Though NIS America had about four titles in the works, Mugen Souls was the only game they brought to the E3 Expo in Los Angeles this year. Even this title was hidden away in the midst of Koei’s games. This is somewhat understandable, due to the prohibitive cost of floor space at the Los Angeles Convention Center, but, honestly, all of NIS’ upcoming imports look great and Mugen Souls is probably the one I was looking forward to the least. Apparently, I just didn’t realize this game really is fun.
NIS is probably best known for the Disgaea series, but this year has also seen the conclusion to the Arland games and Hyperdimension Neptunia MK2. Atelier Meruru was able to finish the tale of Arland on a high note and is easily the best and most complete of the series as far as gameplay.
As for Mugen Souls, it is a compilation of sorts, as it takes a lot from what works well in other NIS games. The story, while borrowing themes from Neptunia, runs along the same humorous vein as the Disgaea series and the combat and exploration have a definite Atelier feel.
Mugen Souls tells the story of Chou-Chou, the Undisputed Goddess, who has decided to make everything in the galaxy bow to her, because they are pretty…and she wants them. In Chou-Chou’s galaxy there are seven differently colored worlds and each of these worlds has its own unique theme. Luckily for her, she has a few assets to help her along this path. The first tool she has is her spaceship which is a weapon itself although only useful for fighting other spacecraft. As the Undisputed Goddess, she also has an ability that makes people love her, and if that weren’t enough, she can change into a total of seven different forms, including a sadist and masochist, to help with that process.
Though Mugen Souls was apparently able to squeeze out a Teen rating from the ESRB, the themes, innuendo, and animations are geared for a mature audience. That’s pretty obvious from the beginning, as the game is centered around Chou-Chou’s sexuality. Many are sure to take issue with the apparent age of the characters, but western sensibilities are often less forgiving with Lolicon anime or manga anyway. If you’re able to get past the hyper-sexualization, there are some pretty funny jokes and aspersions to be found in the game. It’s probably just not something you’d want to be playing with your grandparents in the room.
I did mention ship-to-ship combat but before you start conjuring images of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3 warship combat or even Skies of Arcadia, let me tell you now that it’s nothing like that. Mugen Souls’ space combat works in a Rock, Paper, Scissors kind of way where you pick an attack or defensive stance in anticipation of your opponent. Like Skies of Arcadia though, the enemy typically has a boarding party that you and your party must stave off in the game’s typical combat field. Other than a couple of encounters, these occur before Chou-Chou lands on each planet.
The seven planets and their continents serve as changes of scenery in the game, but none of them push the limits of the PlayStation 3. A few of the locations are pretty cool-looking but are intentionally reminiscent of previous games. Once Chou-Chou and her party land on a planet, there is a path with enemies lurking about, similar to the Atelier games. The map also holds treasures, save points, and exits. Also like the Atelier games, Chou-Chou’s party is represented by only Chou-Chou, and preemptive attacks can be executed with well-timed strikes at the enemies.
If you’re a fan of NIS games, Mugen Souls is like a best-of album from your favorite artist. The combat is a deep affair that would take too much time to explain in detail, but on the surface is very much like the Atelier games. It does also borrow combos and environmental attacks from Disgaea. As the Undisputed Goddess, Chou-Chou’s best weapon is her ability to make people love her and that is the chief theme of Mugen Souls. On the battlefield, Chou-Chou can perform ‘Moe Kills’ which are a series of user-selected flirts that can recruit enemies out of the battle. If this is successfully executed against the large crystal in each battle, the battle ends. Failure at it can make the battle more difficult but Chou-Chou can create her own minions to fill out the landing party. Just don’t put them in a red shirt.
The ‘Moe Kill’ ability in Mugen Souls also carries over to the world map where clues are given about how to win over the continents as a whole. This serves as a portion of the quest on each planet. The formula is: Find the hero and demon of each world and recruit or kill them to win the planet. They usually aren’t cooperative so you’ll need some help from the planet. By following the clues, you can find these hidden points which, like enemies on the battlefield, Chou-Chou can win over. The clues will indicate which persona will be most effective and then it is on the player to pick appropriate dialogue for the preference and mood of the victim.
The graphics and sound, both the J-pop and repetitive battle dialogue, are certainly the low points of Mugen Souls but the game is satisfying regardless. Like Atelier Meruru, where it finally seemed that the Atelier games had hit their stride, Mugen Souls seem like a more playable and coherent evolution of the themes of Hyperdimension. Wildly inappropriate, though less so than the original Japanese version, the game has some charms and is laugh-out-loud funny quite often. It’s really that humor and the variety of game components that will get you through what is, for the most part, unoriginal gameplay and last-gen execution.
Mugen Souls is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes.