Mugen Souls; a Japanese RPG released on PS3 in 2012, ported to PC in 2015; a game of mechanics, but not systems; a high level of quality, offset by some uncomfortable design and writing.
For those of you, like myself, who spent most of the last console generation (Wii – Xbox 360 – PS3) away from the sunny-beached Sony camp, we missed some pretty fantastic titles. Sony managed to retain a mass of positive relationships with Japanese companies, as well as foster better relations with the swelling Western publishing houses, and also optimise their own internal development departments. Titles like Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, Demons Souls, Killzone, Infamous, Heavenly Sword, are fine examples of the latter two, while Namco, Nippon Ichi, and Sega’s offering of RPGs kept the eyes of the genre’s fans locked on Dualshocks for a further generation with games like Namco’s Tales of ~~ Series, Ni No Kuni and Sega’s Yakuza Series. Games such as Valkyria Chronicles, Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea series and titles by Atlus and the Ideas Factory also proved
to be popular.
Mugen Souls was one of the many fruits to be brought West through such deals, Idea Factory’s Compile Heart studio (now best known for the Hyperdimensional Neptunia series) developed the game, while Nippon Ichi published the game outside of Japan for a PS3 exclusive launch.
As that console generation came to a close however, and we transitioned into our current one, a sudden surge of the previously mentioned Japanese games started to make a transition over to Steam/PC. We’ve now seen Tales of titles land, Valkryia Chronicles too, Disgaea is listed for preorder as I type – although this is infact the PS2 title, but it is just as relevant as the others in regards to titles formerly console exclusive, developed in Japan, coming over to PC/Steam.
The most recent title to make this transition is Mugen Souls, which was published and ported by Ghostlight, a UK based team who primarily publish Japanese titles into the European markets. The below review was written after receiving a code from them – having not played the original, PS3, outing of the game.
There seems to have been a great degree of care taken over the porting of the game, with 17 resolutions on offer, ranging up to 3840X2160. As well as that there are several display options which I have found especially critical to include when playing ported console exclusives – as I find that some games run a damn-sight smoother in Borderless Fullscreen, which this includes.
Graphically the game shows its age a little when within the field view, although this isn’t the fault of the porting team, moreso the fault of the people who made the decision to use higher-quality pre-rendered backgrounds then the characters in the game – as that, in my experience, ages titles rather rapidly.
I am running comfortably over the recommended specs of the title, and have not run into a single performance issue – whichever team the credit falls to for this I don’t know – but it is certainly worth a mention as both video and sound have performed without a hitch.
The game also features controller support without any tampering, and when this is in place shows alternating icons of M&K and controller prompts, which is a welcome addition. You can actually use the mouse while also using controller in the game, the mouse having a free-form movement, while the controller is – as to be expected –
locked to jumping between interaction points when using menus.
Finally, the port launches with all of the DLC from the console launch available. A lot of this is ridiculously powerful weapons and equipment, however just to change things up there is also a ludicrous amount of in-game currency, in-game points and in-game buff items. To be honest, the DLC makes sense in a way – games of this style are notorious for the heavy amount of grinding required in order to keep combat sweet, and the story progressing – items like this streamline the game for those gamers with less time, or who have finished the original release and want to get up to speed. That said, if people do buy into them early on then it all becomes a little bit crazy, should you decide against running with the DLC you can avoid using the items/equipment, but limiting your cash and points spend is a lot harder to avoid. I remain very cynical of these short-cut packs for games of this sort – maybe this is due to the fact older games never had the option to shortcut such grind, and so I feel a little cheated.
Mugen Souls sees you playing as Chou Chou, a newly awakened entity who immediately decides she wants to own the seven worlds of the system(each a different colour of the rainbow), simple really. She is accompanied by Altis; a demon who has been accidentally good so many times that she has been reincarnated as an angel – and is now determined to perform the most evil act she can in order to become a true demon again, and also by Ryuto who is a sexually awkward teenager who had commandeered a vehicle (for later disclosed purposes), who has been turned into a loyal ‘Peon’ to Chou-Chou.
The peon system is critical to the story of the game, and ties heavily into the Moe System within the game. A peon, in this, is a person – or thing – of high importance who has been “Moe Killed” by Chou-Chou. Moe, for the uninitiated (which was me about 6 days ago), is a term which in this instance means ‘attractive, or love embodiment- as in, to be the subject of’ love’. When a major character, continent (yeah, I know), or anything else the game decides can be, is ‘Peon’d’ it becomes servant and devoted to Chou-Chou – not in a creepy brainwashed way, mind you.
