Monday, May 12, 2014

Mugen Souls Z (PS3)

Spanning across multiple universes, and multiple world groupings NISA/Compile Heart aims to continue their wacky series about female gods, demon lords and their quests to rule the multiverse. Having won over the "Seven Shining Worlds" in the last battle against Belleria, the undisputed god of the universe 'Lady Chou-Chou' sets her eyes on an even bigger prize. This prize just so happens to be 12 other worlds ruled by demon lords. During her trek across space with her peons, Belleria, and her hero partner Ryuto, Lady Chou-Chou runs into a once slumbering goddess with a huge rack as well as a recently acknowledged female hero named 'Nao'. Through some interesting events, and a ton of dialogue the unusual group finds themselves in dire need of each other's help. The once powerful, and undisputed goddess Lady Chou-Chou is turned mini-sized compliments of a mishap with Syrma's (The Slumbering Ultimate God) special coffin. The coffin which is meant to recombine the Ultimate Gods into a single form unfortunately drains the power from Lady Chou-Chou, and forces her to side with those she initially wanted to conquer. Thus is the story so far ...

When it comes to gameplay offerings 'Mugen Souls Z' is not all that different from previous "HyperDimension Neptunia" games. Sure there are some differences in features, but for the most part everything included looks oddly similar. The only distinguishable differences you'll find are included in the combat scenarios, item/equipment offerings, plot material, soundtrack, and character/world design. In the worlds of 'Mugen Souls Z' you will be spending more time reading, and listening to character conversations than anything else though. The combat only picks up halfway into chapter two, and doesn't really demand that much from the player other than the necessity of being properly equipped for the fights at hand.

Like "HyperDimension Neptunia" you, and your party members will be traveling through the 3D worlds as you encounter the respawning baddies that inhabit the simple path oriented landscapes. Whether you gain the advantage in a fight by striking the onscreen enemy with a weapon (SQUARE = Encounter Advantage), or get caught off guard you will need to be prepared for a battle against multiple enemies. More often than not the battles in 'Mugen Souls Z' involve more than just one enemy, and will require a more tactical approach to defeat due to the gem system that was put into play. Having an upper hand with an "Encounter Advantage" does make a huge difference in the matter, but the strategic placement and attack aspects of the fights are still the main focus. The battlefields in which you'll actually encounter your enemies take in account a few different features as a result. One such feature involves your attack radius, or the circle surrounding your character. This "Attack Radius" will help you to better understand when an enemy is within range by highlighting said enemies with a red glow. You can only attack enemies within the attack radius, but that radius's reach can be extended depending upon the weapon that the character is wielding.

Secondly you'll find that battle in 'Mugen Souls Z' involves a colored gem system that pays homage to a lot of different NISA JRPGs. Each colored gem, which carries a radius of it's own has an effect specific to that gem. Some gems will have negative effects while others will give the characters boosts in their attacks, defenses, and skill applications. Moving your characters near a gem with an advantage is a must if you hope to come out of the fight victorious. As the game approaches chapter two you'll also learn of another feature that ties in with one of the characters. Syrma who is more, or less the game's secondary protagonist has a special coffin that enables her to do special things in the land based battles. Like Lady Chou-Chou who has a habit of turning people, and things into her loyal "Peons" Syrma too can do this in battle.

By assigning three different titled poses after a (SQUARE) button press Syrma can either turn the enemies within her attack radius into an item, or a peon. While item transformations can be more beneficial due to the possibility of gaining rare items you'll also reap rewards for gathering peons into your coffin (mainly EXP). Once the coffin is activated an enemy diagram, or set of enemy diagrams will pop-up on the screen showing a bar graph containing the ratio in which you could earn an item, turn the enemy into a peon, or enrage them to the point of full health recovery. If your coffin/pose attack is successful the coffin will appear, and collect the peons from the battlefield with a spirit hand. After that you can follow up with a standard attack, or use a special coffin based attack that will deal major damage. The special coffin attack can only be used once during a battle though, and is best reserved for the more powerful enemies. Aside from the coffin perks, or positives it should be kept in mind that there is a negative side to using the coffin ability as well. If you enrage an enemy they will become more aggressive/powerful, and will regain health. Thankfully the bar graph is in place to let you know which selectable poses will be most rewarding in the case of each enemy type. The really cool thing about Syrma's poses is that they are acted out onscreen along with some spoken dialogue from the big breasted babe herself.

