Genei Ibun Roku # FE, the working title of the Fire Emblem/Shin Megami Tensei crossover project in development with Nintendo and Atlus (and loosely translated as “Mirage Spinoff # FE”) is the result of one woman’s passion for Fire Emblem.
In an interview at E3, Fire Emblem producer and Nintendo group manager Hitoshi Yamagami told GameSpot that a Nintendo employee who loved Atlus games initially came up with the idea.
“In our team at Nintendo Co., Ltd, there’s a woman who really loves the Shin Megami Tensei series,” Yamagami explained. “This is how this all started. And when she started this conversation within the company, we were working with Atlus at the time on a purikura [decorative photography] program for DSi and 3DS. At the time she said, ‘Mr. Yamagami, there’s something I would like to do. I want to make a game that mixes Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei.’ And we said, that’s exciting, let’s give it a shot! But when we brought it to Atlus, they said, we’d like to but we can’t, we’re busy.”
Yamagami said that Nintendo abandoned the idea, until two years later Atlus approached them to revive the concept.
“When they asked if I wanted to [work with Nintendo], I was heading the Devil Survivor series,” added Atlus producer Shinjiro Takada. “So once that series finished, two years after that conversation, I said, let’s give this a shot.”
Initially the companies began building a turn-based strategy game in the style of previous Fire Emblem games. But as pre-production wrapped up and concepts were starting to take shape, both developers realized it was the wrong approach for their collaborative project.
“From Nintendo’s point of view, because it’s Fire Emblem, we thought, let’s make this a turn-based strategy game,” Yamagami said. “In the beginning, even Atlus wanted to make it a turn-based strategy, but after finishing the concept for it, I said, no, don’t do this, if you do something like this, it’s something [Fire Emblem developer] Intelligent Systems could just make with the main series.
“Do something we can’t do. That’s when we decided to make it a JRPG set in modern Japan.”
After this, initial designs were scrapped and Atlus started over making a JRPG in their own company style. It–like the Persona games–would be set in present day Japan and incorporate the more fantastical Fire Emblem elements as foreign presences from an alternate world, much like Shin Megami Tensei’s demons.
“If you’re going to be very strict about it, it is a Shin Megami Tensei game, but it’s only similar to it, it’s not exactly like Shin Megami Tensei,” Takada explained. “But we put Fire Emblem elements into that kind of framework.”
The game is set in modern-day Tokyo and focuses on two students, Itsuki and Tsubasa. The world is attacked by mysterious entities from another world, and the only people who notice are a talent agency. The two heroes join the agency and become pop stars on their quest to rid the world of these evil beings.
Fire Emblem characters appear in Genei Ibun Roku # FE as Persona-type entities called Mirages. In footage shown by Nintendo in trailers, we’ve already seen Chrom from and Pegasus Knight Sheeda from the Akaneia Fire Emblem series, re-designed in “Atlus-style” with darker, more fantastical looks. Takada was careful to point out that the Fire Emblem characters we see in the game aren’t the same exact people that appear in other Fire Emblem games; they are new versions of the characters created specifically for the crossover.
“One of the reasons [we made Fire Emblem characters Mirages] is because since it’s an RPG in modern times, we can’t have a Pegasus Knight suddenly show up and have the player think that it all makes sense,” Yamagami explained. “Because Fire Emblem has its own world, we had to have these characters enter the modern world as visitors from a mirror dimension, called the Idolosphere. And as there are ally units like Chrom and Shiida who come from this world, there are also antagonists that come from that world as well and want to destroy our world.”
Mirage Masters are the crossover’s Persona users, individuals who attract the attention of Mirages both good and evil and who can partner up with them to attack. The main characters of the game, Itsuki and Tsubasa, partner up with Chrom and Shiida respectively, the latter pair transforming into the weapons the teenagers use and alternate the pair’s appearances.
Yamagami and Takada also explained why the game is so heavy on Japanese pop idol culture and why so many characters are shown singing.
“This is why the characters are all entertainers: in Japan, similar to Greek mythology, there’s the idea of the gods being connected to the arts,” Takada said. “It’s a shamanistic element that’s been interpreted by Atlus. The idea is, Japanese priestesses would dance and the dancing would bring them closer to the gods. We wanted to spin this in an Atlus way, so all the characters in the game have some connection to the arts, and that connection and their ability to express themselves attracts the Mirages to them. People who are good at singing or dancing or acting have really strong bonds with Mirages.”
Combat in Genei Ibun Roku is a mix of top-level mechanics from both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. The Fire Emblem triangle-model of weapon mastery is present; the relationship between swords, spears, and axe weapons have different strengths and weaknesses and will determine how effective characters’ weapons are against others. On top of this is the Shin Megami Tensei combat staple of having to identify and exploit an enemy’s weaknesses. According to the developers, these two mechanics were a perfect fit together and easy to incorporate, giving the crossover project a true touch of both series’ combat flair.
Another interesting combat feature is characters’ special attacks, which are tied to songs. Throughout the game, some side stories will lead to a character releasing a song, which in turn will grant them another attack ability. This was added because developers wanted to give players a meaningful reward for completing side missions, much in the way completing side missions in Fire Emblem games allow you to recruit additional characters.
That being said, despite the modern setting and prominent pop-idol elements, it sounds like the game will feel at home in the hands of longtime Fire Emblem fans. Yamagami suggested that players who have been with the series for a while will have a different, deeper understanding of the game than series newcomers.
“What I’m most proud about this game is the fact that despite everything that we’ve said about it, as you play through the story, you’ll realize that, what happens happens for a reason, because this game is inspired by Fire Emblem,” he said. “So as a Fire Emblem fan, you’ll recognize why things are happening; it’s happening because it’s Fire Emblem.”