Review: Mugen Souls Z (PlayStation 3)

Mugen Souls Z: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation 3 1,739 view 3 likes 6 comments
Reviewed by Tom White, posted May 28, 2014
NIS sent us another PS3 exclusive RPG, this one goes more to their usual line in things and is basically a turn based RPG version of a wacky fan service laden anime (imagine the joy). However NIS and co do make good battle systems, good game mechanics and good user interfaces to play it all with so it was not all bad.
May 28, 2014
  • Release Date (NA): May 23, 2014
  • Publisher: NIS America
  • Genres: Turn based RPG
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
NIS go back to their roots and give us a turn based RPG with a wacky anime theme.
Tom White

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GBAtemp reviews

Mugen Souls Z (PS3)

Downloadable version reviewed, 8692 megabytes.

Game homepage

Game length.
It is a NIS/Compile Heart RPG, I have some 30 hours in at this point with me not exactly taking the time to smell the roses and there is still more to play.
Content wise other than some fan service (and though it is not constant there is quite a bit) it is all pretty mild. Systems alone are complex enough that you probably do not want to be giving it to younger children though.

Summary and introduction


Having recently reviewed The Witch and the Hundred Knight I was naturally the candidate to review “Mugen Souls Z”. Part of that sales pitch saw the trailer played


Turn based combat in a wacky anime theme, said theme also being fan service heavy harem/we have a girl for every oddly specific anime fetish. "Not thrilled" would probably have been the polite way of putting it; I am not even a fan of animes I like having a wacky episode, indeed I would probably prefer a recap episode instead.

Spoiling the upcoming review though the combat engine worked pretty well, the game engine was also good and there was at least a sliver of self awareness in the script. I certainly can not suggest it for people with a serious aversion to wacky, fan service heavy harem/we have a girl for every oddly specific anime fetish themes, however if you can muster indifference or better then you can experience a fairly well polished engine along the way. Though it is not quite a case of “send in the sports guy to review a turn based strategy” I did occasionally feel a bit like an anthropologist viewing a culture somewhat different to the ones I am used to. Ultimately it did not manage to crack my façade, as the result of that would be similar to one of my favourite Addams Family scenes, though with more facial hair, that is probably for the best, I certainly did not find it a chore to play though.
I have not played the first title and going by a list of changes a lot of what has been changed with the combat engine and UI means I have no great desire to.

Give or take the after mission scenes (they seem to always end in the hot springs/the bath) the fan service stuff never really gets in the way, however the knowledge that enough people out there, enough to make it more than a statistical abberation, might well be rubbing themselves to it could distract. Similarly if someone walked in at the wrong time you may find yourself having to explain a few things, especially if you are at the wrong angle in the in game model and animation viewer. For what it is worth there is an option to have the characters stay with their stock models/textures.

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"It's going to be one of those sorts of games isn't it?"

The story

 

As mentioned in the introduction we are doing a wacky anime of the harem persuasion. I could spoil the story and it probably would not impact things, beyond having to possibly explain a joke, but I will not. The basic setup is the god character of the first game decides one universe is not enough and she needs another one. The crew is assembled and then dropped off to make it happen, hilarity and many misunderstandings ensue as they try to get the god of this new universe back into form.

The translation job seemed pretty hastily done, for instance there were things like when you get to 10% (rather than 100%) you trigger modes, some text cutoff and the materials list consisted of a lot of “this is an item” type text. Best of all I had accidentally left the Japanese speech on when starting the game and there was no English text to go with it. I later started another game in English and there was English text, beyond that though when still in Japanese it had the relevant to gameplay stuff in English and if I had been especially invested there was a backstory in text form.

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The story so far for those that wanted it.
 


That said the script itself was done pretty well, indeed I probably missed several references, and the item thing means you might only miss out on a few bad puns. Given this probably counts as a niche game then a few shortcuts like that could well have made the difference between having it and not.
The story delivery is the NIS staple of 2D animation (in this case most of it) with a very light bit of in world map stuff.

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There is a bit of animation on the 2D parts, though most of it amounts to things like jiggling underboob upon character entry, but all in all it does look slightly odd in a game made past 2010. This setup even leads to a certain amount of dissonance between story events where it seems there are supposed to be lots of normal people around but there being nothing but some monsters, often right outside the doors of houses, on the world map. This came to a head for me when I was supposedly viewing a concert (when I said every anime fetish I was not kidding; there is a demon pop idol) in a dark world.


