Title: Mugen Souls
Developer: Compile Heart
Release Date: April 27, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
My history with the niche JRPG genre began with the discovery of Hyperdimension Neptunia. However, at the time, a more recent release from the developer was a strange over-the-top title called Mugen Souls. With little expectations, I jumped in and had a pretty good time. It’s a deceptively difficult JRPG with the incentive to complete it being bathhouse CGs. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that content was removed from this Western release, which has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Well, over a decade later, and here we are, Mugen Souls is back and intact with the content from the Japanese release. However, this adventure has not aged well, even with this added content.
Mugen Souls is a product of its time. It has likely never been included in someone’s top ten and is rarely discussed outside of niche circles. Still, the characters and general premise pack some charm that sets up a few humorous moments. The story introduces Chou-Chou, who has the power to turn anything living into her Peon. Her current plan is to take over the world and make it kneel before her with the help of aids, Altis and Ryuto.
Interestingly, the story begins the moment they set out on this quest. Across each chapter, story scenes will fill you in on the character’s backstory. Further, some party members even have ulterior motives as they plot behind Chou-Chou’s back. Each area introduces several new characters to turn into your peons and add to your battle party. The story moments during these sections are incredibly straightforward, as they are recycled in each chapter. You get to a new place, meet a couple of new characters, and several story scenes later, you’re at the boss.
The more exciting moments of the story occur during the Mugen Field, where you’ll have to fight floors of enemies, with story scenes occurring throughout. This field is more or less locked behind the Charm Level of Chou-Chou’s alternate personalities that grow during battles, but you’ll likely have to play through New Game+ to increase them to their final state. These personalities also play a role in the general gameplay loop as you must turn each area into your Peon. However, this requires you to find a point of interest, read a clue about what they want, and then choose the correct form and responses to win them over. There are also points that require some money or a specific number of battles.
The Mugen Field also offers a high degree of customization. Players can increase equipment slots, level caps, and skills. You can also purchase new job classes. This is one of those systems that shouldn’t be ignored, but it doesn’t stand out much from its initial introduction. Still, I had the most fun here, and the added benefits of completing the trials make the game so much more insane.
Battles can be rather challenging and overstay their welcome within the first hour. This is primarily due to the lengthy attack animations that can’t be skipped unless you go into the system options and turn on Skip Animation, so it’s all or nothing. However, you’ll be fighting a lot, and the level grinding only becomes more prominent in the later hours of gameplay. Farming enemies even becomes an option depending on your current in-game goal, but the slow pacing doesn’t mesh well with modern game design.
Thankfully, for this Switch release, you can unlock all of the DLC from the beginning. At the main menu, you can trigger the DLC you want on and off, start a game, and it’ll be there. I liked this option because it gives players more control over how they approach gameplay. I will say that if you do turn on the DLC, you’ll be playing an exceptionally broken version of Mugen Souls. No battle will prove a threat, and you’ll get through most of the game without issue. This option is best for those who just want to play through the story…or experience the bathhouse mini-game, but we’ll get into that later.
The handicap of the DLC can also be dangerous. Throughout the story, you’ll have to face off against rival ships in a rock-paper-scissor-type encounter. However, no amount of DLC will help you here and winning requires good guessing. Sadly, if you die during these fights, it’s Game Over, and you’re sent back to the title screen. No, there’s no prompt to save before these fights either, and if you’re coasting through battle, no part of you will feel the need to manually save, but that’s what you gotta do.
I wish an auto-save feature was added for this release because the situation I detailed was why I lost around 6 hours of gameplay. Thankfully, cutscenes can be sped through, but you can’t skip them entirely. Further, getting the correct combination for the Peon conversation is always a chore, no matter how many times you do it. I guess I’ve become lazy in my years as a gamer because manually saving never used to be an issue. Regardless, give us a Retry option, at least.
Other systems include hiring Peons to join your party, which adds a few benefits to battle formations. I appreciated that Sub-Party members also gain experience during battles. Encounters themselves allow for some strategy if you take advantage of the giant crystal in the middle of the field. Here, you can use Chou-Chou to speak to the crystal’s kinks and intact Feaver Mode, allowing added benefits. Smaller crystals will provide additional effects, and monsters can even be converted by this means. Chou-Chou also has access to other abilities, but that’s where things get messy.
There’s just a lot going on during fights, and the slow-moving battles don’t make it easier. The best moments are when you initiate some high-damage skills accompanied by an over-the-top animation. However, you’ll likely not see this because you turned off the animations hours ago.
Anyway, I know why you’re all here, the touching mini-game. Yes, the mini-game has finally come west, along with more revealing CGs that remove that pesky steam that’s always getting in the way. So the mini-game…is okay, I guess. After you reach a certain point in the game, you can head to the bathhouse, choose a scrub, some shampoo, and a girl, and scrub away. The idea is to provide additional stat bonuses. But, I mean, I would have played it even without the bonuses. The CGs depict the girls in revealing poses, and that’s about it. You’re timed to several turns, but you’ll likely scrub away all the soap quickly. Its novelty wears off, but it’s here now, so we can all celebrate.
This Switch version of Mugen Souls comes with a few issues. Most notably, the loading screens are pretty lengthy. Further, sometimes, moving around the menu would become unresponsive, but I couldn’t figure out a reason why. Still, graphically, I think Mugen Souls is a pretty game. I’m sure the character illustrations have been upscaled, but I’ve always found this game charming. The field and enemy design are nothing impressive, though. Regardless, playing this now has me wanting a release of Mugen Souls Z on Switch, which is arguably a better game.
Mugen Souls is finally complete in the West and available on Switch for fans to experience the mysterious bathhouse mini-game. Sadly, the messy nature of gameplay doesn’t hold up compared to modern releases. The entire experience feels like a blend of ideas, creating a haphazard experience for the player. Still, considering the nature of the gameplay, this might be what the developers intended. However, the missing quality-of-life features such as auto-save, scene skip, and faster loading don’t do this forgettable JRPG any favors.
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