by Zack Reese,
In the latest offering from Compile Hearts and Idea Factory, Mugen Souls is the latest title to be localized by NIS America that seems to take a lot of cues and style from Disgaea. Featuring the typical bevy of gameplay systems, outrageous cultural inherencies, and bombastic magnetism one would expect from this crew, Mugen Souls was also a game deemed too sexy for Western audiences, and thus had to be censored for our Philistine eyes. That aside, there is enough of a delightful experience here to warrant an expressive amount of appreciation.
The main protagonist is Chou-Chou, the self-proclaimed undisputed Goddess of the Universe, who embarks on a conquest with a goal to make everything her Peon, because she simply believes that whatever she sees belongs to her. Travelling to seven different worlds, she will encounter both Heroes and Demon Lords who she must enslave in order to take control of that individual planet. During her adventures, Chou-Chou will begin to recall different fragments of her past that will start to piece together just what exactly the type of person she really is.
Combat takes place on an open battle ground with four party members being able to move around their own set circle influenced by the equipment that they have on. After getting into range of other enemies, they can launch attacks, skills, or items as you would expect.
Large crystals affect the entire field, while small crystals only their direct vicinity. They all have some affect on the battle, whether this means increasing the amount of damage dealt, invoking regenerating health, or other status effects. It can even downright murderous by preventing Chou-Chou from changing personalities, disabling skills, or even draining your HP every turn. By destroying these crystals, players can completely change the dynamic of the battle, which as you can imagine becomes far more crucial as the game nears its finale.
With all of this in mind, the battle system can get extremely complicated at times. It felt like during the beginning of the game, each new event sparked a mechanic being introduced for people to try and comprehend. Things became so diluted that I started to forget some of those features, like being able to blast enemies into each other and paying attention to the Peon Ball gauge to make sure I wouldn't suddenly self-destruct and deal a massive amount of damage to my party.
It just felt like the developers were trying to cram in as many different features as they could, and ended up causing the game to buckle under all that weight. The Link attacks can also get extremely repetitive, with only a few different animations that are played out. I found myself fast-forwarding through them until eventually I selected the Options menu item that skipped them in its entirety.
If you succeed in making them your Peon, that means strengthening the G-Castle (more on that later), bigger bonuses at the end of the battle, and helps raise the skill level of that archetype. If you say the wrong things, this causes the monster to be upset and can make them much stronger in the process. And because this ability has an area of effect, if I was trying to persuade an enemy and another one so happens to be nearby, I may end up pissing that monster off because he has a completely different fidelity.
As you can tell, it isn't as simple as it sounds. Even if a monster has an affinity towards masochism, if they are in a bad mood, you have to be nice to them, and the same goes vice versa. Even if I was forced to switch personalities, you can only do it once in battle. I wanted to pull my hair out trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do that I eventually stopped using Moe Kill altogether and just focused on killing the bastards. Unfortunately, I quickly found out that I needed to use that ability in order to strengthen my G-Castle, so it felt like taking bitter medicine.
Moe Kill is also used around the field outside of battle. Chou-Chou can unlock more locations by making that continent her Peon. This can be done in one of three methods: by either using one of her personalities to persuade it, by paying an amount in Gold, or by having a certain number of overall kills on her record. It can get pretty entertaining when other players would react to the very concept of making terraforma your scrub.
The G-Castle events are basically ship battles that utilize a "rock-paper-scissors" combat design. Using the various Peons that Chou Chou has gathered through the game, those help to unlock new and more powerful skills, such as being able to absorb the damage dealt to your ship and turning it into health. When I first started playing, these battles seemed like a highlight of the game. However, after a while, I was basically abusing Pierce and HP Absorb, depending on where the life of my ship was at.
The enemy AI certainly wasn't doing itself any favors, sporadically using Reflect and without any rhyme or reason. As underleveled as I was going into the final battles, I often managed to squeak by without any worries, and if I died, I would simply reload to the nearby save point and try again.
I was about to give up on playing any more of Mugen Souls when I discovered the inherent greatness that is the Mugen Field. Much like Disgaea's Item World, the Mugen Field allows players to bet money to farm for experience and items in a 100-level dungeon tower. In only thirty minutes, I had already gained thirty levels on my main party and made them all become massively overpowered as a result.
Couple that with the fact that NISA has already released a lot of free DLC on the PSN Store that grants free items, money, and more, and there are plenty of avenues forward in making the adventure far less taxing on the individual, which is important considering the last couple of chapters can become inordinately difficult. The Mugen Field is a grindfest, to be sure, and it isn’t anywhere near as engaging as the Item World, but it definitely served its purpose very well.
Character designs were absolutely sublime thanks to veteran artist Takehito Harada, who is pretty much the man behind Nippon Ichi’s trademark look, having worked on pretty much every Disgaea title and on Phantom Brave. Every character is beautifully drawn, and it's that distinct style that has always been one of my biggest draws to these games, including this one. I am not shy to admit that I own a few artbooks from this man sitting on my bookshelf!
With the good comes the not so good. There seemed to be this unbalance where you could easily tell which areas the developers tended to focus a lot of their attention on. The framerate sometimes took a hit in battle especially during those aforementioned Link sequences or during some of the more bombastic skill triggers, but nothing overly bothersome.
On the flipside, NIS America did a brilliant job as always with the dub, with each voice actor fulfilling their role with professional gusto. There were plenty of moments where I was actually laughing out loud with what was going on, and the use of moe themes, video game mockery, and sexual innuendos kept the amusement level high. For the otaku amongst us, Mugen Souls features a dual voice option that can be changed on the fly if one so desires. The soundtrack Tenpei Sato was also brilliant with plenty of ear-catching songs, especially during some of the boss encounters where the J-Pop vocals kicked into high gear and I fell in love with what I was listening to.
I can say that my time with Mugen Souls was a rather pleasurable one. The writing and cast of characters were superb, the music and voice acting were fantastic, and the overall artistic design was quite pleasing. The game was incredibly charming. However, the ridiculous amount of unnecessary mechanics that weren't explained very well became really detrimental to the experience. Battles wound up being mindless excursions that only got in the way of a highly provocative script. Be that as it may, I still found enough charm and appeal in Mugen Souls to at least recommend it to fans of the genre and curious onlookers who like seeing cute people do cute things. There aren't a lot of games like it out there here in the West, and I find that reason enough to check it out.