Review – Mato Anomalies
It’s a wonderful and sad fact that the digital marketplace has allowed many a people to reach across the far distances and spaces to get mostly anything they want at any time. My parents live in the middle of nowhere, but they can still get Netflix, Amazon deliveries. and video chat with their children who live in different corners of the world. It’s an amazing sense of connectivity, and thankfully, it makes their lives infinitely easier. But that also means the idea of limited or niche concepts may not have the longevity they once did. The internet has some corners that are blocked off from others due to language or geolocation, but, for the most part, you can dip and dodge to see wherever and whatever you’d like. It’s why Steam so strongly protects against people abusing country-specific discount rates and why Argentinian Xbox codes get sold on every gray market website you can find.
So when I look at Mato Anomalies, a JRPG love letter from Arrowiz and Prime Matter, I have to consider certain ideas and aspects. The first, primarily, is if I think it’s a worthy enough game to stand on its own. The second, and I mean this with absolute sincerity, is whether it can stand against the competing landscape. It’s not just the games that get released now, but also all the games that were released before. People loved to purchase Metroid Prime Remastered because there wasn’t a great way to play it previously, and the new version is legitimately good and solid. On the other hand, I think the annoyance at all The Last of Us remakes is valid since you can still, for the most part, easily play earlier entries.
Mato Anomalies takes place in the city of Mato, where some kind of anomaly is occurring that is causing deaths, missing people, and massive demonic Rifts to appear. The game begins with you in the shoes of Doe, a nearly-murdered detective who is trying to figure out what the mysterious HANDOUT is and why people are very literally killing to get their hands on it. In just a few short moments, he is pulled into a multi-layered conspiracy that stretches to all corners of the world, and he can’t figure it out alone. Doe cannot enter the Rifts to battle the Bane Tide (monsters that feed on human emotions) within, so he’ll have to recruit unlikely allies to do the work for him. Gram, a cybernetically enhanced samurai; Butterfly, a self-assured assassin; Mist, a saber toting cyber puppeteer, and many more.
Mato Anomalies is the textbook definition of “good idea, awkward execution,” and that’s such a shame to say. Conceptually, it’s fantastic: a closed environment with main and side quests to take on as you see fit, driven by the player’s own investment in things. It’s not quite to the level of other JRPGs in terms of going down other paths, but there’s enough to keep you entertained if you don’t want to burn through the story too quickly.
The party you enter the Rifts with is static initially, but you quickly add enough members to your roster to customize as you see fit. Leveling gives access to yin and yang skill trees, dividing between more “active” and “passive” upgrades. There’s equipment, there’s cash to grind, there’s enemies to fight and re-fight, and there’s healthy chunks of dialogue in both aside conversations and expositional moments. Voice work is present but not constantly.
The thing that’s done best, easily, is the visuals. The different areas, like the 1920’s inspired Telosma Hotel to the disturbingly red Misty Corridors, all sing with personality and design. There’s so much homage to the different flavors of cyberpunk over the decades that it’s hard not to love the way everything is constructed.
Character avatars are varied, while having similar throughlines, the neon saturation point is low so as to not be overwhelming, and Bane Tide denizens are often upsetting as well as being scary. This could have easily just been another exploration into “gritty dystopia,” but there’s something different here. Capturing a time period that’s more atypical gives Mato Anomalies a flair and panache that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
Additionally, the combat system is pretty solid. By having characters access a variety of attacks that are afflicted with staggered cooldown timers, you can’t quickly brutalize through any group of enemies no matter how much you want to. You can speed up animations, but all encounters need at least some level of interaction to get through them, and, oftentimes, you want to take a moment and really decide on an attack.
The animations for the attacks, on a side note, are very hit or miss. When you do something spectacular, like Butterfly Dance or Flowers in Mist, it’s a very compelling sight to behold. By comparison, almost all of Smoker’s attacks are just him being gruff and incendiary, which matches his personality but doesn’t really excite me visually.
Also, I found it necessary to turn down and sometimes turn off the volume during fights because everyone just keeps yelling lines after every attack, and the number of lines recorded aren’t very many. It got exhausting to keep hearing Gram and Ringless yell the same things over and over, and it made me root for my own downfall. Which is a shame because Ringless was one of my favorite characters in terms of backstory and exposition.
