply use the themes from both. So, naturally, we came up with possibilities in our heads, something that’s easy to do when you’ve got two years of waiting and no info to work with.
Even as Atlus finally unveiled what kind of crossover it would be, the damage was already done. Everybody had already built up expectations that would be impossible to meet. If a developer is going to risk making a product that’s radically different than the two it’s based on, then the creatives need to make sure that fans know that before they get their hopes up.
Should It Be Compared?
A common argument made in favor of the game is that it should be judged on its own merits and not be damned due to fan expectations. Allow me to play devil’s advocate: If the game wants you to judge it by its connections to its home franchises, why shouldn’t you? This game was announced as a crossover between two series, the title more or less has both franchises in it, and the developers can’t not make references to both throughout the game’s run. Make no mistake, the game itself wants you to know it came from both franchises because Atlus was banking on it selling for that exact reason.
If Tokyo Mirage had been identified as its own product without any connection to the other games, then I suspect there wouldn’t have been as much blowback. But for as much as the underwhelming sales seem to indicate fans weren’t happy, would anybody have cared about a completely new IP? Were the sales, ho-hum as they were, only made because of the connection to two beloved franchises?
One And Done?
Ultimately, all these points may be moot. There are rumors of a sequel, suggesting that the somewhat middling sales haven’t deterred #TokyoMirageSessions ♯FE’s creators. Honestly, I hope it works out, since the developers did indeed take the boldest option of going for a game that wasn’t a straightforward mixing of universes, and I hope the fans have something neat to look forward to.
But I’ll also sympathize with those among us who had hoped for a simpler crossover, because it appears that the possibility of such a thing grows ever more distant. I’ll admit that there is a part of me that’s kind of bummed that we’ll never have a kind of Super Smash Bros. moment, where we find out if Chrom could beat Mara, but c'est la vie.
If the developers and publishers had been upfront about the kind of game they were creating, there wouldn’t have been quite as much gasoline poured on the fire, and there wouldn’t have been as much disappointment when the gameplay was finally revealed. I understand that the developers might not have known what kind of game we were going to end up with when first it was announced, but it still feels manipulative to sell a game on the merits of being both an SMT and FE mashup, and for it to be neither. This really does appear to be a case of a "fusion accident."
While we’re on the topic of crossovers, what kind of video game crossovers would you like to see? I’ve always wondered what would happen if classic Dante met Bayonetta, myself. Sound off with those ideas in the comments below!