I haven’t played the original Mugen Souls, and try as I might, I still can’t figure out whether or not that’s a good thing. For the sake of a review, I suspect it may be a boon; rather than be wowed by what could potentially amount to the mere polishing of a Japanese role-playing turd, I can assess Mugen Souls Z on its own merits, and not be held prisoner by its seemingly mediocre predecessor. Surprisingly, it turns out Mugen Soulz Z could care less if I played the first game; it’s a fun, amusing, and charmingly trope-ridden affair that I was happy to spend a few dozen hours with. Is it flawed? Oh, absolutely. But not tragically so.
Mugen Soulz Z sports a plot fit for a game of its ilk, and in this case I’d say that’s perfectly great news. There’s a character named Chou-Chou, who has deemed herself Undisputed God of the Universe (I’m completely serious), and upon successfully conducting a massive conquest of seven worlds in the last game, she has now decided she ought to add 12 more for good measure. It sounds ridiculous, but I assure you; once you’re introduced to Chou-Chou, you’ll realize this is pretty standard behavior.
I won’t pick apart the story too much here, but essentially what happens is that Chou-Chou bumps up against the Ultimate God Syrma, who puts her conquest on hold by tricking her. As a result, Chou-Chou decides to aid Syrma, hoping her stripped powers will be restored, and thus the game begins. You really don’t need to know more than that before experiencing it for yourself
One thing Mugen Souls Z does fairly effortlessly is charm you with things that might normally annoy. Yes, there’s the pervy character, the ditzy heroine character, the over-assured young male character; but each are so ridiculous and fun that I somehow transcended initial cringes and realized I was actually smiling. Call it backhanded praise, but it’s praise nonetheless, and unlike Conception II where tropes stand out like sore thumbs, here they reflect the player’s skepticism back through a wonderfully varied array of personalities that are just silly enough to work. Nao, the other main character, is so common by comparison that she’s actually more compelling for it; a semi-stoic force amongst a band borderline freaks. Somehow, it works.
I can’t exactly blanket the rest of the game in such praise, and my main issue with Mugen Souls Z is the battle system. It just doesn’t differentiate itself in any sort of interesting or imaginative way. Before each turn, you position yourself around the enemy, before choosing to strike, use abilities or items, or perform Linked Skills, which are essentially team attacks with other party members. That’s all well and good, and the Linked Skills offer ridiculous animations to accompany the massive damage they inflict, but by and large I found the combat became repetitive fast. There are crystals littered throughout each arena that boost abilities, buff your characters, or multiply various things, and there is an element of strategy as to when you should grab them, but it’s pretty basic. You’ll devise a strategy early on, and it’s unlikely you’ll deviate for the rest of the game.
One twist I did enjoy was Syrma’s ability to enslave “peons,” and it’s easily the saving grace of battle on the whole. The Ultimate God has the ability to manipulate foes and even objects to do her bidding, and wrestling control over certain enemy entities was a challenge I found enjoyable almost every time it appeared. It’s fairly limitless, too; in one instance you can literally enslave the earth — as in the ground you walk on — as a peon. It goes hand-in-hand with the game’s oblivious allure, and is a fun mechanic. The ability to create peons from scratch is an impressive inclusion, too; there’s essentially a full-on character creator, and I found myself imagining my own peons far more often than sticking with enslaved foes.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Mugen Souls Z without a giant spaceship-mech (not that I have a frame of reference), and Chou-Chou’s G-Castle makes for a nice diversion while also proving a handy utility. The ship morphs into a giant bot in order to fend off enemy ships, and the encounters essentially boil down to a fancy game of rocks paper scissor — which is perfectly fine by me. It’s simpler than the main battle system, and is a nice contrast to boot. Additionally, the G-Castle can roam Mugen Field, a massive area rife with enemies just waiting to be harvested for their experience points. It adds variety to the game, and G-Castle encounters contain fun dialogue that plays into battle strategy at some points — a nice touch.
Graphics in the game are a mixed bag, but not in a way that is particularly surprising. The hand-drawn character art is excellent, extremely sharp, and pretty to look at, and is probably the best thing about Mugen Souls Z’s visual presentation. There’s no shortage of games containing art of equally high quality, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Elsewhere, polygonal character models are the most notable strength, with lightly cell-shaded textures and smooth animations. Everything else, from background objects to environments, I’d describe as serviceable. You’ll probably never be blown away (unless you love the hand-drawn bits like I do), but there’s nothing to complain about either.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t fare quite as well, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it bad. A solid battle theme can go a long way in making or breaking the monotony of JRPG grinding, and the tunes found in Mugen Souls Z are a destructive force. They’re way too upbeat for any normal person’s liking, and when they’re not, the melodies are just plain dull. If you find yourself hitting the mute key on your remote every so often, I wouldn’t blame you.
Mugen Souls Z presents itself confidently, warts and all, and you ought to be aware of that before playing. It’s pretty much the videogame embodiment of unabashedness. For me that was endearing more often than not, and despite what I found to be dull combat, the experience was worth the chuckles and quirks it delivered at such high frequency. Combined with the impressive create-a-party member mechanic and enjoyable G-Castle fights, Mugen Souls Z delivers a solid handful of worthwhile gameplay to check out. I can’t possibly recommend it to everyone, but to those who dig this sort of thing? Well, you already know who you are.
This review is based on the PS3 exclusive, which was provided to us.
Mugen Souls Z ticks every JRPG box, for better or worse. Its plot and characters are ridiculous to the extreme, and if you can deal with the mediocre combat, the rest of the experience is an entertaining ride.