Friday, 25 November 2016

Played: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii-U)

Format: Wii-U     Also On: N/A (a genuine reason to own a Wii-U! It's true!)
Developer: Atlus/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Progress: Up to Chapter 5 and luuurrrving it thus far despite the crappy censorship.

So if you stop by here at DS90Gamer on a regular basis (I feel bad for ya, I really do!) then you may remember that I had a mini big embarassing rant about the censorship that had been applied to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE - the crazy new title for the long-awaited Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem crossover. Back then, the game was still sealed in its wrapper, a purchase made in haste should the worst happen - as it usually does with niche Nintendo products - and the print run sell out quickly, sending prices through the roof. Now the plastic is off, I'm roughly forty hours into the game and a lot calmer about the whole censorship thing. Breasts are evil and certainly should be covered up for us more tasteful Western consumers - I see this now. Those revealing outfits and bikinis? The absolute devil. Thank goodness I was protected by the good souls at Nintendo when they ordered these changes because I don't think my eyes could have withstood the horror.

Nah - just kidding; it's a bloody load of old, steamin' horse shit isn't it? Bollocks to the censors and their antiquated way of thinking. To make this post a little easier to digest however, I will store up my disdain for these changes and talk about it again separately at the end so if you only want to read about my thoughts on the game itself and not me foaming at the mouth with fury then there will be a handy cut-off point.

So the whole censorship thing aside, I'm seriously enjoying the game. It's got a lot of Persona about it (a good thing since Persona 3 is one of my most highly-rated games) and you can see this in both the stylish presentation of menus and the gameplay itself. Dungeons for instance look boring and are not terribly interesting to traverse but seeing shadowy foes pop up and trying to hit them first to get the jump on them in battle is so very Persona. Battle too features a lot of things that evoke fond memories of my time with Persona 3 (I'm not referencing P4 because although I own it, I still haven't gotten around to playing it) such as a 'wheel' of command options, a battle system geared around exploiting enemy weaknesses for combos and a host of spells/items lifted straight from Atlus' flagship RPG series.

That's right...walk away casually. No huge lightning storm thing to see here.

I find the Fire Emblem DNA to be a little more subtle. The biggest influence of Nintendo's strategy-RPG series are the titular Mirages themselves - mysterious warrior spirits that the game's characters partner up with so that they can transform into costume during battle (Power Rangers style) and wield weapons or magic to fight the bad mirages. These Mirages are classic Fire Emblem characters taken from various installments in the series albeit with new, more covered-up appearances and a convenient case of amnesia. They don't know why or how they are here, connecting with the cast of teenage heroes but they are ready to lend their powers and not have to explain how the world(s) of Fire Emblem have bled into this one. So far I recognise Chrom and Tharja from the most excellent Fire Emblem Awakening but since I haven't played an FE game further back than Path of Radiance on the Gamecube, I'm not sure who the likes of Draug, Cain and the others are.

The other FE touches are much slighter such as having the four classic weapon types (Axes, Swords, Lances and Bows), some spell names carrying over and nostalgiac Fire Emblem jingles when levelling-up or acquiring new skills. Some story enemies are villainous Fire Emblem characters featuring as re-designed and similarly amnesiac versions of themselves and standard foes also come in FE flavours (hint: bows are still super-effective against airborne enemies!) as well as those that resemble shadows or Persona from Atlus' game.

And then there are the unique, original elements of this game that bind it all together. At first, I was a bit annoyed to find that Mirage Sessions is yet another JRPG centred around Japan's obsession with 'idols'. Couple this with the bright, anime styled characters, wacky supporting cast and often ridiculous script/dialogue and I was like "here we go again...". I'm not against these types of games at all and in fact, I enjoy them but idol culture has certainly found it's way into a lot of games lately, the other notable one I have played being Yakuza 5. I've got nothing against it but I guess (for some reason) that I didn't expect it to be here as well. No matter, I can dig it.

