Each chapter in Mugen Souls starts with the word “overwhelming.” Main character Chou Chou’s win quotes have her talking about her overwhelming power and her overwhelming victory. Her rabbit-like peons (called Shampurus) comment about the overwhelming strength of her flying pirate ship/castle known as “G-Castle”. Mechanically, that’s pretty on-point when it comes to Mugen Souls.
Bear in mind, the core of the game’s combat isn’t that complex. Every battle has a turn order at the top of the screen, and when it reaches one of your characters’ turns, you can move them around within a specific movement circle (barring any friends, enemies, or environmental barriers in your way) and issue a command. You can move freely in your circle, and your move ends when you complete an action.
Should you have multiple character moves in a row (and the game feels like it), your attack option will be replaced with the option to use link attacks. These are ridiculously over the top special attacks that have your characters calling in tanks, spun like tops, or throwing each other at your enemies. Occasionally, sometimes three-person team attacks will do less damage than two of the same characters working together. Outside of the occasional oddity, there is no real downside to using the link attacks.
Most characters just get your standard attack/skill/item/escape/defend actions, but Chou Chou is special. When you play as her, you get the option to change forms, attempt Moe Kills, issue peon orders, and use your Peon Ball.
So, what is a Moe Kill? Basically, you find what turns your enemy on and exploit it until they submit to you and become your peon. Each enemy you fight has a moe type. They might have a thing for sadists, or maybe they like tsundere personalities (somewhat oddly localized as “bipolar”) girls.
When a Moe Kill is initiated, you’re given three sets of two (seemingly random) actions that you have to combine in such a way to win an enemy over and add them to your Peon ball, which effectively acts as a single-use bomb that’s handy to use in a pinch. The Peon Ball can also have its size increased if you turn on “peon orders”. These will have Chou Chou call out an arbitrary requirement like “use physical attacks!” for each of her party members, and if you listen to her, you get a Peon Ball bonus. Overwhelmed yet?
While Chou Chou brags about her ability to make anyone obey her, her friend/bad influence, Altis, points out that given her appearance, she can only win over people “around [her] age or with ‘underdeveloped’ taste in women” (scare quotes included). This is where her ability to change forms comes in. Chou Chou can transform into 7 different forms, each with its own moe type: Egotistic (her standard form), Sadistic, Masochistic, Terse (basically goth), Bipolar (tsundere), Hyper, and Ditz.
Being in the right form doesn’t necessarily mean that a Moe Kill is just handed to you. You also have to deal with the enemy’s fluctuating emotions each turn, meaning that some actions might please an enemy on one turn and might anger them the next. If you completely anger an enemy it will go into a frenzy, restoring its health and becoming more powerful.
Amplifying the risk/reward system is the fact that each battle you fight contains a large crystal. If Moe Killed, this crystal will turn every enemy on the field into your peon, but by the same token, if it’s enraged, all of your enemies will power up. Strangely, enraging all of your enemies will play a really upbeat song and send the battle into Frenzy mode, which plays exactly the same, but nets a little bit more experience.
While I like the Moe Kill system, it feels a little unwieldy and given the relative strength of my characters, by the time I’d Moe Killed a single enemy (even with the proper type it would take two turns with Chou Chou), I generally would have killed off the rest of my enemies. I actually kind of had to force myself to use Moe Kills, making all of my characters block while I whittled away on a large crystal in an enemy-heavy map.
On top of that, you’re limited to a limited number of form switches per time you enter a map. While this limitation gets less severe as you level up, at first it’s kind of a pain, since Moe Killing multiple enemies in a single battle could mean that you’re significantly limited as you continue grinding and exploring. Bear in mind, you’re free to switch forms as much as you want when you’re not in combat, but you can’t replenish your in-combat form switches without leaving the map. It’s a small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.
Bear in mind, that’s just one aspect of one kind of combat. There are all sorts of additional layered mechanics at play, like smaller crystals that impact a certain part of the playing field with various helpful and harmful status effect and the ability to make a skill “Blast Off” an enemy, sending them ricocheting off of walls and other characters on the battlefield. The game also contains rock-paper-scissors-like ship versus ship combat, which is pretty fun, if not particularly frequent or deep. The problem is, with so many mechanics that I didn’t have to manage to win, I simply stopped dealing with them. I could get through just fine with standard attacks and Moe Kills.