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There appears to be a large beast just outside the front door. Also enough windmills to worry the Netherlands.

Voice over work is an odd mix actually. Firstly if your ears have not forgiven you for the video above then know that is not really much of a representation of the final product, on the other hand if you like the sort of thing in the video then know it is also not really a representation of the final product. Back on topic the English voice overs (what most of the review was played in) seemed to come in and out at odd times – quite literally within what was effectively the same story section at times. With The Witch and the Hundred Knight the story/mission setup was usually voiced and the extras might well not have been, however here it could almost be a failure to load or something. The Japanese stuff was serviceable for the few times I tested it.
The option to skip scenes, fast forward or simply go to the next line was almost always present and even bled over into most aspects of battle animations. Such a thing is always welcome in any game, whether I have donned a reviewer hat or I am just playing it. Being a harem anime type affair you tend to get a cast of characters thing going on, many will have a themed mission/level or something similar but it does lead to most characters being somewhat one note. They do occasionally get their own independent arcs though, much to the annoyance of one of the main characters, which means it probably counts as better writing than a lot of things. Being a god, demons and heroes affair means you tend to get quite a few deus ex machina type devices but nothing too distracting. Where The Witch and the Hundred Knight was fairly sharply written, almost to the point where it could have started as crib notes in a N64 era Rare game, this leans into its wacky anime roots. Such a setup is really not my thing but doing the “same something nice or do not say anything” bit I would probably describe it as jaunty, I certainly did not find my sensibilities offended.

Art wise it is quite varied, it almost reminds me of Bomberman 64 at points, though done with the benefits of a modern console, however that is more likely because that is my go to example of Japanese art influenced 3D art. It works pretty well and mostly avoids the generic space station or generic small field somewhere in medieval northern Europe themes that plague many games like this.

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One world

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and another

The game engine


NIS and Compile heart being responsible for this means the description would probably still be an overview if it was long enough to worry a phone book when printed out.
The short version is I burned out on turn based combat at some point in the PS2 era and came back as an active combat kind of person, however despite this being turn based it does not do badly at all and moves along at a good clip. Beyond that the other systems within the game are surprisingly well made, save perhaps for the experience rates but more or that a bit later.
It is another one where systems are drip fed for some dozen hours or more but this game does it right and gives you a nice taste of the high level combat very early on. That said the ship to ship combat stuff was not seen after the introduction until some 20 odd hours in.

The world stuff takes place on fairly small maps, had you only played a few minutes you might have been frustrated at being stopped by a knee high wall but you gain the ability to jump not long afterwards. Such a concept carries on and there is cause to revisit them when you get new abilities.

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You will not be able to get the purple box for a few hours, and a few more missions, yet.

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And this was probably one of the bigger levels.

 

Other than mission critical stuff, any fighting happens when you run into a monster (they can see you and chase you, some are even faster than you) on the field, or fail a capture challenge, which makes this somewhat similar to the likes of Grandia. No random battles is a good thing though you can get snuck up upon, or chased and caught in some cases, which means you do have to be a bit careful if you are running through an area. You can also initiate combat to try to get an extra turn if you time a button press on the map. Most of the world map "story" is based upon running to the next story event or capturing a "planet spot" in one of three ways. One of the ways is similiar to the captivate system covered later, it was quite possible to fail this (failing forces you into battle) and often led to something of a brute force solution being necessary, at times this gave it something of a Zelda: Minish Cap "kinstones" vibe and that is not necessarily a good thing.

Occasionally you get some light teleporter puzzle or maze aspects, likewise you do want to be keeping your eyes open for pickups but most is just running around. Worlds have two maps for each of them, usually you get a more open world version and then a corridor/teleporter for the secondary "ruins" one. Going on from that there is a light bit of model reuse for enemies, however they are quite varied and it is quite mixed up in the actual levels.

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If you do not have enough KOs it will provide you the chance to get some more... by attacking you.

 

Without the extras the combat system is basically identical to the “easier”/lower level modes of Eternal Sonata. Going by agility and some light amount of in battle position you take turns attacking enemies, most of which do not seem to have the best AI, based upon how far you can move and the range of your weapon and/or skills you might be using. In the battle screen are moveable crystals that have effects on the characters and the enemies meaning you do have to worry about position. Positioning, movement and the ability to skip animations (hold R2) means this almost looks and feels like active battle at times. The closest it ever gets to a quicktime event seems to be the timed strike on the world map thing. My main annoyance would have been the character quips (always the same and annoying after the third time) that certain characters make when their turn comes around, such a thing is relatively easily sorted though.
 