The anime cut-scenes are of a nice, high quality and great to watch.

The general plot (without going into masses of detail) revolves around evil monsters (Mirages) invading Japan to feed on people's 'Performa', a powerful energy that the best entertainers and performers have in abundance. Actors, actresses, singers and - you guessed it - idols are the prime targets and begin to disappear, sucked into another dimension known as the Idolasphere where they become slaves to the evil Mirages feeding on their Performa. Luckily for the world of Showbiz, a talent agency has a group of teenage idols and budding TV/movie stars on their books who are able to see what normal people can't, team up with the good Mirages and enter the Idolasphere to kick some ass. The player assumes the role of Itsuki, the typical all-round calm lad who can solve everybody else's personal problems, bring people together and generally fall into the role of team leader without realising it. Bit like the main character in Persona 3 then. The rest of the cast fall into the usual cliched tropes: there's the icy, distant one, the young 'kid' character, the clumsy hyperactive female, the anime-obsessed weirdo, the suggestive older woman etc. etc.

I've seen it all before but in a way it doesn't really matter because I'm still managing to find the characters very likable and enjoy their individual side-story strands in the main plot. There have been some genuinely amusing moments and even some quite touching ones. The script isn't quite as good as Persona 3's for example because in that game, you had the cliches but the characters still felt quite real and the plot was genuinely dark. Here, they are more out there and a hell of a lot more Japanese, bizarre and blue/purple-haired but nevertheless, I'm enjoying my time with them and don't especially resent any of the characters which is more than I could have said for other RPG's *cough* Ken *cough*

The game has a real big show business feel to it. Battles take place in stadiums of cheering fans as if it's a performance of some kind (and not a fight for the world's future against massive demonic forces...) and the character's special attacks usually revolve around singing idol-style or generally being all dramatic as if they were filming a movie. It fits well with the Persona brand of styling to the interfaces and to be honest, I like it.

Speaking of battles, they really have been the star of the show for me so far. The combo (or 'Session') based system is really cool and essentially allows another character to leap in and follow up the current attack with one of their own should they know the appropriate skill. So - for example - if a character uses an electrical-based magic attack and another in your line-up has the 'elec-wind' skill then they will follow up the first character's electrical move with a wind move. Then, if the third character (or 'artist' as Mirage Sessions refers to them) has, say, 'wind-lance' in their reportoire then they will follow the wind spell with a spear attack. It's actually all very simple and quite automated but things get a lot tastier deeper into the game when you have more characters and the ability to get in on Session combos while being in the sub-cast i.e. not the active party. I've easily managed to get all of my characters involved in a single combo to deal huge damage at the expense of a single character's turn.

90% of NPC's take the form of these stylish coloured silhouettes

Graphically the game doesn't really push the Wii-U to breaking point but it's so polished and smoothed-out that there's really no reason to complain. Various town locations that you can visit are a bit sparse though with only a few shops that can be entered, a handful of NPC's that you can talk to (the rest take the form of admittedly stylish silhouettes) and little interaction save for a few vending machines or examining things. It's a bit disappointing when there is clearly a strong Japanese flavour to things and a Shibuya location that was just begging to be explored. But perhaps I have been playing too much Yakuza recently and gotten used to incredible, detailed Japanese cityscapes. NPC sidestories are a bit of a letdown too, usually boiling down to just "I lost this, can you find it for me?" or "I need 5 of these from the Idolasphere" etc. There is some genuinely good character development to be had in the substories for the main characters but the rest are generally a bit naff and the rewards for completing them a disappointment.

Overall however, I would have to say that I am really enjoying Mirage Sessions #FE. I've fallen out with gaming a little recently and haven't been playing as much but whenever I stick this game on, I can easily sit with it for a long while. I would go as far as to say that it's a title that genuinely makes it worthwhile owning a Wii-U for. I'm glad I purchased it, glad that I waited for it to finally materialise after years of nothing but rumours and I'm glad that it even made it Westward...

