By David Fernandes / November 5th, 2012
|Title: Mugen Souls
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Compile Hearts, Idea Factory
Console: PlayStation 3
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Genre: RPG (Role-Playing Game)
Rating: ESRB T
Compile Hearts & Idea Factory team up to give us their latest offering for the PlayStation 3’s long line of Japanese RPGs that are a cut from the rest. This has gotten them quite a bit of criticism, as some of their games are known for their unbelievingly obtuse gameplay mechanics, over-the-top Japanese niche, and in general, games not for everyone. Neptunia MK2 was remarked as the game that may show Compile Hearts trying to break out of their niche-only market with the game’s vast improvements over its predecessor; Is Mugen Souls that break out hit that both Compile Hearts and Idea Factory desperately need?
The story begins with a pint-sized self-proclaimed undisputed god of the universe, Chou-Chou, who with her two companions, Ryuoto, her first and main peon, and Altis, the re-incarnated Angel, now seek to conquer all of the 7 planets – Sun, Moon, Fire, Water, Tree, Metal, and Soil. At the same time, Chou-Chou commits to make everyone her loyal peon. The game borrows many elements from Nippon Ichi’s story elements, including the not to be taken seriously attitude, to having enough parody and fourth wall breaking jokes in the script that will make any fan of Compile Hearts & Idea Factory quite pleased; to others, though, the jokes will go over their heads. While not going into spoiler territory, you meet a wide variety of colorful characters across the 7 planets that make the game feel like a Japanese comedy anime as they parody video games, anime, and the stereotypes of Japanese Sub-Culture. While the script/dialogue is one of the more applauding aspects of Mugen Souls, the game sadly ends before any real character development occurs. And when the serious twists start happening, they’re left hanging all the way to a very unsatisfying ending.
Unlike most of Compile Hearts & Idea Factory games, Mugen Souls approaches the usual turn-based mechanics differently. Instead of having your characters line up in usual fashion, they’re instead placed on a circular field which let them free roam around, like the Tales games for example. At first the game doesn’t have much going on, but as you progress more and more options become available including the gameplay evolving, for better or worse.
While exploring on field maps, the player does not get into confrontations at random intervals but from enemies on the maps themselves. Being able to attack them first gives you a huge advantage. But of course, enemies also have a chance of getting the drop on you, which can be disastrous at lower levels.
While in battle, you can attack enemies in a variety of ways, such as using “Skills” and “Link” attacks which has your characters do comical, ridiculous over-the-top attacks that go from entering tanks or ridiculous moves that end up smashing your enemies on the moon. Although, there aren’t many unique combinations or animations and in the end you’ll just end up wanting to skip them, which thankfully the game gives you the option to do so. Large/Small Crystals also play a key part in the strategy in Mugen Souls, as in battle they give positive and negative afflictions to your characters or enemies in which case another mechanic plays in, the “Blast Off” function, which allows you to attack an enemy into another enemy, into a crystal, or into the air to get items or getting a ton of cash when the “Fever” bonus is activated.
To get Fever mode you must use Chou-Chou’s unique ability to “Moe Kill” crystals or enemies to make them your peon. This is done by carefully choosing one of Chou-Chou’s 8 personalities at your disposal to correspond with the Moe Affinity of your foes to get easier kills. This is one of the most important mechanics and is quite an interesting gimmick, which makes Mugen Souls have that unique charm which many RPGs seem to lack. You need to do this to power up your G-Castle, “Peon Ball” skill and all of Chou-Chou personalities for what lies ahead at further chapters. The former needs powering as you will engage in ship battles at given times across the main story as a ‘rock-paper-scissor’ mechanic. At first, it seems it can be a bit of a hassle with all the options at your disposal and not much a clue of what your opponents next move will be. But it’s not much of a problem as the AI can be quite moronic. It will attack or heal itself at most times and never choose to do much else. And with enough powering up, it can make most, if not all, a breeze with simply choosing the ‘Pierce’ option, which causes massive damage.
The personalities come into play again as you need to get peon parts on the field maps to get to each continent on each of the game’s 7 worlds. These spots have clues as to what is needed to please them, going from guessing how much money they want, to which personality would be best to Moe Kill them. While the “Peon Ball” is the apex skill at Chou Chou’s disposal that can kill even the strongest enemies or even bosses in one hit. The problem lies with the mechanic itself as it is quite arbitrary at the end of the day as said, ship battles are too easy and Chou Chou’s personalities don’t need that much strengthening as you get the hang of what the phrases you say at the correct moods of enemies and crystals. On the other hand the Peon Ball breaks the game as it’s way too strong and makes skills less and less needed which in term kills the strategy for all of the other battle mechanics. While I say it’s unique the Moe Kill mechanic itself just wasn’t well designed or balanced, and leaves a lot to be desired for as it feels like more of hassle and more excess grinding then anything else. When you’re not out conquering worlds you will be at the game’s hub world which serves as a shop, rest area, a place to interact with NPCs and much more.