Another aspect of gaming which comes into play only occasionally, and involves the use of Lady Chou-Chou's "G-Castle" affords the player a different type of battle scenario. You may be wondering what the heck a "G-Castle" is? A G-Castle basically refers to the goddess's, or demon lord's battleship. In the case of Lady Chou-Chou's G-Castle Ryuto made it so that it could morph into a giant robot. Battles between G-Castles basically require an attention to actions, and reactions. For each action an enemy G-Castle takes there's a specific reaction that can be applied. It's the same thing the other way around as well. Say for example an enemy's G-Castle chose a quick attack. It would be in your best interest to do a more powerful counterattack. If you see the enemy G-Castle putting up defenses then it would be wise to attack with a guard breaking attack. It's a matter of common sense for the most part, but if you ever need to reference the counters for each enemy action the game has an all encompassing information source both in the start/pause menu as well as on Lady Chou-Chou's G-Castle via a specific NPC character. It should also be noted that the G-Castle to have it's energy level dropped to "0" first loses.

When it comes to equipping your party you will find various shops located within Lady Chou-Chou's G-Castle in which you can spend earned in-game currency ("G"). These shops include the usual item, and equipment shops as well as a game specific shop geared towards clothing accessories. Like many other NISA JRPGs clothing matters. In the case of 'Mugen Souls Z' clothing accessories not only doll up your character's appearance, but it also boosts certain stats depending upon accessory. Being the influential items that they are clothing accessories come at a higher cost than everything else, but are definitely rewarding to have equipped. One thing you have to keep in mind is that even though some things are shop exclusive you can still earn the same types of things (clothing, weapons, armor, health ...) in battle, sometimes even rarer versions of those item types.

About the graphics, and sound ...

For all those kawaii loving anime fans out there you'll be in hog heaven with 'Mugen Souls Z'. The game has a virtual overload of artistically cute character representations within the dialogue heavy cutscenes, and each character image shown is synced with cuter than cute voice acting. Even with it's innocent artistic style, and child-like voice-overs though you'll still find NISA's/Compile Heart's mature brand of humor very much in place. Nakedness, and swearing are commonplace in this intergalactic adventure, even if it's only slightly so. One thing I personally had a beef with was the fact that I did not notice any Japanese voice options. I could have overlooked it, but I doubt it. If I didn't, and it doesn't contain such a feature then it's a damn shame, because I love me some good Japanese voice acting. As far as the soundtrack goes it's more whimsical, and pop in style than anything else. If you are into that sort of music then I think you'll enjoy that aspect of the game as well.

When it comes to actual gameplay, character sprites, and the overall look of the battle inclusive worlds you'll find that they are all vivid in color yet somewhat simple in design. Most of the enemies aren't all that impressive in person, and even the characters themselves suffer from some design simplicity. I think NISA/Compile Heart was going all out on the story aspect of the game, and a little less so on the battle/exploration portions of it. While some might complain about this I found the story to be enjoyable regardless. My thoughts on the actual gameplay however was that it wasn't really impressive in the grand scheme of things. I had wished the gameplay would be a huge departure from any other NISA release before it, but exceptional innovation wasn't really present at all other than in the story.

Now for the verdict ...

After playing 'Mugen Souls Z' I was honestly a bit disappointed. Sure, I loved the story, and all of the quirky characters, but it looked like more of the same to me. In fact I was blown back by the striking resemblance to the 'HyperDimension Neptunia" series (Having not played the first 'Mugen Souls' game). Not only did it look similar to that series in basic design, but the added fact that the often times simplistic exploration, and battles got little attention really did the game a huge disservice. The game does start to pick up slightly after the second chapter in regards to battles though, but the amount of dialogue, and cutscenes you read and watch before you get to that point is ridiculous. It's like this game's selling factor was the art, plot, soundtrack, and dialogue. The actual gameplay came in at dead last in the importance scale it seems.

How does one rate such a game? Well, if you love visual novel games you might just get a kick out of playing 'Mugen Souls Z'. It has awesome art as well as character designs which are slightly animated, and brought to life with 3D/2D expressions. The voice-overs are often times hilarious, and the plot itself is lighthearted, and enjoyable. On the other hand if you find that you play JRPGs more for the battle features, or interactive gameplay you might want to skip this one. As I mentioned earlier the game's battles are fought few, and far between. It takes a full two chapters to even begin enjoying what the the battle system has to offer. Even then the battles themselves seem less important than the game's story features. Not only that but the early battles are also brutally unforgiving due to the ill-prepared state of your characters. I ended up dying my first "Game Over" shortly into the second chapter, and I'm no stranger to the JRPG/RPG genre. Let that sink in a bit.

Whatever you decide to do in regards of a purchase be sure to weigh the pros, and cons first. This is the type of JRPG that will likely only appeal to a portion of JRPG/NISA enthusiasts, and as such you need to read my review carefully. I laid what this game entails out for you, and now it's up to you to decide whether, or not this is the type of JRPG that you could get into.

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