Review: Mugen Souls is a game without an audience
If you don't know what "moe" means, you can probably stop reading this review right now.
There was once a time when I wished more Japanese games would make their way stateside, looking at screenshots of seemingly awesome RPGs and wondering why they'd been passed over for localization. These days, I'm starting to think more of them could've stayed put. Such is the case with Mugen Souls, a profoundly confusing title from Compile Heart, a game built for such a niche audience I can only wonder why NIS America bothered to localize it all.
Mugen Souls follows the story of the bratty demon goddess Chou-Chou and her quest to bend everything in the universe to her evil will. Thankfully, Chou-Chou has the ability to change into seven different (and often underage) forms, allowing her to uniquely charm everything from legendary heroes to lamp posts. This is accomplished through use of Chou-Chou's "Moe Attack," which bombards nearby enemies with various displays of affection. By changing her form to match the enemy's preference in women, and choosing actions which match their mood (smiling at a depressed foe for instance), baddies will either turn into items or join the ranks of Chou-Chou's peon army. Say the wrong things however, and enemies will become supercharged, making for a much more difficult fight.
Though this monster collection setup has been done well before (see: Shin Megami Tensei), here it feels rather awkward. Enemies moods change quickly, and it's very hard to predict how a depressed butterfly monster with an interest in hyperactive girls will react to being smacked, then offered a love confession. Not to mention that Chou-Chou is the only character able to use this ability, which leads to many turns of your other characters defending while you wait for the chance to chat up the remaining monster again.
It's sad that this core mechanic is so sloppy, as the battle system is otherwise kind of interesting. By using "blast off" special moves, players can ricochet the enemies around the circular arenas like pinballs, causing damage to anything they strike. The battlefields are also littered with crystals, which add a random area of effect around them, and enemies can similarly be bounced into these hazards for big damage. Unfortunately, these systems just don't play well with the peon collection mechanic, and your other characters typically just play clean up while Chou-Chou makes kissy faces at her desired peon.
Perhaps the worst offender though, are the graphics. Mugen Souls look like an early PS2 title, complete with muddy textures and an inexplicably low framerate. Running around the sparse, ugly environments fighting enemies and charming inanimate objects becomes tiring fast, and though the crisp animated character art and sharp voice acting does a good job of moving the humorous plot along, the bits in-between are just awful.
In summary, I just don't know what Mugen Souls offers anyone. Diehard RPG fans are better served by a more weighty title, fans of wacky JRPGs can probably just sink 40 more hours into the most recent Disgaea, and the perverts among us don't even get to enjoy the naked bath minigame that was removed for the American release. Then again, if the idea of dressing up a little girl and having her flirt with monsters sounds like a good time, don't let Mugen Souls' lacking quality stop you. You know what you like.
Take control of your "moe" destiny young man.
-Vito Gesualdi is the opposite definition of moe. Follow him on twitter @VitoGesualdi