Mugen Souls was first released during the period that Japanese video game developer Compile Heart was still finding their feet regarding both parody-driven fourth-wall-breaking RPGs and their first forays into 3D gaming. Released at a time they had seen success with Hyperdimension Neptunia, this was their next major IP, which despite having received a sequel (Mugen Souls Z), has since fallen by the wayside and is just as well known for its censored hot springs scenes as it is a game.
Given it was made available on Steam in the mid-2010s, it was a game I never really expected to hear anything else from…. until late-2022 with a surprise announcement by EastAsiaSoft that they would be bringing the game to the Nintendo Switch and – keeping in line with Nintendo apparently being less demanding around censorship of games on their platforms – is uncensored and content-true to the Japanese release. But it raises the question… is this game worth picking up a second time… or even a first time? Read on to find out.
Quirky Story, Lots and Lots of Characters
Mugen Souls is a colourful and quirky RPG that follows the story of Chou-Chou, a petite girl who proclaims herself to be the Undisputed God and seeks to conquer each of the seven worlds in the galaxy. Each of the worlds is named after the Japanese days of the week and contains its own uniquely designed environments and themes. Chou-Chou is accompanied by Altis, a former demon turned angel, Ryuto, a young man who becomes her loyal vassal, and their adorable Prinny-esque mascot companions – the Shampuru.
As they journey through each world, Chou-Chou picks up additional characters to add to her vassal count. These characters are generally the heroes or demon lords of each respective area, usually a pair, who each have their own unique personalities. This is in addition to Chou-Chou having seven different personalities, and in turn, seven different personalities – from a slightly sexual sadist form to her energetic and childish ‘Hyper’ form. While Chou-chou, Altis and Ryuto all have much time dedicated to them being the lead three characters, a majority of the other secondary characters don’t get enough focus outside their world, and feel like they are only there for gameplay reasons. Ultimately this was a trap that Compile Heart fell into during this era of game development, especially with the likes of Cross Edge and Trinity Universe which featured dozens of playable characters.
The storyline of Mugen Souls itself is mostly forgettable, but it is ultimately a fun romp filled with references of the time, entertaining moments and colourful and quirky characters.
No Steam or Excessive Foam in the Hot Springs
Mugen Souls was released at a time when some JRPG developers were looking at adding fanservice or potentially fetishised content into their games – I am thinking about the likes of Nippon Ichi Software’s controversial Criminal Girls as well. While it is questionable whether this was necessary to be able to launch the game in the West without controversy, publishers tended to either edit content out or otherwise use convenient fog or other distractions to make it less “troublesome” for delicate eyes. EastAsiaSoft’s Nintendo Switch release truly delivers the definitive version of Mugen Souls by not only re-introducing the cut bathing / hot springs mini-game but also bringing the fog levels down to the level of the Japanese release. Is it necessary to enjoy the game? Probably not, but it is still very nice to have a full uncensored experience – even if it took a decade to get to us.
With regards to the visuals, the Nintendo Switch port does not appear to have any other major overhaul from the original release, and some issues I recall such as the lag in the hub world is still there (at least on handheld mode). Fortunately, the unwieldy load screens of the original PlayStation 3 release are no more – enhancing the experience a lot. While the world map layouts are pretty uninspired, the theming of each are nice, and combined with plenty of amazing CG artwork pieces by artist Kei Nanameda, and solid 3D character model designs for the time, make it a pleasant experience for the eyes.
One point of note, is that I would strongly advise playing Mugen Souls when connected to a Nintendo Switch dock rather than in hand-held mode. Not only does it help mitigate some more agitating frame rate drops at points, but the user interface is definitely built for a television screen – being rather small and difficult to read on the Nintendo Switch’s built-in screen.
Being based on the original English release of Mugen Souls on the PlayStation 3, very little has changed in terms of the soundtrack and voice acting. The game comes with an appropriately sized soundtrack including a couple of J-POP tracks. The game’s opening theme Power of Light by Mineko Yamamoto in particular is a solid song with good animation to go along with it.
