When the original Mugen Souls released on the PlayStation 3 a couple of years ago, we were not impressed. While the story was modestly entertaining, and the Moe battle system was a novel if under-utilized mechanic, it seemed that developer Compile Heart took any and all battle systems they could find and presented it as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Not the good kind, either, but the HomeTown Buffet type. Mugen Souls Z is here in an attempt to right the wrongs of the last entry, but has enough been done to do so?
In all honesty, not really. If you didn’t like the original, then you will not like Z. There’s the same overwhelming tutorial (which the game makes fun of itself for!), a disconnected castle/mecha battling system, and lengthy “cutscenes” which consist of occasionally-spoken dialog with accompanying text, and some slight animation. Again, if you didn’t like the original, nothing here will convince you otherwise.
The story begins immediately after the events of the original, with Lady Chou-Chou, the “Undisputed God of the Universe” as she calls herself (often accompanied by narcissistic adjectives), having just finished taking over her galaxy. She soon learns of another galaxy with even more planets, and sets off to conquer those lands as well, with plans to convert more creatures into her Peons. The whole thing is a light-hearted affair, with line after line of joke or reference to video game/anime culture that is hit-or-miss depending on your knowledge of those subjects.
There is some improvement to be found amidst the sameness that is Mugen Souls Z. For starters, gone is the nagging lag that existed when you performed any action in a battle. Fighting is now as fast or as slow as you take each turn, with some battles lasting only a few scant seconds. Those few fleeting seconds quickly add up to a palpable amount of time saved, since you find yourself battling very frequently.
The basics of fighting remain the same – you can move around within a designated area to get into the proper position, ideally behind the enemy, and attack with each of your characters. That is, if you want to fight. Using main protagonist Sylma, you can attempt to “Captivate” your enemies by appealing to whatever fetish they have for the fairer sex (apparently all your enemies can be wooed by a female, no matter their gender or sexual orientation) by choosing the proper Moe, or style, such as Masochist, Terse, Graceful, and more. Succeed, and you can turn your enemy into one of three things: a Peon, to do your bidding and power up your home base known as “G Castle,” an item (which could potentially be rare), or an enraged form of themselves, which won’t do you any favors!
The maps that you roam around in are unimpressive, both in terms of scale and graphical prowess. Perhaps this is why load times between levels are so short – there are hardly any assets to actually load in! While there may be more enemy types this time around, the animations are not much better than before. Each character also only has a small number of phrases that they can say when the battle starts or ends, and when they attack. Voice acting within cutscenes is well-done, when the scenes do have voices in them.
NIS America did an admirable job bringing this very Japanese RPG to the West. It seems that, barring some minor changes such as editing out a rather unsettling minigame that could have upset a minority of gamers if left in, everything else in Mugen Souls Z remains intact. This is a double-edged sword, however, as this means that the game’s flaws are still there, glaring as ever. Mugen Souls Z feels like more of its predecessor, with the same plodding story pace, whiny, forgettable cast, and fill-in-the-action cutscenes. On the flipside, between all the different grinding that must be completed in order to progress, a never-ending supply of enemies on each planet’s Overworld, and at least a dozen boss characters, there is a lot of content here for less cost than your typical full-length game. If you’re a fan of Compile Heart’s quirky games, then go ahead and pick this up. If not, perhaps try it as a rental first, cautiously.