Mugen Souls Z - Switch Review

Mugen Souls Z by developer Compile Heart and publisher EastAsiaSoftNintendo Switch review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes.
Heroes and Demon Lords and Gods, Oh My. A sequel to Mugen Souls, Mugen Souls Z follows after its predecessor as an RPG that doesn't take itself seriously. A bit of a wacky travel through an adventure where "because it happened" is an acceptable answer with a cast of some pretty weird characters, Mugen Souls Z is certainly an interesting title. Released back on PS3 2013, we are now seeing a port to the Switch, complete with DLC as well as the previously removed minigame.

Picking up after the ending of Mugen Souls, Chou-Chou, the Undisputed God, has conquered the worlds in her corner of the universe and sets off in search of more worlds to turn into her peons. To the great dismay of most of her peons that haven't become weird rabbit plushies challed Shampurus, she decides to make a game of conquering the new worlds she discovers by dropping people off on each planet and seeing who can conquer their world fastest. Unfortunately for Chou-Chou, she encounters a recently awakened Ultimate God, who accidentally sucks out her power through a weird coffin and shrinks her down to palm-top size. Needless to say, Chou-Chou isn't pleased, so she demands that Syrma, the Ultimate God who coffined her, has to use the coffin on the other eleven Ultimate gods in order to get Chou-Chou's power to leak back out of the coffin.

This plot device is almost immediately forgotten as Chou-Chou starts riding on Syrma's head and getting her to conquer the worlds in her name. Thankfully enough, the other group members you slowly collect tend to have at least a minor sense reasonability as they try and keep things at least vaguely on track. As a weird added bonus, Syrma now has access to some of Chou-Chou's powers through the coffin as an intermediary, allowing her to turn enemies, allies, and even entire planets into her peons. Along with this comes Chou-Chou's form change! Well, sort of, since Syrma can only really change outfits. Mugen Souls Z follows along as the cast slowly increases as worlds are conquered and characters are met and reunited with. No worries if you haven't played the first game as well, as there is a summary available in G-Castle, your spaceship and sort of hub area.

Mugen Souls Z follows a game loop of visiting a planet, doing some storyline encounters, turning the planet into your peon, moving to the next location on the planet, doing the same thing, then moving onto the next planet. There are other things you can also do, such as a battle gauntlet or...scrubbing minigame...but the main story will go through the aforementioned loops. Once setting down on a planet you will be able to explore in a 3D manner. Usually you will only be able to explore a certain amount of the area before requiring either a special ability unlocked through plot progression or you need to enhance an ability you have. Turning the planet into a peon, as well as getting ability upgrades on a planet, are done through interacting with certain points on the map and either turning it into a peon, giving it an item(s), or having fought a set number of monsters.

Now, while you are planet bound, you will see a bunch of creatures roaming around. Either slapping one of these enemies, or touching one, will initiate a sort of tactical-ish turn-based battle system. There's going to be a lot of fighting, so it's a good thing the combat mechanics have some interesting aspects to them. Combat is, at it's basest form, a turn-based system, where higher agility characters have earlier turns. Unlike the usual standard though, combat is done in an arena where all the units are thrown down where you can move freely (unless under a status effect) within a certain radius. You can select options such as guard, attack, item, and skills, but the main character Syrma has a few extra options available to her.

Before that though, I need to comment on an almost ever present aspect of any battle you get into: crystals. There are usually a number of small crystals litering the field, and a large crystal in the back. Both crystals carry attached effects that will impact characters in a set radius around them, and have a very wide array of potential effects, such as reversing damage, increasing or decreasing stats, or causing instant death to anyone hit by an attack from an enemy sitting in their area. These crystals are important and should be checked out when starting a fight. Crystals can be destroyed, either by knocking enemies around and into them, or through one of Syrma's specific abilities. Enemies can be knocked around the battlefield through the use of certain skills, and will then be sent careening around doing damage to anything they hit.

Now, what does Syrma have in store? Well, after siphoning out Chou-Chou's power, she can do what Chou-Chou could do in the previous game, as well as the added bonus of coffin effects. Syrma's main abilities revolve around turning her enemies into peons. This is done through an interesting segment where you have to select three different poses, which will increase the values on three different gauges. The gauges represent: turning an enemy into a peon, turning an enemy into an item, or making them go berserk and get stronger. Each enemy has a "trait" they prefer, such as hyper, sadist, or graceful, and Syrma can change to accomodate these aspects, although not quite as well as Chou-Chou can. Each enemy also has an emotional state that affects what the poses will do for their gauges. If a gauge gets filled in, then that is the result you get, with priority given to the top-most gauge in the column if multiple gets filled in at once. I.e. an item beats out rage, and peon beats out item and rage. When successfully turning enemies into items or peons, Syrma will also activate a buff from her coffin.