 

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"With our powers combined"


There are many things that build on top of that, most of which do add something to the game. The most important one is the captivate system, only the main character (called Syrma) can do it but here she strikes “fetish poses” which can capture, itemise or annoy enemies. Each enemy of a given type tends to have a certain fetish/“moe” for a type of personality (though related ones and actions can usually still get it done, it just takes more turns) which is tempered by their mood. Syrma can change her personality once a turn (or in the field) and this personality change also comes with a weapons preference, skill preference and perk change – you might start the battle with a scythe favouring personality but a change could then leave you with a gun wielder and suffering a tiny bit because of it. It is a free action (it costs you no skill points, you can do it once per turn and still do something afterwards) that works against multiple enemies, sometimes it can take down non boss enemies in a turn or two where basic attacks would take a lot longer. Depending upon how you succeed you can also get some light bonuses for capturing, I usually set mine to heal characters. Said capturing also has knockon effects for other aspects of the game, including the ship combat stuff, so you do want to do it.

The emotion systems will probably have psychology types reaching for the drink but it is probably better than last time this happened in a game.

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Keep it cool now, think how to play it.

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Strike a pose

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And you're mine

Though you can get weapons and armour in the field, from enemies and from events, most of it revolves around the shop on your home ship. If the battle system was nice then this is even nicer and would be something I am happy to see in any game like this. Killing/capturing monsters leaves you with items, selling these items to the vendor then allows you to build new items if you have sold enough to the vendor to make them. Said new items might also want one of the earlier weapons, this is fine and helps avoid a massive inventory but you might have upgraded one of the earlier weapons (at considerable cost) so you need to be aware of what you are doing. An annoying part of this was if you needed to sell them a weapon you do not have but could otherwise build you had to buy it, back out of the menu, sell it, go back into the buy part and then buy the new weapon. Give or take the text and hasty translation things mentioned earlier, NIS and co have repeatedly demonstrated they know good UI design, probably in the same manner that Bioware do good stories, but even going back to the SNES I have had auto/choose equip options in shops. However if such a thing is one of the things I get to pick up upon then it probably says more about it working well. Rather nicely there was the option to automatically sell all the item creation only items whenever you speak to a vendor.

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You know how in fighting games as armour tends towards underwear... wait a second.

On the UI stuff though.... RPG type games have often been called out on being designed for fans of spreadsheets, Compile Heart and NIS have long been seen to favour complex systems and all that combines here to certainly provide the spreadsheet criticism a boost-- you have soap and shampoo for buffs on a given run, you have clothes for light bonuses, you have weapons and armour on top of that, you have skills which you can swap around and ultimately increase the amount you can equip as well as upgrade. On top of this there are at least three different currencies in the game (money, PP and tickets) and a bunch of other bars and guages in the battles. Conventional money started off very tight but then you keep getting shampoo and soap (seriously, in game it allows a boost for a given run on a level) from your shipmates* and events which sells for quite a bit.

*as a tip do speak to them all when you are on your ship, they change every mission/chapter and often have new items for you.

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"If I make the right combo of soap, shampoo, clothes, weapons, skills, conditional skills, affinities and buff for agility I can gain enough points in the pool for a blast off attack to float an enemy and hit the ceiling items, hopefully I will also then have enough points to get into fever mode."

 

In the ship there are also challenges and a so called "mugen field", the former does what it says where the latter is more or a series of battles you can engage in. It does seem to be where most of the ship combat is hiding too.

Ship combat is less involved than the regular combat and draws from different things, though you can do upgrades in the same ways you buy weapons. As mentioned it was introduced at the start of the game but did not return for a long time. Ship combat itself has something of a rock, paper, scissors vibe though not as overt as something like fire emblem. My last proper experience with this sort of thing was probably Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast and this is not quite as involved as ship combat there. Otherwise I am looking at things like Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2 on the GBA and the mech sections it had, but this is more complex than that. It may step up later in the game, and the spaces in menus would certainly seem to indicate potential, but being promised ship to ship combat I was a bit annoyed at the lack of it in the early game.
 

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Some of the challenges, the unfinished medium C is very much a case of "thrown in at the deep end".

