Mugen Souls Z is, just to be clear, not a game you want to play around your family. It is not a game you want to play around your significant other. It is not a game you want to play around friends.It is, really, not a game you want to play around anybody, to be honest. You see, Mugen Souls Z is, like so many Japanese games, has a troubling fixation with showing off what appear to be (but the game assures us are not) underage anime girls in a manner that can often be so alarming that you’d have a hard time explaining yourself to anybody in the vicinity if they saw you.
The troubling use of almost entirely nude seemingly underage anime girls aside, Mugen Souls Z has multiple other failings too, all of which do a very effective job of undermining it at every turn and holding it back, almost painfully. Let’s start right at the beginning, which is the story in the game. Mugen Souls Z follows its predecessor narratively almost directly, with the Chou-Chou, the protagonist of the first game, deciding to conquer another twelve worlds, so she can take over them, so… actually, I’m not quite sure why.
The game never clearly establishes just why it is so important for Chou-Chou and new protagonist Syrma to subjugate twelve new worlds. Somewhere in there was what I remember being a daft explanation that implied that doing so would save the universe, but it was all thoroughly unconvincing, and it did make me wonder once whether the game wasn’t just having me follow the adventures of the villain this time around, instead of the hero. Like, in any other story, an unwanted force that invades your world just because would certainly be treated as a villain (and a poorly developed one at that).
I say the story made me question my motivations once, and really, I’m surprised I actually stopped to think about it even that one time. It’s absolutely nonsensical, with no sense of narrative movement, exposition (outside of an info dump that covers the first game’s events), pacing, momentum, characterization and motives, or anything. It’s shockingly bad for a JRPG, a genre which usually sees stories at least try to explain themselves, instead of Mugen Souls Z’s infinitely less welcome ‘screw it, let’s just give it up’ approach.’
Generally speaking, I am forgiving of bad stories as long as the gameplay is good enough that the stories can recede into the background. I mean, hey, if you’re giving me enough framework and context to explain why my character is finding him or herself in increasingly outlandish situations and places, I don’t really care, do I? Unfortunately, Mugen Souls Z fails on that front as well.
Amusingly enough, the gameplay’s problem seems to be the exact opposite of the story’s- where the story seems to just sort of stop trying and fades away into the background, characterized by its frustrating lack of content, the gameplay is an exercise in excessiveness. No, seriously. There is too much stuff going on in Mugen Souls Z. The worst part is, none of it goes together at all. It’s all disparate mechanics that probably, maybe, might have worked well on their own, or maybe in synergy with other systems designed to work with them, but as they stand, it’s a nightmarish hodge-podge mish-mash of ideas that don’t work together at all.
Don’t get me wrong here- plenty of JRPGs before have taken completely contradictory ideas and have made them work in tandem to create a beautiful ecosystem of gameplay mechanics that all contribute to some satisfying gameplay (of note: Persona’s deft mix of dungeon crawling, turn based battling, social simulation, time management, and visual novel style choose your adventure story). Mugen Souls Z is not one of those games. It adopts a ‘throw everything in it and the kitchen sink too!’ philosophy to game design, and the player is overwhelmed by simply too much. The absolutely hilarious part is, literally almost none of the mechanics are actually needed, as it’s entirely possible to play through the game just mashing your way through the battles (which are turn based).
So you end up with a game that has a story that is- that has no story (or no coherent one, anyway), and gameplay that is impossibly complex (initially I had a few paragraphs devoted to trying to explain how the gameplay systems work, before I realized that I had spent over four hundred words explaining just the crystals, the circular range of movement, and Syrma’s seduction of enemies, realized that none of it made sense anyway, and then removed all of it), leaving you with no reason to play it.
There is actually very little this game does right- the music, I suppose, is okay, and sometimes annoyingly catchy like only tunes in a Japanese game can be, but the voice acting is awful and will get on your nerves. The actual translation work is patchy too, although I suppose in the localization team’s defense, they did the best with what they had.
Perhaps the game’s saving grace is its artstyle and graphics (or it would be, if the game wasn’t so obsessed with shoving naked girls in your face all the time)- they are colorful, the artstyle is pretty, and generally, it looks nice. Unfortunately, the graphics are marred by a poor frame rate and some baffling graphical glitches that seem to be completely inconsistent in their occurrence.
You might see that I keep returning to the game’s vulgar portrayal of basically nude anime girls who never look of age, and that is because it is another huge knock against the game. Even if I somehow managed to bring myself to enjoy the story and the gameplay (I don’t know how that would happen, maybe I was hypnotized into liking it), the game’s borderline pornographic imagery is so disturbing and just off putting that you’d put it away just because of that. It’s really distasteful, and honestly, it drained me of any will to play this game at all.
Ultimately, then, I don’t know who I would recommend this game to. The story makes no sense, the gameplay is hilariously complex but rudimentary all at once, the graphics are nice but let down by the framerate, the music is catchy, but the voice acting lets it down, and then there’s the entire disturbing portrayal of its anime girl cast… I mean, who is this game for, what does it do right? I can’t fathom who this is meant for.
Most of the times, when I have reviewed a game negatively, I have nonetheless ended it with a note that says it might be recommended for a certain demographic. Like, a simple One Piece RPG on the 3DS might be great for fans of that franchise, even if it was obtuse to me. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventure is wonderful for kids, though it bores me to sleep. But I can’t bring myself to recommend this game to anybody. I cannot conceive of a single demographic that might like this game. Stay away from it, really. That way, you’ll also ensure you don’t attract funny looks from (and the judgement of) your family, friends, and the FBI.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.