Metal Max Xeno Review
Metal Max is one of those long-lived Japanese RPG series that hasn't had much presence in the west during its lifetime. In fact, only a single title has previously received an official localized release - Metal Saga for PlayStation 2 back in 2006 - and even that release was for North America only.
Metal Max Xeno is the second title in series to be brought over, but aside from a similar story premise, it's not connected directly to the other games in the franchise in terms of its storyline. Here, the setting is the bleak wasteland of Dystokio, where humanity has been all but completely annihilated. The supercomputer NOA has gone out-of-control and has sent large machine monsters to cleanse whatever human life remains. The plot of Xeno begins with a young man named Talis, who is determined to eliminate all of NOA's monsters or die trying.
However, much like the wasteland it is set in, the storyline to Metal Max Xeno is pretty barren. While Talis does meet a few new characters along the way to join in the hunt against NOA's monsters, there's not much more to the narrative than that. You kill a few monsters, recruit a new character, kill a few more monsters, etc, and eventually reach the end of the game. A lean storyline isn't too much a surprise if you've played Metal Saga, which mostly relied on NPC interaction and some scattered lore items to tell its minimalist plot, so if you were hoping for a story-driven RPG, you won't find that here.
The cast doesn't fare much better either. Each character is primarily defined by a single personality trait, if even that. Talis only cares about killing monsters, Misaki only cares about learning the history of the world, and so on. With a high level of brevity in the cutscenes, it's hard for characters to grow much outside of a shallow baseline.
As it turns out, a sizable percentage of the plot revolves around the character of Toni and circular discussions on who gets to have sex with her. You see, she's one of the last women on the planet, so this is framed as a necessary discussion for the characters to have in order to ensure the survival of the human race. While this might inherently be sensible, it comes across instead as if it was a cheap high school drama with cardboard characters more than anything else. There's no well-built romance, nor humorous banter, and to even say it is titillating is a stretch. It all just feels empty, stale, and uncompelling.
It's also worth noting that Metal Max Xeno was undoubtedly made on a tight budget. Character model animations are stiff or nonexistent, most environment designs are bland and repetitive, and there are no cinematics to speak of. This is reflected in the $39.99 price point - this isn't a game you would pick up for its production values.
There are basically two modes of gameplay in Metal Max Xeno. Most of the time, you'll be driving your tanks out on the open wasteland. Here, battles are not quite random. Instead, metal monsters will periodically pop up near your position, and you can either choose to ignore them or gain an advantage in battle by firing a cannon at them. If you decide to fire at the enemies, you'll then enter a more typical turn-based encounter, using your tank load-outs to defeat these monsters. However, if your weapons are strong enough, you can defeat the enemies out on the field and get the reward EXP and money without entering a separate battle screen. It's a simple encounter system that works well enough that traversing the world is pretty painless without worrying about getting into more fights than you care to.
The other gameplay mode comes when your crew is out of their tanks, exploring the various ruins scattered throughout the world where your tanks won't fit. These fields switch over to random encounter mechanics, but the battles themselves are carried out in the same turn-based fashion. The primary difference is that now you are using your character abilities and equipment rather than your tanks.
While 2006's Metal Saga was extremely open-ended in terms of structure and storyline, virtually allowing players to go wherever they wanted from the get-go, Metal Max Xeno is considerably more streamlined. Most of the world map is explored in a linear fashion, where you simply look for the next monster to kill or ruin to explore on the path before moving onto the next one. On top of that, each of the treasure chests you are able to access in the wasteland show up on your minimap as a glowing dot right away. What this effectively means is that 'exploring the wasteland' boils down to a monotonous game of connect-the-glowing-dots, constantly going from one treasure chest to the next.
Navigating the ruins on foot is nothing short of dull, as each has a bad habit of looking exactly the same on the inside. Furthermore, all the treasure chests in the ruins also glow on the minimap - so again, you essentially stop by each of the dots before exiting the area. These mini-dungeons are also linear in nature, with nothing except for frequent random encounters thrown in to mix things up. Your character's movement speed is also aggravatingly slow and, mixed with the high encounter rate, I ended up dreading the next time I had to make my characters step outside of their vehicles.
Where Metal Max Xeno shines most is in its customization mechanics in how you set up your tanks and party. Characters can take on one of six classes, including Survivor, Mechanic, and Soldier. Mechanics, as you would expect, learn useful skills that can repair and bolster tanks. Soldiers are all about dealing damage and raising character attack, while Survivors can learn a variety of healing skills. You can change classes at your home base, and as your party members level up, you can equip skills from other classes that they have already learned.
For example, I made my Toni a 'Punk' Class, which gives her a useful taunt ability. However, I also had her learn the Soldier's Roar ability, which can raise attack power, so she could use both skills at the same time. It's not an especially intricate system, but useful enough to make the process of tinkering with certain character builds a worthwhile one.
While characters level up and gain new abilities, tanks do not. So, what you have to do is keep re-equipping your tank with new engines and weaponry in order to take on stronger enemies. As you progress through the game, you'll also find new tanks that can hold more armaments or have other special characteristics. With various types of weapons that have various parameters to consider such as range, bullet count, element, power, and weight, you can expect to spend a fair bit of time optimizing your loadout to your liking. I personally felt that focusing on placing as many cannons on my tanks as possible was effective enough to surpass most of what the game had to throw at me.
Metal Max Xeno is a fairly short RPG overall. I reached the final boss in 17 hours, at which point I hit a bit of a wall and had to spend an extra hour or two reconfiguring my vehicle set-ups in order to overcome the final battle. While it has a short run-time, the game does have a New Game + mode where you can restart the game with your current levels and tanks.
You can even choose to strip away the storyline stuff so you can just explore the wastes again without having to worry about narrative restrictions, allowing you to focus on simply killing monsters. Besides a bump in difficulty, updated treasure box loot, and a handful of new bosses to face, you're crossing the same map in the same manner while fighting mostly the same creatures.
As far as the English release from NIS America is concerned, one thing that fairly immediately stuck out to me was that some of the text editing work comes across as sloppy, as there are several places where English lettering in menus overlap or otherwise break outside their expected text space. For example, in the above screenshot, you can see "Attribute" overlap with "Sonic Wave", which is just one of many cases where I saw poorly-formatted English text. You can see a similar error in the third screenshot in this review. It's possible these can be ironed in quickly in a patch, but I saw far too many instances of this not to mention it here.
While some of the tank building and character class systems in Metal Max Xeno are moderately interesting, nothing else in this RPG is remarkable enough to stand out, which makes this a difficult game to recommend. At least the game's relatively short run-time and budget price means it's not a tremendous investment for those curious enough to check it out.