True to its title Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is a mix of the two games, but if you expected a dark and depressing tactics title, you're more than a bit off the mark.
Like many Shin Megami Tensei games, Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is set in modern day Tokyo. The story follows Itsuki, a normal high schooler. After school one day, he goes to watch a singing competition — only to discover that his class mate Tsubasa is a finalist. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose as ghost figures appear and begin stealing energy from the gathered crowd while Tsubasa is dragged through a mysterious portal. Chasing after her, Itsuki is able to turn one of the spectres, Chrom, to his side and the two merge to rescue Tsubasa. After this, the two (along with Tsubasa and her own partner) join talent agency Fortuna Entertainment — the front for an organisation that uses pairs like Itsuki and Chrom to stop these otherworldly incursions before people's energy is sucked dry.
The world of Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is steeped in Japanese idol culture and the industry surrounding it. Simply put, the other dimensional invaders (called "mirages") are collecting the energy and excitement that comes from performances — be that concerts, TV appearances or photo shoots. In addition, mirage attacks are becoming more and more common, and there is no way to predict when the next one will occur.
Because of this, the cast members spend most of their days doing normal work. While it may be a front, Fortuna Entertainment is a working talent agency — and a successful one at that with Kiria, Japan's number one pop star, as one of their managed talents. As it turns out, the performance energy the mirage are after is also what powers human/mirage pairs like Itsuki and Chrom. Therefore, the better a performer one becomes, the more powerful the pair will be.
Each main character in Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is a different kind of celebrity — and faces different problems because of it. Tsubasa is a newbie singer, suddenly thrust into a world that is about far more than just singing. Kiria is a "cool beauty" pop star who is afraid of showing her cute side beneath her cool exterior. Toma plays a Power Rangers style hero in local stage shows and dreams of becoming a true super hero. Elenora is an up-and-coming actress who constantly has to deal with the prejudice levelled at her for being half-Japanese, half-Caucasian. Mamori is a cooking show host who wants to expand into singing and other areas but seems unable to.
This just leaves Itsuki. While all the others have chosen the life of a celebrity for various reasons, Itsuki has no such ambition. He just wants to support his friends and help repel the mirage invasions. Because of this, he ends up as something between an odd jobs man and manager to the rest of the cast in their work. This allows him to come in and out of the other characters' stories, and with each, comes closer to figuring out what he wants to do with his life.
However, these personal dilemmas are not covered in the main plot of the game for the most part. Rather, between each chapter is an interlude in which various side quests are introduced that delve into the main cast and their back stories. These turned out to be my favourite part of the game — not only because of the character development they add but also that each nets an extra bonus. Sometimes, you get a music video cutscene. Other times you get a new costume or a new skill. Either way, I felt rewarded for going out of my way to get the game's full story.
From all I've said so far, you're probably wondering what aspects make Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem a cross between its parent series. For Fire Emblem, it's the mirages themselves. Both heroes and bosses are demonic redesigns of popular Fire Emblem characters. On the Shin Megami Tensei side of things is everything from the basic plot — teens that summon "demons" to save the world — to the magic names and combat system.
Like the Shin Megami Tensei games, this one also has a turn-based battle system. The party uses a collection of magic and special attacks to defeat the enemies they come across. While the standard enemy elemental strengths and weaknesses are included, it is overlayed with a simplified version of the Fire Emblem weakness tree — for example, bow attacks hurt flying creatures.
Exploiting enemy weaknesses is the key to combat in Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem. However, this isn't just because of the additional damage such attacks cause. As they level up, your characters learn special skills that allow them to chain attacks together. The way to start these chains is by hitting an enemy's weakness. The game itself is balanced so that it assumes you will always be using chain attacks. If you don't, even a simple random attack can easily be your doom.
Another welcome addition to combat is a little thing borrowed from Final Fantasy X: the ability to switch out party members mid-battle. This, of course, makes chaining even easier as you can switch at any time to a party member better suited to fight the enemies you face. The only downside to this is that Itsuki, as the main character, can never be switched out. More than once, this proves to be a devastating handicap.
Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is a surprisingly tough game — tough enough that I say with no shame that I bumped the difficulty down to easy and still found it challenging at times. While normal encounters are easy enough if you use your chain attacks, each dungeon also harbours numerous world bosses. World bosses appear randomly, are four to five times stronger than normal monsters and often come in far greater numbers. The upside to these battles is, if you win, you gain rare items needed for crafting new weapons and gaining skills.
Normal boss battles are likewise difficulty spikes. Each boss comes with its own group of supporting monsters that can be re-summoned over the course of the battle. Each also changes its tactics as its HP is reduced — making for surprisingly tense battles.
But as tough as Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is, it's surprisingly forgiving in many areas. You can save anywhere and if you lose a battle, the game will give you the option of loading in just before the battle. The game also gives you a warning before you enter a boss battle — so you don't accidentally stumble into it — as well as a recommended level for your characters. In other words, while the game is challenging, it's not out to waste your time as a punishment for failing.
But it's not the battles that are the most stressful part of the game — it's the learning of new skills. In Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem you get tons of crafting items from battle that you use to make new weapons (or rather turn your mirage partners into new weapons, if you want to be precise). Each weapon not only boosts stats but also progressively teaches the equipped character new skills. There are tons of skills to learn and thus a lot of customisation to be had.
The aggravating part is that you'll learn far more skills and attacks than you can possibly equip — and learning a new skill when all your skill slots are full means you have to forget an old skill. Several times over my time with the game, I spent 30 minutes staring at the new skill screen debating which skills to lose and which to keep. And because boss and world boss battles are so different from normal encounters, what is useful for one kind is often useless in the other.
If you are expecting a dark and brooding game, you're not going to get it in Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem. While there is good character drama and a few darker moments, it is largely a light-hearted adventure set in the Japanese entertainment world. The gameplay is challenging and the characters a ton of fun to get to know. So while it might not be exactly what you pictured for Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, it's certainly an RPG worth playing whether you're a fan of either series or not.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to listening to the game's awesome soundtrack.
Genei Ibun Roku #FE (Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem) was released in Japan for the Nintendo Wii U on 26 December 2015. It is scheduled for a Western release sometime in 2016.