I've had some great luck when it comes to review material for Japanator, especially within the last few months. Ni no Kuni was a fantastic and memorable RPG that I poured well over seventy hours into, and the recent Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 was another neat entry in the series that is raising the bar for manga and anime-based games. I even got to play Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, and while disappointing in the end, it was a game I’d wanted for a long time. All The Bravest? Let's not talk about that.
And thus, here I am. Mugen Souls has been on my ‘to do’ list for a little while now, and just the other week I found the time to sit down and give it a play. Nippon Ichi Software is one of my favourite publishers, with the Disgaea series being games I adore. With what little information I knew beforehand, combined with the box art and the screens on the back of the box, it looked like it’d be right up my alley.
Mugen Souls (PS3)
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software America
Release date: March 22, 2012 (JP), September 28, 2012 (EU), October 16, 2012 (NA)
The first thing that you’ll see upon starting a new game will be an idol concert, featuring our protagonist Chou-Chou, her friend Altis and hundreds of glow stick-wielding fans. Nippon Ichi games certainly have a lot of quirks; you only need to look at Disgaea and the Prinny spin-off titles to see that, so it was hardly out of place. In fact, it almost looked like a parody of the Final Fantasy X-2 opening, but perhaps I'm reading a little too much into it. So far so good. The camera then proceeds to provide plenty of close-ups of the idol’s cleavage, followed by a collection of upskirt panty shots.
Now, to clarify, this kind of content doesn't bother me in general. What bothered me about this in particular is that the idols, as you might have guessed, appear way too young. Now, it’s not so bad as to go beyond stating that it ruined what could have been a hilarious intro, but let it serve as a warning of things to come. They even make a quick comment a little later about Chou-Chou being “thousands of years old” as a little nod to Disgaea’s Etna, but let’s face it, this ultimately means nothing. At least this isn't the game itself, we can just pretend it didn't happen and move on to the game content. Right after this scene where we see Chou-Chou and Altis bathing naked together. Dammit, Mugen Souls.
Benefit of the doubt. Let’s push that entire affair behind us. While there are going to be plenty of people that are fine with these scenes, and more power to them, there are far more people that’ll eventually reach the gameplay with a rather sour taste in their mouth. Anyway, we see that Chou-Chou is being attacked by pirates, and thus we begin the tutorial. These are presented by a Shampuru, a weird creature that features predominantly in Mugen Souls, as will be mentioned in more detail later. It’s time to start some combat!
Combat is interesting, and it reminded me of games like Star Ocean at first with its initial appearance. At the beginning of your turn, you are free to move your character around this battle map, limited only by a circular boundary based on your starting position that represents movement range. You can pick where to place your character, and you will need to have an enemy nearby to be able to attack them. You can also place yourself near allies for some bonuses, giving you a better edge in combat. From what was shown in this tutorial, you have two methods of fighting; regular old attacks and “Moe Kills”. The first is self-explanatory, but the second, which is only usable by Chou-Chou, gives you a chance to convert enemies into Shampurus and items by shouting “moe” words at them. You get to choose three words for her to shout, and based on what the enemy likes, the chosen words will vary in strength. You can also fail by shouting the wrong things, frenzying the monster and causing its stats to raise.
The regular attack seems absolutely redundant, at least in the first few hours of the game, and as weird as the “Moe” Kills are, it’s an interesting twist on RPG battling. I only have one issue with the combat in general, and this is the absolutely alarming slowdown. It’s almost like playing a PC game on full settings on a sub-par machine, as the game chugs and chugs along. It’s utterly baffling, because the graphics really are not that good at all. They do their job, sure, but this is a game that looks at home on the PS2. Who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, but it isn't good. The combat is playable, but the movement and animations, specifically when an enemy is converted to a Shampuru, looks ugly as sin.
Moving on, we are introduced to another to another form of combat. This sees Chou-Chou using her huge airship to try and take down that of an attacker. Attacks are launched between the two ships in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. You can fire a large barrage of shots, a piercing shot that breaks barriers and a fast shot to out-speed the enemy. There are also other options, such as placing up barriers, that mixes this formula up a little. It’s an interesting concept, and while it’s not exactly ground-breaking, it works well enough. No slowdown either!
Dropping back out of combat, we see a small in-game cutscene on-board Chou-Chou’s ship, with a lot of small things going on at once. Yes, the slowdown is back, and as infuriating as that is, it’s safe to assume that it’ll only be for a short while longer. We do get to see a proper conversation at this point, which features visual-novel style art of the characters with text beneath them. The art is particularly nice, and interestingly they've synced the mouths to the speech in the audio. It’s quite clearly based on the waveforms rather than having been done by hand as it’s a little jerky at times, but it’s a pretty neat way of making these pictures seem a little more alive without adding further animations.
Chou-Chou wants to take over all seven worlds in the universe, so it’s not too long before you’re thrown into the first of these areas. The first, slowdown-ridden, basic-looking world. It’s not hard to sort these issues, Mugen Souls. It was worrying me to the point that I had to load up Ni no Kuni and Disgaea 4 just to make sure that my PS3 wasn't on its way out, but no, this is a Mugen Souls-specific issue. Bear this in mind if you dare to venture into this game.
And this is where I took a step back. I stared long and hard at the game that was chugging along on my TV screen, before simply asking myself “am I enjoying this?” The answer, quite simply, is a resounding no. I tried my best by going in with an open mind and disregarding a lot of the problems in order to make decent progress, but no, I couldn’t bring myself to go much further. People frequently make jokes about All The Bravest and its money-making schemes, but right now I feel that asking retail price for this attempt at a game is even more disgusting. Don’t buy this.
3.0 -- Poor (Something went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)