There's a lot to appreciate about the anime-style trappings seen in many Japanese role-playing games. The influence of Japan's rich history of cartoon and comic art can translate to colorful environments, outlandish characters, and even some offbeat humor. Mugen Souls is one such RPG. But while it wholeheartedly embraces the anime-loving, game-marathoning otaku culture that inspired it, Mugen Souls seems to have completely forgotten to be a good game first and foremost.
The premise of Mugen Souls is novel: rather than saving the world from imminent destruction, antiheroine Chou-Chou wants to turn every being in the seven corners of the universe into her loyal servant. She has a knack for getting people to surrender to her will, thanks to her unique ability to pander exactly to anyone's taste in character stereotypes. She also has a commandeered spaceship and an ever-growing army of subservient lackeys under her rule.
The character designs are cute and appealing (if a little uncomfortable at times--some of the characters look quite young), and the theme of conquering the universe with your egotistical charm is inherently appealing. But the problems with Mugen Souls emerge from the get-go. Chou-Chou's one-note appeal fades quickly as she and the supporting cast fail to undergo any satisfying character development, even after Chou-Chou displays her ability to assume seven different personality types.
The one-dimensional characters might be forgiven if their interactions were as funny as the game seems to think they are. Alas, attempts at humorous exchanges between the characters fall flat with resounding thuds, save for a few cute digs at video gaming conventions. There's little to the story besides the supposed humor, so when the funny fails, every lengthy dialogue exchange turns into an excruciating experience.
Solid gameplay can rescue an RPG with a weak story, but the gameplay of Mugen Souls is a superficially complex mess of disparate mechanics that fail to gel into anything cohesive. Chou-Chou, her seven personalities, and her servants traverse small, sloppily designed, uninteresting overworld areas, which chug along at incomprehensibly low frame rates, despite their simplistic visuals and object models, unless you lower your display resolution to 720p. There are mobs of endlessly respawning enemies on each map, and though you can see them before you fight, they tend to move so quickly that avoiding them (or slashing Chou-Chou's weapon fast enough to enter battle with an advantage) is extremely difficult once they notice your presence.
When you enter a fight, there are lots of options available to you, all of which are explained only one time through poorly presented tutorials--which then become completely inaccessible should you want to review anything you've learned. You've got a fairly standard RPG array of basic attacks, special skills, and items to use, as well as a positioning-based combat system that lets your party and the enemies run around the field. Characters can also perform team-up attacks that have some amusing animations, but they become so drawn out that you are quickly tempted to turn off the "battle animations" option.
Chou-Chou has access to some unique skills, however. She can shift into one of her seven personalities mid-combat, which changes her affinities toward special attacks; rather than being based on traditional RPG elements like fire, wind, and water, skill and character affiliations are based on personality traits like bipolar, graceful, and sadist. Chou-Chou also has an ability called the "moé kill": by pandering to enemies' particular tastes, she can transform them into willing peons, who then power up her spaceship. This is accomplished by trying to match a series of three action selections to an enemy's taste and current mood. Make the enemy happy, and you are rewarded; pick the wrong choices, and you get an agitated, more powerful foe to contend with.