METAL MAX Xeno Review
Release Date: September 25th, 2018
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4
METAL MAX Xeno is an interesting take on turn-based combat that does things differently from a traditional "anime" JRPG, where the weapons and machinery are the stars of the game, and the characters, while not exactly secondary, do help to complement the world they're surrounded in and give merit to the tanks they use. With Humanity on the brink of extinction, its unique view on how technology ruined the world - almost Horizon Zero Dawn-esque - keeps things intriguing for the player throughout, and while the world is empty - understandably so - that feeling of hopelessness and scarcity lingers with the player as they traverse through Dystokio. However, sometimes that emptiness really starts to show after hours and hours of going through a desolate wasteland, only to be periodically greeted by enemies.
Humanity is on the brink of extinction, becoming a thing of the past, known as the "True Century's End". In Dystokio, a current wasteland that was then a healthy civilization, only a few humans remain thanks to a disaster from an incredibly powerful weapon. Miraculously, the few humans that have come into contact with others form a structure called Iron Base, which is somewhat of a safe haven, also innovating and acquiring state of the art technology. Your character, Talis, which can be renamed to whatever you please, is a monster hunter who happens to stumble upon it by accident, and is then invited in but only on the basis that he complete a few tasks beforehand to show loyalty and trust. From here on out, it's up to you to find what little remains of the world around you, whether it be items, food, or other survivors, all while protecting and annihilating the monsters - known as SoNs and WANTED - around you to prevent further devastation.
It's a straight forward plot that can be simplified to "save humanity", but it does a decent job at standing out by implementing a cyberpunk feel with sci-fi elements in a very Mad Max-driven world, and as you explore Dystokio with Talis, you'll acquire new tanks, weapons, and team mates to aid you on your journey of eradicating the very monsters that nearly wiped out the human species, all while attempting to rebuild civilization from scratch. It's a tall order, but Talis and his squad of other humans willing to bring the fight back to them know it's a necessity, and one they'll happily oblige in achieving with the right rewards and incentives. While the bulk of the narrative consists of face to face interactions, the gameplay itself shines through with vehicular combat and places the ability to walk around and fight on foot as an afterthought. While it's nice to be able to walk freely all over the world, more often than not you're going to want to be in your tanks fighting other enemies. These are massive beasts, and outside of a robotic arm, Talis is still very much human and can only do so much damage compared to tons and tons of metal capable of destroying buildings and flattening anything it runs over. Combat on foot is mostly reserved for a few ruins you'll run into in which tanks can't be entered, so you explore on foot to scour for any leftover goods. As one can imagine, being desolate, there's not much you'll end up finding, so you have to strategically make due with what you do find, as the bulk of your resources will be coming from the monster you inevitably slay anyways. While I understand the intention of the game is to make the player feel alone and hopeless, having the lack of anything to do or see or uncover does come back with negative repercussions for the game itself, giving a sense of boredom after so long. A lot of items are already shown on the map, and once you've acquired them they disappear from the map, and don't respawn at all. Everything feels very much like a "one and done" scenario and doesn't offer much replay value or incentive to explore or revisit places once you've passed through them.
Battling, whether in tanks or on foot, isn’t too convoluted and can be easily picked up by frequent players of the RPG genre. There are some differences between the usual Attack, Defend, Item, and Run options, however. After so much time throughout your battles as you try and find remnants of humanity, you have a FEVER meter that increases every time you attack and get attacked. Once this hits its max meter, your next turn will deal a powerful blow. A big issue with this I found is that I wish you could choose when to initiate the powerful attack rather than it being automatically after it's filled. Depending on the situation or the enemy I'm up against, there may be no need to deal significant damage when they're already weak to begin with, or if it's a low-level enemy. That lack of choice has become problematic on multiple occasions, especially when you happen to find yourself in a battle just before a boss fight and it's wasted on an enemy you could have just one shot with a basic attack.
METAL MAX Xeno definitely sticks out from its JRPG brethren thanks to its setting, presentation, story, emphasis on weapons and vehicles, and progression, but it isn't fleshed out well enough to give the player a polished experience worth bragging about. At only $40, however, I do think it's worth picking up if you don't have a backlog to worry about or more prominent RPGs currently on your plate, but I wouldn't lose sleep if you happen to miss out on it. Since the game was also released on Vita in Japan and we're only getting the PS4 version for whatever reason - not even digitally on Vita - the parity shows as it's basically just an HD version of its handheld counterpart. It won't be blowing away anyone when it comes to visuals, but METAL MAX Xeno does have an absolutely stunning art style that are shown during cutscenes and conversations that make me wish there was an artbook to marvel at. The good news is is that thanks to the simplicity of the controls and feeling like it was built with the Vita first in mind, Remote Play works really well. So, while you may not be getting the native experience as I feel it'd be a perfect pocket RPG, you can still simulate that reality. METAL MAX Xeno isn't pushing any technical boundaries, but it runs smooth, and what it does try to achieve it mostly does well. It runs fine, loading times aren't too long, though the menu system is kind of a mess and I wish there were buttons that would act as a shortcut to basic quality-of-life things like pressing options to open the save or equipment menu, rather than simply zooming in on your minimap on the bottom right of your screen. I don't find that useful whatsoever, so I'm not sure what the accomplishment was there. Overall, though, METAL MAX Xeno is a nice blend of Mad Max, Blue Gender, and God Eater. While memorable, METAL MAX Xeno can get boring from time to time and would be better off played in increments rather than large portions, but, as previously mentioned, it's certainly a game to look into if you want something a little different but in a familiar genre, just don't expect to be taken aback despite its originality.
The artstyle is marvelous
Tank gameplay is a bit clunky, but to its benefit, as a retro lover, it reminds me of older titles that have a more robust vision
The voice acting works well for what it tries to achieve
The music is stellar and fits all scenarios
West only gets the PS4 version and it has not been enhanced by any stretch, so you're essentially getting the Vita version on a big screen, which means there's no utilization of the power from the PlayStation 4 console
Progression is slow and can get boring after a while
While intentionally desolate and dilapidated, excavating and traversing the land doesn't feel particularly rewarding when there's understandably nothing to be found
Massive thanks to NIS America for sending us a review copy of the game.