Review – Mugen Souls Z (Switch)
The creators of the Double Stuf Oreos are unrepentant geniuses and monsters. “Take the part of the cookie everyone likes the best and give it more.” Does it add nutritional value? Will it make the cookie more filling and thus reduce sweets consumption? Can it clue in the populous, even ironically, that they are now devouring treats at such a higher rate that we now view them as animals, and undeserving of a second “F” in the word “Stuff?” The answer to all is a resounding no: we simply pumped more delicious, pointless sugar into the center, and people loved it. Nothing else was changed or modified, just additional whiteness to lick, mix into your coffee, heat into a spoon and inject or simply slather over your body and laugh.
This, more than anything, I believe to be the central belief structure that crafted Mugen Souls Z, brought to us by Idea Factory and EastAsiaSoft. Building directly off of the fanservice-laden Mugen Souls, the entire point is more. There’s more of everything, and that almost feels like a tenant of that certain, special kind of Japanese/anime game. What sane world would you want to level a character up to 9999? Why would someone look at a completion time of more than fifty hours and think “but could we go longer?” How many times do you need to see almost every trope imaginable paraded out in a single expositional moment to further reinforce how deep into otaku country you’ve wandered? The answer is as simple as the nose on my face: someone wanted it, and enough people were willing to buy it.
If you haven’t picked up Mugen Souls or read my riveting review from earlier this year, you’re not missing out on anything that can’t be summed up quickly. Pick haired anime girl is a God, runs around conquering planets to make them her peons and we root for her because she’s cute and hilarious. Chou-chou, said pink maned maniac, has successfully conquered the eight planets from the previous game, and is now intent on conquering twelve from a brand new system. By amazing coincidence, the first person she encounters is the newly awakened Ultimate God of this galaxy, Syrma, who is flighty and rather silly and also all powerful. Chou-Chou loses all her powers and becomes a mini figure of herself, and now pairs up her team with Syrma’s team in order to absorb the other gods’ powers and restore Chou-Chou to her old self.
It’s important to just immediately let go of any misgivings you have with the plot of Mugen Souls Z. Much like its predecessor, there’s no shame into leaning into stereotypical anime behavior, which results in plenty of logical fallacies, confusing decisions and unabashed silliness. There’s a bad guy who is trying to conquer the planets, but they’re different from YOUR conquering the planets, so that’s what makes them the antagonist. There’s one dimensional NPCs who exist to deliver one line jokes, flash some anime booty and then disappear into the ether, never to be mentioned again. The “core” characters of Syrma, Nao, Tsukika and others get their own dedicated chapters where their personalities are further explored, but even these are just springboards for more madcap mayhem.
As a JRPG, Mugen Souls Z is bread and butter in terms of central ideas and execution. You use Chou-Chou’s G-Castle (the spaceship/fortress) as your main base of operations again, and venture to different worlds to explore in a 3D overview. Players should immediately invert the camera controls, as there appears to be a translation error between “normal” and “reverse” that causes everything to be backwards from the start. You then walk around the map, find a whole bunch of enemies to engage in semi-turn based combat, get EXP and drops and repeat until you find the boss at the center of the map. Along the way you’ll be able to accomplish several side quests, such as finding a certain number of an item, defeating X amount of enemies or maybe happening upon a crystal that triggers an NPC dialogue to help progress the game further.
Thankfully, Mugen Souls Z makes some important improvements to the mechanical side of things, with the central repair being the G-Castle. Not only is it infinitely cooler because it now turns into a giant robot during space battles, but, aside from the very first one, all subsequent battles are optional. The rock-paper-scissors motif was always a bit jarring and game breaking when you had to get into it, often resulting in some drudgery while I had to make it feel like I cared about this errant space battle. So I applaud the team for both making the sequence more complex with different kinds of attacks and maneuvers while simultaneously simplifying it by allowing players to skip over the combat entirely. Do you want to do this utter nonsense? Go right ahead, no one’s stopping you!
