Mugen Souls Z PS3 Review
It’s been a couple of years since Chou-Chou had her universe conquering adventure to prove that she is the one and only goddess of the universe and turning everyone underneath her position into peons. The story was certainly all sorts of crazy and wacky, and I remember having a laugh with the game, but Mugen Souls suffered from bad implementation and unpolished gameplay that brought the overall game down. It reminded me a lot of Compile Heart’s other series, Hyperdimension Neptunia, and while that franchise seems to improve each time a main release comes around, can Mugen Souls Z do the same and improve over the disappointing first game?
The story begins with the return of Chou-Chou, who now wants to expand her conquest from the seven worlds in the first game to 12 new ones that are ruled by their Ultimate Gods. This doesn’t go well for Chou-Chou, as she meets Syrma, gets into a fight with her, and ultimately wins, but due to her bossy nature, Chou-Chou wants to take Syrma’s special coffin, and while doing this, is grabbed into the coffin and has all her abilities absorbed by it, leaving Chou-Chou weak and transformed into a chibi form version of herself. Amusingly, Chou-Chou can’t do anything in this adorable state, and so in a interesting twist of fate, both Syrma and Chou-Chou become buddies, as Syrma wants to absorb all the Ultimate Gods and Chou-Chou wants to make them her peons, so the two work together to achieve this. Syrma becomes the main protagonist of Mugen Souls Z, since Chou-Chou can’t do anything but sit on Syrma’s blonde hair for the adventure.
Fans of the first game’s characters and story will find the same things to like here. The plot is one that remains light-hearted and packed with jokes. It’s an adventure that shouldn’t be taken seriously, and while they are some genuinely funny scenes, there are also ones that slide into the other end if the spectrum, where I feel the game is trying a bit much for laughs. Players have to be able to withstand the tropes of the Moe genre to totally appreciate this game. Moe generally involves cute little anime girls that take the centre stage of the show/video game. This is true for Mugen Souls Z, but there are also some sexual innuendo jokes involving the ladies of the game that some people might feel a bit weird with. It never shows or fully goes there, but I’d say there is enough to warrant a warning when chibi little anime girls are involved in bubbly naked bath scenes on screen (with the naughty bits covered up by soap).
Following the same design as in other Compile Heart games, most of the story is told through static art of the characters, with voice acting done for the important parts, or parts that seemed required by whoever handled where voices should be used. There is still the issue of getting up to speed with the start of the game, with lots and lots of dialogue filling nearly two hours before you really get going, and there are instances where you feel the dialogue isn’t doing anything with the story, but just having some downtime for a funny scene, which is fine, but when it feels like it is dragging and going nowhere, then it becomes an issue with the game’s pacing.
When you aren’t talking with your buddies or taking the mickey out of the enemies, it’s time to explore worlds and fight battles. Getting around the areas in Mugen Souls Z is the same as before. There’s a map that shows the outline of the area and you are free to run around it to get to where you need to go. Enemies are visible, which means no random battles and the player can get a hit on the baddie to give the team an advantage at the start of the fight.
The battle system is comparable to the one featured in Hyperdimension Neptunia MK2, in which a radius coming from the centre of the character currently making the move is used to determine how far they travel. This style of turn-based combat (unit movement order is shown in the top right of the screen) adds tactical strategy to fights, as positioning is important to keep yourself safe, but also in dealing good damage. Crystals make a return in battles, with large ones having an effect on the entire battleground and smaller ones limited to an area, but usually offer stronger buffs, such as instant kills. Weapons also add to the mix, with various types having different stats or ranges that can hit multiple foes at once, which is something taken from the Hyperdimension Neptunia games.
Returning to the battle is the concept of Moe Kills, well; it’s no longer called Moe Kills and instead is now referred to as Captivate. It’s still a similar premise in which Syrma can change in to a range of characteristics based on such traits as Graceful, Hyper, Ditz and Masochist. Fans of Mugen Souls will remember these traits, as they cover the same personalities, but Captivate makes catching enemies and turning them into your peons easier than the first game.
No longer does picking a trait feel random, as emotion gauges are viewable to predict what will happen to the enemy’s feelings if you select that personality. This means that you no longer have to memorise those emotions, removing that horrid need to guess and repeat until you were right, which made Moe Kills in the first game so frustrating for me. Enemies get angry and tougher if you make them mad with the wrong choice, and doing so over again really wasn’t fun to deal with, but thankfully it’s easier to avoid that now. Overall, these changes do make for a less frustrating battle system, and one that can be more easily understood than Mugen Souls. The game does still have too many tutorials for you to take in before you get going, but on the plus side, the game now has a battle system with improved loading and faster character actions. A good fix that solves the drag that appeared in the first game.
Spaceship battles also make a familiar return, and they are just as bananas as before. These fights follow the straightforward concept of rock-paper-scissors, with speed attacks beating piercing, piercing beating barrier and barrier beating speed. A dialogue from the enemy is used as a way supply hints to the player as to which attack is going to come. This can be used for reference, as if the same dialogue appears, the following attack that was attached to that same text will happen again. These battles are shallow, but fun distractions that add a nice break between the typical battles you face on the ground.
Presentation is once again a mixture of ups and downs. On the art side, the 2D portraits are clear on the eyes and look great, but when you’re running around the map or in battle, the 3D models are rather bland. The game is going for the anime look, and the adorable models certainly fall into that style, but on a basic level. Bizarrely, there are still some frame rate issues that crop in, not quite as bad as the previous game, but they are there and I am still as baffled as to why the engine is doing that when there the graphics don’t look like they are pushing the system. Voice acting remains decent, and while a lot of characters are written with a one dimensional personality, the voice actors portray the wacky characters with the right tones and delivery in their voice. For the hardcore, there is a Japanese audio track for you to switch to if you do not like English in your Japanese RPG.
Mugen Souls Z is, thankfully, an improvement over Mugen Souls. While I would not say it’s a good JRPG, it’s made some steps in the right direction to improve itself over the predecessor – the game is easier to understand and less frustrating than Mugen Souls. If Compile Heart keep at it, I’m sure they can turn this series into a JRPG that can sit alongside the current Hyperdimension Neptunia games as a bunch of solid, light-hearted RPGs, but as for this title, Mugen Souls Z is either for fans of the first game or people who are looking for some anime infused role-playing with a wacky story and plenty of pointless dialogue.