So having finished the game once on Hard difficulty after 70+ hours, I wanted to give impressions of the game. My apologies for both double-posting and necroing but I figured it would be okay if I posted my impressions/review of the game here instead of creating a new topic.
I can safely say that TMS#FE blew beyond my expectations, particularly in its gameplay but also in the characters and their dynamics and interactions. Most FE elements are gratuitous and the overworld is lacking, but the rest is fantastic. And the music is gorgeous.
Starting with the strongest point (which I believe many agree on): The battle system. JRPGs tend to be very stagnant in the system, relying on stats (which in turn leads to level grinding) and buffing/debuffing those stats and it's possible to just barrel through the whole game with sheer brute force. This isn't the case with TMS#FE (at least on Hard mode) since the enemies are resilient and the playable characters, more than often, weak and if you follow the pacing of the game (i.e. not grinding unnecessarily much) even normal battles keep you on your toes. The interwoven mix of Sessions, buffing/debuffing, status-infliction, turn order and character switches in battles gave the game a strategic depth I did not expect.
The pace on how you learn the different elements in the game is well structured. Sessioned through your battles? Now YOU get Sessioned!
Superior stats? Get debuffed and feel the crits! Solid skills and team composition? Get Sealed/Charmed/Confused!
Though normal battles were fun and all, the challenge lie with the boss battles and more than often, I had to die once just to get a feel of the boss' tactics. You are punished if you think of just Sessioning your way to victory with a regard of your own team's defenses and switching out characters for various skills felt necessary. Arena battles had its own share of fun, since it had the added element of managing your resources as well when items and switching can't be used. But it eventually lead to some team compositions being better than others so it didn't have the same variety (especially for me who likes rotating the characters).
I will say however that, while the Ad-Lib performances looked cool and all, it's too unpredictable and favored the player too much. Sometimes AdLibs changed the pace of the battle entirely and there was no tactics about it, just luck.
And since I depended on the Session skills alot, the animation of all the stunts got boring quick. It's fun the first time to see them do acrobatics but the inability to skip or fastforward the animations annoyed me to no end.
Finally, the battle banters should have been subtitled. Most were easy to understand but others I didn't get all, which was unfortunate since it would otherwise add to the interaction between the Masters and their Mirages. For example, I understand "Give me your power, Cain!" "Got it!" between Touma and Cain since they used stock anime lines but I didn't get something Mamori said that made Draug shout. Some of the banters are unique as well depending on the costumes (Dark Yashiro's laugh, lol) but for the costumes that didn't have any story or sidestory relevance (DLC costumes, school costumes), I have no idea if there were any references or jokes at all.
Now the other part of JRPGs is of course world exploration and at this part, TMS#FE fails. The areas you can walk around in Tokyo are limited and there is nothing noticeable. I have never been to Tokyo myself but the game gives the impressions that it's all just buildings and shops and nothing else. The aesthetics in Tokyo didn't change particularly much either, saturated in vivid colors throughout. It's too represent Tokyo's fondness of the performing arts, I get it, but I would have preferred to see more of Japan's other structures, like shrines. Considering Mamori is supposed to represent the old performing arts, it would still tie in with the game's thene.
The dungeons weren't particularly visually pleasing for me either. The ones that stood out were Daitou TV and the last dungeon (especially the last one) but otherwise I have too many memories of racing around the confusing corridors, unable to enjoy the environment at all. The puzzles were uninspiring and frustrating. It didn't stimulate me because the puzzles were simple yet felt like chores.
There was less of a coherent story and more of a collection of stories of Fortuna's gang in the entertainment industry while at same time battling Mirages. On the plus side, it gives more spotlight to all the characters but on the other, the Mirages comes off as generic and being merely there for the character's growth. Chapter 5 and 6 does subvert it a little, with the former showing that the enemy Mirages have the same love (if twisted) for entertainment and the latter focusing more on the main antagonistic Mirage, the only enemy Mirage who has goal and personality (though even that is underdeveloped).
The existence of Mirages and their war isn't particularly prominent until chapter 6. I enjoyed the last chapter and wished the story revolving around them had stretched out over the game instead of being so condensed.
The game benefitted from having such a small cast of characters and the side stories (plus their importance in the main story) gave them alot of screentime for growth and development. On the outside, the characters are not particularly distinctive, fulfilling a character archetype or another, but I was genuinely surprised by how some of them turned out in the end. Kiria goes from an aloof, cool girl to someone who is not restrained by the personality spectrum and ultimately becomes happier and more expressive for it. Yashiro plays around with this a bit. He initially comes off as cold and aloof as well but all his side stories are mostly comedic, especially when his hamminess is highlighted. Yet he is still the same (Master actor or an actual dork?). The fact that other characters interacted in the side stories as well (instead of him/her and Itsuki) added to group dynamics of the Fortuna kids.
Itsuki actually became my favorite despite him coming off as somewhat bland in the beginning, since he lacked the drive and motivation of other characters. But he comes off as clever and level-headed and though he has no role as an idol, he becomes quite a capable Mirage Master, something reflected in the gameplay. But what I enjoyed the most is the flavor choices you get, where I played Itsuki as a real dork sometimes ("You sing the anime theme, Touma, because it and your show both airs on Sunday!" laughed too much) and I can only imagine how it is for his friends, when whenever Itsuki opens his mouth, it can either be words of wisdom or a boneheaded proposition.
(Also I ship Itsuki x Ellie because her last side story, nuff said. The only time I chose to be an ass to see the responses and then reloaded for a genuine dialogue.)
The Mirages get way too little focus though. Sometimes we get dialogue between them and Itsuki in Bloom Palace but they are few and far inbetween. You could have switched the Mirages for any other similar archetype in the FE type and it wouldn't change anything in the interactions. I suspect they were merely there for fanservice since if you didn't know their hidden personality before, this game will only give you a very shallow impression of them.
Also Ayaha gets completely thrown under the bus. No anything at all for her, a shame.
Of the BGMs, only
were enjoyable to listen to in battle. But the vocal tracks are frankly gorgeous, which I did not expect from J-Pop. I expected most would sound like Reincarnation, which, while not inherently bad, sounded like standard pop to me. But instead there was a variety of songs and feelings embedded in them. My particular favorites are Yashiro's "Under the moon" and the Tsubasa's "Fly", due to the strong feelings they elicited in me (nostalgia and liveliness respectively). Adding to that, the music videos were beautifully animated.Serves to remind me that J-Pop is not just anime theme songs, it's a whole spectrum of different emotions.
Closing thoughts: TMS#FE is a fantastic game on its own but I feel was hurt because it didn't pander enough to the fanbases. Though I can name better RPGs, TMS was definitely worth my time and it's good to have a game with a lighter tone now that we are saturated with game rooted in grimness. It didn't try to be something it wasn't (looking at you Fates) and instead delivered the tone we (that saw beyond the first teaser) expected while adding a surprisingly deep and engaging gameplay element with a fun cast.
Though I doubt there will be a sequel, I do hope Atlus will at least keep making RPGs for Nintendo home consoles.