As unorthodox as Moe Kills are, I was amused by the way that the game works the mechanic into the story and even exploration. For instance, in order to take over each of the seven worlds in Mugen Souls’ universe, Chou Chou must prove her worth by making the world’s strongest beings her peons. Fortunately, each world’s two strongest beings are its hero and its demon lord, so it’s Chou Chou’s job to hunt them down.
As creepy as the idea of the childlike Chou Chou seducing her enemies (even with her more mature-looking moe-types) is, if anything, the game is poking fun at the idea that people will throw themselves at whatever they find moe. While Chou Chou knows how to manipulate men, women, and even inanimate objects by playing into certain fetish types, immediately after she gains control over them, she returns to her typical, flippant, uninterested self. Even though Chou Chou treats her peons like toys, the ever devoted, otaku-like Ryuto still claims that he’ll “follow her to the end of the universe”. This is made even more amusing by the fact that because of her ability to change into these different archetypes, she can control anything.
For instance, as Chou Chou explores the seven worlds, she will occasionally have to cross from one continent to another. Because she obviously doesn’t have the currency required for each world to afford a boat or something, she simply makes the continent she’s on a peon and has it crash into the next. While this conceit is wrapped around a rather annoying mechanic where you have to find various floating text boxes on the continent with the limited hints they give you and impress them with moe (find the continent’s type and Moe Kill them), money, or murder (have enough monster deaths under your belt), it cracks me up that Chou Chou’s self-granted title of “Undisputed God of the Universe” proves somewhat accurate because of the sway of moe alone.
Mugen Souls also plays with the JRPG cliché of heroes and demon lords in some interesting ways. For instance, the first hero you meet “Sir Soul Skyheart” has a tendency to simply root through other peoples’ drawers and break their pots, something that Ryuto calls a “Hero Inclination” and that the demonic Altis sees as “mental illness.” He also enjoys equipping his shy princess party member in a “high defense bikini.”
Given that a hero’s sole goal is to destroy the demon lord (and both titles can simply be thrust upon people) it makes sense that some heroes feel some remorse towards the idea of killing a demon lord (and losing the perks of being a hero) and that some demon lords are absolutely terrified by the heroes, no matter how kind-hearted they may be.
All this having been said, it’s frustrating to me that Mugen Souls looks at these tropes with such a critical and satirical eye, the mechanics at work weren’t refined with quite the same critical eye.
You spend a lot of time running around uninteresting maps looking for cutscenes or to find peons. Combat has so many mechanics that they don’t all fit together quite well and many can simply be ignored. It’s a game that is willing to poke fun at how bloated RPG narratives are, but still remains bloated itself.
Mugen Souls also has its share of technical issues. While I had the game installed to my hard drive, I was somewhat taken aback by how long certain things took to load. Loading G-Castle, your general base of operations, took about 23 seconds.
While this wouldn’t be so bad if G-Castle was an explorable town, it’s essentially one giant room with a few unvoiced people you can talk to. Compounding that is the fact that exploration is often accompanied by a jagged framerate, which has a tendency to stutter if you have the audacity to rotate the camera. There’s also a noticeable (4 seconds or more) load time when you get to a point on the map that leads to a visual novel-style conversation.
Fortunately, Mugen Souls’ combat feels unhindered by these technical issues due to its menu-based nature.
Food for Thought:
1. Between the genre parody, the Takehito Harada art, and the focus on heroes and demon lords, Mugen Souls practically demands comparisons to Disgaea.
2. Curiously enough, Mugen Souls also includes an analogue to Disgaea’s item dungeons, providing players with an area they can go to that’s entirely combat of escalating difficulty until they reach a certain level. While this doesn’t let you improve the power of your items, you can wager “Mugen Points” and success will provide you more of them to upgrade your skills .
3. I found it particularly amusing that the feudal Japan-themed world was the one that contained a Gothic Lolita cafe.