Many games illicit an immediate response from us, whether it be excitement, eagerness, or even utter disgust if the game is horrible enough. Sometimes, and just sometimes, a game entirely confuses our emotions. When I first laid hands and eyes on Mugen Souls, I loved its premise but also felt embarrassed to even play it in public – an RPG that uses various anime TV tropes rather than elements to decide weaknesses and strengths, featuring Lolita girls that belong in school rather than on an adventure conquering the universe.
Of course, in the privacy of our own homes, the game becomes less an embarrassment and more of a guilty pleasure. From the beginning, players are treated to a short (albeit unnecessary) cutscene of the two protagonists, Chou-Chou and Altis partaking in an impromptu idol concert; afterwards, the two go to a Japanese style hot spring where Chou-Chou invites a male peon to walk in for a peak, resulting in a fountain of blood from his nose. We soon find out that Chou-Chou’s end goal is to conquer the entire universe, for no reason other than “just cause,” by means of turning her legion of adorers to obedient peons, who resemble pint sized bunnies. Disgaea fans will especially appreciate the character designs, courtesy of series designer Takehito Harada.
The entire premise is an anime fan’s favorite wet dream. The fan service doesn’t end with fan segments in the beginning, but pervades itself into every aspect of the title. Most notably, players will have to transform Chou-Chou to various forms of herself, ranging from the voluptuous masochist and teenager-like bipolar character (or tsundere if you’re well versed in Japanese anime tropes) to the childlike hyperactive character and mature graceful type. Whatever anime tropes players prefer, the title made sure to include it in full form. Aside from its appeal to anime fans’ fetishes, almost every character seems like an archetype lifted directly from an anime, and team attacks are so ridiculous and over the top that they were designed with this demographic in mind. Likewise, Japanese and English dual audio options are available as well.
Exploration and combat in Mugen Souls plays very much like Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, another game by developer Compile Heart. Players walk around the map, seeking out enemies and engaging by dealing out a preemptive strike for an advantage in battle. Once in combat, players can move characters around a set radius and attack units in range. This is where Mugen Souls‘s twist comes into play; while players will be perfectly fine killing enemies the old fashion way, the game urges players to make use of Moe Kills, a technique where Chou-Chou turns her enemies into peons by appealing to their personalities with decisions ranging from abusing the enemy to a confession of love. Later on in the game, peons can also be captured and customized to players’ liking, perhaps creating teammates even more lovable than Chou-Chou.
Though this is the drawing point for Mugen Souls, its execution is rough. Some of the weaknesses and strengths were easy to figure out, such as masochist and sadist characters, but many are vague; after all, who’s to conclude that there even is a perfect counter for a bipolar or graceful character? The choices that players make during Moe Kill segments only provide further confusion in the learning process, often presenting several unfavorable possibilities that may still raise the enemy’s affection level. If players are willing to invest the time, however, choices become more varied and less confusing. Like in the Disgaea titles, the game has its own dungeons, the Mugen Field. It provides a worthy challenge for any gamer.
Mugen Souls has a clear appeal and demographic in mind, which may turn off the uninitiated. Prerequisite knowledge of numerous anime TV tropes proves to be a tough barrier to overcome, especially considering the difficulty in translating many of them, leading to an often confusing Moe Kill system. However, fans of the genre who can slug through the beginning will feel right at home and enjoy the tailored humor and story.
Available on: PS3; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Compile Heart; Players: 1; Released: October 16, 2012; ESRB: Teen; MSRP: $49.99; Official Site
Note: A retail copy was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.