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Back in the day, I played Metal Saga for PlayStation 2. It was a charming game, but it didn’t hold me because I was on a fantasy settings vibe, longing for dragons, swords, and magic. You can imagine a tank-focused game didn’t have much fantasy flair. I confess I was unaware that the franchise was still wheeling to this day until I got to review Metal Max Xeno Reborn and did some snooping around.
One of my surprises was that Metal Max Xeno Reborn was indeed a rebirth. It’s a remake from its previous installment, Metal Max Xeno. Since I haven’t played the original game, this review will offer a fresh pair of eyes about my playthrough, which brought with it a bag of mixed feelings.
Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for plots. I play most RPGs expecting I will be surprised, enchanted, and, sometimes emotionally destroyed by the narrative. Yes, the game must also have engaging gameplay since it’s the aspect that glues me to it whenever I turn my console on. However, the story makes me return and play the game another day. And while Metal Max Xeno Reborn presented exciting gameplay, it fell short, tiny even, on the story aspect. Wanna know why? Time to read some Metal Max Xeno Reborn review on the PlayStation 5.
An Uncommonly Common Experience
For those unfamiliar, the Metal Max saga setting is about a post-apocalyptic world where players can ride vehicles to boost their firepower in battle. Mainly tanks, but I found a minibus while playing the game. Xeno Reborn respects the franchise tradition and brings us to a post-apocalyptic Tokyo called Distokyo. Mankind is on the brink of annihilation due to NOAH, an artificial intelligence, and it’s up to a few monster hunters to try to destroy NOAH and stop the incoming doom.
And how do we destroy them monsters, I hear you asking. That’s where the game shines the most. The battle system is a serious relationship between real-time and turn-based command execution, reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII gameplay. When you approach a hostile enemy, if within its line of sight, an alert gauge starts filling up. If you leave the enemy’s vision before filling it, you will avoid battle. If not, you will engage in it, and the turn-based style occurs.
The gauge takes quite some time to load. So it’s easy to preemptively attack the enemy and guarantee an edge in battle. You can select an attack or skill command and strike an unaware monster. Proactivity rewards the bold handsomely. I managed to destroy an entire colony of giant ants with my tank before engaging in battle. They could only watch as their friends fell prey to my meek pistol as I garnered all their experience and gold.
Attacks can vary from melee weapons to long-ranged firearms with different areas of effect and skills. You can equip a main weapon and sub-weapon on a human, alongside some armors and accessories. There are a lot of attributes to be mindful of, but since the game favors initiative, I found out that aiming for the weapons with the highest damage was a solid strategy. That is until a half-body automaton robot almost blasted my face off. I knew something was off. Shortly after, the game introduced me to the franchise’s flagship feature: tanks.
Tank Driving, the Real Thing
Driving tanks is the game’s high point and a key element in the Metal Max series. It’s way more amusing than walking around in our frail flesh-made characters and if the game didn’t add some obligatory human instances, I would never leave my seat.
Tanks can equip different weaponry such as cannons, machine guns, and S-Es, short for special equipment. Engine functions as its armor, weight, and load capacity. You can opt to carry up to five weapons at the cost of reducing the tank armor or build a one-weapon juggernaut. Cannons are the trademark of a tank. Powerful damage and ammo-dependant, I found it to be my go-to attack on late game. Machine Guns don’t need ammo, and most have the anti-air trait, which lets you hit those pesky airborne enemies easier. But their damage output is so low that I rarely used it after the first map.
On the other hand, special equipment was the sole reason I managed to progress in the early game. Some of these S-Es allowed me to shoot a hail of missiles in one attack. Not all S-Es are offensive; one can increase your tank load capacity or debuff an enemy.
And for the last tank equipment, we have Trait Chips, the true MVPs. They are pieces of equipment that provide unique effects to the tanks, such as allowing you to shoot twice per turn, fire all machine guns at once, or equip two engines, which increase your tank’s defensive capabilities insanely. Except for a few special chips, many have no downside. Since the game doesn’t do a good job introducing the Trait Chips, it took me a while to realize its potential. But when I did, oh boy, my experience improved twofold. There is nothing better than shooting with all five cannons on a single turn to boost a monster hunter’s confidence.
