Mugen Souls Z is a JRPG that is steeped in even more JRPG-ness. The original title, Mugen Souls, was an indulgent, extreme-embracing game that celebrated how Japanese it was at every single moment, to the point of maddeningly fun hyperbolic gameplay. Naturally, it makes sense that the game’s sequel would continue this idea, being sure to still appeal to everyone that loved the original. Mugen Souls Z does re-capture the insanity of its predecessor, while still upping the stakes, but the biggest frustration here is how slow it takes to get everything going. In a game where your level cap is 9999, to be starting at Level 1 is a tremendous step down and if you’re familiar with the previous Mugen Souls, you’re just going to be wishing you were back deep into that. It’s going to take time and grinding to get you back to the frenetic chaos that Mugen Souls Z prides itself in, but it’ll happen. None of this is helped by the fact that the game essentially opens to a beyond frustrating tutorial that’s maybe 90 minutes of cutscenes with 15 of actual gameplay.
Storywise, Syrma, the ultimate God of the twelve worlds runs into the hero of Mugen Souls, Lady Chou Chou, and one thing leads to another leaving Chou Chou’s energy sapped and turning her into a paint-sized “chibi” version of herself, which is a storyline that’s satisfyingly ridiculous enough for the series. Therein comes the game’s main narrative engine, pushing you to go to the eleven other worlds, absorbing those Gods’ power, and Chou Chou should return to her original size and strength while also keeping destruction from being brought forth yada yada yada.
If this plot is any indication, Mugen Souls’ niche sense of humor is back to great effect, and the overloading of bright colors and characters that are thrown at you helps ground you to this world quickly. However, a major problem that courses through the whole game is the annoyingly peppy banter that your characters work through. Cutscenes are typically just these exchanges to see who is cuter, while voices and music that are also trying to cater to this adorability attack you. It can be a lot at times, and if you’re not into it at all, it can be overwhelming (especially with that near insanity-inducing carnival-esque music that keeps playing).
In terms of graphics, the game unfortunately seems to be taking a fairly lazy approach. Character models are blocky and simplistic, and reminiscent of something you’d find on the PS2. As are the relatively bland, basic overworlds you find your team journeying through (which are highlighted even more so by the ultra-vibrant cutscenes). Additionally, the cutscenes in this, which are already taking a lackadaisical approach by merely showing you large pictures of the characters, rather than any attempt at animation, become even more frustrating as actions are spoken by characters as an alternative. For instance, you may have an image of Lady Chou Chou where she says, “I’m running away!” instead of even giving you an image of her in the action of running. Everything here is being told to you, instead of being shown, and while this art design and style is hardly uncommon in games of this nature, Mugen Souls Z feels especially lacking.
The music, while touched on earlier, is also on the middling side, as monotonous, irritating near-circus music plays over your cute characters’ interactions. Granted, as the game progresses, a bit more variety is given to the game’s music, and a number of the songs in battle evoke the right amount of tension, but by and large, this carnival of the damned-esque stuff is what you’re hearing, and none of the other audio will have you humming the tunes to yourself later.
Mugen Souls Z’s best feature is definitely its turn-based battle system. Everything is tight and refined here, and the over-the-top battle animations for your characters’ special attacks (often which, are occurring simultaneously) fill up the screen with insanity in a way that compliments the rest of the game beautifully. While the battle system is definitely one of Mugen Souls Z’s better features, it’s also not without its flaws. There are a lot of frame rate issues at times, and the game operates out of a definite “more is more” mentality where it seems like literally everything has been thrown into the battle system. There are many stages to the battle system that continually get unlocked as you move along. Whenever you’re presented with a new one, a page from some instruction manual is virtually thrown at the screen, teaching you what to do. This is a little frustrating, but what’s even more so is that you can’t re-access this information while in battle. You’re just expected to remember and distinguish the increasing amount of rules being thrown at you, like Ultimate Soul moves, Damage Carnivals, Fever Mode, Blast Offs, and Fetish Poses, each of these often with their own corresponding gauges and meters (SP, Power Points, Fever Stars, Mugen Points, G-up, and more…).
While there’s something to be said for a robust, complicated battle system, for them to have concentrated their efforts on just one (or even two), rather than fragmenting theirs so much, would likely have been a better idea. These additions are all enjoyable enough, but hardly any of them feel essential, and if a simplified battle system would mean a more refined battle system, it would have been the wiser direction to go in. That being said, the kitchen sink approach that Mugen Souls Z takes here at least provides uniquely weird concepts like the aforementioned Fetish Poses. The system behind this is that Syrma has the ability to peonify her enemies (which are in turn used to power up your G-Castle for the crazy Gundam-like space battles; another unnecessary complication to add here that would be unwelcome if it wasn’t so, so fun) that results in you powering up and gaining general health in the process. This is achieved by Syrma (which remember is a multi-century old God merely in the body of a teenage girl) 100% seducing her enemies, with there even being options like Hyper, Sadist, Ditzy, and Bipolar to choose from, as well as a wealth of poses that will hopefully give your enemy (sometimes which are inanimate objects) an erection of submission.
With this being a pretty inside baseball JRPG, this overindulgence in the hyper-sexualization of young girls, with there being a wealth of panty and breast shots throughout your gameplay experience, is not exactly uncommon, but it does push things pretty far at times. Whenever you absorb another of the eleven Gods’ powers, for example, they’re thrown into Syrma’s coffin where they’re greeted with a wealth of tentacles and ectoplasm while they’re abused and disrobed. Mind you, like Syrma, all of these Gods look like pre-teen and teenage girls who are having their clothes torn off. This begins to feel a little more out of place too when you consider the very cutesy, child-like tone and approach that the majority of the game is entrenched in, leaving you with a very confusing, unsettling tone.
In the end, Mugen Souls Z is a game that is trying very hard, and it wants you to like it. A lot. That doesn’t mean that it accomplishes everything it sets out to do, that everyone is going to be into its style, and that by trying to do less, it would almost certainly be doing more. But there’s something to be said for an insane game that knows what it is and just goes for it. Those that are into this, and going to be very into this, and the issues present here and going to become smaller and smaller as they try to get all the way up to Level 9999, and master their latest Fetish Pose.