...but...

WARNING: A HUGE RANT, CENSORSHIP DISGUST, IS APPROACHING FAST

(So yeah, time to evac if you've heard enough about this - it's my fair warning to you!)

...

I feel it is important to say that now I've actually sat down and played the game, I still have nothing but contempt for the censorship situation. That said, I must also stress that the alterations do not in any way make Mirage Sessions any less enjoyable. I've heard of some people boycotting it altogether as an act of defiance (you're missing out on a top RPG if you do so...) or even messing about with their Wii-U in order to run a patch from an SD card that restores the true content (admirable and tempting but too long-winded and technical for me). So before I get angry again, just remember that if I were giving this game a review score today based on my experience with it, I wouldn't be knocking it down for being censored. It's a fantastic title, even censored.

No, my anger is aimed at this entire attitude here in the West that makes videogame publishers deem censorship necessary. We're constantly reminded that this is a free part of the globe where democracy reigns and expressing one's views is permitted. So why do some groups feel the need to shout so loudly about things being "disgusting" or "wrong"? Obviously, there are certain subjects and themes that I do agree shouldn't be promoted or consumed as entertainment but some self-righteous campaigners seem to believe that this reasoning should be extended to encapsulate absolutely anything that might possibly offend a few people or not agree with their tastes. The worst part of it is though that these people don't even need to open their mouths anymore for publishers to meddle with the developer's or artist's original vision "just in case". It's why Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 won't get a Western release (thank goodness for the PS4 being region-free and the Asian version having English language) and it's why Capcom deemed it "necessary" to remove Rainbow Mika's cheeky ass-slap intro from view in Street Fighter V.

It's a free society apparently and yet we aren't allowed to decide for ourselves what we want and do not want to consume. As an aspiring artist myself, I find this growing trend towards censorship and others deciding what is too risque to be extremely concerning.

But back to this game specifically though. First I'll quickly run-through the changes that I don't really care about; stuff that really makes no odds at all.

1. Making some of the characters older
Some of the characters that were 17 in the Japanese release have been made 18 for the Western release. This really doesn't bother me. Yes, it's irritating that somebody, somewhere thought that this was an essential amendment but really, any of the characters could be between the ages of 16-20 anyway going on their appearance, personality etc. It makes no odds to me.

2. No more upskirt shots
Again, this doesn't concern me. Basically, they have taken any shot of a female character where you would get a glimpse up their skirt (thanks to the general design/nature of skirts and the very natural effects of jumping around in them i.e. it wasn't anything sinister anyway) and obscured the offending view with a black, shadowy blur. This doesn't really look that bad to be fair but if I had to moan about it then it would be due to the very fact that somebody was petty enough to censor this. As far as I can tell, there was nothing gratituous, just the very expected results of what would happen when wearing such a piece of clothing and leaping into the air etc. It doesn't bother me too much though because as much as I enjoy a bit of fanservice, I equally don't sit in front of the TV drooling over upskirt shots in games.

It's more cute and innocent than anything but you're not allowed this anyway.

Now the stuff that DOES annoy me...

3. Costume alterations
Until I played this game, I had no idea just how many outfits had been edited or swapped completely. When playing the game, you gradually unlock new costumes or have them available to buy at one of the stores, usually after clearing a sub-story in which said costume(s) featured. But I have seen several that don't look right and upon further research...yep, they were censored, usually to eliminate that great unholy evil that is cleavage *makes the cross sign with fingers*. The first thing that is odd about this is that there are still quite a few outfits that DO display ample cleavage or could be considered skimpy. Tsubasa's 'Amrita Girl' dress for instance or Tharja's Sorcerer costume. Additionally, there is still suggestive dialogue and 'breast jiggle' in the game so why the half-way house? The second oddity is this statement from Nintendo about the changes in general:

"Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was localized by Atlus in a way that is consistent with the localization work they do on games they publish. It was a priority to ensure the game feels familiar and appeals to longtime Atlus fans. Any changes made to the in-game content were due to varying requirements and regulations in the many different territories Nintendo distributes its products."

