Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mugen Souls (PS3): Schizophrenically Unfinished

I don't have much to play right now. When that happens, I make rash decisions. I had been eyeballing this game for a while, but hesitated on getting it. Supposedly has the Disgaea humor level, is a JRPG of some kind, and seems to be the type of game I'd get into. But NIS America games always make me gun shy, because most of they time they are more miss than hit. None the less, I wanted it to be good, so I took the plunge and gave it a try.


In the universe, there are seven worlds and in the vastness of space between them appeared Chou-Chou. A spunky and egotistical girl who awakens to the glimmer of the worlds. She is found in space by exiled demon, Altis, who is currently wandering since she was stripped of her demon status and is now half angel. Entranced by their sparkle, Chou-Chou decided that she is going to overtake them all for herself and become the ruler of all of them.

Using her ability to force beings to become her peons, she subjugates a passing lad by the name of Ryoto, and takes control of his spaceship, G-Castle. With Altis in tow, Chou-Chou goes to invade each world and make them bend to her will using her ability to change herself into 8 distinct personalities and "Moe Kill" them into submission. In unifying the 7 worlds, she will fulfill her proclamation of being the "Undisputed God of the Universe."

Even with all the anime I've seen, the opening number was almost unbearable.
The game opens up with an over the top girly duo anime dance idol thing with Chou-Chou (pronounced Shoo Shoo) and Altis, both of them on a massive stage, blaring loud stereotypical J-Pop to a massive crowd of peons (which are these tiny bunny-like things). There are no subtitles for the song so without much distraction or understanding, it was pretty difficult not to just skip it. I am assuming the words of the song was her proclamation to conquer the worlds but I really have no idea. The following cutscene sort of says so, but who knows. Even as a fan of anime, this is not a great first impression and kind of hard to stomach.

Much like the main character, this game is incredibly schizophrenic. At times you are doing these big space battles, at times you are doing overworld JRPG, and in battle it gets kinda tacticsy. Its hard for me to describe really because it can be so all over the place. 

It doesn't do itself any favors to start because like a number of NIS America games like Soul Nomad, Cross Edge, or Generation of Chaos it starts you off with almost a nonstop barrage of tutorials. They are incredibly text heavy and seemingly drag on and on. A number of the games aspects are pretty complex so I guess it makes sense to have them, but if you are looking to sit down and jump into your brand new game, this certainly doesn't help the experience.

After the first bit of filler cutscene and a tutorial fight, you are dropped into one of the games first mechanics which is the Space Battles. You have to do this with each world you invade. At the on set of them, they seem fairly cut and dry: The attacks have a rock, paper, scissor style of gameplay to it, and you have the ability to defend and absorb damage depending on attack. Ties result in skirmishes and the ship with the best gear usually wins them. Seems simple enough, just follow the clues said on screen.

But really after the first one of these, I found that the clues I were given weren't really all that helpful. A lot of the time I found myself just guessing what attacks they might be doing, and most of the time just spamming the reflect or fast attack until I needed to heal or absorb. They are fun to watch but some clearer indication of what attacks are coming would have been nice. Or at least make them start clear and make them progressively less so as I play on to increase difficulty.

So once you finish that, you can explore your ship which works a lot like the home base screen on any NIS tactics game like Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom and etc. Here you can make new teammates, buy equipment, practice in the random dungeon and so forth. Once you finish here you can travel to the world you are conquering. 

On the world map, you have a couple of objectives. Usually its just a matter of following the map until the next scripted cutscene happens. You do this to keep the story going, but around once you clear the map you have to make the actual continent your peon. You do this by finding checkpoints throughout the map, and you have to use your specific personalities to try to win them over. Sometimes you have to pay money, but usually you just need to pick the right options to do so. If you lose you have to fight, if not you clear that checkpoint.

So far, I've made one created character and I never use her. The game
literally throws story related characters at you the whole time. 
Monsters are clearly visible on the world map screens, and it takes a kind of Atelier approach to engaging them. If you can run up and whack them with your weapon before they spot you, you can get a preemptive free round of attacks. The problem is the frame rate on the over world screen chugs so poorly I can never seem to time it right. And when I say chugs, I don't mean the animation isn't smooth. I mean it's fucking choppy. Swinging your sword at a foe could be like 4 animation stills. It looks awful. Its almost embarrassing because this isn't exactly a graphically intense game, and installing it didn't really help matters much. It's a huge turn off. 

The battle sequences have kind of a Phantom Brave feel to them as its kind of turn based tactics, but you have rings of movement instead of a grid. The battle has a bit of complexity to them. Each battle has a crystal that you can try to convert, and if successful you can turn all the enemies on the map into peon's or into items. If you decide not to do this, you can take the fight to the monsters directly.

There is a bounce mechanic that you can use for your special moves, so when you attack you can send enemies flying into other enemies or crystals to combo for better experience. If in certain ranges, your characters will automatically set up team attacks. It is kinda cool at first but they take up so much time battles take forever. After like two fights, you will be rushing to turn off the animations.

I would say the biggest and most annoying issue for the combat is that the game throws so much at you when you start the game, you need to be some form of high functioning genius to retain it all. I'm a few worlds in and I barely have a loose understand of how the combat works. I typically will run in, find out which enemies temperament is most likely to show up and stick to Chou-Chou's complimenting one for that whole world. I try to Moe-Kill the ones I can, but its really a roll of the dice to make it work so far.  If I get one, I start wailing on the rest to end the fight.

