As if the first Mugen Souls wasn’t niche enough, Mugen Souls Z ventures even further down into the cavernous, kaleidoscopic portal of moe lure and outlandish fetishes, rarely coming up for air. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, as backers of the original 2012 JRPG will find plenty to savor here, and there are a noticeable amount of improvements to be thankful for (the central story arc, the battle system), yet the end result still leaves much to be desired. Developer Compile Heart is known for blending extreme kawaii-ness and ribald subject matter, which often impedes the occasionally innovatory role-playing elements they scatter throughout their IPs. Like the Hyperdimension Neptunia series before it, Mugen Souls and its slightly richer sequel aren’t much more than variations on a recycled theme, one that involves ditzy, licentious conduct superseding halfway intelligent gameplay.
The “Z” in Mugen Souls Z stands for zodiac, a convenient motif and jumping-off point that the game uses for its loopy narrative, which picks up not long after the events of the introductory escapade. Cardinal protagonist Lady Chou-Chou, who’s immodestly dubbed the “Undisputed God of the Universe,” intends to conquer a new galaxy modeled after several omnipresent celestial signs, acquiring its inhabitants and repurposing them as her personal minions. However, early on in her ambitious enterprise she runs into a treasure hunter named Nao, who opens up a casket believed to be full of loot, but instead is revealed to be the resting place of an even more self-aggrandizing goddess called Syrma, who escapes the coffin with Chou-Chou taking her spot inside. This transforms Chou-Chou into a miniaturized, or chibi, version of herself, a setup that’s relatively entertaining (Chou-Chou’s reaction to her sudden loss of stature is a source of comicality throughout initial goings-on), and decently voice-acted, but the extended prologue outstays its welcome, clocking in at almost an hour, which dulls the impact of the proceeding action sequences when then finally arrive.
Disastrous framerate issues marred the previous Mugen Souls, making battles chug by at a rather sedate pace, yet the majority of lag-related burdens appear to be ironed out here, with colorful, busy-bodied attacks and character animations exhibiting the kind of finesse loyal Compile Heart fans know they’re capable of. That being said, numerous AI mishaps (unreliable tells, blanket defensive inconsistencies) and a slew of tedious, hand-holding tutorials (switching fetish-class jobs, from Sadist to Masochist, for example) litter the digital landscape, diminishing the value of an otherwise perceptively ameliorated combat layout. The enhanced Captivate technique (formerly, and more suitably, labeled “Moe”), as well as Damage, Fever, Ultimate Soul, and G-Castle mecha bouts add enough modification to the established blueprint to make Mugen Souls Z a clear upgrade from its problematic predecessor—though that’s not saying much. This is a title with a decidedly limited, albeit built-in and dedicated, audience that relies on time-tested anime tropes and the appeal of prepubescent shenanigans to rope in its adamant apologists.