999 Hours: A Review of Mugen Souls Z

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When I was 16, I maxed out the game clock in Final Fantasy VII. I did every single thing you could, from killing the unfathomably difficult Ruby and Emerald Weapons to breeding a Gold Chocobo and finding the Knights of the Round Summon.

The sad part? I didn’t even like the game. But I was a teenager with a small budget and seemingly endless free time, so I wrung every last bit of content from Cloud’s journey that I could – even if there wasn’t much there. When I hear my students yabbering on and on about Skyrim or Minecraft, I flash back to those halcyon days, thankful that my dance with the digital devil ended before I could completely lose myself.

I shudder think what would’ve happened had Mugen Souls Z fallen into my twitchy teenage hands.

To try and explain all the mechanics at play in Mugen Souls Z to an outsider is a Sisyphean feat. Once you start to get a handle on it – alright, so if my combo counter gets high enough I can activate a Damage Carnival, which increases my bonus XP – a new layer gets added, sending you back into the abyss. At a certain point, I just gave up, letting the countless systems tumble past me as I pushed forward using the familiar menu options that undergird all JRPGs – Attack, Skill, Item, Defend.

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In a time where people curl their lips at 8-10 hour playtimes, the fact that Mugen Souls Z is so crowded with content is both a blessing and a curse. There’s the Mugen Field — a 100 level dungeon that you can wander into at any time — which grants a unique currency that allows you to upgrade your characters in special ways. There’s a character creation system, which lets you make your own characters using different classes that you unlock – and then merge them together to create super characters. There’s even a massive equipment upgrade system that provides multiple pathways to enhancement.

And it’s all optional. You never need to step foot in Mugen Field, you don’t have to make a single special character, and you can probably avoid upgrading your equipment altogether with a little grinding.

But it’s there…if you’ve got the time.

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That’s not to mention the pages and pages of numbers attached to each character, the multiple combo systems, and the entire ‘Blast Off’ mechanic that allows you to manipulate the battlefield in order to maintain your ‘Fever Time’ buff and reach the level cap of 99,999.

Sure, there’s a story there – you’ve got to restore the power of series’ protagonist Lady Chou-Chou by draining the power of Ultimate Gods across twelve worlds – and the exceptionally well translated dialogue manages to convey the characters in a charming way despite the excessive fanservice, but that’s not the draw of Mugen Souls Z.

Mugen Souls Z is about losing yourself in a world of spreadsheets and long-range character planning. It’s not about the PS2-era graphics, endlessly looping music and combat barks, or oddly dicey framerate. It’s about muting the game audio and putting on a season of Dexter on your second screen while you grind for another few hours.

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That’s not me. Not anymore at least. Last time I got that deep into something, it was World of Warcraft and we don’t talk about that around here.

But the 16-year-old in my class who dropped 70 hours on finding a shiny Charizard in Pokemon X?

He’ll probably love every one of his 999:99:99 with it.