Mugen Souls has interesting ideas, but they are badly implemented
There is no doubt that if you want a wacky RPG experience, then the Japanese are the masters at delivering such bizarre concepts and stories for the genre. Compile Heart, who are teaming up with Nippon Ichi Software again, are no strangers to adding weirdness to the genre. Gamers might have heard of Hyperdimensional Neptunia or its sequel Hyperdimensional Neptunia MK2, which had the plot revolve around characters based on game consoles and handhelds, and used the console wars as a foundation for its story. Compile Heart are back with their brand of weirdness with a new Japanese RPG (JRPG) titled Mugen Souls, but this time, problems get in the way that hamper the overall experience of this eccentric title.
The game begins with the introduction of Chou-Chou, a young girl who claims to be the undisputed Goddess of the entire universe and wants to turn the seven worlds into her peons, uniting them all together under her rule. Accompanying Chou-Chou is her peon, Ryuto, and her angel – who wants to be a demon – friend, Altis. The plot is simply over-the-top, leaving no room for any seriousness to rear its head. Just take Chou-Chou’s reasoning for ruling over the planets – she wants to make them her peons because “they all looked so beautiful and sparkly in the sky.” Yeah… OK…
This is a game that takes you on a quest of ridiculous clichés, while at the same time taking the mickey out of them; they’re sometimes funny, but often feeling like the writing is trying too hard for laughs, coming off as awkward in the process. The story won’t be for everyone, but people who have experienced Compile Heart games in the past will know what they are getting into. For everyone else, be warned: this is extreme moe, a game powered with cuteness and some slight sexual innuendo. So make sure you have a strong heart for that before you even think about playing the game.
Mugen Souls throws a lot of gameplay systems at you when in battle, but breaking down the core mechanics of the game shows that it will be familiar to people who play a lot of JRPGs. The battle system is comparable to the one featured in Hyperdimensional Neptunia MK2 – a turn-based battle system featuring four characters, where movement is limited to a circle that is highlighted on the ground. Characters can attack, defend, use skills – everything you would expect from a typical battle system. Enemies can be seen on the field, meaning no random battles, but it also allows for surprise attacks if you manage to hit them with Chou-Chou’s sword before they touch her. The placement of heroes on the battlefield is important as it helps to deal more damage. Normal attacks turn into link attacks, where anyone close by will come to aid the player through a randomly-picked super move to attack with. The battle system is fun, but there are mechanics built on top of the basics that feel a bit unnecessary.
One of these is the inclusion of Blast Attack, a move that allows you to hit an enemy and bounce them around the battlefield. The more strength you put into it, the more they bounce, with full power sending the enemy around like they are simulating a steel ball in a pinball machine, hurting itself and others that it hits. Crystals are another feature of the battle, where if you smash them with a blast attack it activates Fever Mode, dishing out more damage to the enemies. Incorporating crystals into my fighting strategy was something I hardly did. It just felt a bit pointless when I could take down most of the enemies without the need of doing it, and that is the problem with Mugen Souls’ battle mechanics. They are swamped in additional means to add depth that do not need to be there. Instead of making the game more complex and engaging, it does the opposite and becomes a drag, and there are still features I have yet to mention.
Outside of battle you are going to be doing one of three things: watching the story unfold, running around a field, or fighting in an airship. There is often a lot of downtime due to the long story sequences that are presented through still cutscenes, often voiced for the most part. A lot of the dialogue is filler and far-fetched and does nothing to progress the story, serving only for laughter. Again, if you find that funny, that’s great, but for people who do not, then it is going to be a painful time reading/listening through all the dialogue this game is jam packed with.
Each planet you visit plays out the same way. Firstly, you land on the world and have to explore the small map and visit all the key locations to progress the story. Something happens, and then you are required to use the Moe Kill system – a big feature of Mugen Souls - to be able to continue. It is a part of the game that irritated me time and time again during my playthrough.
Chou-Chou has a very special power, she can transform into eight different personas that cover a range of characteristics, such as Sadist, Masochist, Hyper and Ego, and this mechanic is part of Moe Kill. The idea is that players hunt monsters hidden around the field and must Moe Kill these beasts to turn them into peons. To do so, you have to read the hint that is supplied and then pick the right personality that fits with the description. That would be OK if it was just that, but you also need to pick three words from a selection that fit with the mood of the monster, shown by a little emoticon on their profile. Picking these words is what frustrated me, because more often than not I would have the right personality, but select the wrong words, which counts as a failure, which in turn throws you into a battle. This happens every time you fail, and for me, that happened more than I would have liked. One time, I could not figure out what was required, and was forced to fight or run away from nine battles… simply not fun.
Moe Kills are also woven into the battle system, where they are used to turn the monsters into money, items and peons, known as shampuru. Building enough peons will allow you to create better peons in Chou-Chou’s airship base. This part reminds me of the unit creation inDisgaea, where you pick a class and rank (if you have met the required shampuru for it to unlock) and create a new hero to use in battle. While you can create some powerful units towards the end of the game, I rarely found myself using it because you come into contact with plenty of story characters that can be used in your party; and since the party can only consist of four members at a time, the only reason why you would use the peons is when a party member falls and you replace them with the sub-party. I guess it is good for people who do not like the main characters – some of which will annoy some.
The last bit of gameplay revolves around spaceship battles based on the rock-paper-scissors system. These ship stand-offs are featured once or twice per planet, and do offer a nice change from the standard fights, but they lack depth to be anything other than a distraction. If you are feeling skillful then you can attempt the Mugen Field, a place where you participate in a row of fights, with every ten floors offering a chance to save, escape or replenish health. The Mugen Field is a perfect place to level up characters, and in all honesty, that’s all it feels like it is useful for since there is a lack of exploring.
Presentation is not one of Mugen Souls’ strong points. The 2D art looks fantastic, and the game is very colourful and bright, but the in-game graphics are rather plain and the world feels empty. Enemies and characters are rendered using a blend of 3D models mixed with a hint of cel-shading. Framerate can be an issue as exploring the world and participating in battles that features five or six enemies often creates slowdown. There is a severe lack of polish, bringing back the painful memories that plagued the first Hyperdimensional Neptunia game. At least the voice acting is decent enough to enforce the jokes.
I am sadly disappointed with Mugen Souls. After seeing the improvements made to Hyperdimensional Neptunia MK2, I was hoping that Compile Heart would take what they learnt and apply it to a new IP, but this is not the case. Mugen Souls has interesting ideas, but they are badly implemented, causing the game to include too much unwanted junk. This is a game that only excites through story and not its unpolished gameplay. It is a title that I can only see the mad hardcore Japanese RPG fans enjoying, but even then, if you are like me, you will simply get fed up with its repetitive nature and excessive features.