The game is quite easy in the beginning, but then the difficulty spike at the last few chapters then turns the game outright frustrating that again shows more of the game’s glaring problems, and that’s the need to grind excessively. This is where the “Mugen Field” will be needed, like the Item World mechanic in Disgaea, you will need to use this as a means to get your character a much needed boosting to get those damage numbers into the millions to billions. The only problem is that the Mugen Field mechanic is not even close to the fun you could have with Item World, instead of being a randomized generator of set of levels, its just a long string of battles that feels more like a gauntlet, and it quickly gets mundane and repetitive. Mugen Souls will take you about 40 – 60 hours to complete the main story, and has a new game + option with some end game content. Mugen Souls also gives the option to dress up and create peons with some good amount of customization, but it feels tacked on as clothing is ridiculously expensive and making peons is for the most part pointless as your given characters can handle themselves quite well with their given skills.
Production wise, the game’s visuals are pretty substandard. Field maps on the 7 worlds are designed with very little creativity in mind, as they’re way too simple with little to no exploration except the occasional chest in a corner. While the chibi forms of the characters that are set in a small but oversized world fit the game’s cutesy theme, it’s quite the outcry compared to the game’s beautifully animated character portraits that appear during story events or simple cutscenes. These cutscenes appear in a visual novel like fashion and let you skip, repeat voice overs, even a pause function which is quite nice.
The beautiful art is not too surprising as they were done by art veteran Takehito Harada of Nipon Ichi famed for Disgaea, Makai Kingdoms, and Phantom Brave. Character designs are some of the best that Takehito has done in a long while, though monster designs are quite pitiful as there are many that are simply different colored palette swaps you will see throughout the game. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Takehito Harada who has done most of the music for Nipon Ichi’s games and has done another fantastic job, with plenty of variety throughout the game all ranging from Japanese Pop to Heavy Metal riffs; a soundtrack having a ton of MP3 worthy tunes. It’s easy to see that Takehito still has that music touch as it makes some of the tedium of grinding a bit more bearable.
Mugen Souls is sadly marred by technical issues ranging from severely long loading times, constant FPS drops, and even the game chugging at some of the worst opportune moments on the field map. Another issue is the game’s audio, it seems to have a balancing issue with the game’s BGM overlapping the voice acting to such an extent that even putting the volume for voices higher then the music still doesn’t fully help, even when lowering the the game’s music and sound effects volume below 50%. The game provides an install feature which helps a little, but you wont be seeing a huge difference unfortunately from what I experienced. It seems that most of the problems said above can be avoided with setting the game to 720 p or lower as it seems Mugen Souls was not properly optimized for 1080p which is unfortunate.
The game also comes with a dual audio option which is a nice option for purists, but for fans of dubbing you’re in for a treat. NIS America did a fantastic job on localizing the game, continuing their fine work in dubbing with a well rounded cast for each character that was done with line deliveries showing the great effort on everyone’s part, and each voice fitting very well with each of the characters colorful personalities. Though not all the cutscenes are voiced, which is sad given the great work as stated. NIS America also did a better job on the game’s interface then they did with Legasista, which I’m quite thankful for.
Compile Hearts & Idea Factory did a decent job when it came to crafting an interesting world with a great cast of characters, coupled with a well written script. But of course the gameplay is what’s most important, and sadly the trend of over complicated mechanics can be seen here, more flash than substance, and a lot of interesting concepts not being fleshed out make it hard to recommend Mugen Souls to non-fans of Compile Hearts and Idea Factory games. While Nippon Ichi fans can find something to their liking as the game borrows a lot of ideas from their games, when it’s all said and done, for those fans, you’d better just play Disgaea or Phantom Brave than Mugen Souls. While I did somewhat enjoy the game like I do most of Compile Hearts & Idea Factory games, there is no denying the game is not without a ton of flaws which severely hold it back from being a good game.
Oprainfall’s Review System:
5 Stars- A Must Own Game. Games don’t get much better than this. We recommend you buy it if you can.
4 Stars- A Great Game. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. If you like the genre, you should like this game.
3 Stars- A Good Game. This game may have some flaws, but is enjoyable. Give it a try, you might like it.
2 Stars- A Poor Game. There is something off about this game. Fans of the series or genre might like it.
1 Star- A Bad Game. There are obvious flaws that keep the game from being enjoyable. We cannot recommend this game.
Compile HeartIdea FactoryJRPGMugen SoulsNIS AmericaNISASony