To facilitate this, Chou-Chou can transform from her normal, pink-clad “Ego” persona into one of seven others. These together cover different personality ‘types’, these range from the blonde, floaty-headed ‘ditz’, through somber, gothic ‘terse’, to leather-clad, redheaded ‘sadist’. Each of these ‘types’ are fully voiced in combat, and in certain cutscenes.
As you can imagine – with a subject matter revolving around playing on people’s desires – a large lump of the writing is leaning towards the pervy side, and the intermission conversations revolve around hot-tubs. I should add that, thus far, while there have been a lot of these hot-tub scenes, and a lot of over-obvious allusions, AND attempts at humour around sex, the artwork has only depicted some things that could betaken out of context and drummed up, rather than anything overly sexual.
This leaves the game certainly not safe for work, and, in my opinion something I’d not have wanted to be caught playing while living back at home with my parents. That said, I’m an adult, and can eat ice cream for breakfast, tattoo my entire body, and jump off a cliff if I like – so I haven’t really minded playing the game due to it’s mass of mechanics, great art style, and ace music. Even if I have still reeled back in embarrassment a few times.
Anyway, each of these worlds have three continents, and they also have a Hero, and a Great Demon. The plan is to take over the Hero and Great Demon, and then, as she controls the two most powerful entities on the world, the world will follow. These characters actually make up the core story plot on each of the world’s and many of these end up making up the RPG’s named party member accompaniment – joining in on story sequences from that point onwards.
Mugen Souls has a rather nice quirk in this, actually. It makes it very clear by the end of the first world that the game is big up on parodying traditional RPG conventions. Rather than saving the world you are capturing it (although, I should add, it is very clear that you are actually ending conflict by doing so, and so to Altis’ future chagrin, you are actually saving the universe). ‘Heroes’, who walk around smashing pots, rummaging through drawers, and stomping around like they own the place are viewed as weird by the protagonists. Heroes and Great Demons are aware of their duality, knowing that when one defeats the other their importance dwindles. As a matter of fact, even the fact that you can (on initial pass) only visit two of the three continents, and there are seven worlds stated, but, with a big bad in sight, it seems clear you’ll never visit the full accompaniment, just add to the fact that the game clearly attempts (and achieves) to underline normal conventions.
Aside from recruiting characters via plot, you can also make Peons yourself, which is done through a character creation system in your main hub, G-Castle. Options start limited but you unlock a mass of classes by the end of the game – these characters are voiced and named like any of the other combat characters you can get, and you can even merge other non-story peons into them to boost powers and skills. Interestingly, a design choice has been made in that certain classes are certain gender, but items and equipment are not gender restricted. As such you can have a Male gunner using a sword, dressed in a frock, should you so wish – although obviously, equipping a sword on a gunner means you do not make the most of the combat system.
In regards to leveling, as with the previously mentioned Disgaea system, you can level up an almost infinite amount of times. Also, with items and equipment everywhere, it means that character build/customisation is extremely wide and tall. However, that said with a such a wild level limit, and equipment variety the game actually removes most importance of either – as numbers can spiral massively into the realms of overpowered with ease, especially due to either a) the DLC available, or b) the mechanic called Mugen Field.
Mugen Field (and yes, I am just going to move from mechanic to mechanic through a constant steam of segues) is an option which unlocks a few hours into the game – which gives you the chance to score mega items, as well as change certain game restrictions (more party members anyone?) by playing through a string of challenge levels which you set the difficulty on. It’s an interesting addition, which does have some restrictions on abusing it (your character needs certain levels of charm), and the way you alter your bonus multiplier is pretty good, in that you block out certain functions from the combat.
Character combat takes place in isolated instances, triggered either by failing Moe Kills on environmental elements, story elements, or (in Grandia/Hyperdimensional Neptunia style) running into an enemy on the field screen. Once in combat you are (over the course of the first few hours) given far too many mechanics to manage, all running alongside (but not essential to) a core – movement in select area, single attack – turn based system. Turn order can be interrupted with moves, each character has – and unlocks – special moves which can also ‘blast’ enemies around the combat zone, and modifier crystals exist which deliver bonuses/nerfs to auras around them (think coloured blocks in Disgaea, or the stupid judge in FF: Tactics Advance).
These crystals actually don’t tie into the story anywhere, they simply serve as modifiers to the combat area; they can be Moe killed, to capture the entire battlefield as Shampurus (more on that in a second); they can be damaged to destruction in order to trigger something called ‘Fever mode’ wherein smaller crystals appear up high (which enemies can be pool-shot off of using the earlier burst mechanic for maximum bonuses and money); or they can be left alone, with you gaining the modifier effects from them on enemies defeated when you are in the zone.
