METAL MAX Xeno is a recently released JRPG for the PlayStation 4 that originally launched as a Japan exclusive for the PlayStation Vita. Now, fans in the West can finally experience the third entry within the METAL MAX series to launch outside of Japan. Find out what we thought with our review of METAL MAX Xeno.
+Oda Non’s 2D character art does not disappoint and delivers some of the best pieces of art in JRPG history
+Tank customizations aren’t just aesthetic, but also serve a purpose in and out of combat
+An easy pick-up-and-go title
-Can be a bit too grind-heavy from time-to-time
-The story gets muddied by much of the back-story that is told
If there’s one genre that has a special place stored away for it in my heart, it would have to be dystopian titles. More specifically, anime-styled dystopian futures where robots, tanks, and alien lifeforms have taken over the world and the remnants of humanity dwindle at the edge of extinction.
Out of the many JRPGs out there, METAL MAX Xeno is one of the few JRPGs that actually takes this theme by the hand and struts about using it as its entire premise. Fans of anime franchises such as S.T.R.A.I.N. and Desert Punk may notice a few similar themes when the story begins to unfold. But I already know what you’re about to say, “I have a few JRPGs to look at already. I just picked up Valkyria Chronicles 4 and Dragon Quest XI and I really want to play them.”
Trust me, I’m already working on a review for the first of the two mentioned titles in a fashionably late sense of execution. But there’s a good reason (such as I’m going to be streaming the first few hours of the game). Now, you hardcore JRPG guys and gals may be wondering why I’ve even stated what I have thus far. Well, first off, METAL MAX Xeno is a JRPG that’s flying completely under the radar, it’s one that isn’t really getting a lot of mention in the big media as it is a much smaller title than the prior two well-established franchises.
Metal Max as a franchise is serving up its 25th anniversary with a PlayStation 4 title
It’s also a game that’s appealing to a very niche audience. Much of that audience may be familiar with titles ranging from Freedom Wars to Drive Girls and may find their need for one such title has become available to the West. On top of its recent release, Metal Max as a franchise is also serving up its 25th anniversary as of this year and is doing so with a second entry to make its way overseas since the saga was established. The last time we Westerners could even get our hands on a METAL MAX title was back in 2005 when Metal Saga released for the PlayStation 2.
When it comes to Xeno you’re going to see familiar themes from the well-established JRPG franchise appear. First, tanks. Yes, you read that right, you captain a tank. Second, a dystopian future (remember what I mentioned earlier?) where humans are nearly extinct from an enemy they never once suspected to wipe them out. Third, your enemies are manmade entities you know rather well; your computers, rather, a supercomputer (Skynet anyone?) that turned against humanity, wiping out almost all of Earth’s population as it gained sentience.
Then, in good anime fashion, you have the “king of edge-lords” (man, this guy is literally the long-lost brother of Knives the One) that goes by the name of Talis. Just as you would expect, he has the look to go with it too thanks to his cybernetically enhanced arm, blood red hair, and two katana’s that remain sheathed against his back. The funny part about his entire appearance? The dude never once uses his swords. Just as you would expect, he does a lot of screaming, he’s plagued by his past and he doesn’t exactly like humans and non-humans alike.
While it sounds like Talis is a little ray of sunshine, he’s far from it and the rest of the cast actually fare quite a bit better than our main protagonist. To bring all of these characters, their world, and the location known as Tokio (the remains of Tokyo after the attack) are all brought to life in a magnificent way.
Oda Non once again knocks it out of the park
For those unfamiliar with Oda Non, I wouldn’t be surprised, as many are unfamiliar with his works ranging from character designs in world-renowned anime and manga franchises such as Queens Blade, Bikini Warriors and well – some hentai he has worked on. For those unfamiliar with Hentai, I’ll leave the Googling up to you. Just don’t do so at work, please, don’t. It’s NSFW.
To bring the game to life, Oda Non does what he does best by bringing the characters to work through some absolutely gorgeous 2D character art, which is by far some of the best in modern day games. The 3D art doesn’t do his work justice, nor does it stand out as well as his 2D works. But it doesn’t mean the art is bad by any means, it just didn’t translate as well as one would hope.
However, in a way, you will need to keep that this game was originally developed for the PlayStation Vita in Japan and thus, will appear as an HD version of a PlayStation Vita title. So graphically, the game itself is quite impressive when keeping that in mind, but still, the character models don’t do Oda Non’s art justice by any means. You’ll notice this quite a bit when you meet various characters and developmental cast throughout your adventures.
Even as they eventually find themselves calling the locale “Iron Base” home, you’ll still question the use of cell-shading versus hand-drawn characters within the game.
Let’s talk story.
As far as the story is concerned, METAL MAX Xeno isn’t going to be some enlightening story, one where you’ll walk away having to share your endeavors with the world. It’s a pretty simple one to be quite honest. Our story is basically this: Humanity has been pushed on the verge of extinction after an A.I. has gained sentience (remember what I said before?). As you explore the world controlling Talis and various members of his party, your goal – one you are forced to have due to having one of the only functioning takes in the world – is to hunt down other survivor settlements.
