Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Metal Max Xeno Reborn is a remake of Metal Max Xeno, a title released in 2018. Now with a revamped combat system, and a whole lot less dialogue, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is here to provide an interesting twist on the classic JRPG format.
While I admit I haven’t personally played the original Metal Max Xeno, I have done some research into it, so hopefully I can include some of the differences between the two versions throughout this review. Without further ado, let’s talk a little about the background plot. Metal Max Xeno Reborn is part of the Metal Max series, which I can only liken to a Mad Max if you replace the bandits with robots.
Specifically for Metal Max Xeno Reborn, the basic idea is that many years ago, humanity built a supercomputer to make life better, which was named Noah. Turns out, the supercomputer deemed humanity the biggest problem, so elected to expunge them from the planet. After much warring, a hero managed to shut down Noah. The machines and biologically engineered creatures it spawned, however, are still out on a rampage.
You take on the role of Talis, a young man who calls himself a “monster hunter” who has made it his goal to destroy as many monsters, robotic or otherwise, as he possibly can. After being let in to the local garrison “Iron Base”, he will begin recruiting allies to help fight back against the giant robot called Catastropas. This giant mech is responsible for much of the destruction of “Distokio”, and presents a serious threat. As you play through the game, you can collect background info from the characters you meet, and from the residents at the Iron Base.
So, at this point I’d like to let you know that in Metal Max Xeno Reborn (MMXR from now on) the developers have, for the most part, absolutely scrubbed away most of the plot other than a few missions you don’t technically have to complete, and the main goal of defeating Catastropas. What this means is that the game is almost fully active play time, but you miss out on a lot of the in-depth story. Some characters will also talk about things that might not make sense as it is related to plot that has been removed. While minimalist plot presentation isn’t always a bad thing, like older Monster Hunter titles or the Souls series, in a JRPG like this it is a little disappointing. You don’t get to learn more about the characters, other than the occasional dialogue line while in the base.
So, let’s talk about what a weird but fun gameplay approach has been taken here. First of all, we need to separate a few things: exploration, combat, and things to do at the base. We’ll start off with exploration. Now, in most traditional JRPGs you start off walking around the world map, then you normally get a land vehicle, then an air vehicle. In MMXR you get tanks. Now don’t get me wrong, you can walk everywhere if you really want, but tanks are where it’s at. In the tutorial dungeon you will acquire your first tank, and along with it, a brief intro into combat, which we will talk about later. Now obviously, you can’t take a tank everywhere you go, so sometimes you will need to go out and explore on foot. MMXR is divided up into areas with the occasional sub area you can get into, normally on foot. As you roam around the map, you will be able to pick up crates with items, or salvage materials from scrap piles.
As you earn some more cash, or progress further in the game, you have the opportunity to dig up buried items, which can be anywhere from cash to weapons and items. While chests and buried items will not respawn, the salvage piles will after a while. But everything isn’t all simply a trip to the dilapidated desert that used to be Tokyo, no no. There are fearsome creatures, both mechanical and semi-organic, prowling around. If they spot you, an “alert” meter will pop up. While this is filling up, you can run and hide from enemies, or initiate a first strike. When either the gauge fills up or you attack the enemy, turn-based combat will commence, which I will get into a little bit later.
Now, in addition to the common dreg monsters, there are WANTED monsters, which are REALLY strong creatures that have been giving people trouble possibly for years. These things are incredibly dangerous, and chances are you’ll be running away from them for a while until you get your tanks outfitted better. These monsters however will not only drop some unique items, they also provide you with a large cash payout, and potentially a new tank! Whenever you enter a new area, the helpful gynoid from the Iron Base will give you info on all the WANTED enemies in the area. When you approach one, she will also give a few dialogue lines, often indicating how well she thinks you’ll fare. Chances are “very poorly” in the first two map areas.
Now, if you look at the map you may think “oh, this game isn’t that big”, but you’d be surprised at how large the areas really are. Add into this that there are always enemies wandering around, treasure to collect, and things to explore, and the areas aren’t as small as they seem. I mean, there’s a reason there’s often a decent number of different fast travel locations in each area. Fast travel locations are something you’ll use a lot of as well, as most monsters other than the common scrub types won’t actually respawn for a decent length of time. Couple this with the fact that your tanks take a lot of damage and you heal at the base on normal mode, you’ll probably be traveling back and forth an awful lot. The side areas are similar, usually being areas you need to explore on foot, but may contain interesting mechanics, such as turning on the sprinkler system to reduce the stats of some exploding enemies you find in the area.
Alrighty then, let’s talk a bit about combat. Combat for on-foot battles and tank battles are largely similar, so we’re going to roll general combat under one umbrella, and then I’ll talk about the tank mechanics specifically after. Combat will start for you as soon as you, the player, see an enemy on-screen. This is because all enemies can be attacked outside of combat as long as the weapon you’re attacking with has the necessary range. This means you can also sneak up on an enemy from behind and hit them with a strong attack to start the battle. Before you ask, yes, you can kill enemies on your first move, without technically “entering combat”. Once you see an enemy, you can enter the action menu, select attack, and then either choose an enemy close enough on foot or actually aim your sights while in a tank.
