Developer(s): Compile Heart
Publisher(s): Compile Heart, NIS America
Platform(s): Playstation 3
Review Platform: PS3
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Mugen Souls is impervious to logic. Giant pirate ships that shoot bunny torpedoes, questionably young girls in skimpy clothing trying to take over the universe, a battle system that let’s you sweet talk enemies into peons, these are just few of the many oddities that define NIS America’s latest offering. It’s when the ridiculous is embraced as the norm that games like these shine in the spotlight. Fans of JRPGs will absolutely adore Mugen Soul’s charm and bizarre combat, but those unfamiliar with Japanese quirkiness might find the peculiar humor and gameplay approach difficult to grasp.
- An excellent package for JRPG fans
- Fun battle system, once you figure it out
- Charming aesthetics
- Awesome soundtrack
- Battle system is unnecessarily complex
- If you’re not a fan of the genre, this is not for you
- Voice acting can get annoying
- Poor frame rate
It’s not too often that we play on the flip side of the coin when world domination is in order. Mugen Souls puts you in the shoes of the overly ecstatic Chou-Chou who’s hell-bent on ruling the universe. The self-proclaimed goddess decides to travel to each one of the seven uniquely themed worlds to defeat their designated Hero and Demon Lords and enslave them as her peons. But she’s not the only loony here. Her companion Altis believes that something good will come of this. She’s a re-born angel who has lost her demon title due to failed attempts at evildoing. Then we have Chou-Chou’s first vassal, Ryuto, who’s head over heels in love with her and blindly follows any crazy commands she assigns.
Mugen Souls tries to separate itself from similar JRPGs by being very self aware and occasionally poking fun at the ridiculousness it throws at players. This game is the embodiment of Otaku culture, but it knows how to deliver inside-jokes without keeping outsiders in the dark. The chatty dialogue is quite hilarious and the characters try their best to keep this otherwise crazy world in balance.
The game’s battle system is turn-based with a bit of strategy thrown in for good measure. It combines elements from both the Disgaea and Hyperdimension Neptunia franchises. Upon entering a battle, your characters can move within the designated radius that defines their enemy-reach. When characters stand close to each other, the “attack” option turns into a “link” attack, allowing you to perform powerful team-combos for extra damage. These usually cut to hilarious mini-cinematics, although they tend to be overly drawn out. Where the game might confuse its audience is in the tutorials. Instead of being informative and easy to understand, these dialogue heavy segments are filled with forced humor that make the combat seem overwhelming and difficult to understand. What’s worse is that the tutorials only show up once for each new combat method and you have no other frame of reference but to try your luck in the battlefield. But with a bit of experimentation, the pieces fall together and you’ll have a blast integrating all the different attack approaches.
Battles present themselves with various opportunities. Take the traditional route and play with strategic positioning to defeat enemies with basic attacks or team-combos, or use Chou-Chou’s unique skills to sweet talk your foes into willing peons. This pandering ability is called the “moé kill.” You can transform your opponents by appealing to their current mood, but make them angry and they become significantly more powerful. This is achieved by forming phrases using selected words that best suit your enemy’s status. The frustrating thing is that their moods change with each turn and the correct words feel somewhat random. Just when you think you’ve figured out the corresponding word combinations, the enemies suddenly turn angrier. It also takes too long to transform your enemies, sometimes longer than defeating everyone on the battlefield. And since Chou-Chou is the only one with the moé kill ability, your supporting characters are left with all the dirty work.
Additionally, Chou-Chou can change into one of her seven personalities and each has a different inclination towards special attacks. These are similar to elements in traditional RPGs like water, fire, and wind, but here they’re presented by personality traits like grace or bipolar. Enemies in different map areas prefer certain personality types and you have to figure out which form best suits the current battle situation. The most exciting battle technique is the “blast-off” effect that you can tie to your attacks. This sends enemies bouncing around the battlefield and adds extra damage to whomever it hits. This can be useful to knock away enemies surrounding your allies if the attack charges powerfully enough.
There are many layers to combat in Mugen Souls, but some of the mechanics take more guesswork than strategy. Take the spaceship battles for example. Every once in a while you’ll face giant enemy vessels that you need to combat in space. These shootouts play out like a game of rock-paper-scissors. The only strategy here is reading the text-bubble clues that pop up before each turn suggesting your enemy’s attacks. The strength of your battleship and the variety of your offensive/defensive maneuvers depends on how many peons you’ve recruited, but once you figure out how to respond to the clues, battles become incredibly easy.
Mugen Souls has a really playful combat system that fans of the genre will immediately latch onto – but newcomers might have a hard time peeling away layers of confusion before the basics make any sense. In a way, that’s what makes this a niche title, a game that understands its audience and isn’t afraid to be expressive, even if it means bordering frustration.
Mugen Souls really deserves praise for its bizarre, fun, and charming presentation. It’s not so much the graphics that impress, but the overall art style. The screen explodes with colors from its opening intro to the flashy combat animations. Characters are treated with stylish cell shading and a fantastic soundtrack gives every scene a certain rhythm that’s undeniably catchy. Unfortunately, most backgrounds are bland and texturally flat. The characters feel “detached” from the environment and I wish everything were treated more cohesively. Making the entire game completely cell-shaded would have done wonders for the visuals. What’s really shocking is the poor frame rate. The game is not very graphically demanding, but it feels like it’s moving at 10-15 frames per second. But despite the hiccups, this is an incredibly enchanting package that emanates with personality.
If you enjoyed the Disgaea and Neptunia series, then Mugen Souls is exactly what you want it to be. JRPG fans don’t get too many titles of this nature released in the west anymore, so this is a breath of fresh air. While the combat is a bit confusing at first, the colorful universe, fantastic soundtrack, and bizarre characters will keep you entertained for a long time.
|Final Score||“Embrace the Insanity”||8.0|
Characters carry a charming cell shaded aesthetic, but the backgrounds look texturally flat and barren. The 2-d art is fantastic and the special skill-combo animations are really hilarious.
Mugen Souls is very difficult to get into. The combat is confusing at first and it will take a lot of experimenting to figure out the different battle techniques. However, once you get the hang of it, it's incredibly satisfying and refreshing.
This is a massive package and a dream come true for JRPG fans. The game offers a ton of content and will keep you busy for a very, very long time.
While the voice acting can be borderline annoying, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. It's nice to hear actual J-pop bands playing as you're slaying monsters. Superb!
Review by Tin Salamunic
Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin.