Mugen Souls Z has finally arrived to US shores just over a year after its original release in Japan. This RPG followup once again teams developers Compile Heart, Idea Factory, and GCRest together with publishing support by NIS America for a local audience. Does Mugen Souls Z retain the charm of its predecessor and can it surpass the shortcomings of the flagship title?
The story to Mugen Souls Z opens up shortly after the previous title wraps up. Chou-Chou: protagonist, heroine, and self-proclaimed “Undisputed God of the Universe” has amassed an army of peons and succeeded in conquering the seven worlds she originally sought out to do. With all of her newfound power, what else is there for her to do? Why, conquer the next set of worlds, of course! Building upon her experience and inflating her ego to galactic levels, Chou-Chou instead opts to subvert control of twelve worlds, and the Ultimate Gods that control them, into her dominion.
In a comedy of errors, Chou-Chou finds herself meeting with the first Ultimate God, Syrma, fairly early on into her adventure. After being deceived by the innocent Syrma and being trapped inside the giant coffin Syrma carries around, Chou-Chou winds up having her power drained away in addition to most of her size. Having been shrunken down to little more than the size of a hair ribbon, Chou-Chou’s no longer worthy of playing the part of the main character. Instead, she rides atop Syrma’s head and controls her throughout combat.
Despite the change in character, much of what made the original Mugen Souls stand out still holds true in Mugen Souls Z. Combat still plays out in turn-based fashion, largely modeled after the latter Hyperdimension Neptunia titles. Players are given a range of movement during their turn to position themselves tactically to attack an enemy’s rear or set up an area-of-effect attack. Fans that played the original title could just as easily pick this one and zone out during the tutorial and still have a complete grasp on the mechanics. True to this niche genre of RPG and its basis in overpowering the enemy, damage and stats can easily scale into the millions and billions, with some optional bosses requiring that extremely high damage cap to defeat.
Much of the combat is based upon show and sometimes unconventional attacks, as seems to be the staple for role-playing games with NIS’ moniker attached. Regular skills and spells tend to take a fair bit of time, as do the enemies’ turns. My R2 button surely must have reached its breaking point after skipping through most of the battles to bring them down to more sizable chunks. Many of the skills used are quite amusing to watch the first few times, but even they lose their novelty later on.
One big change fundamentally from the original Mugen Souls is to the Moe Kill system, or rather changing it into a Captivate system. The core of the mechanic is still there with the eight different personalities to augment Syrma with: Masochist, Sadist, Ego, Terse, Hyper, Ditz, Graceful, and Bipolar. Each of these personalities attract/annoy every enemy you come across in different ways just as with the Moe Kill system. Rathen than killing your enemies, instead you select from a pre-determined variety of poses (complete with equally fitting/perverted dialogue) to fill up one of three bars. One enrages the enemy when filled, a second turns them into an item when defeated, and the third allows them to be captivated/captured inside Syrma’s giant coffin and converted into one of her peons. With the G-Castle in great need (and some of the trophies require incredible amounts) of Shampuru peons, there’s going to be a lot of grinding and Captivating long before you make it to the final boss.
Mugen Souls Z, despite having fairly bland green/brown environments and uninspired enemy models, does quite well with other parts of its design. Every story character is filled with vibrant colors and usually fits a particular color theme that equally reflects their personality. And much like other NIS’ titles, Tenpei Sato (along with Kanji Kaneko) once again lends his poignant style to the soundtrack. With Tenpei’s flair, much of the songs are highly animated and energetic. This is a double-edged sword as while most of the music is quite fitting, some ends up being too energetic for an extended period of time, in particular when running across an large open map or during repetitive random encounters.
The aforementioned G-Castle is the starting point of Chou-Chou/Syrma’s dominion and serves as a home base when not out exploring and conquering worlds. This home base is where you’ll frequently return between raiding worlds and need to sell off some loot or create a new character which, by the way, is fully customizable just as in the first Mugen Souls. When needed, the G-Castle can transform into a giant fighting robot to take on battles in its own separate battle system. In a rock-paper-scissor style combat, this additional mode breaks the monotony of standard combat and implements a basic but still enjoyable strategic element. To make it a bit mind numbingly easy, the enemy has a habit of shouting out their next move, so pay attention when you can and it might even be impossible to lose a battle. In addition, the G-Castle can also roam the Mugen Field, a sort of training ground from the first game that pits players in a series of battles to gain exorbitant amounts of experience.
Sadly, one of the worst negative marks against the original once again rears its ugly head in Mugen Souls Z. Performance issues riddled the first game and many of the same issues are ever present even in this release. Upon starting the game, there’s an option to install the game data to help shorten loading times although it doesn’t do much else to help the game run smoothly. Something so simple as running around the field map runs at a choppy sub-par frame rate that was actually headache inducing on a few instances. On top of that, some attacks and actions in combat feature a similar fit of loading and delay, although that optional install certainly cuts it down quite a bit.
Despite its technical shortcomings, Mugen Souls Z finds ways to improve upon its predecessor. Even if you haven’t had a chance to play the original Mugen Souls, the story quickly gets you up to speed and carrying on Chou-Chou’s will as one of her innumerable peons. If you’re already a fan of NIS’ style of role playing games, there’s certainly more to love here although it might not appeal to the wider audience. Just be prepared to handle with a less-than-optimal visual experience.
[Editor’s Note: Mugen Souls Z was reviewed for PlayStation 3. A review copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher.]