Once actual combat starts, it functions largely like traditional turn-based JRPG combat. You have a little circle that fills up, and then you can perform an action, such as attack, guard, use a skill, or use an item. While the character you’re controlling is not performing an action, you can also walk around the battlefield. This allows you to move to set up attacks with weapons that have different areas of effect, such as cone shaped spread. While range becomes irrelevant for single targets once you enter combat, that doesn’t mean you can’t catch other enemies in the range if you position properly. Since you can equip multiple weapons, you can also decide what to attack with, as some enemies may be resistant or weak to certain types of damage. While the game gives you an effectiveness gauge when selecting an enemy to attack, I’m pretty sure there’s also a hidden attack modifier for physical/elemental damage types, at least just based on personal observation.
Tank battles are a little different fare. While tank fights function with a similar basis, because you can set up to five weapons, as well as support chips which will give certain bonuses on the tanks, things get a little more interesting. As an example, you could equip up to five heavy cannons on a tank, and then grab a support chip that allows you to fire all five cannons at once. Unfortunately, cannons are heavy, and tanks have a maximum load rating. As an interesting note, which took me a while to figure out, your tank health is proportional to the difference between max load capacity and current equip load. In order to increase equip load, you need to either improve your current engine, or acquire a new one. You can equip three different weapon types: cannons, machine guns, and special effect weapons. Each weapon type serves a different use, and has their own effects, as well as ammo count. While the machine guns have infinite ammo, they also tend to do less damage and have a worse hit rate.
Now, you might be thinking “well, isn’t that basically the same as while on foot?”. So here’s the thing: tanks don’t “die” when they lose their HP. Essentially, a tanks HP is just a protective armour. Once that’s gone, any further attacks will start damaging your equipment. Guns severely damaged? Can’t fire them. Engine broke? Can’t move. This is kinda cool in the sense that you can still keep on fighting after you run out of health, provided your gear isn’t fully broken, in which case you’ll be ejected to a foot battle. Keep in mind you could still run away, which stops your attacking, and instead lets you literally drive your tank, or walk, away from the fight and hope the enemy stops following you.
Even once you’ve cleared the game, there is still more available. As you clear a difficulty, you unlock the next difficulty, which restock chests and buried treasure, new and better gear becomes available, new WANTED targets become available, and enemies give more exp and money. You can either start up a new game, or continue on your saved file with all your progress still intact. After beating Catastropas at least once, you’ll also unlock Survival mode, which doesn’t heal you when you return to base, making it necessary to stock up on healing items to help get you through.
So as you’ve noticed I’ve mentioned earning levels. While these don’t directly affect the tank fights, they do affect your three characters and dog that you can take with you into battle. Yes, a dog. The dog is also an absolute beast, tanking hits better than some of your tanks. As your party members level, or your dog gets fed doggy chow, they earn skill points. These can be assigned in the main menu under characters, then again under skills. Skills can be anything from stat increases, to new skills to use in combat, to passive upgrades or unique skills.
Alrighty then, let’s talk a bit about the art direction, both musical and graphical. We’ll start graphical. There are two graphic modes, which confused me when I first swapped them, because it changes all the character portraits and I was NOT prepared for that. Essentially, one art style is more “gruff” and a little rougher around the edges, fitting for a desert dystopia. The other art style is smoother, and is more “traditional JRPG”-like. Both styles are pretty good and serve their own purpose. Personally, some characters, like Talis, the main character, I liked better with the rough texture. Others look better with the smoother art style. The music however? Just all-around really great. The area themes were really well done and I found portrayed the tone of the zone you were in really well. All of the battle themes also really slap, most of which are some nice heavy metal tracks with electric guitar at the forefront. The WANTED theme especially is really good.
Metal Max Xeno, despite all the love I have for it, is still certainly flawed in some aspects. First off, it’s really tough if you can’t figure out what you’re doing. Figuring out where to go is fine, but until I found a tank setup that worked for me, any battles that lasted more than a few turns didn’t end well for me. Additionally, there are a few really underexplained aspects, such as how upgrading engines give massive HP payouts on tanks.
Also, getting in and out of the tanks can get a little annoying, as sometimes you park too close to what you want the on-foot units to get in, then you have to get back in and move the tanks around. There are also a few points where you’re slogging through an absolute wash of enemies you don’t want to deal with, hoping you can just get through and be done with it. You can also get your tank stuck, sort of. While you can spin on an axis, you will still collide with obstacles, meaning if you catch a corner while trying to run from a WANTED bounty, you may be screwed. At least a full party wipe just sends you back to the base. It’s also really good money to game mileage, which always helps.
Overall, I have to say I really like Metal Max Xeno Reborn. While the gutted storyline and a few design choices are a little questionable, I found the combat system to be immensely enjoyable. Nothing quite like spotting an enemy over a hill and massacring them with a 100 ton cannon dropped by the last boss.Score: 8.5 / 10