All this said, combat is normally pretty much a case of rinse and repeat. Most turns progress with attacks triggering combos – attacks with wacky animations that do damage in a different (and sometimes weaker) way. These combos are triggered by simply attacking when near allies, which is pretty easy to do considering you start next to one another and the radius’ are massive. Luckily you can skip the animations, which while they are great, get a bit repetitive after you see 3 of them in every combat, and you are completing 40+ encounters an hour. The other frustrating thing – as I said – is that I have several characters who do more damage individually, in shorter attack sequences, than in a group. I’m unsure whether this was an odd quirk of my team structure or not, but it is made more noticeable thanks to the lengthy animations.
To make things worse, if you are attempting to build up your shampurus to empower your G-ship for the other type of combat – ship vs ship – then you are up for even more of a grind, as the system which allows you to Moe Kill opponents – which uses the ‘type system’ wherein you make yourself match the desires of the opposition – is rather drawn out.
A successful Moe Kill requires you be the right type, choose actions based on the target’s mood, and choose options which suit your type – all this while not being killed by the other opponents. So, enemies may be in a bad mood, in which case being nice to them will have more effect, but if you are a ruder type that may not suit the character. To make things more complicated you can only change type in contract a certain amount of times before returning to your ship. Luckily, you can change infinitely in the field, but even then it massively increases the likelihood of you not being the right type for an enemy in your next combat (considering there are a total of 8 types).
The other use for changing infinitely on the field screen is that when you take over continents you have 10 points on the map which you can interact with, to make them love you. These points are hidden, and can be found through very easy riddles which become accessible after certain points. Each of these points on the field screen require you complete a small challenge, for which you also have a hint, most are just Moe challenges, with a combat firing if you fail – however – some of them require you to give money to the point. These ones are actually the most interesting, as the hint gives an in game item as a guide to the value required to successfully buy out the point.
If you develop a knack for Moe Killing in combat, each enemy turns into a corresponding Shampuru, which is a weird rabbit-thing that Chou-Chou seems to scrub herself down with, as well as use as crew (and also a weapon). There’s around 100 different Shampuru, the differences being that they look different and… some are harder to get, this is all really.
However, getting Shampurus have more than ALL those uses, they also increase the effect of G-ship, the hub that doubles as Chou-Chou’s method of transport, in ship vs ship combat. Ship vs Ship combat is a rather cinematic experience which boils down to a slightly more complicated rock, paper, scissors with a hint system. For instance, if someone is saying they are likely to defend, if you launch a piercing attack then you will breach their shield. If they are likely to launch a flurry, if you do certain shield attacks you will recover health in place. While there’s certainly nothing outstanding about the idea, and it adds to an already long list of tutorials to click through, there is also nothing wrong with it, and it makes a nice change from grinding through combat areas.
As a final mechanic worth mentioning, just in case you were thinking of fluking through the g-ship encounters, and skipping out on the Moe Kill mini-games, if you start killing everything you see, or spend a lot of time in combat, you start building up “Overload”, this is essentially the instability of all your pent up Shampurus. There are a couple of way to keep this down, or lower this, the first – obviously – is getting more Shampurus, the second is through completing mini one-turn challenges through Peon Commands. These are just a further extension of the randomness of the crystal system – wherein some stuff may be ridiculous, or impractical – but, on the other hand, sometimes it may be outstanding and beneficial.
Despite the impression you might get from my wall of text, the game manages to include a very large script, with the majority of it voiced. There were even a few points where the humour hit home and I did have a bit of a laugh, and I did enjoy the nods to the tropes from other entries into the genre.
As a matter of fact, overall the sound design and quality was fantastic, from the voicing to the wide selection of music – including the quirky, hyperactive Fever Mode music – you knew you were playing a ‘JRPG’, due to the arrangements, harmonics and fantastic pitch contrasts the music managed to pull off – and it was definitely an area where Mugen Souls excelled.
Would I recommend the game? That’s very hard to say – the game is exceptionally well made, and manages to juggle a lot of mechanics (although it was a clusterfuck with tutorials at the start), but the style of the game means that the only people willing to pick it up would be those already indoctrinated into NIS/Combine Heart’s iconic RPG art-style, and willing to play something most Westerners would consider a little risque. Certainly, if somebody said they liked similar games, I would encourage them to pick up the game, there’s enough content to cover the cost of entry, and Ghostlight have done an exceptional job with the port.