Mugen Souls Review (PS3)

High profile Japanese RPGs are few and far between these days. In a genre dominated by western Action-RPG's it can be hard for turn based strategy games to make the leap from obscure classic to mainstream success. Launching a new IP can be even more stressful, and with no direct link to a prior franchise, Mugen Souls is exactly that. It certainly has a unique style and design, but is this enough to leave an impact next to the big releases of 2012?

The style of Mugen Souls is one of its most noticeable features, the closest relative in graphical terms being the Disgaea series. Cutesy anime sprites make up the cut-scenes, with 3D models reserved for gameplay alone. It's a very old school way of doing things and makes for a jarring transition between gameplay and narrative. Going from extremely detailed static art to poorly rendered 3D models of the main characters breaks the illusion somewhat, especially if when progressing through the narrative.

Someone has been on those massive mushrooms...

The story of Mugen Souls takes a unique approach to the standard RPG formula. As Chou-Chou you aren’t trying to save the universe, instead attempting a dramatic takeover. She wants to rule each of the seven worlds, taking out the head demon and hero in each to control the universe.  

It’s a unique twist that has been seen before in the aforementioned Disgaea series, and works well here. The supporting cast take on the role of her conscience, specifically taking the angel/devil roles at key moments in the story. Though this never pushes past simple decisions, and you never have control over the outcome, it gives the tale a little more depth for those who stick around to enjoy it.

No matter the story though, the only reason you will keep playing an RPG is if the gameplay, and specifically combat system is good. It’s a mixed bag in Mugen Souls, with a unique but slightly broken approach to combat becoming a problem as you go further in. You encounter enemies on the overworld rather than random encounters, allowing for pre-emptive strikes if you get lucky. Most battles don’t focus on the regular turn-based 'you hit me, I hit you' format, instead giving you one main ability that will hopefully knock out all foes in one go.

Nice shoulder pads!

You quite literally taunt your enemies to death, and choosing which words will be most effective to certain enemy types becomes the main strategy. Picking the right combination is essential, as while you may increase your chances of eliminating all enemies at once, you'll also cause them to become more and more agitated. If the meter for this rises above a specific value the enemies increase in strength, making the battle more difficult.

Other than this, the rest of the combat is the standard turn-based strategy fare, with you spending your turn moving across an isometric grid and attacking enemies. It works pretty well, and once you master the unique additions to the formula, it can be a rewarding experience.

It's a shame the same can't be said for the rest of Mugen Souls. With ridiculously long loading times, poor graphical design, and repetitive gameplay it's hard to recommend to anyone but the biggest RPG devotees. There's not much here that you won't find in a more polished form elsewhere, which is disappointing given the potential throughout. Mugen Souls could have been so much more, but isn't the JRPG the PS3 needs right now.

Top Gaming Moment: Finally managing to master the unique abilities used in battle.