As you do, you’ll be introduced to various bosses will block your progress until you defeat them. Once you do, you’ve essentially decimated the enemy threat, given humanity a slightly better chance to survive and even secured a new survivor. You’ll even notice the amount of these computer-controlled enemies on your monitor has begun to diminish showing that your efforts are beginning to pay off in some form or another.
Due to how characters and well; humans; fight for survival – you’ll notice where the story begins to lose vision of the message it’s trying to convey. The characters will begin to show their own goals, their own initiatives and focal points to a contingency plan to ensure our – humanities – survival while making the main story itself somewhat difficult to follow.
Just know sex tends to be a focal point from time to time as a few of the characters let their inner Master Roshi show without shame.
The tanks will steal the show and for a very good reason.
Even as you get into your 15-20 hour experience, the characters themselves feel hollow from time-to-time and will even make you shake your head as the story gets underway. Because of that Metal Max Xeno does suffer from the typical anime-problem where plotlines and secondary stories begin to blur together.
Because of this, the tanks (a focal point of the game) become more compelling and interesting to take a look at as the focus begins to shift to them. Since you will be spending over 80% of your time in the game in the tanks, they are worth being mentioned since you won’t be doing much with the characters you will control.
During the course of METAL MAX Xeno, you will spend almost all your time in a tank. You will learn how to optimize them through upgrades to their chassis, weapons and their engines. While you can alter them aesthetically, the most important ones will be the weapons you choose to use, the engines, and – as mentioned – what they will be optimized for.
Some of the tanks are best left as light vehicles so that you can get them up on the attack order first. This means lowering their weight is essential so that they can have slightly heavier weapons at the cost of their health (glass cannon’s anyone). But the most important part is developing and upgrading weapons based on the weakness of the enemies that you will encounter.
It’s not often to find that different enemies, especially bosses, may have a resistance that differentiates from the last encounter. You may have to switch out your freeze damage for lightning damage or lightning for ballistics damage in order to ensure you are dealing the proper damage type an enemy will be weak to.
Combat is where the game shines the most.
Speaking of tanks, weapons, and upgrades, combat is where this game shines the most. While each encounter is a turn-based affair, there are a few things that change and for the better. Unlike most JRPGs, your weapons have limited ammo depending on what kind they are. The Death Ray itself has limited uses, sitting between 4-8 (depending on your upgrades) you’ll see that you can’t just blast away your enemies as you please.
Even some of your special abilities will use up more ammo than say a standard or “sniper” skill. Taking this into consideration means you may need to equip one of your other party members with a similar type of weapon in order to match the elements your foes have a weakness against. Even with this tidbit of information, Metal Max Xeno’s fights aren’t easy by any means.
You will need to spend time grinding out some experience and money in order to upgrade your tanks, enhance your characters by completing specific tasks and moving on from there. You will even find yourself backtracking and exploring on foot in order to encounter foot-based battles inside of strongholds that used to serve as a home to survivors until the machines and mutants attacked.
Speaking of foot-based attacks, let’s backtrack a second to tank-based combat. In the tank-based combat moments, you will take notice that your tank has both a shield and armor points. Once these are depleted, your tank will begin to tank damage. As it does, you’ll find that some functions may cease to work as intended. There were moments where I noticed that even when my ally (name omitted due to spoilers) repaired my tank, that some parts there were completely broken would not repair.
This means that sometimes I found my tanks targeting would be off as my main 120mm cannon had been destroyed. As things escalated, I soon found that my other weapons had taken quite a bit more damage, rendering my basic machine guns having been disabled and my laser-based attacks. As the enemy took its next turn after my laser weapons attacked, I soon found my tank destroyed and Talis being placed on foot.
From there, things didn’t look much better as my party stared down this hulking tank with more than half a dozen cannons and various anti-tank weapons melded to its body. Before I knew it, I was being sent back to base in order to re-evaluate my approach to the encounter. The first mistake I made was having not upgraded my tanks armor and shield capacity by equipping a new generator/engine to its build. Secondly, I hadn’t upgraded any of my parts nor had I even allotted the points my party had earned from their adventures up to this very point.
My tank is running out of fuel and my ammo is low – Review Conclusion
When said and done, one would have to remember that METAL MAX Xeno was initially launched for the PlayStation Vita. Because of this, we aren’t going to see current generation graphics like we did with Marvel’s Spider-Man or even Horizon Zero Dawn. Instead, you’re going to get an experience one would expect on the PlayStation Vit and one that feels just right for what it is and what it has to offer.
At this point, I almost wish that NIS America had taken the time to release the PlayStation Vita version in North America or even a Switch version so I could take the game on the go. It would probably do rather well on the handheld-hybrid and would even be a profound experience for those hungry for a JRPG experience on Nintendo’s latest hardware.
METAL MAX Xeno
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Global), Vita (JPN only)
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Kadokawa Corporation, Cattle Call
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: Available Now
But when all said and done, METAL MAX Xeno isn’t a massive game by any means. It’s a game that’ll stick around for a good 10-to-20 hours before you wrap it up. Once done, you’ll be done, but it’s a nice entry into my JRPG library and is one that is worthy of its $39.99 USD price tag. If you haven’t given a shot, you really should and I highly recommend you do so.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.