Mugen Souls Review (PS3)
Do you know what they call a quarter pounder in France? Of course you do, you clever wee film buffs you. But do you know what “mon chou” means? It’s a French form of endearment used the same way we would use “My dear”. Its direct translation is “my cabbage”. Not very loving is it? In Afrikaans the word for box can also be used as a vulgar term for lady parts that rhyme with hunt. This could be dangerous if you sent a text to a mate saying you spend the day with his mum put things in her box. The point is, sometimes things don’t translate well. In some cases they don’t transfer over at all and could be construed as rude or vulgar. And sometimes people just go over the frigging score and couldn’t care less. All of the above seems to apply to Mugen Souls.
Mugen Souls is a Japanese RPG from Compile Heart, the developers behind the Record of Agarest war and Hyperdimension Neptunia series; and published by NIS America. The game was originally released in the UK in September last year but has recently been released through PSN. For one reason or another, the game slipped through our radar last year and I kind of wished it had again. The game contains a myriad of ideas, gameplay mechanics and stories – some good, some bad and some…. well, we shall cross that bridge when we get to it.
Mugen Soul’s premise is an interesting one. In a twist from the usual stop the bad guy from taking over the world scenario, you play the role of Chou Chou, a prepubescent Goddess who has decided to dominate the universe one world at a time. This is all presented to you in the Moe style of Manga – that’s the super cute little girls and the big smiley animals all over the show. So far so good, right?
This ideal little game takes a turn for the perverse straight from the second cut scene. Chou Chou has decided, in true anime style, to tell everyone of her world domination plan through the performance of a Jpop song. Throughout this cut scene are a couple of the obligatory panty-shots as the camera pans around the two little girls doing their song and dance number, accompanied by loads of wee rabbit-like creatures called Shamparus. The first couple of panty-shots are tolerable when you think that’s all there will be. The next minute the girls are thrusting their boobs and bottoms at the screen so that you are getting extreme close ups with not much left to the imagination. Then, out of nowhere, some of the wee Shamparus start groping the girls – Chou Chou gets groped on the bum, whilst Altis gets her chest pawed at.
After the Shamparus get kicked in the nether regions and flies off screen, there are a few more panty shots before the musical number is complete. My first thought was “What the hell could they possibly be singing about that would warrant a dance routine like that?” My second thought was that this was all a bit much considering our protagonists are children. The next scene is a bath scene involving the two girls getting all soapy in a bath and inviting a Peeping Tom to join them. This scene is creepy, disturbing and left me feeling like a dirty old man. The issue here is not the sexualisation of characters. We are quite used to this these days with the scantily dressed female characters of fighting games (in fact there has been many a time where I have been seen running through the halls of the CalmDownTom offices screaming “It’s the Boobie Lady!” after a marathon session of BlazBlue) and their tongue in cheek quips. What we’re are not used to is the sexualisation of characters as young as this. The language that the characters use is also disturbing. It seems overly sexual in tone. Chou Chou tells Altis to “rip off your clothes and get in here”.
I’m not condoning the bath scene in any way, but if the dialogue was gentler, it may have defused the sexuality of it a little. The ferocity of the dialogue could be down to the translation issues I hinted to in the introduction or it could be as nasty as this in its native Japanese. I’m really hoping it’s the former. The creepiness of the game continues as you discover how Chou Chou plans to take over the world. She is going to make everyone her peon by subjugating them. She will do this by discovering what they like and appealing to them – essentially this little girl is going to seduce the world. To help her in this task Chou Chou has the ability to transform into different guises. Among these are a sadist, a masochist and a bipolar temptress. This bring the creepiness to a whole new level, and again left me very uncomfortable. There are more examples of this throughout the game but I think you get the picture.
Mugen Souls also aspires to be a parody of various videogame tropes and the RPG genre in general. It has mixed results in achieving this. The game identifies these tropes and makes fun of them rather well in some cases but then destroys the satire by proceeding to do exactly what it is making fun of. So the well-crafted joke of one the NPC’s simply disappearing and reappearing because of the save points or cut scene is ruined when your party does the exact same thing. The humour used in the satire tends to be juvenile and not very funny. “Are you going to peon me?” asks one of the characters excitedly as you attempt to subjugate them. It is at that point where you start to think that the reason the word peon was chosen over subjugate was simply for the one joke that’s not really a joke. The game also seems obsessed with the characters panties and insists on using this as humour. At one point you come across a NPC going into a house and randomly breaking vases and going through drawers. This is rather clever as the game is making fun of the way most RPGs handle loot. It immediately ruins the joke by saying that the items the NPC was looting was girl’s panties. Another trope Mugen Souls tries to have a go at it is the female “Armour” of underwear or skimpy clothing. One of your characters is equipped with armour listed as “Old Panties”. Instead of a quip about what kind of attack could a pair of knickers hope to repel, the game lists the description of the Old Panties as “Panties whose colour has slowly turned into a mouldy yellow”. Eeww… just eeww!
The Gameplay of Mugen Souls is the staple turn based combat of JRPGs. It does try to spice this up by adding various gameplay mechanics and combat choices. Unfortunately this does not come across well. This is not because the gameplay is lazy or rushed or unfinished. If anything, the fault is that game is too ambitious in its innovation. There is just too much going on. By the time you have kept an eye on all the gauges and gizmos you have for combat, you will have forgotten how to use them. That is if you learned how they work in the first place. The tutorials for most of the gameplay mechanics seem to fly by and bombard you with information. Instead of taking you step by step through the process, the tutorials present the lesson using screenshots and oodles of text. They tend to leave you more confused about the element they are trying to teach you about before you started. Normally with gameplay mechanics as complicated and busy as these, you can go back to the tutorials should you need to. This is not the case in Mugen Souls. I was not able to access past tutorials from any of the menus so I ended up mashing buttons through combat sections. This tends to work until you get to boss battles where the game expects you to know what you are doing. Then it’s a quick trip to the internet to see if you can get a better grip on the controls or mechanics such as the Moe kill system. This is the “creepy change your appearance to make the enemy you peon” system. There is a little bit of help on the internet to help you be successful in this regard but it’s not very encouraging that you need to turn to outside help to learn how to play the game.
Graphically, Mugen Souls is a decent enough game. The rendered scenes look pretty enough despite their questionable content. The game engine itself has some frame rate issues when it starts to get a bit busy with some of the grandiose battle sequences but overall it sits on par with other games of its ilk.
Mugen Souls freaked me out with its perverse universe. I felt dirty for playing it and at some points guilty for trying to justify its existence by using the translation excuse. In summary, Mugen Souls is a mixed up game that has some very innovative gameplay ideas and ambitious mechanics but feels ultimately let down by some questionable content choices and juvenile toilet humour. I could not in good conscience recommend this game to anyone, but will say that there are some promising ideas in there somewhere.
2 freaked out reviewers out of 5