Show; Don’t Tell

There is a piece of advice that has been applied to media for years: “Show; don’t tell”. The idea is that, if something happens and is worth being relayed to the viewers, it should be shown in detail rather than merely being described. Of course, there are always exceptions, but in general it is useful advice. Gaming has its own equivalent which is “Play; don’t show”. The idea here is that it is important to give players agency–let them carry out the actions–as it provides a more immerersive experience. NIS, the creators of Mugen Souls, doesn’t seem to have learned the first bit of advice, much less the second.

Mugen Souls’ plot is a bit thin. The main character–Chou-Chou–wakes up, see some pretty things in the sky, and decides to make them hers. Of course, it turns out that she is the (self-proclaimed) absolute god of the universe, so she may actually have a shot at it. She carries out her ill-conceived plot by using her power to turn things into her “peons” to capture a spaceship (which is inexplicably always called an airship) and going from world to world turning the two most important people in each–the demon lord and the hero who fights said demon lord–into her peons. Since she controls the most powerful  people and those people presumably control the worlds, she presumably controls the planets (by the transitive property of intergalactic conquest). The whole thing is rather tongue-in-cheek with characters routinely pointing out the lack of sense that Chou-Chou has and the insanity of the actions that occur. Sometimes the more set-upon characters even make comments about their lack of screen time.

Of course, the real problem with Mugen Souls is that nearly every important interaction is carried out without stimulus. An airship crashes? Rumble the controller and do a fade to black; don’t bother to show the aftermath. Final Fantasy VI provided more  on the SNES for the same situation! Main character turns a hero into a peon? Fixed image with voiceover. One character physically assaults another? Let’s just show their usual dialog pictures and have some text and/or voiceover describing the scene. Of course, we have less than a dozen images for each character, so they’ll never be anything more than vaguely similar to the situation at hand. Mugen Souls isn’t even meeting the standards that one would expect from modern film or television. Forget having anything like agency when it comes time for the plot to happen. All the player is expected to do is carry out the battles and of course to grind.

Therein lies the problem of so many JRPGs, including Mugen Souls: their developers seem to think that the kind of grinding that was acceptable back in the PS1 and PS2 is still appropriate today. Perhaps it is unfair of me to say it about Mugen Souls since it is coming from the creators of Disgaea (The Industry Leader in Obsessive-Compulsive Grinding™). They’ve made over half a dozen games in which grinding was a primary focus.

The gameplay itself is rather similar to the Star Ocean series. There are world maps to explore with enemies on them. When you run into an enemy, you get dropped into a battle mode. This battle mode is turn based, unlike the real-time battles preferred by the Star Ocean games. The battles can be a bit of an over-the-top spectacle, especially early on, but they quickly become tedious. By half-way through the game, I’d turned off the battle animations entirely just to speed things along. It turns out that if everything is made into a spectacle, then nothing really surprises anymore.

I’m sure that there is someone out there who Mugen Souls will resonate with greatly. However, I think most people will find it to be more of a chore than anything else.

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