Well if they took a look at Atlus' own Persona series, they would note that skimpy outfits and the obligatory hotsprings segments are both usually represented, adding a bit of fun while crucially not damaging the overall vibe of the game and the same would have easily been possible in Mirage Sessions #FE.

The absolute laziest and needless edit I have seen thus far is this wedding dress style costume:

(Image courtesy of PersonaCentral)

They didn't re-design the outfit or even attempt to do anything properly - they simply coloured her skin in white to match the dress. All of the same lines and shadows are still visible so this really was a case of somebody using the paint bucket tool in Photoshop. What the bloody hell? Are wedding dresses now an offense to the eyes? Lots of real wedding dresses show off a little cleavage and it's one of the many elements that make a bride look beautiful and the groom feel extremely fortunate. I'm sorry but this particular edit is ridiculous.

I could post all of the changes to costumes but I've had enough of talking about them to be fair! A quick Google search will show you everything you need to know but suffice to say, it's a really frustrating topic. I won't even purchase these costumes from the in-game shop purely because of how hacked-up they are.

4. No Hot Springs DLC for you, Western boy
Well if costumes have been edited then it should come as zero surprise to know that a Hot Springs DLC section was axed from the Western release. Again, these segments appear in Atlus' own RPG's and Nintendo didn't stop Intelligent Systems' from including them in Fire Emblem Awakening so what gives? There is nothing overly perverted or disgusting about this DLC; it was just a bit of light, harmless fun. The rest of the DLC is shite by the way.

5. Changes to the third dungeon
The third major part of the game is all about a photographer of idols and models who gets possessed by a Mirage. The team need to follow him into a dungeon which is plastered with posters of models in bikinis to reflect this bloke's obsession...well, it was in the Japanese release. For the Western localisation, these posters have been altered to be incredibly safe and tasteful. Additionally, Tsubasa's bikini costume has been replaced entirely with some sort of punk outfit. None of it really makes any sense when you are actually playing the game and seeing the characters' extreme reactions to plain posters and outfits. I had no idea what was happening until I read up on what SHOULD have been in this section of the game. Why do this, Nintendo? Why make such big changes?



I really must once again stress that these changes do not detract from the game itself because I am genuinely enjoying it a lot. I'm also not some sort of raging pervert who absolutely must see up the skirts of digital girls and all that stuff. I would just like freedom to decide to use a bikini costume or whatever if I so feel like it. This game was not aimed at kids. It is a niche RPG on a dead format that only adults will really go out and buy. I'm not saying that no younger consumers will be playing it but I genuinely do not believe that the ACTUAL target audience for Mirage Sessions #FE needed or deserved this sort of butchery to the product they have waited so long for.

It honestly isn't possible to see anime cleavage and be instantly corrupted or twisted into some sexual deviant but certain people will try to have you believe this. The alterations made to this game really tie into my overall hatred against political correctness and this evil drive to censor things. Movies feature sex and nudity. Books feature some pretty hardcore, graphic sex. Pornography is widely available and free. But sexual elements that wouldn't even class as softcore are deemed dangerous in videogames. Art and creativity should be free to express itself and artists shouldn't feel the need to change their works to appease the crusading moaners who preach about breasts killing us all or bikinis turning our kids into perverts. Once art conforms to satisfy the meddling moaners then the very essence and soul of art itself will be destroyed. I believe that this is a very, very depressing notion indeed.

And that's all I have to say for now. I'm finding it difficult to get my actual feelings about censorship down in words so that will have to do! A big thanks if you actually read all of this post (are you crazy?!?) and I hope I have done even a tiny amount of justice to the topic of censorship in general.

F*** censorship. Support the freedom to express yourself and decide what YOU want to consume.

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