Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Box Art(www.nisamerica.com/games/mugensouls/)  Rated T for Teen by ESRB.   One of the most talented and creative JRPG developers in the world is Compile Heart. Responsible for the absolutely stellar Hyper Dimension Neptunia series, as well as a host of other heavily anime-meets-softcore-porn aka “ecchi” laden strategy RPGs; Compile Heart has a fantastic portfolio. That said, not every game in a studio’s repertoire can be great, sometimes there has to be a bad egg to make you appreciate the good ones. However, it is important to mention, critically ill-received games can still be fun and enjoyed by even those who must review them. That is Mugen Souls in a nutshell; “meh” craftsmanship that manages to be just fun enough to make the deliberation difficult.

Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Box ArtMugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Logo(www.nisamerica.com/games/mugensouls/)  Rated T for Teen by ESRB.  One of the most talented and creative JRPG developers in the world is Compile Heart. Responsible for the absolutely stellar Hyper Dimension Neptunia series, as well as a host of other heavily anime-meets-softcore-porn aka “ecchi” laden strategy RPGs; Compile Heart has a fantastic portfolio. That said, not every game in a studio’s repertoire can be great, sometimes there has to be a bad egg to make you appreciate the good ones. However, it is important to mention, critically ill-received games can still be fun and enjoyed by even those who must review them. That is Mugen Souls in a nutshell; “meh” craftsmanship that manages to be just fun enough to make the deliberation difficult. 



Presentation:
Mugen Souls, much like many of Compile Heart’s games is set in a cartoonishly over the top world reminiscent of Disgaea. You play a very young looking demon pirate goddess named Chou-Chou who is hell bent on becoming the ruler of the universe. To do this, she must defeat all of the other gods of the realm and claim her throne. Chou-Chou is brash, ruthless, hilarious, and adorable all written with enough levity and goofiness to make her highly entertaining to listen to. Other characters purposely follow archetypes and stereotypes to a T with a Sam Raimi like dichotomy of sarcastic wit and intentionally flawed writing. Ryuta is a self described hero and savior of the universe who finds his goal to defeat Chou-Chou subverted when Chou suggests (sic. Forces) helping her defeat the other demon gods of the realm first. The rest of the story spirals into mediocre yet entertaining typicality from there. Truth be told, you have played this game before. Disgaea, Trinity Universe, Hyper Dimension, and a million other JRPGs this generation all had similar plots, and most of them did it better. Mugen Souls ads more disturbing humor and fowl language though, which is often awkward and usually pretty funny.

Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots

Graphics:
Visually, Mugen Souls is ugly. Very ugly. Like, end of the PS2’s lifecycle ugly, which as a gamer of 20+ years, that isn’t too ugly, but the point remains that Souls is not a current gen game visually. Sure, textures are decent but static “talking picture” cut scenes, disturbingly low poly models, and a laughably small explorable world make me wonder why this title wasn’t made for the Vita or 3DS instead of the most powerful console on market. None of the PS3s specs are being used by Mugen Souls, and the result is a visually boring and questionable game which lacks the flair and polish of other Compile Heart games. Stylistic minimalism is one thing, a lack of polish is another.

Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots
 

Sound:
Much like the visuals, the audio presentation of Mugen Souls leaves very much to be desired. The soundtrack is typical budget JRPG fodder with the occasional catchy fight tune or JPOP overtone, but over all is largely forgettable. The main theme is however, fantastic and will stick in your head pretty much immediately. Japanese voice acting is actually fantastic, just like the writing,  playing on tropes and archetypes to deliver hilarious characters. Every bit of voice work is enjoyable and makes falling in love with characters all the more easy. That said, don’t even bother with the English voices, while a few performances are pretty stand-out, the vast majority hit that annoying tone rather quickly.

Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots

Gameplay:
Gameplay is simultaneously the strongest and weakest part of Mugen Souls. Exploring the overworld sections brings nothing new to the table, and feels tacked on. To be honest, the whole thing would have been just as effective with a menu system.  A lengthy and obnoxious, as well as unskippable tutorial chapter bludgeons players with information and basics that are so self explanatory you may find the presence of the chapter insulting. Further, Chou-Chou actually calls you(Ryuta) an idiot and tells you that you must play through it because you are so stupid, thanks Compile Heart! The Battle system breaks down like most of CH’s current titles. Move your party members around a selected battlefield, select an attack that can hit x number of enemies within your range, then combo said attacks for massive damage. If you have played Hyper Dimension or Disgaea, you will feel right at home. The cool part of the gameplay comes down to the concept of minions. Chou Chou is like a super villain, she raises an army to do her dirty work, so as the player, you must recruit and create soldiers, outfitting them with various costumes, weapons and accessories. You can also turn enemies into Shampurus, weird little rabbit minions  that serve as attack power and stat bars, most commonly of use in the Pirate ship battle mini-games.

Occasionally pirate ships will come out of the woodwork and attack yours. This is actually the most entertaining portion of the game, and most innovative I’ve seen on the JRPG front in a very long time. You must manage your minions, defense, and attack effectively in a constant stream of rock-paper-scissors like space battles. I found myself consistently wanting more of these ship battles, but sadly not many were present.

Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots   Mugen Souls (PS3, PSN) Screenshots

Conclusion:
Over all, Mugen Souls manages to do exactly what it sets out to do, make a new IP that is funny and enjoyable. Compile Heart did do a great job on the narrative end, however the production value and level of gameplay quality doesn’t quite live up to CH’s strong resume. Japan did recently receive a sequel which is infinitely better than this release, but as it stands Mugen Souls is a great purchase for any JRPG fan who can tolerate a bit of pedantic gameplay for some entertaining narrative. 

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