Right, the story. Mato Anomalies does such a great job of telling the tale that I sincerely want to recommend it more. It’s a solid exploration into all the tropes of faceless evil corporations, magic and technology overlapping and the entire idea of perceived reality. Traditional conversations between talking heads are great, but the comic book breakaway moments are a nice changeup from regular cutscenes and something that I always enjoyed seeing. No character is particularly polarizing, which I think makes the story flow even better. As much as you want to make it about Doe or Lady Edelweiss, it’s ultimately a tale about Mato, about the people and the baffling culture that’s cropped up, and I celebrate that. With a different layer of polish, I think this game could have been one of my favorites.
The problem is that there’s a fumble in the execution. Since it’s neither open world nor totally linear, players need to keep running back and forth in the same areas again and again, contacting people, setting up ideas, going to Rifts, exploring dungeons and moving forward. It’s very cookie cutter when it comes to the actual gameplay, and that’s a tad disappointing. None of the Rifts (which are this game’s dungeons) felt necessarily long or complex, so it was less of an exciting exploration and more of a generalized chore to go in, find the Bane Tide and keep killing it until it was all gone. I had to stay focused because of my aforementioned notes on combat, but I wasn’t scratching my head over what needed to happen. Oh look, this path is blocked. I bet if I go that way I’ll find a way to unlock the path. Boom, I’m a genius.
Also, I abhorred the Mind Hacking, and that felt so wildly unnecessary. Perhaps to justify Doe’s existence (since he can’t enter the Rifts), you occasionally need to get information out of people in the real world, which you do with the assistance of SkyEye (Gram’s scantily dressed android) and hack into people’s brains. Which is done by being a deckbuilding card battler. Why? Just frigging why? I get that adding card games to JRPGs is a tale as old as time, but this is such a Chris Gaines moment in the otherwise beautiful composition of Mato Anomalies. It never felt natural, it never felt fun, and while the frequency is lower than it could have been, I was never happy to have to battle against someone’s brain while also trying to ration out my skill pool.
My last and final complaint is the load times, which I fully recognize might just be my Xbox. In a world where we are seeing further and further streamlining of titles and developers bending over backwards to hide the seams, it was jarring to always need to stare at yet another loading screen. A screen that I looked at far too long and read all the flavor text, saw all the portraits. I shouldn’t feel like I can and need to put down the controller just to wait to continue playing my game. This should be something easily ironed out (at least in theory), but instead there’s just a huge variety of screens all telling you “just hang on a moment.”
So, why the hell did I reference other games at the beginning of my article? It’s because we have a buyer’s choice on the market of video games right now, and Mato Anomalies – for all its charm and visual appeal – is not compelling enough to make me thrust it in the faces of other people. If this was twenty years ago and I bought this game, I would force myself to like and love it. I would grind out everything and convince my friends to come over and see it, play it, and we would all get super into it. It’s why I actually think Snoopy’s Silly Sports is pretty good, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have anything else to play, and you best believe I wasn’t going to not play video games.
This is a title that has some great things to offer, but just not enough of them in enough of a capacity. Mato Anomalies is relatively short, looks good but not amazing, and loads like I just caught it sneaking in after curfew and asked what it was doing. The voice work is okay but not fantastic, combat is good, card game is awful. It’s just a bit of everything but not enough of something, if that makes sense. Feel free to keep an eye on it, grab it during a sale, but just know this is a quick bite to eat, not a meal: I think you’ll still be hungry afterwards.
Excellent world-building, great characters, and spectacular visual moments. The use of comic book paneling was very eye catching, and the variety of Bane Tide monsters kept me engaged.
Leveling system is quaint, but not something brand new. You walk around, you run quests, you unlock paths and you fight monsters. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s a by-the-numbers JRPG.
Really ambient, jazzy and electronic soundtrack. Matches the visuals wonderfully, crafting the world of Mato as a place I want to visit. Points deduction for all voice work just not being what I wanted to hear.
Fun Factor: 5.0
A game should be a great play first and a great story second. When I realized that I was slogging along because I wanted to know the story and not because I enjoyed playing, I felt sad.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Mato Anomalies is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of Mato Anomalies was provided by the publisher.