Collaboration leads to unique results. This is one of the earliest lessons I learned from the role-playing games of my youth. On their own, Crono can swing his sword and Lucca can belch spouts of fire from her gun. Together, the two of them unleash devastating attacks like Fire Whirl, where Lucca ignites Crono’s sword as he spins the flaming blade into a mob of monsters. When two party members team up for a combined attack, the resulting strike is stronger and showcases elements of each character in a new light.
The same can be said for collaboration in the brewing world. Every brewer has their specialty. It may be a certain beer style or a particular ingredient that they cast into their creations. These individual preferences typically define the catalog of a brewery and their contribution to the world of beer. But when two breweries collaborate on a project, their personal styles become the components of something new and exciting.
For my latest pairing, I sampled two unique collaborations from beloved and well-known brewers and game developers.
In 2013, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company opened their Beer Camp as a way to celebrate, “the spirit of craft and independence through collaborations with like-minded brewers.” Every year since that time, Sierra Nevada has worked with breweries and homebrewers to release a limited edition 12-pack release. For 2017, Sierra Nevada expanded the Beer Camp concept to a global scale, pairing up with 12 breweries (6 stateside and 6 overseas) to make a variety of beers for an all-collaboration pack.
Included among the international joint-efforts is the White IPA with Yuzu. For this refreshing and unique brew, Sierra Nevada collaborated with the Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino Nest line of beers. Sierra Nevada began the process by suggesting a white IPA in the style of the flagship white ale of Hitachino Nest. From this initial pitch, Kiuchi incorporated yuzu (an Asian citrus fruit) to pair with the soft hop notes and complement the spicier witbeir yeast. To further match the yeast flavor, nutmeg and coriander were added to the brewing process.
The resulting ale is a pale golden color with lemon pith highlights and a foamy white head. A sweet nose of yuzu juice and a pungent citrus hop backbone waft from the glass throughout the pouring process. The initial taste is very unique, with a syrupy mouthfeel reminiscent of canned pear juice and the warming taste of nutmeg. The starting flavors rapidly spike into a tangy citrus hop body that finishes dry and spicy. Flavors of cibatta bread, coriander, and a slight resin hop note linger after every sip.
The White IPA with Yuzu tastes like a celebration of the flavor traditions of Japan mixed with the bold hop character of the Western United States. While the fruity hop character of an American IPA is at play, the syrupy mouthfeel and mild citrus notes of yuzu make this beer feel distinctly Asian in character, which pairs nicely with the collaboration that is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE began as a pitch from Nintendo producer Kaori Ando in 2010 to make a collaboration between the Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei series of video games. Despite the initial interest in the project, several other games were in progress, so full development did not begin until 2013. At that time, a cryptic teaser trailer was debuted by Nintendo, merely invoking the idea of a crossover game between the two beloved, albeit wholly different series. The only inclination fans had was that somehow, the fantasy setting and strategic gameplay of Fire Emblem would somehow be married to the post-apocalyptic narrative and traditional JRPG mechanics of Shin Megami Tensei. While the resulting game certainly took DNA from each parent series, its story and gameplay were both entirely unique.
Like many of the Shin Megami Tensei titles, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is set in modern day Tokyo, Japan. However, the world is not filled with doom and gloom, teetering on the edge of an apocalypse. This version of Tokyo is bright and colorful, focusing on the culture of Japanese entertainment and pop music idols.
In the universe of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, every person holds an energy called Performa that enables them to pursue their dreams. Unfortunately, Performa attracts beings called Mirages, who hail from an alternate dimension called the Idolasphere. While some Mirages harvest Performa for evil motives, others form alliances with humans to protect the real world. It is through the friendly Mirages that the Fire Emblem series shows its influence.
The story follows a group of teenagers who become allied with friendly Mirages, based on characters from the Fire Emblem series, and merge with them to become Mirage Masters. Characters like Chrom, Tharja, and Virion from Fire Emblem Awakening act as friendly Mirages and join up with the main characters to protect the populace from malevolent Mirages. Under the guise of the Fortuna Entertainment talent agency, the Mirage Masters seek to find out who is behind the attacks.
Narratively, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is reminiscent of a fantastic slice of life anime with exciting supernatural battle elements. Through the side stories and personal requests of the main cast, the player has opportunities to explore each character’s story arc. While there are several moments where the protagonists feel more like archetypes rather than relatable characters, I found the plot to be generally engaging and fun, with a cast you can easily cheer for throughout the course of the game.
Mechanically, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE plays much closer to the Persona spin-offs of Shin Megami Tensei series. Gameplay alternates between performing requests for NPCs in the real world and exploring dungeons in the Idolsphere, each designed around a specific theme, often related to a particular aspect of the entertainment industry.
When exploring dungeons, players will engage in turn-based combat with Mirages as they are encountered in the field. Every battle takes place on a stage surrounded by a cheering crowd of Mirages, which further emphasizes the pop idol stylings of the world. Similar to both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei’s battle systems, player characters and enemies each have strengths and weaknesses against certain types of physical attacks, such as swords and arrows, and elemental attacks, such as fire and ice. The affinities of each party member changes depending on the weapon they have equipped.
I found the battle system and character customization to shine in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. While each protagonist has a class to which they generally adhere, there is a level of player manipulation that allows for variety in attack styles. For example, the main character Itsuki is a Lord class who tends to focus on swords and electric attacks. However, the player can directly influence how much the character leans into his strengths. If you prefer to have Itsuki casting high damage lightning spells, you have the option to cycle weapons that will boost his magic skills and stats. Alternatively, if you want a ferocious swordsman on the battlefield who has specialized attacks for each enemy type, simply focus on those skills instead. Every playable character has such options, which are further influenced by the player as more customization is provided over the course of the game.
Alternatively, most of the gameplay involving side stories and requests fell flat for me. While the side stories for the main cast are extremely rewarding (with the benefits of new costumes, attacks, and narrative), the actual action mostly consists of fetch quests and backtracking. This is further hampered by the main character development mechanics in the game: the Bloom Palace. Anytime you want to develop a Mirage and their Master’s skills, you have to travel to the Fortuna Entertainment offices to visit an NPC in the Fire Emblem themed space of the Bloom Palace. This backtracking becomes quite frustrating, as many of the upgrades are made available during dungeon progress. So the glut of new abilities and attacks gained through normal play quickly become a grocery list, as you have to regularly make pit stops to travel back to Fortuna Entertainment.
Despite minor setbacks with some shallow character development and bland side quest gameplay, I have greatly enjoyed my time playing Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Through an upbeat story about Japanese pop idol culture, the narrative feels like fresh territory for role-playing games. The battle system combines and improves the best combat mechanics from Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, while adding flourishes such as high damage attacks in the form of short J-Pop music video performances. At the time of writing this, my play counter for Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is currently sitting at 24 hours, and I am looking forward to another 20+ hours of colorful and engaging gameplay. I only hope that Sierra Nevada and the Kiuchi Brewery turn the White IPA with Yuzu into a regular release, so I can continue to enjoy their unique beer in the future.