Mugen Souls Z - Impression

Natural Doctrine

Platform: PS3
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Release Date: 05.20.2014

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Uncomfortable Viewing

If there is any advice I feel qualified to impart, it would be to not to agree to play a game based on a dare. That might seem fairly obvious, but it didn't stop this so-and-so from becoming a victim of foolish pride. High off the satisfaction of tearing a strip off the latest Final Fantasy cash-in, I agreed to review the sequel to a game I had never played by a developer I hardly had any exposure to. The result was an experience that I found to be both surprisingly traumatic and eye opening. Mugen Souls Z taught me a lesson in humility, and for that I could not be more appreciative.

Mugen Souls Z is a direct sequel to Mugen Souls that takes place just a few months after the original. Having not partaken in Mugen Souls, I did a bit of extracurricular research on its narrative just to get my feet wet before jumping into the sequel — an exercise which ultimately proved unnecessary as the sequel's longwinded intro goes into painful detail via expository banter. The story focuses on self-proclaimed undisputed God of the entire universe, Chou-Chou. Unsatisfied with her conquest of the seven worlds in her neighborhood, Chou-Chou sets off to a new solar system to hijack an additional twelve. To her dismay, each of these worlds is revealed to have a patron "Ultimate God," with new protagonist Syrma being the first of which we meet. The self-proclaimed hero of this new solar system, Nao, inadvertently bumps into the ditzy deity and in an attempt to assert her cosmic power, lady Chou-Chou becomes trapped inside Syrma's coffin. Much to her dismay, said coffin absorbs all of Chou-Chou's mighty powers and leaves the undisputed God looking like an adorable plush doll. Syrma and Nao then reluctantly agree to help restore Chou-Chou to her former glory. Along the way, players are treated to so-cutesy-it-hurts moe dialogue, a number of inappropriate bath house sequences, and predictably clumsy hijinks.

Calling the narrative difficult to follow would be an understatement. There are enough threads at work in Mugen Souls Z that a GPS is almost required to follow plot progression. It doesn't help that each in-game scenario is a mash up of frustratingly annoying character quirks, twenty minutes of vapid dialogue, and awkward slapstick humor. I can wholeheartedly state that this is the first game of any genre in which I've legitimately dreaded any and all story development. If there was a bright spot in the thickening darkness that is playing Mugen Souls Z, it would have to be the art of parody.

"Mugen Souls Z feels comparable to participating in a game mechanic orgy where all the participants are blind."

One thing this game does fairly well is lampooning and at times purposefully embodying the more tasteless tropes commonly associated with JRPGs, anime, and moe. There are numerous scenarios in which characters strive to be the most extreme exaggerations of typical JRPG archetypes, all the while making juvenile sexual references and participating in conversations that manage to say everything without giving the player anything of use. It's a guilty delight to see these pot shots, but that isn't to say that all of the game's humor is on point. The most disastrous example of laughing at Mugen Souls Z, instead of with Mugen Souls Z would have to be the dense, long-winded gameplay mechanic explanations which are self-described as "giant tutorials." These headaches fill the entirety of your television screen with mostly unhelpful explanatory text, still shots of gameplay, and developer commentary of how unnecessarily bloated these tutorials are. It is the single least user friendly design element I've ever seen in a JRPG, and I'd argue that making light of how horrible your tutorials are presented does not make them any more tolerable.

You will have to pay close attention to these instructions, however, as actually playing Mugen Souls Z feels comparable to participating in a game mechanic orgy where all the participants are blind. I've been told that steam rolling simple mechanics with needless complexity is par for the course at Idea Factory/Compile Heart, but I certainly wasn't prepared for it. Normal battles on their own are oddly cluttered with UI and numerous messages, but can also be enjoyably tactical. Characters have to be positioned in order to maximize damage, and each area has a set of crystals, which, when activated, will grant buffs or debuffs. It allows for some strategy on the player's part and is probably the only additional system that isn't a pain for the player to take advantage of. Normal combat also features basic character specific abilities to tap into and "Coffin powers" that make use of Syrma's massive accessory. The more questionable combat elements relate largely to Syrma's Captivate powers. Essentially, your character can creepily swap fetishes on the fly in order to appeal to monsters and maybe turn them into your peons. These fetishes range from Graceful and Hyper to Sadist and Masochist. The presentation is very adult-oriented. More concerning, however, is that your characters will act accordingly to how they are dressed, which leads to more than a few uncomfortable moments on the battlefield. I can't tell you how many times I cringed at Syrma bending over and commenting on how "sexy" she is. And then there is the G-Castle, which is another form of combat and essentially amounts to a space battle a la Voltron. Simply put, there are a lot of in-game mechanics to take into account and when combat doesn't feel downright uncomfortable, it seems messy.

Probably the most noteworthy thing about Mugen Souls Z is the way its characters are presented. I'm not one to sit on a high horse, or a horse of any stature for that matter, but it's hard not to feel at least a bit uncomfortable by the shameless way that their bodies are paraded throughout the game. Whether it is on the battlefield or during cut scenes, sexual humor is in abundance and clothing is used sparingly. No characters were assigned an official age by the developers, but each looks and acts around the age of thirteen. As such, there was a feeling of what I can only call shame whenever I sat down to play Mugen Souls Z. If I played the game around my girlfriend I would receive concerned glances, and looking back I can certainly see why. Considering the needless complexity of the game's mechanics, I couldn't honestly make the claim that I was playing the Mugen Souls Z for the gameplay. Doing so would have felt akin to claiming to read Playboy magazine for the articles. That point brings us to why an impression has been written about Mugen Souls Z and not a review.

After bullheadedly powering through a good chunk of Mugen Souls Z I came to the realization that I wasn't doing anyone any favors by attempting to review the game. Clearly I wasn't enjoying the experience, but the growing concern was that gamers who already had the intention of buying Mugen Souls Z wouldn't find any real value in my rather harsh write up. Normally, the subjectivity of reviews is an irrelevant issue, but in this case the franchise already has an audience that appreciated this particular variety of animation and cutesy humor enough to warrant this sequel. Saying that I couldn't find anything remotely palatable about this game's mechanics or presentation only serves to demonstrate that this isn't my cup of tea. It may be yours, though.

I first chose to play this game out of hubris, but I now have a clear perspective on how personal taste can absolutely make you ill-equipped to fairly review something. If you like cutesy moe-infused anime or other Idea Factory games, you'll probably enjoy Mugen Souls Z. From what I understand, the game improves a number of the mechanics first introduced in its predecessor. That being said, if you're anything like me and prefer straightforward mechanics coupled with well-clothed characters, Mugen Souls Z will ultimately feel like an annoying if not unsettling experience.

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