Due out on September 18th, Mugen Souls is the newest game by the Compile Heart and Idea Factory tandem and is being published by Nippon Ichi here in the states. When you hear the name, you probably think of one of three things. The first is the freeware fighting game engine M.U.G.E.N. which lets you do all sorts of crazy crap on your computer. The other is the “controversy” over Nippon Ichi removing the mini game where you grope and wash a pre-pubescent young lady in a bath, among other changes to the US release. Of course if you know about this second one and have a problem with the removal of something that would bring an AO rating and cries of “PEDOPHILES!” to ring out across the internet, you might have some issues to work out. The third and most common thing you’ll think is, “I have no idea what that game is.” Well, that’s about to change since you’re reading this. After finishing up the first three chapters of the game, it’s time to give you a head’s up on what may be one of the weirdest JRPGs to hit the states in some time.
Mugen Souls is ultimately the story of Chou-Chou, who desires to conquer the known universe. She has a chance at it too, since she has the power to not only shape-shift, but also turn anyone with even the slightest bit of attraction to her (romantic or platonic) into her willing loyal vassal, AKA a “peon.” Sadly, Chou-Chou isn’t very bright, and so goes about conquering the universe not only one world at a time, but one person on each world at a time. If it sounds like a lot of work… IT IS. You’re going to have to do a lot of grinding to turn enemies into peons and also take control of the very continents themselves. Of course, it’s not just a matter of going up to an enemy and saying hi. You’re going to have to engage them in combat and turn them over to your side in the heat of battle.
Since we’ve brought up combat, let’s look at how the whole thing works. There are three continents on each world. You’ll run around the whole map of the continent picking up items, charming the very land itself, getting story bits and engaging in combat. On the map, the game plays like most JRPGS, where you will be exploring. Enemies will be on the screen rather than in random battles. If you hit them with your weapon, you’ll get an “Encounter Battle” which lets your team go first. If they hit you first while on the map, it’s a “Surprise Attack” and they are up first. The battles themselves are an odd mix of turn-based combat, the gridless movement system from SRPGS like Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom, and the recruiting enemies aspect from La Pucelle and various Shin Megami Tensei titles. When it’s a characters turn to attack, they have a choice between a regular attack, a “link” attack which automatically replaces a regular attack if it is possible, a skill (magic), defending, retreating and so on. Chou-Chou has a few other options, such as changing her form and the Moe Kill. The Moe Kill is how Chou-Chou recruits new peons. Whether or not she is successful is based on the choices she makes in “dialogue,” the form she is in, and the mood/personality of the enemy creature. If successful, the enemy will turn into an item or Shampuru (Peon) for you to collect. If you mess up, the enemy will go into a frenzy and not only do extra damage, but its hit points will increase as well. It’s actually quite complicated, but after a few battles, you’ll find it’s also quite instinctive as well.
The other big aspect of combat is the “Blast Off” effect, where you can use skills to send enemies hurtling into walls, each other, your own allies and up into the air for extra damage. Unfortunately, the screen views for Blast Off mode are pretty terrible and make it hard to tell if you are getting any trajectory on your attack. I found I rarely used this option due to that, and just concentrated on making new peons or high combos. It’s also worth noting that your characters don’t heal up their HP or SP after battle, or when you level up, or even after finishing a map. You have to use items or spells in order to replenish anything. Thankfully they’re very easy to come by, but this will either be a refreshing bit of realism or an annoying extra hindrance, depending on the gamer.
The last form of combat comes down to a “G-Castle Battle,” which pits your inter-dimensional spaceship of doom against someone else’s. This is more akin to older style JRPGS where you’re on one side of the screen, the enemy is on the other, and you are given a “tell” as to what the opponent will do with their attack, so you want to choose the best counter for their choice. You don’t see this very often anymore and it’s an interesting change of pace.
Honestly, what I’ve just described is the vast majority of the game. You have a home base where you can pay to create new player characters or buy weapons and armour, but most of your time is going to be spent running around on various maps grinding away to raise your characters’ levels, Chou-Chou’s charm level, and to increase the number of peons under your control. When there is story, it’s a bit sparse compared to other Compile Heart/Idea Factory releases, but like most releases by those companies, both the plot and characters are played for laughs. So Mugen Souls is definitely for the more dungeon crawl/combat-oriented gamer than it is for ones looks for a long detailed story. You’ll get a chuckle out of things here and there, but definitely expect to be doing a lot of micromanaging of Chou-Chou in combat so you can maximize the items and peons you get.
Mugen Souls comes out September 18th and can be purchased online or in your local brick and mortar store. If you preorder the standard edition directly from Nippon Ichi’s website, you’ll get a soundtrack CD as a special bonus. Nippon Ichi also has two special versions of the game you can only buy directly from them. The first is the Limited Edition that comes with a special slipcase, art book and Shampuru bath set. The other is the Limited Edition + Figures set which contains everything in the previous version and three figurines that are the same size and style as those that came with Disgaea 4. Also remember to check back here in a few weeks, when I’ll have a full review of the game. This has only been a hands-on preview of my first impression, and I know I’ll have lots more to say once I’ve progressed further into the game and discovered even more weirdness.