While the world keeps hoping for Persona 5 on Switch, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has filled the crave that I’ve had for a similar experience.
In late 2015, I went out on a whim and picked up Persona 4 Golden for my Vita during one of the PlayStation Store’s year-end sales. Most of this purchase came down to the fact that I had heard nothing but raves from friends and colleagues about the game, and the series as a whole. Despite my hesitation about jumping in to the fourth entry in a popular JRPG series that I had never played before (and especially one with such a daunting length), I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try it for the $10 or so that I spent on it.
Little did I know how much that I would end up loving Persona 4 Golden, or the fact that $10 would be an absolute steal for it. I played P4G relentlessly throughout the first couple months of 2016, and it easily became not only my favorite Vita game, but one of my all-time favorite RPGs. Throughout those couple of months, I couldn’t help but be sucked into Persona 4 Golden’s story and characters, and I wanted to spend as much time in Inaba as I could. And also with Chie, because she is Best Girl.
All of this is context for the fact that I took a big chance on Persona 4 Golden, unsure if it would be the type of game for me, and came out of it compelled to dig even deeper into the series ever since. Last year I finally played through Persona 3 Portable on my Vita, and over the holidays I picked up Persona Q and Q2 on 3DS, and the complete collection of the Persona Dancing games on PS4.
That of course has led me to want to play through Persona 5, a game that has been near the top of my backlog for the past three years. I’ve put in somewhere between 5-10 hours into it so far: in Persona 5 standards that is just barely scratching the game’s surface. Despite my several attempts to finally experience the story of the Phantom Thieves for myself, I have struggled with finding the right time to really commit to the game.
There are plenty of reasons why I think I’ve had a hard time actually getting to play Persona 5, the most obvious being the usual things that happen in life: work, spending time with friends and loved ones, and other commitments. Add on top of that the demands of working in the field that we do at DualShockers, where there is always something new to play and experience (and review, and write about), and trying to cram in a 100+ hour JRPG on top of all of that is just hard to do, if not impossible.
But for me personally, the biggest reason that I can point to my difficulties in trying to play Persona 5 has been the fact that it’s confined to my PS4, a console that I’ve had less and less time at home to play. This is a sentiment that I share with our own Michael Ruiz, when he wrote about the demands of playing longer games when life can get in the way. Whether or not it’s because I started my experiences with the series on the Vita, something just didn’t feel right when I was playing Persona 5 on the PS4. Though it may be superficial, not having the ability to take the game with me is surely a big part of why I’ve had trouble sinking the time into it that I desperately want to.
Everything about the experience of playing through the Persona games on handhelds just scratched a certain itch for me in a way that I have a hard time describing. The best way that I can explain it is that, in a way, playing through Persona 3 and 4 mirrored the hustle and bustle of my everyday life — from going from home to work, to finding the time to spend with friends and family — and taking those experiences along with me felt comforting. Going from the stresses of everyday life and unwinding with those games was reassuring, whether it was going through floors of the games’ dungeons on my commute home or spending some time enhancing my Social Links before going to bed. Trying to manage and organize the time that I had in-game felt like some small semblance of command over my character’s in-game life, in a way that I often don’t have control over in my own everyday life.
I felt like I was missing out on part of that experience with Persona 5 by not having the game in a portable fashion, in a weird way where real life sort of enhanced what I was experiencing in the game. Though I’m clearly not the only one hoping for a Switch version of Persona 5, with “#BreakPersonaFree” currently trending on Twitter, I’ve yearned for the announcement of a Switch version of the game, hoping that I can finally play it in the format that I’ve always felt the series worked best in.
Right now those prospects seem unclear, with Persona 5 Scramble about to hit Japan this week (with no announced Western release date) and Persona 5 Royal coming exclusively to PS4 next month in the West. But for the time being, even if we don’t wind up with P5 on Switch, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has come in to fill the exact void that has been left in my heart for a similar experience.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, the recently-released Switch version of the 2016 Wii U RPG, is the first time that I’m experiencing this title for myself, having missed out on it before. While that was mostly due to the fact that I didn’t have a Wii U, the return of TMS initially had me hesitant to jump into it, having never really been a huge Fire Emblem or Shin Megami Tensei fan. I’ve only had vague familiarity with Fire Emblem through the series’ inclusion in Super Smash Bros., and the small glimpses of SMT that I have are from understanding its connections to the Persona series.
However, after hearing that the game had some Persona-style elements to it, I decided to take a chance on Tokyo Mirage Sessions and pre-ordered the Switch version. Though initially Tokyo Mirage Session very much seemed like a hit or miss type of game for me, in the six hours or so that I’ve put into the game so far I’ve only come away loving it. In particular, I was completely surprised by how much of my experiences with Persona 3 and 4 and what I loved about those games would wind up making their way into TMS, from the cast and world of modern-day Japan, right down to the combat system and gameplay. Frankly, I was shocked how quickly I was able to get a grasp on how TMS played; even during the combat sequences, aside from a few key differences, it plays more or less like a Persona game.
In a lot of ways, Tokyo Mirage Sessions really felt like the next best thing that I could ask for in having a Persona-style experience on the Switch, but with its own unique flavor and twists to differentiate it. The more contemporary setting of the Persona games always felt like a breath of fresh air from the medieval or futuristic settings of other RPGs that I’ve played, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions certainly plays with Persona-style themes of friendship and blurring the lines of reality and the supernatural. That said, the J-pop-fueled world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions gave me enough of a hook to love the game on its own terms, and not merely as just an emulation of what I loved from the Persona games. I’ve already been enamored by the game’s pop-star-themed story and characters, and even the act of grinding in the game feels elevated by its vibrant battles and visuals that feel less like repetitive battles and more like mini concerts.
Though I’m still only in the early parts of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, I can already tell that it’s a title that I’ll be sinking dozens of hours into over the next few weeks, and I can probably thank the Persona series for that, much like P4G introduced me to the series as a whole so many years ago. While we’re still left with baited breath on whether or not Atlus will finally deliver on the hopes and dreams of fans to bring the Phantom Thieves with them on-the-go with a Switch version of Persona 5, I have to say that spending time with the members of Fortuna Entertainment has felt just as worthwhile for me. Tokyo Mirage Sessions might have opened me up to a whole new range of worlds to explore, even if only it just happened to be the right game to come at the right time for me.
And hey – at the very least, we do get that sweet Joker outfit in the Switch version of Tokyo Mirage Sessions.