Role-playing games are a genre of video games that can explore any kind of world, any kind of narrative, and are only constrained by the imaginations of its writer and creator. Mugen Souls Z by Compile Heart is one of those games that push the envelope of taste in the west due to the lack of said constraints in Japan.
Mugen Souls Z is a sequel to the original Mugen Souls, and as such a lot characters will be crossing over, with some new ones sprinkled into the mix. Chou-Chou, the protagonist from the first game, gets transformed and takes a back seat to Syrma, the newest, air-headed hero. The story revolves around Chou-Chou trying to regain her former form, all while conquering a new set of worlds. It is not too deep or complicated of a story, just good, clean fun for those not wanting to think too hard.
Frustratingly, the dialogue and pacing for the game are a complete mess. It took about an hour and a half to get through the mandatory training fights, which was less than five, and the introduction storyline, before the game could even begin. Even then, that was short lived, as random cut scene after cut scene occurred that was little more than pointless banter about nothing revolving around the plot. It felt more like chatting for the sake of chatting. RPGs are all about the story, so it was a complete letdown to me.
Having reviewed Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory last year, it became obvious this was from the same company even without looking at the box, due to the fact the art design of the characters was very similar. Due to that connection, this game is already type-casted, and thus divides the consumer base. The raunchy jokes, BDSM lifestyle, and other sexual proclivities are all highlighted in the story and game mechanics. This is not a game for kids, and with some of its anime cut scenes, it also borders on the line of becoming a softcore erotica title. As mentioned, this divides the consumer base. If you hate that kind of lifestyle, Mugen Souls Z will not be fun in the slightest. If you are into kink, or at the bare minimum don’t get offended by overtly sexual themes, then the design of the characters and their personalities can be enjoyed.
This seeps into the game mechanics, so it is not like there is kink for the sake of kink, which is a creative spin for those bored with the world of a vanilla lifestyle. There is also a lot of gender-bending involved in the creation of new units, which was unique and funny. Want to make a transsexual character? Now you can. All the characters can be dressed up in alternate clothing, which have stat bonuses, giving the players an incentive to play dress-up with the cast. Don’t like how the main cast looks? Go ahead and change their clothing. Want a male-to-female character? Put a set of breasts on a male character, and give him long, luscious hair.
The BDSM and sexual themes are integrated into the combat mechanics through the captivate system. For lack of a better term, Syrma attempts to seduce the monsters, planet energy spots etc, throughout all the worlds you explore. You pick a set of three poses, each with a different success and failure rate, which builds one of three meters that either gives you a peon, an item, or makes them angry. Syrma also has numerous personas, thus being more seductive to differing creatures. For example, the sadist persona would work better on certain enemies than the hyper, or masochist personas. Each persona, of course, comes with a different costume of differing traits.
Combat itself is quite fun, and helps alleviate the boredom produced from the story. Four characters can be used at a time, with others in the reserves that can be called in to replace deceased units. It is your typical turn-based affair but with extra elements on the field. One of those elements is the orbs that add buffs or debuffs to any unit within its radius, thus changing a battle completely each and every time. In addition, there are special kinds of moves, like ‘blast-off,’ which allow you to knock the enemy around the battlefield like a pinball, hitting other enemies and orbs.
Outside of the main story, the side-quests help make use of those combat elements. There is a Challenge World, testing the player’s skill at using combat mechanics, such as utilizing blast-off to pull off specific goals. Another is the Mugen Field, which is like a gauntlet. Betting mugen points, you fight wave after wave of enemies, with rest stops after so many fights. The more you bet, the stronger the enemies and the further you can fight. Sometimes that gauntlet forces you to use your own special Gundam, again changing up the pacing of battle into a one-on-one rock-paper-scissors kind of affair.
The music in the game is better than most in my experience. Inside combat I was enjoying listening to the score, and it got me pumped up to want to brawl with foes, and get into combat as much as possible. Outside of combat the aural presentation has a more cheery, non-serious NIS style of vibe. That is okay, though, because the entire game does not take itself seriously, so thematically there is no problem to it, as opposed to if it had a serious narrative like Mass Effect.
Sadly, Mugen Souls Z’s visuals are not as strong as they could have been, and the design of enemies falters due to that. It feels like a copy and paste of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, as the battlefields, enemies, and backdrops all look similar. Are they a total copy? Obviously not, but any fan would notice the similarities. As such, this poses two questions to those who played Neptunia. If you liked it, then it won’t be a major problem. If you didn’t like that game, then the similarities will be disheartening.
Mugen Souls Z is a game for those who just want to have fun. If you’re hypersensitive about issues revolving around sexuality then this game will just cause so many rage triggers that Tumbler will explode. While the story is a mess and uninteresting, the combat system and all the little extras make up for it. Compile Heart fans will have no problem getting into it, but those needing an RPG story to wow them and change their world view will not get what they are looking for.