Now, peons are a very important resource in Mugen Souls Z, because a lot revolves around them. First of all, each form has a charm level, which affects how much the gauges will increase in your favour when trying to turn an enemy, or a planet spot, into your peon. The more peons you have, your charm level will start to go up, and the easier it will be to turn others into your peons. This isn't what all peons are used for either. Peon are a representation of Chou-Chou's, and by extent Syrma's, power. These peons will allow you an oversoul attack when certain battle conditions are filled. Namely having uses left and enough peon points, and can be used to return some of Chou-Chou's power to deliver a powerful blow. Additionally, your space craft, the G-Castle, runs on peon power. And guess what? You can get in spaceship fights. The more peons you have, the stronger your ship is. By the way, no worries if you are unable to turn enemies into peons at first, as you are still awarded some at the end of battle, just not nearly as much as turning enemies into peons gives.

So, the G-Castle battles are...interesting, I suppose? They're sort of a nice way to break up the tedium of standard combat, but can be a little frustrating if you're either underprepared because you haven't been converting many enemies into peons, or if you haven't gotten a hang of how they work. G-castle fights are largely rock-paper-scissors fights where you have to select an option based on what either the enemy pilot, or your own pilot, is saying about the enemy craft. This is...rather difficult most of the time, as the same phrases can associate to different options, and some options are just generally more useful than others. As an example, normal and fast-attacks can be reflected by a reflection move or absorbed as health with an absorption move, whereas a pierce attack will penetrate the barriers used for the reflect and absorption skills. These fights can be rendered trivial with enough peons though, if you really are having problems. Turning planets into your peons and maxing out the planet peon gauge both tend to give good returns for this.

There are also a number of other interesting mechanics to explore when in the G-Castle hub area as well, such as the bathing facility, which can provide one-time stat boosts when you leave the ship, a clothing boutique where you can acquire garments that will increase your stat increases on level, an equipment shop where you can craft, sell, and enhance or upgrade gear, a peon creation centre, as well as the mugen shop and mugen world. Those last two are the more unique options, so let's talk about those. The peon creation centre is where you can create your own characters for battle, as well as enhance other characters by using their levels to power up existing units. You can also change job classes for created units. 

The mugen shop and mugen world work on a point system, where you need to bet a certain number of points as your "entry fee" into the world. This entry fee determines the difficulty of the enemies you will encounter, but also provides a bonus to points earned the higher the bet (difficulty). Once you enter, you will fight through multiple battles until you come to a rest stop, where you can decide whether to continue or leave. As you complete battles you will be rewarded with money, mugen points, as well as experience. Every rest floor you hit will have a mugen shop where you can exchange points for various rewards, such as increasing the level cap on characters, adding more equipment slots, increasing the number of reserve members, or adding proficiencies and skills to characters. 

While this can be largely ignored during a standard playthrough, it is both an interesting way to test yourself, as well as the only way to strengthen characters once they start hitting certain limits. Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew though, as a loss in here means a game over. Retire if you have to, but be prepared. As an added bonus difficulty, you can assign restrictions which will give a modifier to earned rewards while in the mugen world. This is how you're going to be earning the big levels and money and points by the way, provided you can survive.

Mugen Souls Z is a game that takes an occasionally serious concept and presents it in a way that is in no way taking itself very seriously, with lots of gags and retorts from characters, protagonists who aren't super concerned about staying on track, and an absolutely wild range of weird characters to meet. This is all presented in a cutesy chibi style with colourful locales and Live 2D character cut-ins during cutscenes. Mugen Souls Z is certainly a pretty niche title, and add into that the fact there are still some issues, such as empty textboxes that should have text in them, how finicky some the peonification can be sometimes, as well as the fact that the game gets rather repetitive rather quickly, and Mugen Souls Z definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea. Did I enjoy playing it? Oh yeah, definitely, but I wouldn't really label it "great" or anything. It also doesn't help that I enjoyed the first game more in terms of Chou-Chou vs Syrma as the main character. It certaintly isn't a bad title, but it also doesn't stand out as much as it could.

While Mugen Souls Z certainly has a plethora of interesting mechanics and functions, both in combat and outside of it, it feels bogged down by a plotline that at times should take itself just a bit more seriously. It doesn't really have that "oomph" you'd expect/hope for. A grindy experience if you don't balance your gameplay properly, as well as localization issues with empty textboxes. The blast off mechanic to smack your enemies around, converting foes to peons to fuel ship battles and an ultimate attack, as well as some of the customization you can do with both character creation as well as appearance is really neat and can keep you entertained, but it really isn't an experience everyone would necessarily enjoy. If you are familiar with Compile Heart or grinding heavy NIS titles and like the anime stylized aesthetic JRPGs, Mugen Souls Z, and it's predecessor, may be items to keep an eye out for!

Score: 7 / 10