There is a lot going on in Mugen Souls. Where most games choose a concept, flesh it out and put it out front and center, Mugen Souls features so many different systems that new ones are still being introduced via pop-up tips in the game’s third chapter. The immediate comparison here is to another NIS title, Disgaea.
Now, Disgaea was quirky in its own right – the item world, the geo-panels and the linked attacks all added to the otherwise-typical strategy RPG combat. Mugen Souls shares the SRPG combat and adds all of the following to the formula: turning enemies into peons, ship-to-ship battles, linked attacks and a blast off mechanic that turns your foes into temporary weapons. The Peon Ball ability allows the main character Chou Chou to throw her allies at enemies (particularly bosses), watch them explode and deal massive damage, and moe kills which can be used to draw enemies to defect to your side or entire continents to shift positions.
For the completionist, Mugen Souls offers a ton of replayability. The necessary time investment to really get a good handle on the various game mechanics at work is high, though, because of how many there are. This is overwhelming, and leads to a gameplay experience that is all over the map. While I was learning the systems, I could not decide if charming enemies was more important than figuring out blast off to finish them off quickly, or whether I should be focusing on linked attacks at the expense of turning peons into new weapons. There are many choices to be made, and the importance and consequences of these choices are never really fully communicated to the player.
If that were all that Mugen Souls contains, I would rate it highly. I am used to and enjoy complex SRPGs. They have great longevity, and I am a huge fan of tactical battle systems. What Mugen Souls adds to the typical formula, though, is a strange and unwelcome veneer of sexuality.
Being a Japanese game, all of the characters look and act like children even if they are supposed to be older. Chou Chou and her cohorts look like young girls, and many of the game’s animations place them in compromising poses. The opening sequence features characters trying to look up short skirts, followed by a scene where two female characters are naked with some parts obscured only by steam. I understand that developers want their characters to be attractive, but Mugen Souls crosses a line in making their characters sexy while keeping up the illusion that they could all be about 12 years old.
There is a lot of fun to be had here for fans of SRPGs, but it’s hidden behind an layer of inappropriate situations, a mountain of tutorials, and probably two more sets of mechanics than any one game really needs. Get your homework done and learn everything employed by Mugen Souls, and you can have fun. The rest of you will remember Final Fantasy XIII and how you quit before the tutorial was over, and repeat that set of events here.
Pros: There is bound to be a mechanic here that speaks to you, tactical combat is fun
Cons: Game veers toward creepy, tons of tutorial, steep learning curve despite all of the tutorials