Review – Metal Max Xeno Reborn

I remember watching a video covering hidden gem JRPGs months ago, and amongst them was Metal Max Xeno. The cel-shaded presentation was what initially grabbed me. What ultimately pulled me in, though, was the fascinating concept of doing battle and killing enemies with a friggin’ tank. That was enough to entice me to seek a copy out, and, like a man on a mission, I hurried to the internet. What I found crushed me – buying a physical is expensive. Prices are astronomically high. It might as well ask that I sacrifice my firstborn while also paying $100. Thankfully, PQube is here, not only remaking the whole game, but for extra spice, they revamped the mechanics. Acquiring it now spares your kid’s life, but is it even worth spending money on in the first place, despite being cheaper?

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - Gathered around a body

Felt it only right to pay respects.

The planet is dead, suffering cataclysmic devastation. Humanity’s selfishness ignites the events that led to this grim outcome. It sparks climate change, turning once tranquil bodies of water into nothing but dunes. The Apocalypse is upon us, a plot device that’s quite frankly overdone, but it incorporates a realistic angle to it, which helps – I’m a fan. Making the extinction of mankind be because of mankind themselves opens the door to creativity. There are a plethora of routes to go down to make one’s session enthralling. Well, the car must have broken down as it chugged along because, Goddamnit, it’s such a bare experience. I had to force myself to play due to my interest fading fast. What’s irritating is sometimes, there are flashes of potential. There’s no capitalizing on them, though. Instead, it’s relegated to being a boring footnote.

Don’t get me started on the characters. Besides the narrative, they’re the lifeblood of JRPGs, but sadly, they join the conversation for being stripped of any tangibility. The absence of substance is glaring. One of the first subjects breached when conversing with NPCs within the hub base is the absence of women. Without them, there’s no hope for repopulation. The drama and sheer anguish of being face-to-face with such a doomed predicament should manifest a good, compelling story beat, but, well, it doesn’t. Hell, an hour or two after that revelation, I would locate a girl while in the desolate desert. I couldn’t even begin to fathom why there’s such a reluctance to venture into these tribulations. The pieces for an engaging puzzle are right there awaiting placement. It’s a bummer to see them brushed off the table as if there’s no actual desire to explore the human psyche.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - checking the status of my tank

The Extinction is getting slightly further off with only one woman…

Now, there are tiny snippets of lore hidden throughout the wasteland. I don’t mind that it’s handled in such a manner because it encourages players to search every nook and cranny. Kadokawa Games attempts to infuse life into the world through this methodology. For it to have a chance of working, however, and I believe I’ve more than solidified my opinion at this juncture, but to reiterate, I need something – anything – to sink my teeth into. I don’t expect an overindulgence of sheer extravagance or an award-winning script. Silliness would suffice over seriousness, and yet, neither is here. What is, though, is the minimum, enough to coast and even then, it’s, well, Metal Max Xeno Reborn wastes the grand ideas it has. There’s zero charm or nuance to the dialogue – it’s stilted, and watching as intrigue washes away is aggravating as hell. 

My confusion over the revamped battle system is immense. In the original release, it was traditional turn-based, only with tanks. Skills are also directly linked to explosions and arsenal-centric maneuvers. I love that facet because it never shies away from the unique theme, wearing it with pride. Combat retains the tit-for-tat back and forth of the initial release, too. The critical difference lies in execution. It’s real-time now. You can drive around enemies, and when I first saw that, I was giddy. Maybe this meant I could dodge incoming bullets before aligning my assault. It could be Metal Max Xeno Reborn wants to nail down that dynamic touch, likely with the goal of helping heighten engagement. Yeah, that’s not the case. I remained a susceptible target because the missiles were homing, consistently damaging me regardless of my positioning. That’s not the most baffling aspect, though.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - Tank versus several robots

A tank with several robots? Well, that’s a bit suggestive.

Point blank; the mechanic change is pointless. After a strike, a small circle determines the amount of wait time there is. It acts like an ATB which means that as it rotates once, I can assign another command. The thing is, as it fills up, my foe is free to counterattack. Any retaliations have to wait, effectively making the system the same one as before – only now, it has the added, and ultimately fruitless insertion, of being a faux action title, sans the benefits. A considerable disadvantage of this fresh redesign is the ease of being ambushed by monsters. I would have seven or eight slimes surrounding me in no time, all with the chance to deal damage individually. To make matters worse, the numbers surpass healing values, leading to several game-over screens. Somewhat mercifully, I can record progress at a whim, helping mitigate the frustration of death.

A critical feature in Metal Max Xeno Reborn is bounty hunting. It’s beneficial for things like customization because the prize money is astronomical. The problem is the specific criminals are unbelievably unbalanced. Being a victim of their wrath can render weapons and tank movement obsolete in mere seconds. Sure, I can boost defenses but doing that costs money. Bolstering armaments is also viable, but hey, that costs dollar bills, too, and it’s bloody expensive. I needed to be selective because, in my experience, finding currency isn’t a walk in the park. Selling is usually the default answer to this conundrum, but there’s crafting, and the materials are pretty sparse. I was struggling to maintain a healthy wallet while still keeping enough to use for reinforcing my tank. I like the general idea behind this feature, but it requires some restructuring.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - Petting the adorable doggo!

No attempt at a joke. I just find dogs incredibly adorable.

Oh, and when I found a bounty, those confrontations were usually a bust. I assumed it was because I was under-level. So, I did what anyone would in a JRPG – it was time to grind extensively. After an hour or so, I was obliterating the lowly monsters within a shot or two. I felt powerful – every rocket fired was potent. With my confidence at an all-time high, I’d return to the encounter, and, as they tend to say, my ass was grass. Feeling dejected, I decided to hell with it and invested thousands in upgrading my weaponry before going at it again. The good news is I survived an extra half minute. The bad news is the outcome was the same. Avoiding them is impossible as typically, they spawn on the one Goddamn road leading to the core objective. You bet your ass I still ran, despite suffering casualties.