The Moe-Kill system isn't clear either. We all understand elemental weaknesses, and even Pokemon was able expand on the big 4 to produces elements that we understand and organize in way that makes sense. But the weaknesses for Mugen Souls don't make any logical sense. Like say an enemy is Masochist for example, my logic would dictate that Sadist would be its opposite. But what the fuck is "Terse" and what the hell is weak to? What about Ditz and Bi-Polar? They make for hilarious character differences but they don't really tell me whats weak to what.  And this is a real problem since almost everything in the game ties to this.

If you level up your personalities enough, You can moe kill things quickly.
I have not had much success with this yet.
I was fortunate when I started the game, because when I was trying to get through the combat ricochet tutorial, my target got stuck on something and kept giving me bounce bonuses for like 5 minutes, so I got like a free jump to level 25 for all my characters out the gate. Not sure how it happened, but I'm not complaining there. But the problem is I'm a few stages in and I still don't have any idea if I'm playing the game right. Nippon Ichi comes up with some complicated systems for combat in its games, but this one takes the cake so far.

One thing I did like about the combat is you can assemble a sub party of characters you aren't using. If one of your characters is dead by your next turn, you can swap them out with one of your reserves, and if they are in the sub party, they get XP from battles. This is very handy in that random dungeon between story missions and a great way to grind up those extra characters.

With enough grinding, the damage you can do in the game gets a little ridiculous.
There are some good things about the game though. One, Nippon Ichi usually does pretty well in the tongue and cheek department of humor in the dialog. Its got a very "breaking the 4th wall" sense of humor without actually breaking the 4th wall. In the first world of the game, a lot of the things that world's hero does is a direct spoof of things done in adventure games like Legend of Zelda, such as throwing and smashing everyone's vases, going into everyone's homes unquestioned, or forcing support characters to wear ridiculous outfits. It definitely made me chuckle a bit.

But what caught me off guard was some of the subtle (and a lot of times not so subtle) fetishistic nods. For example, to convert one of the hero's he as a thing for girls who fill out a bikini and another who is kinda into being bossed around by a domineering woman. Well, Chou-chou's "sadist" form is quite clearly some kinda bdsm mistress model. The dialog was funny, but I couldn't help feel weird about it considering Chou-Chou's main form clearly looks under age.

They get so much weirder than this.....
But then in a later world, you have to convert a guy with your "Terse" form, and that whole exchange..... ugh.. well without getting to defined, I'm fairly sure you hear an older guy very much getting off by being berated by a gothic lolita. I suppose for a sense of humor like this company has, its kinda par for the course, but its still pretty fuckin weird. I heard the game was actually altered for the west because it over sexualizes some of the minor looking characters in the game (the only logical foresight in this game so far, it seems), but I gotta be honest if someone was watching you play it you'd have a hard time explaining yourself.

They did do a nice job updating the tired still screen conversations as well. In old Disgaea games you would see character stills stand opposite each other and they would change with their reactions in the conversation. Now they are much more detailed and have they lots of little subtle animations to make them breathe or sway or have reaction movements. Might be a wasted perk here but it does make me hope this will appear in the upcoming Disgaea D2.

Leveling in this game seems super easy. Your home base has this area which just pits you in fight after fight, so its a great way to grind your levels, and after so many "floors" you have the choice to seal off certain abilities for experience bonuses.. Should you get into a spaceship battle with a high enough bonus percentage you can easily jump like 60 levels in a snap. Its making the story mode a breeze and thank god it does, because if I was actually struggling in the story section there's a good chance this would have been a first impressions review.

But I gotta be honest with you: after like 3 days of play I was pretty much already over it. I stopped at a point where I could capture some footage to post here, and virtually everything else was more important to play. I played through 3 sandbox games I own. The horrendous frame rate made me think my copy of the game was just busted. But even after installing the game it didn't really improve in any visible fashion. While I'm not bothered by the 40 to 60fps difference, the choppy nature of this made it almost unplayable for me.

It's just a badly designed game: the story is uninteresting, none of the characters have any real appeal when compared to the rest of its Nippon Ichi lineage, the music is grating and forgettable, the combat is overly complex and uninteresting, the fight animations are excessive and unnecessary, and some of the mechanics are just broken. This game is just a hands down mess.

Nippon Ichi Japan has provided me with some incredibly fond titles, but Nippon Ichi America has always been a roll of the dice, and more often than not the results are not great. I had heard all the negative press and reviews of this game going in and I still gave it a shot. Sometimes, the reviews are totally right. There is just no excuse for all of the technical mistakes in this game on top of the bad design. It just feels like a broken and unfinished product.

I've kinda had that eureka moment where I sort of understand the game now, so I'm flying through it at this point and will probably finish it, but I really don't want to. There is just virtually next to nothing on my plate to distract me, so I forge on. Usually at this point I'd say it'll find a niche audience, but honestly I hope it doesn't. There is just so much wrong with this game. This is the kinda of shit I expect out of poorly produced shovelware on the Wii. I don't think I've been as disappointed in an RPG since Cross Edge. Do yourself a favor, stay away from Mugen Souls. It's just not worth all the effort I've given it.

See Nicka? I don't love every JRPG I play.

1 comment:

  1. Noted.
    I feel like a lot of this overcomplication is deliberate. Like NIS knows they have a core of fans who pick up a game intending to spend three months with it, so they feel like they're giving the player who's in for the long haul something to chew on for a while. I would say that they may not realize they're alienating a potential new fan base with this approach, but on the other hand, this doesn't seem like the kind of game that a person who isn't already a fan of this developer would pick up at random. I will say that I agree that complicated game play is off-putting. It's more satisfying when the challenge is in the tactics, or the melee, not in understanding how the battle system works. If you're that far in and it's still confusing, that's a game flaw IMO. I am laughing at the concept of moe-kill though.