Ship combat is a bit different to normal combat, you have far fewer moves, your stats are determined by your "shampurus" that you get for winning normal fights, especially when you captivate your enemies, and your moves are gained by buying items from the shop (which is quite hard owing to the necessary items for building being hard to come by).

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We might be a bit better than them.
 

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As well as the ever increasing cast of main characters you also get “peons”. These are functionally like your main characters but do allow you to mix up the sorts of characters you go into battle with. The whole peon system gets pretty in depth as you can mix and match jobs and combine them to do various things. The game was pretty easy though so I did not have to experiment much with this and mainly stuck with the originals, indeed I did not often even swap them out in battle (thankfully a percentage of experience bleeds over). I was promised the game would get harder by an in game character around the 20 hour mark and it kind of did. Before that I had revived a character maybe twice, once when I was pushing it and another was in a surprisingly hard boss battle. Said 20 hour mark was also the first time I was presented with a choice beyond "bonus level or not", this is nothing unusual in this style of game though.

 

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Experience rates in Mugen field seem a tad broken.

 

There are several more mechanics which have not been mentioned yet, the most notable of those probably being the blast off mechanic which can get items, change crystal (which have area effects) locations, change enemy locations, do some decent damage to enemies and even break crystals.

 

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pool with planets enemies.

 


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More fun with the blast off system

Other mechanics are more able to be ignored, at least until some bosses, challenges or hard battles, but still quite good to play with. If I should return to the game in a year I may need a refresher on the various types of points, fortunately all the old tutorials are readily available to revisit.

Mugen field seemed to get my PS3 to hard lock quite a bit, indeed it made for a slightly amusing game within a game as I balanced getting more experience, a very rare and expensive escape item and the increasing probabliity of a crash. You can save in the rest floor levels though (go to the system option in the main menu). Other than that though the game ran smooth as butter.

 

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NIS and the devs they work with do make a good game UI

Conclusion.


In my first impressions I mentioned feeling like something of a sociologist or anthropologist; “and here we see a game designed for fans of silly anime, watch how it cloaks a serviceable game engine in a silly anime themed skin” (naturally in best David Attenborough voice). When reviewing things I am often less concerned with something being outright bad, though I will certainly note that, and find myself concerned more with wasted potential. With that it has to be said I probably would have enjoyed it far more had it not been a wacky, fan service laden harem anime type theme. If you are into that then it is a bit by the numbers and a bit tame compared to some of the modern anime in that world.
If developers of these sorts of games want to play it and borrow some of the combat system mechanics then I will certainly not criticise them for it.

Similarly the ship combat thing means you are technically faced with a tutorial that could last quite a few hours, however the early tastes of high level combat and the later stuff being more boss/bonus/alternative play style centric means it is not so apparent unless you go looking.

 

In the end something extra to add to the list of notable PS3 exclusives.

More pictures


One gallery of all the pictures captured by us.
NIS have their own gallery as well




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Your home ship, complete with hot springs, clothes shop, weapons shop, salon and a challenge field based upon repressed memories.

Some of the world maps.


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Screens from the normal in game battles.

 

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Verdict
Pros
+ No random battles, animations can be skipped in battle, a nice complex character system to sink your teeth into and some colourful levels to do it all in.
Cons
- Wacky almost harem anime, fan service and a story that played to most tropes of the former all with a cast of characters. For me this was a con, for you it might not be.
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- Mugen Field crashing.
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- Some slight polish issues.
6 Presentation
It is bright, colourful and does what it sets out to do. It is marred a bit by some hasty translation issues. It loses points for the hard locks that were seen in Mugen Field.
8 Gameplay
It is a turn based system that can work for people that do not like turn based systems. With Mugen field, and even before then, the level progression is not really balanced at all and tends towards easy. It is another 20 hour tutorial type game but it hides it well.
7 Lasting Appeal
Mugen field and the challenges make for some great extra modes, and they can be added to by going further into the challenges and said modes.
6
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
My favourite ever review score was given to one of the Megaman Battle Network games on the the GBA. It read along the lines of "8/10 but take one point off for every game that you have played before". Here I will turn that around and say the 6.0 is almost the engine/battle systems alone, had it been more of a theme I enjoy (it could even have kept much of the level artwork) it would have got a higher score. For this I say "add a point to the game score for how much you like late 90's wacky harem anime on a scale of 0 to 3".
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