On a positive note, there’s a nifty fast-travel feature that slightly blankets the raw irritation anything above brings. For instance, say that I’ve lost every ally in my ranks. There’s a good chance I activated a checkpoint, meaning I could warp back to my hub base, recover, and return to the newest area at 100%. Yeah, it’s a big workaround to the unfairness of the bounty monsters, and sadly, it’s not foolproof. Getting to one is arduous to do. Besides, the game encourages exploration, so it isn’t favourable to stick to a linear path. See, there are chips scattered about that bestow devastating abilities. Finding them was delightful because the mystery of each one’s properties always aroused my curiosity. I love the wide variety on offer, too. As you can tell, there are intriguing mechanics buried underneath the fallacies. It’s just that, unfortunately, the terrible far outweighs the blissful.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - Crafting and enhancing weaponry

In the apocalypse, Talis crafts a lot. Dude has become good with his hands.

 Most JRPGs utilize a skill tree, and Metal Max Xeno Reborn is firmly in that group. The fundamental way it works is nothing unusual comparably, but it does have a fatal flaw: I’m incapable of respecifying any points to other branches. In a baffling turn of events, experimentation seems to be frowned upon for some inexplicable reason, bogging down the possibility of, yup, you guessed it, fun. Plenty of games within the genre also tend to grant the chance to look ahead to plan the best route. That privilege helps nullify any need to redistribute, but it isn’t feasible here. See, to unveil the next space, I needed to spend a point. If I then find a better passive, I’m out of luck. It becomes this trial and error process of investing, learning, and restarting from the beginning to take advantage and assure the most robust build.

Side-Quests also give cash and various other rewards. Some result in the recruitment of party members. For the most part, their goals are reasonably typical. You have those that ask for a particular item, to others that want dungeons thoroughly rummaged through – nothing too egregious. So far, the implementation seems mint, but it will quickly devolve. See, there was this one specific quest urging me to help an individual. From the start to finding her, it was straightforward. I was on autopilot the entire time. It was only when I reached the second to last step that hiccups appeared. See, it wouldn’t progress to the next objective until I killed myself. Doing that was somehow enough to jimmy it out of its continual loop. There were a few instances of this, too, which adds up.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - Android is briefing the team

You know, with no women, it makes sense why the android would be female.

Man, those loading screens can last a while. It’s not the worst-case scenario, but considering I’d be subject to transitions when hopping between areas, it rapidly accumulates. By my mistimed count, I reckon we’re looking at roughly 20 seconds for each one. I assume it’s a consequence of retconning cell shading in favour of a claymation-type graphical style, and, you know what, it’s not awful. My gripe has nothing to do with the quality itself but instead, how uninteresting and simplistic a few of the folks look. For every guy with cybernetic prosthetics, there’s the basic brunette. The craftsmanship of her model’s construction is superb, albeit blurry, but the chic clothing doesn’t match up with the harsh, dreary environment. I am impressed with how well the frames held up whenever I was in battle with multiple targets, though. Sure, it dips ever so minorly, but nowhere near catastrophic.

I’m not going to front; there’s a handful of tracks here that had me vibing. Of course, that statement means a few were decent to generic. I enjoyed the soft piano crescendoing across my ears. I liked the guitar strings and how they effortlessly captured that Wild West facade that comes with a barren desert. As a JRPG, however, Metal Max Xeno Reborn fails in a crucial category – by not invoking emotions at scenes aching for it. That said, I’m not sure it would pull the desired response out even if everything were matched, simply because of the blandness of the literary side. The voice acting is middling, with the delivery of lines being subpar. It’s equal amounts of monotone and serviceable. I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying it’s due to the actors, though. I firmly believe it’s because they didn’t have an appealing script – the awfulness stunted the performance.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn - Talis at the bar in their base

Apocalypse got you down? Drink away your pain.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn is unsatisfying. It tries to reinvent itself from its original release but ends up retreading the same systems, only now with shinier paint. My hopes were high when I came into it but with each minute spent playing, it all plummeted. It got to the point that I’d dread having to continue. The only reason I did so as much as I have is that I was providing coverage. Maintaining my dignity meant not bouncing. The late release of my review is a product of it feeling like a chore. It made me into a procrastinator. Don’t get it twisted; superb ideas are waiting to flourish, but the hesitation to venture into the dark side of a post-apocalyptic universe hurts it. I’m stunned that it took an exciting plot beat off the table so nonchalantly. I can’t, in good faith, suggest buying this game. 

Graphics: 7.0

I dig the clay-like look that the characters have. When you consider the models separate of the setting, they’re not badly built. The issue is  that some are uninteresting and have chic clothing in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Gameplay: 3.0

From turn-based combat to turn-based combat with a faux action skin. The way the system functions just isn’t fun. I like being able to customize, but I’m not a fan being dog-piled and easily murdered. The prime reason for that is horrible imbalance. 

Sound: 6.5

Some of the music is well done. I’m a fan of the piano and the guitars are peaceful. The other tracks aren’t anything special. The immense frustration of always dying sours the good ones, too.

Fun Factor: 2.0

Endless dying. I’m not a fan of, again, the imbalance of enemies. The tedium of having to always stop to choose a command, pick a target, and shoot, over and over and over was just…it was an ordeal.  

Final Verdict: 4.0

Metal Max Xeno Reborn is available now on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, PC.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Metal Max Xeno Reborn was provided by the publisher.