For the first couple of hours, I hated Mugen Souls Z . This game is a niche JRPG releasing exclusively on the PS3 and, though you may warm to it, it’s never actually good.
The most noticeable issue was the presentation, as the entire interface reeks of the PS2 era (and not in a good way). Menus are clumsy and confusing, dialogue boxes are tacky and the overall design just looks old. It’s not an attractive game overall actually, it has a very standard anime art style but a lot of it doesn’t gel together. Characters look like they have walked out of different games or universes and, on top that, they just look really dumb. The most egregious issue though is the sexualisation. The outfits on the female characters are ridiculous and the game takes glee in posing them in super creepy ways. Male characters aren’t given any way near the same kind of treatment, and even if they were this wouldn’t make it OK.
Sexual imagery isn’t inherently bad, it can have its place, but it is far too prevalent in this game. It is firmly over the top and the context in which it is used makes it even more problematic. The game, on multiple occasions, sexualises molestation. It presents you with naked pictures (with the sensitive areas unsubtley obscured) of its female characters while they are being abused by what are described as slimy tentacles. This all takes place while the girls complain loudly. It’s incredibly gross and completely unacceptable. A further issue is the age of some of the characters – the game goes out of its way to point out a character is a young child and then uses them in a nude scene later on. The ‘rude’ bits are always just obscured, but little is left to the imagination. It’s unbelievably creepy. In all honesty, these points alone make this game unacceptable.
Even if you can put up with this kind of content, the game still does a lot wrong. The writing, characters and storytelling are pretty dire, for example. There is so much bad narrative forced down you also, to the extent that in the first couple of hours I felt I had barely played the game. For this period, I spent most of my time sitting through drawn out overwritten conversations with annoying anime sprites. They pop up on the screen and just stay there while their awful dialogue plays out. Sometimes there’s bad voice acting, sometimes it’s just text – sometimes there is a very annoying piece of music playing and sometimes there’s a different piece of annoying music (there are two pieces that are recycled and that never fit any scenario). There is so much dialogue in this game, from so many characters, and these lengthy segments pop up all the time. It’s poorly written and invasive, wrecking any semblance of pacing and causing utter boredom.
The basic plot is really rather ludicrous, it is full of meaningless jargon and boat loads of dull lore. There’s just so much to keep a handle on and the game keeps introducing more. The core of the story though revolves around the ‘Undisputed god’ Lady Chou Chou arriving at a new set of planets (seven planets to be exact) in the hope of taking them over. This journey is resisted and places her in the path of one of the ‘Ultimate gods’ of these seven worlds. This god, called Syrma, becomes pretty much the main character, even though she has lost all of her powers. It turns out though that the random coffin she has with her can sap the powers from people, something discovered by accidentally taking all of Lady Chou Chou’s godly abilities. The objective then becomes a quest to put all the other Ultimate gods in the coffin, so as to give Syrma great power. Things get weirder from here and its all rather rubbish.
In spite of all of this though, there is something oddly compelling about Mugen Souls Z. A few hours in I started to oddly enjoy myself, but I would admit that part of that is liking it in spite of itself. The story is terrible, but it is all so overtly ridiculous and poorly presented that it wanders into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory. The game is clearly tongue in cheek, and wants to be funny, but that isn’t why it is funny. Its attempts at humour and meta-commentary fall completely flat; it is its accidental flaws that garner my ironic appreciation. The storytelling is bad, but it is somewhat compelling just due to how darn crazy it is. It’s all over the place and it keeps getting weirder, which makes following it genuinely enjoyable. However, it is still too long winded, meaning that even this light appreciation soon wanes during the lengthy text segments.
There is something to the combat though, which is genuinely enjoyable – if somewhat unremarkable. The dungeon design is super boring though, and occasionally a bit convoluted. On top of this, the battling itself is plagued by a bad interface – like the rest of the game – and is hampered by overbearing and poorly explained tutorials. These happen far too often and could be a lot better. Another issue with combat is the sheer number of systems, it keeps introducing layer after layer and some of them are just redundant. They even find a way to shove the games creepiness into battle by allowing you to select a ‘fetish pose’… Yes, they call it a ‘fetish pose’.
