My second favorite genre of video games (under racing titles, of course) is the RPG. I’m not very picky when it comes to what type; you can toss me a JRPG, SRPG, or even a heavy Western styled one like Fallout 3, and chances are I’ll probably like it.
Mugen Souls first attracted my attention because it was published by NIS, the same folks that are behind the Disgaea series. I love the Disgaea series, and though I wasn’t expecting Mugen Souls to come anywhere near Disgaea, I was at least expecting a good time.
What I got instead was a lot of “Huh?” and a sense of discomfort throughout my playthrough. I wasn’t born yesterday and I’m no stranger to JRPGs; I’m well aware of the differences in culture between us and our Japanese counterparts. I know there are certain things that are appealing to one but taboo for another. This culture shock doesn’t typically bug me; like I mentioned before, I grew up on JRPGs and also happen to be a big anime fan…this stuff simply doesn’t faze me too much.
However, it bugged the heck out of me in Mugen Souls. Maybe it’s the fact that I have a baby girl now or whatever, but when a game starts off with a major scene that takes place in a bathtub with two girls who look like they’re preteens, and a male characters joins in, I’m a little taken aback. This permeated through the entirety of the game. I wouldn’t describe Mugen Souls as a game that focuses on taboo subjects; it’s more like a fetishists pot of gold.
But enough about that for the time being…we can focus on how much of a prude I am later. How does Mugen Souls play? In this aspect, Mugen Souls actually brings a number of unique mechanics to the table. Unique yes…well implemented, not always. You get a nice semi-open world to explore, and some classic turn based combat elements to enjoy. In addition, you get ship to ship battles that play like a rock, paper, scissors game, and an added combat element called Moe Kills.
To describe what a Moe Kill is, I have to delve a bit into the story of Mugen Souls. It’s not particularly deep, but if you can look past the uncomfortable overtly sexual tone, then there’s actually quite a bit of quirky humor that many NIS games are known for. You play as Lady Chou Chou, who is dead set on becoming the Undisputed God of the Universe and in the process, force every living being to become her peon. Essentially, her goal is become a master slaver.
To make her opponents her peons, Chou Chou must entice them by finding out what personality they’re attracted to…basically, she must find out what gets them all hot and bothered. Once she figures this out, she then transforms into whatever fantasy stereotype they like and she “captures” them. This, in a nutshell, is the Moe Kill system.
[quote_left]It’s a very unique system, no doubt, but one that becomes way too convoluted. The UI is jam packed full of menus and sub-menus, and the entire thing just ends up looking too cluttered.[/quote_left]The Moe Kill system is a strange piece of work, and if it were implemented a bit better, I could actually see it being a pretty cool feature. You can change into one of seven distinct personalities at will (such as bipolar, sadist, etc.). Once you figure out which personality your particular enemy is attracted to , you then unleash a string of phrases, which either makes the opponent happy enough to become your willing servant, or upsets them enough to become an even more powerful enemy. If you capture them, they go to work on your ship.
It’s a very unique system, no doubt, but one that becomes way too convoluted. The UI is jam packed full of menus and sub-menus, and the entire thing just ends up looking too cluttered. Add to that a very colorful battlefield, lots of shrill voices, and some pretty trippy animations and you have a major seizure inducing screen to stare at. You have a lot to pay attention to; not only do you have your typical attacks and spells and items, etc. you now have this Moe Kill system to deal with, and the system itself seems to be more random than it is intuitive.
And now ship battles. I will say this; the first time I saw Lady Chou Chou’s ship, which has a giant bunny head mounted to the front, I laughed pretty hard and assumed I would get a Disgaea-like experience. I was NOT prepared for the ship battle system, which ends up being way too easy. I almost wonder if it would have been a better idea just to not include it at all.
In ship battles, you basically play rock, papers, scissors with your weapons and defense. In theory, this is a great system that, if used properly, can end up being quite a brain twister. However, any strategy is thrown out the window the moment you participate in your first ship battle. You get a series of hints during these battles, and I’m using the term “hints” very loosely. The game is more or less telling you exactly what to use…no joke. It really doesn’t take an experimental physicist to figure out that the game wants you to use your fire attack NOW.
Graphically the game actually looks quite nice. The cutscenes are gorgeous and look like you’re watching an anime. In game, the textures take a pretty significant hit and get pretty jaggy and flat, but it’s not horrible. It’s kind of like playing a PSP game. The battle animations can be pretty cool to look at, though some of them do tend to drag on for a bit. Overall, Mugen Souls is a pretty decent looking game and the graphics end up being one of the highlights.
I hate to speak so badly about a game that is just trying to make a mark in a packed genre. And I doubly hate to speak ill of a game that many may just assume is panned simply due to cultural differences. But there are far too many issues with Mugen Souls to justify anything more than the score I gave it…and I feel I was pretty generous with my score. It’s one thing to assume that Western audiences just don’t “get” otaku culture, and I’m not for one second saying that I’m some sort of expert. But if you were to replace all the characters in Mugen Souls with, say, characters from another more Western franchise, then it would still implode under the weight of its poor gameplay mechanics and odd, ODD story. It has some quirks that warrant a quick look, but until it goes into the bargain bin, I would probably stay away from Mugen Souls.