Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: Out Now
ESRB: T for Teen
No matter how big the gaming industry grows and how commonplace multi-million dollar budgets become, one of the most wonderful aspects of the market is that there is always room for small titles. Some companies have forgotten this, but if there“s one thing the medium is, it“s diverse. Unfortunately, niche appeal only goes so far if the game can“t deliver a quality experience.
Mugen Souls is the latest in the ever growing genre of anime-inspired JRPGs designed for a niche market. Conceptually, the game has a lot going for it. The story focuses on a girl named Chou-Chou, a self-proclaimed undisputed god, and her conquest of the universe. Her grand plan is to subjugate the hero and demon lord of each world by transforming into their specific desire and performing a moe kill. It“s definitely an over-the-top premise, but it“s a fun idea and the different moe forms are interesting.
The combat isn't groundbreaking, featuring turn-based gameplay with free movement, but it spices things up by allowing you to knock enemies around the field and into other objects to increase the damage you do. It can be a little hectic at times, but it is satisfying to send a foe bouncing around the field with a well placed attack.
The make-or-break feature of Mugen Souls is the grind. In addition to the standard level grind, Mugen Souls also lets you level up spells and equipment to varying degrees, with level caps to unlock and a peon subjugation system that lets you teach different moves to characters. Like most RPGs, there are optimal ways to gain the points and money you need, but the sheer number of stats you can grind is staggering. If you“re a fan of min/maxing, there“s a lot of content for you and the optional dungeons will keep you challenged even as you reach for omnipotence. If you don“t like grinding, you“ll become quickly frustrated when you hit a grind wall and realize progressing will require more than raw levels to advance.
Unfortunately, the game“s level progression is poor. As mentioned, raw levels aren't a huge advantage; you“re going to need to level up equipment and spells at some point to stay ahead of the curve. My biggest issue is that the best way to grind is in the form of an optional dungeon on your ship, the Mugen Field. Because of how small the planets are, there isn't a solid sense of enemy progression, so it“s easy to find yourself outclassed by a boss if you don“t grind like a fiend in the field or spend a little time in the Mugen Field.
On a technical level, Mugen Souls is a mess. Movement on the field is hampered by a poor camera and a framerate that, while not choppy, is definitely struggling. The loading times are ridiculously long, even with the game“s data installed, with some taking longer than a minute. Viewing skits also requires the area to reload, making multiple scenes a chore to watch.
The real killer comes in battle. With battle animations turned on, loading isn't bad as the animation covers most, if not all, of it. You can turn the animations off in an effort to speed up the game, but you may find that it only makes things worse. With the animations off, the attacks still have to load, sometimes taking as much as five seconds for each turn. In addition to this, turning off animations results in more hectic battles, as the camera doesn't focus on the target of attacks. It makes it hard to keep track of how much damage has been done without manually checking at the end of every turn. I have heard that changing the PS3 to output at 720p can improve performance, but I noticed no significant benefit while playing.
Although the concept behind the story is interesting, the actual content is dull and rife with generic cliches. Most of the game“s humor comes from breaking the fourth wall and low-brow sexual jokes and situations, which isn't inherently terrible, but it does become grating over the course of the game. While most of the situations are pretty tame, with things like bloody noses from arousal being commonplace, Mugen Souls holds the unique honor of being one of the few games to actually repulse me with its content. Even with the content that“s been cut from the Japanese version, the game still manages to cross the line by applying sexual situations to young characters. The story itself is fairly predictable and not very compelling, so if you“re not head-over-heels for ecchi and perverted situations, Mugen Souls won“t offer much outside of gameplay.
As is the fate of games targeting a niche audience, you probably already know if Mugen Souls is in your wheelhouse or not. If you“re on the fence because you like the anime style but are concerned about depth and content, there still might be something for you if you love grinding. For those of us that aren't number crunchers though, Mugen Souls just doesn't offer a compelling reason to be played.
+ The moe kill system is a fresh concept
+ Solid soundtrack with Japanese and English voices
+ Tons of levels to grind
- Tons of levels to grind
- Poor framerate and even poorer load times
- Low-brow humor ranging from cliched to offense
Overall Score: 3.5 (out of 10)
Mugen Souls will appeal to very small audience that likes ecchi humor and grinding. If that isn't you, chances are it just isn't your game.