Lessons in Team Building with Tokyo Mirage Session

The second is the character’s stage rank, a value that increases similarly, though separately, from character level by participating in battle. Stage rank increases as a character fights in battle, and raising this rank unlocks perks such as field skills, or allowing characters to join in session chains even when not placed in the main party. As increasing the length of session chains directly increases damage output, one simply cannot afford not to increase the stage rank of new characters as they’re obtained. Thus players are encouraged to put their older characters in the non-active party so they may contribute additional attacks while on the sidelines. Doing so allows players the chance to put the newer characters out front so they  gain skills and experience to grow on  par with the older, more developed party members. Eventually the entire party will be able to fight together in a single chain, even the non-combatant allies can join in sessions through optional side content. This eliminates the problem of characters left behind and underleveled through the campaign which  often happens in games where experience isn’t shared with unused characters. For example, in  Persona 3, if  you stop using Junpei after the first dungeon. This is  doubly frustrating in  the Super Robot Wars spin-off games, Endless Frontier where some characters, like Shinra agent Reiji Arisu, are required for certain boss fights, characters often never used at all if you are unlucky.

This is where the magic happens.

 The stage rank mechanic also has the nice touch of bypassing common reasons why players might not use certain characters. For instance, a  niche character like Aht in Radiant Historia. Aht is a very powerful character in her own right, but I almost never used her because her most impactful abilities, the mine traps she could set up,  weren’t usable against enemies that took up all the spaces in enemy grids. Or maybe the characters just don’t stand out that much compared to others, which is often what happens to me when playing Neptunia games, when a character based on a new game developer like Falcom shows up; they’re usually cute and likable, but they just don’t pop as much as the four main goddesses based on their respective game consoles. 

Another good design choice in TMS that adds to its effective use of all  party members is that each character only has a few usable skill types or elements that make them effective, or completely ineffective, against certain enemies. Thus, the game requires swapping out party members,which can be done mid-battle in order to better tackle a particular enemy or enemies. For example, Tsubasa Oribe, the pegasus knight, is skilled in spear and wind attacks, giving her advantage over swordsmen and flying foes. Kiria Kurono, the mage, has no weapon skills but wields fire, wind, and ice attacks, affording her an advantage against weaponless beasts that ignore the weapon triangle. Mamori Minamoto, the armored knight, wields her axe to make short work of spearmen like cavaliers and flying lancers. This designation is similar to  Final Fantasy X, wherein Rikku was used for fighting mechs, Wakka for punting aerial monsters, and Auron for smashing enemies with super high physical defense.

One final point about the session system is that it has the side effect of making all the non-active party members feel like they are contributing to each battle instead of seemingly standing idle. Other games like 7th Dragon III had special backup attacks from reserve teams, and even had the final boss’s three phases include the three different teams. But ultimately, unlike TMS, 7th Dragon III reserve teams offered little in the way of help against the shorter random encounters that made up the majority of the game.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions has set a new a standard for me in what RPGs can and should do with its playable characters to make them all feel worthwhile in their usage, as well as keeping them constantly contributing to the player’s combat efforts in a rewarding and fun combat system, and more games should learn from its example.

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