Players retain the choice to enjoy the game’s original Japanese voice acting, or the English dub which was created for NIS America’s original Western release a decade ago. The voice casting is pretty good overall, although a particular issue I raised in the original release sticks. When creating a custom character you can give the character a voice – and with the Japanese dub activated it works fine. However, when switched to the English dub the characters remain silent despite giving you the option to choose a voice – and while I don’t mind the fact they didn’t dub new character voices it would have been nice to have the option for activating the Japanese ones anyway.
Surprisingly Complex Gameplay That Can Overwhelm You When Introduced
Mugen Souls features a surprisingly detailed gameplay system, taking what the development team used in Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2’s original PlayStation 3 release and building upon it to a considerable degree. While some games might ease you into the battle system by introducing mechanics slowly over the first few hours, Mugen Souls instead crams many overly complicated and text-heavy tutorials into the opening world. That said the core battle system is fairly approachable, but the extra features are pretty unique to the game and might not be so self-explanatory.
At its core, you take control of up to four characters (either named characters or your custom-created peons) on the battlefield and can move around and attack enemies within a set circular range from where you are standing. The game allows you to use a variety of weapons from the common sword and staff to dual blades and guns – each with its associated skills and weapon proficiencies. From a combo system to a variety of unique skills, to using your character’s “Moe Kill” to exploit enemy weaknesses to kill/weaken/convert them, to utilising crystals on the field to unlock a Fever Mode (complete with pop music backing) – there are many ways to turn the tide of battle and tackle the challenges you face.
There is a lot to appreciate combat system-wise, however, is hindered by the fact they are introduced a bit too haphazardly, and perhaps are a bit much for a game like this. But if you like to invest the time into learning the mechanics, there is much that sets Mugen Souls apart from other JRPGs of the era.
Navigating the different worlds is only half the fun in this game, fun can also be had in the game’s many other systems. One such system, introduced in the opening minutes of Mugen Souls, are airship battles between Chou-Chou’s ship and another, allowing you to battle it out using a selection of skills until one flies away and the other is left in ruins. The game throws in the occasional battle and doesn’t use this feature to its full potential however it is visually impressive and despite the usually high HP and SP on your part, can be pretty challenging as well. That said, there are lots of ways to edit your “G-Castle” as you progress through the game, adding different weapons/modules and other upgrades to improve its battle performance during these enjoyable fights.
The game’s hub provides a number of the staple amenities, along with a few additional systems exclusively found in Mugen Souls. As mentioned before, the game offers a fairly detailed avatar creation system that allows you to create yourself, a friend or someone else real or fictional in the game and include them in the action. The game allows you to both find costumes throughout the worlds and purchase them through the in-game store which can be used to dress up both your avatar and main characters, offering some degree of customisability and progressively unlocking over time.
Then, for the main story characters, the “Hot Springs” system allows you to bathe your characters with shampoo, soap and sponges you can find lying around the world or in stores to astronomically boost their stats. Unlike previous releases, you can interact with your characters during these scenes via mini-games. They are nice to do on occasion and to admire some genuinely good artwork, but not something I would see doing again and again. Mugen Souls boasts multiple currencies. There is Gold, which you can use to purchase items from stores and then there are Mugen Points, more sparingly dropped in battle but used in the Mugen Store for almost all its character improvement and unlockables as well as the Avatar Creation system.
Being a Definitive Edition of the game, the EastAsiaSoft version of Mugen Souls comes with all previously released DLC bundled with the game, accessible through the ‘Extra Content’ menu of the main menu. This is both a blessing and a curse, and while players should feel free adding the bonus costumes and unlocks (Eg. Gallery Unlock) to your save file, adding the bonus points, weapons and item bundles are a fast-tracked way of removing any difficulty you might face. Of course, if you are wanting a quick runthrough – then it is nice to at least have the option.
Is Mugen Souls worth playing in 2023? At an RRP of $39.99 (via the Nintendo eShop), those who are keen on checking out this cult classic of last decade should definitely consider nabbing the Nintendo Switch version of Mugen Souls, complementing it having all DLC included and virtually no censorship compared to the earlier releases (about time!). For newcomers, it might be an acquired taste and does show its age in some aspects, but is nevertheless an enjoyable, creative and colourful romp which offers some decent challenge. Is it the next big RPG hit? No. But it is fun? Most definitely!
Acknowledgment: A digital Nintendo Switch review code was provided by publisher EastAsiaSoft for the purpose of this review.