By Jack . June 1, 2014 . 5:01pm
At first glance it’s pretty easy to figure out what one might expect from Mugen Souls Z. It’s an RPG filled with the anime girls that are all the rage these days and developed by Compile Heart, who to put it nicely, has a reputation. I’ve never thought that any of their concepts have been completely irredeemable though, so I was interested in seeing how their latest localized project turned out.
Mugen Souls Z revolves around the self-proclaimed Ultimate God Syrma who has joined forces with the previous game’s protagonist, the self-proclaimed Undisputed God Chou-Chou. You see, Chou-Chou got trapped in a coffin that made her tiny so she goes with Symra to conquer a bunch of planets with love energy while riding their giant mech castle through space. I’d keep going but the plot to this game is a joke. I don’t mean that in a negative way either—the plot, dialogue, and really everything to do with story in this game is distinctly comedic.
The game inhabits a peculiar space between sexual pandering and self-aware comedy. My theory is that if you’re going to make a sex appeal-fueled product then you need to be uncompromising in your ridiculousness. Mugen Souls Z lives by that directive, tossing around the word “overwhelming” to describe as much as possible, which really might be the best way to describe the game itself, both in terms of combat and writing.
In battle, everyone’s actions are turn-based, allowing the usual options for attacking, defending, and skills, but the system has a twist: during your turn characters freely move within a set radius. Every character’s radius is affected by their stats and equipment, adding a strategic layer to how your party is set up. Additionally, how you place your characters is important not only for landing your own attacks, but also avoiding your enemy’s assaults.
Movement is really just the tip of the iceberg to Mugen Souls Z’s combat, however. A multitude of subsystems further add to the complexity. The battlefield is littered with crystals that give bonuses if a character is within their range, encouraging specific positioning. You also have the ability to launch enemies with certain attacks, sending them across the field like a pool ball. On top of all that, there are “Ultimate Soul”, “Fever”, and “Damage Carnival” meters that fill up as you battle, all giving you distinct advantages like super attacks and damage boosts.
One gameplay mechanic called “captivating” really encapsulates the Mugen Souls Z experience. This involves Syrma changing her clothes and personality to fit a variety of stereotypical fetishes in order to coerce enemies to her side. This mechanic works like a matching game where you change into the enemy’s stated fetish (which is easily viewable before you begin the process) and pick dialogue options that are then scrolled through in a montage animation. Witnessing these captivate attacks perfectly highlights the combination of silliness and sex appeal that Mugen Souls Z tries to capture your attention with.
Although Mugen Souls Z has so much going on with its combat, it rarely feels like you need to take advantage of it all. At most you will want to captivate enemies whenever possible to make progress in other areas of the game, other ideas like the crystals or launching enemies seem almost completely optional. Standard enemy encounters just don’t require the complexity that the game offers, with the responsibility to challenge reserved almost entirely for boss fights.
Bosses hit hard, but even in tougher situations you have a wide variety of skills and party members to use to your advantage. The way party members work in particular pushes encounters heavily in your favor. You have four main party members out at a time, but are also allowed up to eight additional members in a sub-party, who can swap out with characters as they die. Even as someone who enjoys getting brokenly strong in RPGs, this mechanic feels unbalanced.
While battles are unlikely to impede your progress, you can still be held up in other ways. Moving the plot forwards requires you to explore various maps in order to find specific spots where you can captivate the planet itself. Charming some chunks of the planet work just like they do in battle, while others will require specific items or an arbitrary number of enemies defeated.
Planet captivation was the lowest point of the game for me. It’s filler that not only slows the game to a halt but also actively makes it worse. Playing efficiently and avoiding unnecessary battles is discouraged in favor of grinding because the system forces you to kill hundreds of enemies regardless. Methods for obtaining certain items are completely unclear and serve more as a source of frustration than fun. Traditional captivation is the only entertaining variation, but even then it can also require grinding or an unusual amount of luck to complete the sections successfully.
Another way Mugen Souls Z gets bogged down is in its writing. Every scene of dialogue just goes on for way too long. Characters take forever to make their point and even longer to shut up afterwards. It’s a game that tries to be humorous but strangely gets caught up in the intricacies of its own goofiness and falls flat because of it. Even when a clever joke does get made, it will be overwritten to the point where the conversation actually circles back and explains why it was supposed to be funny.
Despite its hiccups, I think Mugen Souls Z has an odd charm to it, but its charm wears thinner and thinner the more you play. The battle system works well enough and there’s plenty of content to keep you busy, but it’s nothing outstanding and the game ruins even those aspects through its overuse of filler. It’s too bad, because I don’t think Mugen Souls is a totally inaccessible concept for making a good game. It just needs more care paid to its design, and perhaps more importantly, someone to trim the fat.
Food for Thought:
1. The “jump!” voice clip whenever you hop around may be permanently burned into my mind.
2. This was my first experience with the Mugen Souls games, which was actually a problem at first because the game assumes you know the vast majority of the cast already. Fortunately, a lot of back story gets summarized anyway, both in-game and through a special option in the game’s menus, but this game is definitely focused more on its pre-established audience than any newcomers.
3. As of writing there is a pretty nasty glitch that I (and other people online) encountered in an optional dungeon called the Mugen Field, which causes the game to completely freeze during a long series of random encounters thrown at you. This dungeon is not only good place to level up, but its completion is also required to get the best ending, so hopefully there is a fix soon.