There is a certain expectation that comes with seeing as NIS loge at the opening screen of a game. As the stalwart hold over for traditional Japanese RPG’s, NIS offers a regular injection for those of us with old school sensibilities. Mugen Souls looked to be a fun, turn based romp that would satiate those that crave turn based combat. It was clear it wouldn’t appeal to a massive audience, but it also managed to be such an offensive and ridiculous game that the appeal extends to only a small group of people, overshadowing the best elements that would make Mugen Souls a rather enjoyable, if archaic, experience. While the argument over cultural differences can mitigate a bit of the strangeness, that excuse shouldn’t be a free pass.
Mugen Souls is overburdened by under aged girls prancing about, playing on a less than subtle submissive/dominate vibe in a strange attempt at sex appeal. The game’s protagonist, Lady Chou-Chou, lives to enslave others. The narrative that holds the game together is Lady Chou-Chou’s quest to enslave the entire galaxy. With her crew, her bizarrely anthropomorphic and rabbit headed ship, and her ability to seduce nearly anyone into following her, Chou-Chou wants to take over all of the documented dimensions.
As a long time defender of JRPG’s, I am used to forgiving ridiculous narratives, and Mugen Souls possesses a fairly fun and hilarious storyline. Lady Chou-Chou is quite an amusing figure when separated from the rampant sexualization, and her companions, including a demon who was forced to become an angel after repeatedly doing good instead of evil, are fun. I found myself smiling at the over the top conversations and the sheer obliviousness of everyone. Sadly, Mugen Souls continually assaults the player with sex in a rather disturbing manner. The female characters may be centuries old, but they are portrayed repeatedly as young teenagers. That adds a pall over every action throughout the game
While the story was extremely off-putting, the combat is the meat of the game. Random enemy encounters play out as a mix between Eternal Sonata and Disgaea. Characters have a limited range of movement, and actions have a select space in which you can affect. The turn based system can be engrossing and rather enjoyable. Sadly, the bizarre sexual nature of Mugen Souls taints the combat as well. Lady C’s goal is to turn any and everything into a peon. Adding more minions and leveling them up has a huge effect on your crews ability to survive the later stages, making it a vital piece of the game. In order to make peons, Lady Chou-Chou pretends to be the type of girl each creature is attracted to, based off clues such as “sadist,” “masochist” and “submissive.” Yes, really. The queues you are given during combat dictates which archetype you become, but it always seems entirely random, adding a layer of complexity that is absolutely unnecessary and incredibly frustrating. When facing a sadist, you are given clues on how to appear as his dream girl. Picking between “hyper,” and “bipolar” when trying to become a masochist makes very little sense, and it ends up being offensive AND obnoxious.
Those battle clues sum up my feelings toward Mugen Souls. It is hard to look at the other merits of the game when so much of it is based off of creepy and disconcerting sexuality. Each time I told myself to look beyond it, another scene came up with the two female characters nude in a bath, or another detailed conversation on how much Chou-Chou loves to dominate men and women alike. The game spends too much time trying to be coy and sexy using characters that will make any man immediately uncomfortable. When the narrative takes to mocking RPG tropes, it hits gold, but it instead depends on sexual frustration to be compelling.
Mugen Souls has a gigantic world, easily offering 30+ hours of game play. Bouncing between strange air battles with opposing airships and the sprawling worlds full of random battles assures that boredom doesn’t set in easily. Unfortunately, I had a hard time moving past the sexual undercurrent running throughout. Outside of that, Mugen Souls manages to offer some fun pieces that I found oddly addicting. The art style and irreverence were fun to follow and indulge in, but it repeatedly draws attention to its sexuality instead of letting the strengths shine through. The complex systems have the potential to draw in those that crave a new take on an old design, but the game constantly tries to turn people away.
NIS is typically consistent in providing food for the niche market, but Mugen Souls falls short repeatedly. The cultural gulf is too deep here to appeal to the majority of JRPG fans, regardless of the strengths offered. Combined with the barren aesthetic, uninspired enemy design, and low frame rate, it is easy to recommend avoiding Mugen Souls. While there are many bright spots, there is no consistency in the execution. As much as I wanted to love it, failings hit too often to recommend the game.