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A low budge JRPG with Tanks

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    Metal Max Xeno

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    A low budge JRPG with Tanks

    Introduction

    The Metal Max franchise is a long running series with the first game being released in Japan in 1991. Metal Max Xeno is actually the 6th entry of the original series. Xeno is actually the first of the main series to actually be released outside of Japan. While not an expert on the previous games or anything, Xeno appears to be mostly a standalone game despite likely being a direct sequel of the prior entries. Knowledge of the prior games are not needed to understand the small amount of story in Xeno. The premise is different from a standard JRPG, but not entirely original in media. Xeno takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a man created A.I. called NOA had began thinking for itself and desires to exterminate all humans on the planet. At some point in the past, NOA was destroyed, but its robotic creations (SoNs) still roam the land continuing the NOA’s mission to exterminate the humans. In addition to the post-apocalyptic situation, it is also a doomsday scenario where there are barely any humans left (at least in regards to this game’s location).

    Story

    The game’s premise and background is interesting, but unfortunately, the story is relatively minor. It starts off with the main character (default name Talis) wandering around the Tokyo wasteland to seek revenge on the SoNs who had killed his mother. Eventually, he stumbles onto the secret and highly advanced "Iron Base" that was home to a few survivors. These survivors tasked Talis to look for other survivors and to defeat the SoNs. The story starts off interesting, but it doesn’t really get much more than that. There is very little story development after that outside of finding more survivors and defeating the main SoNs. Players looking for a heavy story driven game here will be very disappointed despite the interesting premise.

    Characters

    Similar to the story, the characters here are relatively simple and forgettable. Every subsequent survivor comes with a unique background, but after their introduction, they get relegated to mostly the background without much relevance. There are a few cutscenes that depict some dramas between the characters and some of the issues they deal with, but the game provides little to no resolution to these developments. The main character in particular had a pretty important subplot, but the consequences and development gets dropped. The characters’ subplots are essentially left "open ended" much like the story at the end. A quick research of the prior games seem to suggest that this is a recurring aspect of the Metal Max games. For me personally, this aspect comes off as very disappointing since characters and story does not mean much in the end. There’s little reason to get invested in such things.

    Setting

    As previously mentioned, this is a post-apocalyptic game with a doomsday scenario. Ruins and wasteland are what the players will mostly see during the game. Despite having a lot of ruins in the game to explore, all of them look nearly identical between each other. There is overall, little diversity in its locations and they aren’t memorable at all.

    Graphics

    At first glance, Xeno was clearly a low budget game. If people didn’t know any better, this game could easily be mistaken for a PS3 or even a PS2 game. Character’s animations are stiff and awkward at times. Not much details are given to the characters or even the environment. The character models are a better though since the game uses cel-shade graphics for them.

    Well, this game was also developed for the Vita so it would partially explain the subpar graphics. As a side note, the character artwork in the CGs are great, but there aren’t that many of them in the game.

    Music

    The music was much better than I expected. It felt like a good portion of the budget went into the soundtrack. Based on the Japanese soundtrack, there are about 59 tracks in the game. Overall, the tracks range from heavy metal/rock compositions to the creepy atmospheric scores. I don’t care much for the latter ones, but the former ones and also some other event tracks are pretty great. With that being said, there are a few tracks that are used for most of the game which makes it hard to remember some of the other good tracks.

    Gameplay

    This is the one area where Xeno really shines. What really sets Xeno (and the Metal Max games) apart from other JRPGs is that you fight in tanks during battles. The degree of customization allowed on tanks is superb ranging from engines, weaponry, and basic tank structures. You can decrease the weight of weapons, modify its attack power, change the weapon slot to allow either cannons, machine guns, S-E, etc… You can also build and find weapons, make tanks based on blueprints and attach special chips that affect battles and performances. There’s a lot to consider when customizing each tank and seeing what they can be used for.

    As for the characters, every character starts in one of the 5 job classes, but can freely change classes. Each class comes and is able to learn certain skills that are useful for particular situations. Job classes also limit the type of armors and weapons that they can equip in battle as well. Overall, there’s less customization for human characters compared to the tanks, but that’s generally fine considering that most of the time, you’ll fighting in tanks.

    The battle system is mostly a standard turn based system regardless of in tank or on foot. You do have to input all of your character’s commands first and the turn action will be determined by every character’s speed.

    The overall gameplay will be pretty simple however. Ride your tank through the wasteland to get from point A to point B to activate the next story event. Along the way, battle any enemy that appears, locate buried treasures, explore ruins and acquire the treasures inside. There’s also a number of tough sub-bosses that are treated as bounties that the player can fight. They can be challenging early and throughout the game since most are optional. Outside of these parts, there’s not much else to do, but upgrade and develop new equipment from parts acquired from enemies. It’s simple and can be repetitive, but the grind can be entertaining, especially to long term JRPG fans.

    It is worth mentioning that this game has a number of difficulty spikes and remain above average in difficulty throughout. This is especially true if you don’t understand how to equip/customize your tank. There’s only the default normal difficulty at the beginning so you’re stuck with it even when things get tough.

    Replay Value

    The main story isn’t very long. Probably about 20-30 hours only, but there’s a NG+ option that allows you to keep everything and acquire new equipment and bounties that are exclusive to NG+. There’s also multiple levels of difficulties that are unlocked after each subsequent playthrough for further replayability. The option to play the game in "Hunter Mode" is great to avoid the story distractions. In this mode, you play through the game, but most of the story cutscenes and developments are ignored. It focuses on beating the bounties and acquiring new equipment portion of the game.

    Conclusion

    Metal Max Xeno is a JRPG with a good premise, but with an open ended story and not much substance. The characters had potential, but ultimately lacks much development or resolution to be really invested in. The gameplay is great, particular the ability to customize tanks which isn’t seen much elsewhere in JRPGs. There’s also a lot of replayability. However, outside of the gameplay, Metal Max Xeno is pretty subpar and forgettable. This game isn’t recommended to a casual JRPG fan, but probably for those that want something different like being able to customize and use tanks.

    3/5 or 6/10.

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