Mugen Souls Z also doubles down on the mini game that I purposely glossed over in my review of the first game. Nintendo is dead set on being the console for fanboys, so Mugen Souls Z proudly debuts its “uncensored” version. Besides having less fog during certain cutscenes, the bubble bath mini game, a deeply perverse wash-em-up side quest, now has even more scenes and more characters to wash and generate reactions. Plus they added the ability to soak bathing suits to make them “transparent” and feed the girls during the bath. Aren’t you ever in the middle of bathing and think “man, I really wish I could eat a banana and really enjoy it?” If you have, congratulations! The police know you on a first name basis. This whole mini game is optional and unlocks nothing except CGs and regret, so don’t pretend like you got tricked into it.
Moe Kill and the Fetish Poses have ported over, but with a bit of a twist. Now that Chou-Chou is reduced to a mascot instead of a character, Syrma is in charge of everything with a different sort of flair. She still can take on different outfits and personas to better assimilate certain peons, but she doesn’t completely change shape, just clothes. The Moe Kill is generally easier, with a clearer throughline for what you should do to either generate new peons or just turn them into items. Additionally, Syrma’s massive coffin that follows her everywhere can and will create a Peon Ball, which does additional damage to all existing enemies in a certain radius. I love that these battle mechanics are more streamlined, because it makes it more exciting to fight and less “keep using the most powerful skills until the battle’s over.”
From a technical standpoint, Mugen Souls Z also feels like a stronger port overall. There was significantly less slowdown during the world explorations, and even the heaviest battle animations seemed fluid and optimized. While it still shows its age as being a game from several years ago, either the porting team did a better job or the source material was stronger, because it feels like a substantially better experience. I was able to play for a lot longer without getting sick from the cameras, and the battles were in and out in a much cleaner sense. While a majority of the fan base might not care about something as silly as “cleaner code,” it felt like a real attempt on the developers’ part to make a better game.
And it is, from top to bottom. Even though I really liked Mugen Souls, it was clear to see the cracks in both the porting and the rather clunky battle system. With Mugen Souls Z, there’s a cleanness to the tutorials, the setup and the follow through. There’s an expectation that you know a little about the game coming into it, but you don’t NEED to have played the first in order to pick up, much like how Dragon Ball Z rewarded fans who knew the original, but it wasn’t a requirement. In the same vein, if you know about Ryuto’s history with Chou-Chou coming into this game, there’s expositional language and jokes that are that much funnier, but it doesn’t change the obvious sight gags or endless parade of puns.
The only downswing, in my opinion, is the music. I thought there was a great variety of electronic JPop and anime-adjacent scoring in the first game, and Mugen Souls Z doesn’t feel nearly as evocative as the first. It’s almost like they decided that the soundtrack was the only area that wasn’t decidedly a problem, so they ignored it, mostly, in crafting a secondary game. I need to be clear that it isn’t bad at all, and the voice work continues to be top notch, even in English. But it’s immemorable, which just leaves me feeling blasé when all is said and done. I should be able to point to a track or a moment and say “this sounded amazing,” not “I guess it was alright.”
If you enjoyed Mugen Souls, you’ll want to play Mugen Souls Z. It’s just more, but better, and the power leveling, the insane equipment hunts and the endless parade of grinding opportunities never relents. If you didn’t like the first one, you might still want to consider Z because it is better, both technically and dynamically. If you want a JRPG where you can conceivably sink a couple hundred hours into trying to get everything maxed and unlocked, then this is a great place to hang your hat. Just pretend you don’t know what the bath mini game is when someone asks; ignorance is the best way to avoid awkward conversations.
Fantastic character design and great artwork for the cutscenes. Animation is noticeably aged when it comes to mouth sync with voicework, but that’s to be expected. World shaping is as diverse as previous game, so visuals pop in different biomes.
The improvements of peon hunting and Fetish Poses is countered by the need for Planet Spots (fetch quest padding) and the improvement/declawing of the G-Castle fights. Combat remains fun and complex, maps are a bit obtuse to explore.
Genuinely great voice work in English and Japanese, but the music just went in one ear and out the other. If there isn’t a sonic impact, it can’t really register as something fantastic. Still, I love how committed the seiyu are to their roles.
A huge step forward in terms of execution and style leads to a better JRPG grind overall. While I’m far from completing the game, the turns are hilarious, the exploration is enticing and there’s so much to see and do that I’m nowhere near bored.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Mugen Souls Z is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Mugen Souls Z was provided by the publisher.