Announcement and release of Tokyo Mirage Sessions
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a role-playing game developed by Atlus and published by Nintendo for the Wii U in 2016, and later ported to the Nintendo Switch. The game was advertised as a crossover of two of the companies best-known franchises: Shin Megami Tensei (on Atlus' side) and Fire Emblem (on Nintendo's side). Despite positive reviews from critics, fans of both franchise heavily criticized the game ever since its trailer, released in 2014.
In 2012, during an interview with Famitsu, Atlus' director Katsura Hashino of Persona fame teased an announcement about "a collaboration that would surprise everyone". In 2013, Nintendo released on its YouTube channel a teaser for a project simply known as "Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem", which showed beloved characters from both franchises fighting alongside each other. The announcement was met with a lot of hype by fans of both franchises; Shin Megami Tensei fans saw it as a revival of the franchise, which was being slowly forgotten by Atlus in favour of Persona, while Fire Emblem fans saw it as the opportunity to fix the mistakes made with the latest game in the franchise, Awakening (which, while well-received, was highly divisive among fans because of its more lighthearted tone, simplified gameplay compared to previous entries in the franchise and lacking story). Shortly after, however, the project went dark, and no more information was released about the project, aside from the teaser. Around the same period, Atlus also released Shin Megami Tensei IV, the then-newest entry in the series, and Devil Survivor Overclocked, a remake of Devil Survivor, one of the most beloved entries in the series, which took a lot of hype away from Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem.
Announcement and Controversy
Nothing was disclosed about the project during the entirety of 2014, aside from a brief claim that the game was still in development and its release was scheduled. The first actual trailer for the game was finally released at a Nintendo Direct on April 1, 2015, revealing the game's Japanese title and showcasing Fire Emblem characters in a modern setting (as per Megami Tensei tradition). Fans were quick to notice how no Shin Megami Tensei characters were shown at any point in the trailer, and only two Fire Emblem characters, Aversa and Gangrel (both minor antagonists from Fire Emblem Awakening), heavily redesigned to resemble Shin Megami Tensei demons.
Another trailer was released at E3 in the same year, which was met with extremely negative reactions by fans of both franchises: the setting of the game, which was briefly touched upon in the first trailer and had shown promise, was completely redesigned to resemble the Persona series (which SMT veterans accused Atlus of milking at the time) and the later Fire Emblem games, Awakening and Fates (which, as stated above, were extremely divisive among FE fans), and contrasted the franchises' darker and more serious tone, especially due to the high amounts of screen time emphasizing the role of idols and the Japanese music industry in the story. The main characters were also the object of criticism by fans, as they had little to do with and contrasted the tone of both franchises.
In 2016, the game's English title was released, however, with it came to a surprise for the fans: the game would have no English dub (unlike literally any other game in both franchises), and only the text would be translated, which further fueled the fans' anger.
The game was released later in 2016, and, despite positive reception from critics, veteran SMT and FE fans criticized or outright despised the game, as the setting didn't fit the usual tone of either series, but most importantly, very little characters from either franchise were actually present and played a significant role in the plot of the game; most of them were relegated to cameo appearances or had little interaction with the original characters. The main protagonist, Itsuki, was criticized for being very bland and uninteresting, and not playing a significant role in the plot, unlike his sidekick, Tsubasa Oribe, which had a much more prominent role and development.
The party members' Mirages (entities similar to the Personae in the Persona series), which were supposed to represent classic Fire Emblem characters, were also the object of criticism pertaining to the choice of characters: to put it into perspective, iconic Fire Emblem characters like Marth, Roy, Eliwood and Lucina weren't present, unlike unknown or "fanservice" characters like Caeda, Virion, and Tharja. Many characters also acted completely against their personalities (like Abel being jealous of Cain, a trait he never displayed at any point in the games where they appear), or were redesigned to the point where they were no longer recognizable (like Navarre, Draug or the aforementioned Cain and Abel). Fire Emblem fans were quick to notice that the bulk of the characters came from either Shadow Dragon or Awakening, two of the best-selling games in the franchise, causing them to believe that Nintendo was milking them.
One of the biggest complaints by fans was censorship: several voice lines pertaining to characters' ages were changed from the Japanese version, one of Tsubasa's costumes was changed in the Western version, and most importantly, an entire subplot that was supposed to explore the personal life of idols in the industry was completely rewritten, with the idols replaced with fashion models, and all content pertaining to it was scrapped or reworked for the Western version (including the aforementioned Tsubasa's costume). These changes were not welcomed by fans, as most of them either had no visible impact on the game (thus putting into question the decision of enacting them in the first place) or didn't match the game's setting, even when considered independently from both the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises.
The game was also considered one of the first examples of Atlus' DLC practices: costumes referencing other games (such as Hibiki Kuze from Devil Survivor 2, Walter from Shin Megami Tensei 4, or the Princess from Etrian Odyssey, as well as the Garreg Mach uniform from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Joker from Persona 5 and Hitonari from Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey in the subsequent Encore rerelease), swimsuits and hot spring costumes, and extra maps and quests were made available for purchase with real money, despite most of them having no significant effect on gameplay, leading fans to question the need of locking this content behind paywalls.
Due to the negative reception by its own target audience, the game was reported to have performed below expectations. In late 2019, a rerelease of the game, titled Tokyo Mirage Seasons #FE Encore was released, however, it also garnered some scepticism and was quickly forgotten by fans, as, while it added extra content, failed to address the game's most glaring flaws, not helping that the Japanese release uses the censored Western version of it, fueling ire from both fanbases in Japan even further. Fire Emblem fans saw this game the proof that Nintendo was milking the Archanea subseries of games, as well as Fates, due to them opening the franchise to new audiences and making it more popular than ever. On the other hand, many Shin Megami Tensei fans hold the game as one of the first and most glaring examples of Atlus' downfall, mostly due to the mismanagement of the project during development and DLC use, which caused some people to fear that the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei 5 would end up suffering the same fate. However, things have changed since then. Nintendo would release Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which received critical acclaim from many critics and fans for fixing many mistakes the Archanea subseries made, while Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei V would wind up selling 1 million copies, bringing the franchise into the spotlight after years of being overshadowed from its more popular subseries, Persona. If Nintendo and Atlus would ever collaborate again, they should have stuck to the fans' wishes and make a proper crossover in the future.