Mugen Souls Preview
NIS America has yet to abandon the hardcore JRPG faithful. They have kept mostly true to the sub-genre’s roots, publishing quite a few titles from talented developers like Gust and Compile Heart. The latter team has produced Mugen Souls, a game that – like so many other niche JRPGs recently – doesn’t take itself seriously for a moment, and still manages to provide the player with a ton of depth. From what I’ve played, the mechanics are unfortunately mediocre and the in-game visuals are kinda disappointing, but the target audience should appreciate the effort.
Really, this game is all about making you grin for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there’s the seven-world structure (starting with the Sun World), where you will explore and attempt to “conquer” each world. When I say conquer, I’m talking about the sudden whim of the grand supreme ruler, a little pink-haired girl named Chou-Chou, who has some surprising abilities. …still, it’s strange for her to think she can simply rule everyone and everything, which is part of the plot’s enduring comedy. Anyway, the areas are of a decent size and quiet colorful, and you encounter enemies in the field.
When running into a foe, you switch to the battle screen to begin the turn-based encounter. Now, here’s where the true depth of the game starts to shine: Mugen Souls appears to be a blend of Shin Megami Tensei, Suikoden, and Disgaea. Those who remember the SMT installments are familiar with the concept of enemy recruitment; those games let you capture opponents in battle, after which you could train and even breed them. It’s similar here, but there’s a twist- You have to get the foe to fall head over heels in love with Chou-Chou; if you’re successful, they will become a besotted, loyal Peon. Yeah, they’re called Peons.
The interesting part is that you have to check the personality of the foe and compare it to Chou-Chou’s, so you select the three “approaches” – including Abuse, Hit, Kind, Confess, etc. – to lure them to her side. For extra fun, Chou-Chou has seven distinctly unique forms (the fact that there are 7 worlds is no coincidence), each of which alter her personality. There’s the ditzy blonde, the “emo” iteration, the sassy and sexy, the elegant and graceful, and more. You can change Chou-Chou’s form with L1; you can even change in a battle after seeing what types of enemies you’re up against; it can give you the definite edge.
Speaking of battle, like Suikoden III, you can move a certain distance before executing your action. If you’re in range of an enemy, you can attack; if not, you can defend or whatever. If you’re close enough to an ally, you can Link up and cause big damage to the hapless enemy, which also get smacked with your special abilities. Finally, there’s a Blast Off skill that actually tosses an enemy into other enemies so as to inflict even more pain. Plus, you’ve got the standard RPG elements, such as equipment, experience, and active and innate skills, so there’s no shortage of stuff to consider. Strategy and micromanagement galore.
The mechanics are just a little wonky, though. You seem to run around the open areas almost too quickly; it creates a blurring effect that I don’t think was intentional. The camera isn’t great and although you can gain the edge by striking an enemy before battle begins, the swing is so slow it’s very difficult to time correctly. Also, I have to say, the in-game graphics won’t impress anyone. This all being said, the JRPG fans will adore the depth and really have a good laugh at the humorous dialogue and situations. This one kinda pokes fun at itself.
For instance, when trying to find the hero of Sun World, the party sees a guy bashing vases and invading a citizen’s home. One of your party members explains that this is indeed a “hero,” because all heroes walk into people’s houses, break things, and look in all the cabinets and cupboards. Then when her team members realize that Chou-Chou’s special ability to change others into Peons relies solely on her sex appeal, her friend (a half-clad girl who claims she’s a demon who kept doing good things, so she got resurrected as an angel) points out that not everyone will like Chou-Chou…possibly because of her tiny boobs.
There’s a lot of that. It’s really quite funny, as the voice acting is more than competent, the writing isn’t bad, and the situations are typically amusing. The dialogue scenes still drag on a little too long, though, and as you might expect, you really have to love anime and this ultra-Japanese style. If you do, I think Mugen Souls will deliver big time but if not, you’re going to be turned off and maybe even a little confused. But hey, that’s the goal, yes? Go after the target audience, and Compile Heart and NIS know their fans. Plain and simple. Mugen Souls will be ready on September 18.
8/21/2012 Ben Dutka