"So far, Mugen Souls Z has left a very positive impression on me. "
I remember being pleasantly surprised upon seeing the first Mugen Souls game during E3 2012. I enjoyed its colorful, over-the-top campiness, fantastic soundtrack, and delightfully devious diva protagonist, Chou-Chou. Unfortunately, when I played the retail version of the game months later, I was overwhelmed by the myriad, and often conflicting, play mechanics crammed into the game and the "one and done" tutorials. I was also not too fond of many core mechanics being driven by sheer dumb luck and the steeply unforgiving difficulty spikes.
Cut now to Mugen Souls Z, a game that purports to have learned from its predecessor's mistakes and offer a smoother and more cohesive gameplay experience. After having spent around 10 hours with Mugen Souls Z and completed 4 chapters, I can easily say "mission accomplished." Thus far, Mugen Souls Z is fluid, engaging, and quite fun to play.
Mugen Souls Z is a direct sequel to the first Mugen Souls game. Chou-Chou, undisputed god of the universe, is not satisfied with the subjugation of the seven worlds in her solar system, and now has her sights set on a 12 world solar system elsewhere in the universe. Similar to Chou-Chou's solar system, the 12 worlds here used to be one cohesive whole ruled by one ultimate god, but are now broken into 12 worlds, each with its own ultimate god.
Determined to make these worlds and their inhabitants her peons, Chou-Chou chances upon a ditzy ultimate god named Syrma and a rookie hero named Nao. Syrma has been asleep in her funky looking coffin for a really long time, and Nao is the hero who discovered the coffin and opened it. Syrma seems to have a symbiotic attachment to her coffin, and she drags it everywhere she goes. Chou-Chou takes a shine to this coffin and tries to swipe it, but the coffin has other plans. Designed to absorb the powers of the 12 ultimate gods and adhere them to one vessel (that being Syrma), the coffin malfunctions when it tries to absorb "undisputed god" Chou-Chou, rendering Chou-Chou a powerless, "super deformed" version of herself. Syrma now has to act as the vessel for Chou-Chou's powers as she and Nao help the undisputed god get her body and powers back in exchange for access to the sweet bath house in her spaceship, G-Castle.
Mugen Souls Z offers the same goofball anime schlock as its predecessor through amusing dialogue, lengthy cutscenes, comedic characters, and, every so often, "giggle-giggle-snort-snort" innuendo and fanservice. The storyline will definitely be more meaningful to those who've played the first game, but neophytes can probably still get into it, thanks to pertinent plot points from the first game being present in exposition. In addition, new characters like Nao echo the "what in the world is going on here?" that any neophyte to the Mugen Souls series would probably say. That being said, I definitely think this game is geared more toward existing fans than those new to the series.
The biggest improvements are clearly in the gameplay. The mechanics are largely the same as in the prior game, but there are several tweaks that create a more fluid playing experience. A common complaint about the first Mugen Souls game was that in-game tutorials only happened once, and there was no way to access them later on. In Mugen Souls Z, the characters' home base (G-Castle) has a Notice Board that catalogs all the previously seen tutorials, provides a summary of the first game, and other useful sundry information.
Another common complaint was that the first game's "moe-kill" system, wherein Chou-Chou used different kinds of sex appeal to make enemies her peons, was too random and driven purely by luck. In Mugen Souls Z, Syrma uses the "captivate" system, wherein she strikes different poses to make enemies her peons. Before each pose is cast, a meter predicting enemy response comes up, making pose selection and "peon-ing" less of a crapshoot. Although Syrma does use some of Chou-Chou's powers in her own particular idiom, she is not a Chou-Chou clone and has some moves and powers unique to her. One of these is called "Coffin Effects." After Syrma has successfully made an enemy into a peon, her coffin can do one of 8 tasks such as heal the party, do massive damage akin to Chou-Chou's old "peon ball," enhance attacks, or create defensive shields.
Another nice change is that the battlefield effect crystals are now color coded. In Mugen Souls, "peon-ing" crystals on the battlefield would yield different field effects, such as increased hit rate and such, but you had to manually examine them to find out what their effects were. In Mugen Souls Z, the crystals come in various colors signifying whether they have restorative effects, stat boosting effects, or stat reducing effects. The streamlined battles and the soft (thus far at least) difficulty curve make progress in Mugen Souls Z smoother, faster, and a lot
more rewarding. In addition, because the game has so many playable characters, standby characters who aren't taken into battle still gain EXP.
The graphics retain the same colorful campy style as the first Mugen Souls game, but everything runs at a smoother frame rate. Mugen Souls Z is akin to looking at Mugen Souls through freshly cleaned eyeglasses. My only complaint is that the menu interface is largely unchanged, which means that sometimes the fonts are too small and difficult to read.
Mugen Souls' strongest point was easily its killer soundtrack, and Mugen Souls Z has done the impossible and made a grade-A soundtrack even better. The sound quality of the music is crisper and cleaner, and the compositions themselves have greater complexity while still retaining their unabashed sense of fun. The voice acting, in both English and Japanese, is stellar. Every actor sounds like they had a lot of fun playing these roles. Yes, the acting can be hammy or overacted at times, but that's exactly what Mugen Souls calls for.
So far, Mugen Souls Z has left a very positive impression on me. It seems that Compile Heart has really learned from their mistakes and made a good RPG. If the first game is any indication, this one will probably be at least 45-50 hours long, and hopefully my initial positive impressions will remain through its course. As long as no new gimmicks or suddenly steep difficulty spikes enter the picture, I think Compile Heart may be sitting with a winner.