One of my most anticipated releases of the year is coming out soon, so I sat down with Phoenix Spaulding, a script editor at NIS America, to talk about their upcoming title Mugen Souls Z. Now, this is a franchise that’s sparked a lot of controversy and rumors, so let’s take a look at what really happened and how the fanbase has responded.
Could you briefly introduce the story and gameplay of Mugen Souls Z for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the series?
Spaulding: Sure! Mugen Souls Z is the sequel to Mugen Souls, a goofy, over-the-top strategy RPG. In Mugen Souls Z, you pick up where the first game left off, with undisputed god Chou-Chou and her band of crazy allies onboard their spaceship known as G-Castle. As they travel through the cosmos, they stumble upon 12 beautiful worlds, and Chou-Chou decides that she deserves to own them all. But before she can get too far, Syrma, the ultimate god, shows up and starts causing trouble. So Chou-Chou is forced to team up with Syrma and travel to each world, subduing the other ultimate god that lives there before they can move on to the next area.
For the gameplay, the player will travel to each world and travel around an open field, where you will see enemies roaming the land. If and when you want to jump into a battle, you can run up to one and smack them to initiate a fight. Each battle plays out in a turn-based, open-terrain system. Each character has a certain free-moving range, and a certain attack range which changes based on your weapon and the skill selected. There are tons of different attacks, skills, weapons, subsystems, space battles, creatable characters, dungeons, and crazy bosses, so suffice it to say, you’ll stay busy.
During your live stream of Mugen Souls Z, you mentioned that you’d talked with the various ratings boards (the ESRB, etc.) about some of the objectionable content in the game – namely, the bathing mini-game that both you and Compile Heart ultimately felt it was best to remove for the Western release. The response from the ratings boards, which was that the game would likely get an AO rating, was clearly a major factor in your decision to go ahead with those changes. Do you normally talk to ratings boards and get information about content before submitting a game, or was this actually somewhat unusual for you?
It’s actually a pretty unusual step for us. While a lot of our games contain scenes or elements that you could consider risqué (among other descriptions), it’s rare that a game has something that may actually push it to such a high level. Normally, we don’t worry too much about whether a game will get a “T” versus an “E,” or an “M” versus a “T.” So in those cases we submit as usual without editing for content and follow the rating board’s ruling. It’s only in extreme situations where we would feel the need to get a clear idea of the potential risks beforehand (with this game being one such rare example).
I should also note that it wasn’t solely due to the ESRB’s feedback. We also reached out to the other rating boards across the West – PEGI, OFLC, USK – and based our final decision on feedback from every region.
Whether you agree or disagree with the decision to edit the game, I think the fact that this scene (pictured) is still in the Western release of Mugen Souls Z says a lot about what it takes to make companies want to remove things.
Another thing you mentioned during the live stream was that games sometimes have character limits for text – and so sometimes you literally cannot fit the best translation of a given line of dialogue into the game. When that happens, is it more common for you to say something else that conveys a similar idea, or do you prefer to completely change it?
In those situations, we try to boil down the core essence of whatever that line is trying to express, and do our best to make sure that idea comes across. Often this means the line doesn’t have as much personality and might read a little functional or awkward, but the most important thing is for that information to be conveyed. Sometimes this takes the form of significantly changing the wording itself to get the idea across better, or removing characterization or humor elements so that the more fundamental idea can come through.
For many serious players, one of the best new features of Mugen Souls Z is the fact that custom peons now have a number of voice options in English – something that was missing from the first game. When we spoke about Danganronpa, we found out that your company usually has a pretty set amount of resources to spend on voice-work, so… considering how many characters are in this game, how did you manage to free up enough of those resources to add these peon voices in?
In general, it really comes down to how the voiced dialogue gets split up. In the case of Mugen Souls Z, we knew we wouldn’t be able to voice everything, so we had to look at what sections could be reduced, what sections could be eliminated, and what sections absolutely had to stay. Once we decided which scenes were core to the story, we totaled up the lines and saw that on average, each actor would have a little bit of extra time for their recording sessions. It wasn’t necessarily enough to add a bunch of additional scenes, but as it turned out, it was enough to fit in some of the random peon voices we weren’t able to do last time. So we basically packed as many of those voices into the last parts of the recording sessions for each actor that we could.
The over-the-top personalities of pretty much everyone in this game seems to fit in well with your company’s style. Which of the new characters was the favorite at your office?
Strangely enough, a lot of people actually like Nao because unlike a lot of the other characters, she’s not especially weird or over-the-top. Her total normal-ness lets her make funny comments and observations about all the crazy stuff going on, so she’s really easy to relate to.
Let’s talk a bit about the battle system. Mugen Souls Z has one of the most complex battle systems I’ve ever seen – and mastering it is pretty much a requirement if you want to get up to truly absurd levels of power. Do you have any tips for new players?
Like you said, it can get pretty complicated. The best advice I can give is just to start simple and not worry too much about getting into the crazier stuff right away. Sure, you can transfer abilities and level up skills and line up Captivates and Blast Offs and Damage Carnivals and all this other crazy stuff, but just start off focusing on basic attacks, understanding the crystal system, and getting a feel for that. Then once you’re confident in the meat and potatoes, you can start adding the carrots and ice cream and…I think I lost control of that metaphor.
Do you have a message for our readers about the game before we head out?
Hopefully everyone gives it a chance! It really does have something for anyone and everyone who’s an RPG fan. All the gameplay has been tweaked and improved from the first game, and there’s so much to do, you definitely won’t be bored. Check it out, and I hope you enjoy! Thanks!
Mugen Souls Z will launch for PlayStation 3 on May 20 in North America and May 23 in Europe.