Syrma, can change her form and each form matches a potential fetish the enemy might have (some of the costumes are… Creepy). The reason for this is that you can turn enemies into ‘peons’ by capturing them off the battlefield. This doesn’t work like in Pokemon or Ni No Kuni, instead, captured enemies turn into ‘Shampuru’s’ which are basically a resource that makes your space ship (your base) more powerful. Your spaceship can turn into a robot you see (though its normal form doesn’t look like a spaceship, so it’s a pretty crap transformer) and then fight things in a rock paper scissors-esque mini game. As I said, there is perhaps too much going on in this game. On top of all of this, the capturing process is really weird and very poorly explained. You pick dialogue options which have different success ratings and are of course different in content; the goal is to seduce the enemy based on its preference. This results in the character pulling a lot of very creepy poses and a bunch of up skirt shots. It all makes me very uncomfortable.
There’s also a mechanic where you charm planets, to make them your peon. This basically means there are challenges at certain points in a dungeon and if you complete them all you get a bonus. These are usually worked into story progression through the dungeon as well, though there have been cases where this has not been made clear and the game becomes directionless. Some of the challenges are quite cool though, and interestingly presented. They fall into categories like: give an item, have a total number of enemy KOs or charm – and they find some OK ways of adding a bit of challenge by wording them differently. The charm ones work the same way as capturing an enemy, but you do it to a planet. You don’t get the same amount of feedback you get from an enemy, and the fetish of the planet (what am I even talking about at this point?!) is merely hinted at. The same set of hints is recycled though, so it’s hardly difficult. However, your charm levels (which govern the effectiveness of your fetish poses) increase over time and become more effective, which causes an issue. The lack of feedback makes it unclear as to whether you are doing it wrong or are just not high enough level and this is frustrating – especially when all you want to do is creepily flirt with planets by taking advantage of their fetishes (WHAT AM I SAYING?!).
To return to a previous point though, in spite of all this convolution and weirdness, combat is fun. It’s a turn based affair, but there’s a nice little twist to it. You move your characters around a battlefield and they can move a certain amount each turn. This makes for an engaging system and a fun one. It’s not tremendously deep and, frankly, it’s not amazing (things like skills are really poorly laid out and aren’t explained well enough), but it is actually fun. There’s a constant turn order at the top and you can use this to play tactically, focusing on enemies who will get turns soon, so that you can effectively skip the whole enemy team’s go. It is satisfying to work your way through a battle so that no enemy can ever got a chance to attack and the battle system allows you to play this way if you engage with it. Enemy designs are pretty poor and encounters get repetitive, but there is a fun core here that has kept me engaged for a while now. It even has a Persona like wrinkle (though nothing in this game is anyway near as good as anything in Persona), you are able to attack enemies in the overworld before they get to you to take advantage in battle. This is fun and of course means that there are no random encounters, representations of enemies appear in the dungeon and when you collide with them you are taken to an arena to fight a motley crew of monsters.
At times I felt like I was enjoying Mugen Souls Z more than I should do. However, I cannot highlight enough the fact that some of the content in this game is completely unacceptable and disgusting. Apart from that huge black stain on this game’s record there is some fun to be had here. It has its issues and it never gets over them, but it does become oddly compelling. There’s just enough off the wall insanity to keep you strangely hooked, in the same way you get compelled to watch an episode of a bad soap even though you know it’s bad. This probably isn’t a good thing, but I cannot deny a certain fascination with it. The combat is genuinely enjoyable and the overall quirkiness is sometimes pretty endearing. For every positive though, there’s a negative that outweighs it (like how jerky the walking animation is – so jerky that it makes the game feel like it’s running at a busted framerate – and how every time you jump the character shouts ‘JUMP’… EVERY TIME), though there is still an odd appeal here. It’s an oddity, a strange cultural object that feels like it shouldn’t even have come out here, and that’s kind of cool. However, the sexual content of this game is so uncomfortable – and just wrong – that I could not bring myself to see it to the end. Some may hold this as a black mark against me, but I feel this game is unacceptable and no later redeeming feature can stop this. In fact, later points could sway some people towards the game and that’s not something I want to do.
This niche JRPG is sometimes endearingly weird, but is plagued by multiple issues and troubling sexual content. This latter part is frankly unacceptable and serves as a huge mark against this title