In the past I’ve spoken about JRPGs, the things I like but most importantly, the flaws in the genre, because whilst the name just means Japanese-RPGs, it has enough tropes and stylistic differences that we can consider it a completely different genre. Many of these tropes form the basis of all RPG Video Games, as many developers and designers grew up with games such as the original Final Fantasy.
Right now, I’m playing through two JRPGs that I now think might be two of the best RPGS in the world. The first is one I’ve mentioned in the past, Xenoblade Chronicles X, which I had to restart because I forgot to copy the save file when I deleted my old WiiU account and created a new one (they’re region-locked, so my Irish one didn’t work here). And the second is the wonderful Shin Megami Tensei & Fire Emblem Crossover, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.
The main reason I consider them so amazing is how much they empower you. With every new mechanic, with every new item or character option, you’re closer to pure badass-dom. The games have tough challenges, unfair encounters—I still hate Tokyo Mirage’s boss designs for including minions in the fights to up the difficulty—and the occasional unwinnable fight, but you’re never weak. You never feel like you’re not improving, like you don’t have any option beyond just grinding to improve your numbers.
Let’s talk Xenoblade Chronicles X. Much like its predecessor, the fantastic Wii JRPG I thoroughly enjoyed and truly love, combat is not just about hitting enemies wildly with every power you have, but a dance between the enemy and your party, picking up audiovisual cues to decide which skills to trigger. Someone will call out for melee skills and doing it raises the morale and with it the effectiveness in battle and your total Tension Points, which you use to power more skills, revive characters or go into Overdrive when you gain the ability.
Every time you level a class and max it out, you can use those skills in your new one and changing classes is instantaneous and painless. You’re never out of options and you always have the chance to switch to a combat role that not only fits your personal style but also the situation. Maybe what you need is a tank and not another DPS.
Once you gain the Overdrive, this simple combat Waltz becomes a Rumba, with faster skills, tighter deadlines and many more benefits to triggering Tension Point gains.
It’s not just the combat but also everything around it. Quests in Xenoblade Chronicles X have considerable rewards and keep your from falling into a grind of killing monsters to level up. Hell, many of them you can complete without ever touching your opponent. And once you get your mechs, this becomes even faster.
And yes, the mechs. Nothing makes you feel more powerful than getting in your own giant robot and going off to fight monsters and bosses. The scales change, but it’s still a beautifully choreographed dance you’re putting with your companions, even if they’re on foot when you’re flying across the skies.
Also, you never feel more badass than when you get your mech that transforms into a giant bike…and then you punch a dinosaur with it…and then the games makes the thing fly…and then you buy a better one and find legendary weapons, and you fight other bosses in it.
You get what I mean, right? Xenoblade Chronicles X always makes you feel more powerful.
Now let’s talk about Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. On a first look, it’s a standard turn-based JRPG, but immediately you learn the most basic mechanic in this game, the first of many things named based on the game’s show business theme: Sessions.
When you hit an enemy with one of their weaknesses, you trigger a session, where the other party members (active only at first but you can unlock the ability to bring the benched ones out as well) follow-up with their own attacks. By the end of the game, with every character in the roster, sorry, the cast, exploiting enemy weaknesses leads to a massive jam of a session, with everyone jumping in to deal humongous levels of damage.
Instantly you feel empowered. It’s no longer about just hitting the enemy, but about hitting them in the right way to bring all your friends in to help you. Triggering a board-clearing, boss-smashing session is one of the best things in the world.
Then, you think you know everything there is to know and the game throws out Ad-Lib performances your way. Side quests often deal with the characters’ careers and their various acting roles and musical performances, and the Ad-Libs come from them. Say a character released a new single, and you see the video of the concert—which by the way are amazing cutscenes—then when you fight, there’s a chance they’ll attack while doing that performance and it’s a super powered version of their normal skill, also bypassing resistances and triggering immediate sessions.
And then you get Dual Arts, which are basically duets…there are no words. I was jumping with joy when I got my first one because it was absolutely amazing!
Tokyo Mirage has never ceases to make me feel powerful, like my cast of characters can handle things just fine. Doesn’t mean the game hasn’t kicked my butt though, because it does so quite often.
And that’s without mentioning your partner mirages and their skills and weapons. This game is fantastic!
A Whole New World
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE isn’t on anyone’s list of JRPGs with expansive worlds, instead showing you small areas that serve as either hubs or gateways to the different Idolaspheres, the nightmarish realms where you fight the mirages and meet more characters brought over from the Fire Emblem series.
These areas are much larger, but still feature only small corridors and passageways.
What makes Tokyo Mirage’s world interesting, at least where the hubs are concerned is how alive they feel. There are people walking around, buying things, having a drink or just chatting with friends—though unimportant characters show up as featureless sprites, which I find very funny. Every piece of music you hear in the game, performed by one of the main characters, will often sound from speakers near stores, just reinforcing the entertainment theme of the game and giving you another proof of how these kids’ careers have taken off.
Xenoblade Chronicle X on the other hand has a massive world for you to explore, with no loading screens to find, so you can start your journey at the heart of New LA and run all the way to Cauldros, the last continent in the game without ever having to wait…for loading screens that is, you will most likely have to wait for that level 95 monster to stop moving in your immediate path.
That’s another thing I love. It’s a wild world and while there is some level locking, meaning the zone is appropriate to your expected character level (common not only in JRPGs but many other genres and sub-genres), there are terrible monsters throughout, coexisting with their lesser powered counterparts. You will see wolf-like creatures of your level but among them, sleeping , is an alpha 30 levels above them all, which makes a ton of sense.
But whatever the approach, these two games have phenomenal immersion in their world building as they feel like places you could easily visit and find the same sights. In this regard, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE has the advantage by being set in Japan and using some real places.
The Sound of Music
Music is sometimes the soul of a videogame and there is nothing more painful to me than a forgettable soundtrack, those games where you need to consciously pay attention to the music to notice it’s there.
That is not a problem for Xenoblade Chronicles X and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Among the many JRPGs I’ve played, these two have some of the best music out there.
Sure, the music of the original Xenoblade Chronicles might be better in terms of composition, as they’re purely instrumental pieces, but the sons—as in with singers—in its WiiU successor are outstanding and although I do find a couple grating (Black Tar), I can’t say any of them is forgettable. The first time you fight a Tyrant enemy and hear Uncontrollable, you feel the instant pump in your veins and it makes you push harder.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is all about performances and music is at the centre of many of the characters’ careers. Kiria’s songs are absolutely phenomenal and even after turning off the game I tend to hear these songs in a loop because I don’t get tired. When you pull off Ad-Lib or dual performances in battle, it’s another chance to listen to these amazing songs.
I can instantly tell apart the music for Shinjuku and the Fortuna Offices, the studio and the rooftop stage. Every music piece in the game , though many might seem generic hub music, is absolutely perfect.
I love these games, truly do and I think if you just smooth out some of the flaws, such as the annoying boss design of Tokyo Mirage, then you’d have the Perfect JRPG. As it is, these two come very close!
I don’t have to say much more for you to guess the amazing HELL YES I would give these games in a review.
They have their faults, but you can sweep those under the rug when it comes to scoring if the game is so much fun that you can’t stop playing it, or the story moved you to tears or in any way did something to you personally that makes it special.
These two games are for me accomplishments in the JRPG genre.
I wonder though, having never played any Persona game, will I feel the same if I do take on one of those?