TMS-FE is a dungeon-crawling JRPG reminiscent of games in the Persona series, telling the story of a group of teens trying to make it in the Japanese Idol business, being dragged into the mystery of artists either vanishing without a trace or inexplicably losing their artistic capacity - their so called "performa". While I thought the game was enjoyable and certainly delivered in terms of presentation, I did think it struggled a bit both in terms of narrative and mechanics.
Presentation (visuals and audio)
This game is a spectacle to behold, especially when it comes to battle animations and the full-length anime cutscenes accompanying various musical performances. Character animations could be more expressive, but they are certainly not atrocious like the ones in Xenoblade Chronicles X. Dungeons are not that attractive, but if you tolerated the endless corridors of Persona 4 or the countless other JRPGs found on the PSVita, then you'll probably find them pretty good looking. The final dungeon in particular offered open views and looked quite nice. Interestingly, the recreation of the Shibuya district is actually somewhat faithful to the real deal - Shibuya 109 was rebranded 106 and served as one of the dungeons in the game, which I thought was interesting. This game features many musical performances mostly belonging to the cutesy style of Jpop, which I'm sure fans of the genre will enjoy. The Japanese voice-acting is mostly well done, but the character Barry - supposed to be an American immigrant - sounds terrible. Makes you wonder why they couldn't just find an native english-speaker to make the voiceover in broken Japanese.
Narrative (story-telling and character development)
The game proceeds from a rather interesting premise: the entire cast and audience of an opera performance vanished out of the blue, save for a young audience member who we now--five years later--get to follow on her path to become a Japanese popstar. Unfortunately most of the story-telling that follows feels rather shallow, introducing a range of characters who are basically just anime stereotypes with mostly minor character developments. Unless Persona 4, where many smaller day-to-day interactions made each character feel like a real person, character development takes place more or less exclusively during three short subquests for each character, often boiling down to the character gaining an important personal insight simply from killing a certain time of enemy a few times. Anime stereotypes don't have to be bad--they can be quite fun--but I don't think they did a very good job making you care about the characters you encounter. As for the overall mystery, for the first few dungeons you are served nothing but hints that a greater power might be behind these targeted attacks on artists (no shit Sherlock), but it wasn't until around 30 hours into this roughly 50 hour game that the bad guy even got a name. It takes even longer before you really understand what you are fighting against and what the stakes are, which means that the game really offers little to those who aren't that entertained by the whole idol drama playing out in between. Another thing I don't get is why they added "intermissions" in between each story chapter which all focus on new disappearances and new dungeons. It's obviously made so that you can get character subquests and similar done, but you can do those even during the main chapters - only then they really break the immersion, going on a pointless errand for a character worrying about the next performance while they really should be focusing on, say, the friend who was just kidnapped. It would make far more sense if they restricted the trivial quests to the intermissions and focused on the mission in the main chapters.
Mechanics (function and enjoyment of controller inputs)
Despite a number of flaws that get progressively worse over time, I enjoyed the overall mechanisms of this game more than I did, say, Persona 4. The battle system was quite interesting at first, giving you tons of upgrades to unlock, giving you the opportunity to build chains of attacks against enemies using all three members of the active party: A sword-based special attack builds into a wind-based follow-up, building into a spear-based final. Like in Persona each monster has its own elemental strengths and weaknesses, meaning some types of chains are more effective against some monsters than others. Building effective chains is important in this game, partly because they level up your weapon skills and partly because enemies don't drop critical upgrade items just from dying - they drop them when they are hit with chain attacks. After a while you gain the ability to add members who aren't in the active party to the chain attacks, which ultimately means each chain attack involves 7 people. This is great for damage output, skill upgrades, and item drops, but each chain animation takes a lot of time. It takes just one press of a button to start a chain attack, but then you need to sit back for 10-15 seconds while the chain plays out automatically. These chains also go into "overkill-mode" if the last monster is killed early in the chain, meaning the chain always finishes before the battle ends. It's a good thing the game has tons of upgrades for you to make, because it makes the long chains feel a bit more worthwhile to suffer through.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was an enjoyable experience, but then I'm a patient player. I don't deny wishing for this game to end several hours before it did, and I also have the feeling the game would have been over much quicker if you could speed up to skip all the chain animations. It's not a marvel of story-telling, not even by average JRPG standards, but if you are a patient person into a bit of visual spectacle with Jpop and anime thrown into the mix, you might enjoy yourself too. I give it a 7 out of 10.