Tank combat is the same as on foot. When you select attack with an equipped weaponry, you enter a targeting system. You can fire away at all enemies in range. Most cannons and S-Es have ammunition, while machine guns do not. When you return to the base, your ammo is freely replenished, so go ballistic.
Explore the World with Caution
The game loves to call itself an open world, but don’t be fooled. It’s more encapsulated and linear than it wants to sound. Each area is big but relatively linear and leads you to an edge to enter the following map. That’s no open world, dear Kadokawa. But yes, there are a lot of explorational elements in it to find new loots, dig parts or face enemies.
The game is not shy about throwing overpowered enemies at the inexperienced player. It’s a bit obvious which enemies are challenging, given their colossal size or the number of mechanical teeth inside their mouths. For the sake of an accurate review, I went to challenge a sand megalodon in the game’s first area to see if its strength was as imposing as its appearance. Long story short: it was. One bite took over 80% of my tank’s health (called SP), and I had to flee to tell this tale.
When I died, just to test how the game handles game overs and not because I suck at it, I noticed that the consequences are pretty lenient. The character automatically returns to the Iron Base, a facility where we can buy items, customize tank parts, and just chill. The tank was restored, and as far as I could tell, I didn’t lose anything, like gold or experience. This allowed me to practice trial and error when engaging new enemies and exploring new areas since as soon as I returned to base, I could use the fast travel to return to the area of my demise.
Another detail is that with real-time gameplay, the exploration is smooth. While a giant ant will still try to engage me even if I’m driving the Death Star, I can quickly devastate it before the battle starts. Additionally, the auto-attack toggle adds to fluidity. This makes only strong monsters, like WANTED or bosses, a challenge.
However, I managed to cheese my way to victory in more than one instance by shooting an enemy and hiding behind an obstacle, thus losing the enemy heat battle but still dealing damage. Rinse and repeat, and soon it’s dead.
And of course, you can also explore on foot. Usually reserved for tights space, the change of pace is welcome but gets old quickly. After salvaging, manufacturing, improving, and painting your tank, it’s bittersweet to travel on foot and the simplicity of its gameplay. Most of my battles were just me toggling the auto-attack and letting my dog do the dirty work since his weapons were far more powerful than any human.
Party Members and the Notorious Skill Tree
What’s a JRPG without party members, right? (Looking right at you, Final Fantasy XVI). Metal Max Xeno introduces us to Talis, our mysterious monster hunter protagonist. Throughout the exploration of Distokyo, we potentially meet other members. Up to four members can explore together, one of them being the AI-controlled Pochi, the world’s most loyal and courageous dog.
With each level up, we acquire points to distribute in 5 skill trees: DRIVE, REPAIR, MEDICAL, MILITIA, and SURVIVE. NephTech is exclusive to Talis and uses distinct points called N-Points, acquired via special items. When you unlock one skill, new ones will be discovered within that tree.
I didn’t know until further in the game that each party member has a specialty related to their role storywise. Dylan, a brawler, has more skills in the MILITIA tree and Yokky, a mechanic, in the REPAIR category. That’s where the characters deviate slightly. Maria’s last MILITIA skill is Human Patriot, which can help evade some shots. Dylan’s is Seizure, which grants a chance to steal money or item from the enemy. Nothing too groundbreaking, honestly.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn really bummed me out in this sector. I watched a Let’s Play of the original version of Metal Max Xeno and noticed a drastic difference in the opening. In the original, the game shows a cutscene with a short backstory of the world settings, the protagonist’s background, and the presentation of the Iron Base. Why did they remove it in the remake?! I pressed New Game and was suddenly thrown directly into an unknown location with some hasty tutorials guiding me at every step. Fifteen minutes later, after reaching the overworld, the alleged plot surfaced.
After completing the main quest requirements and entering the Iron Bases, I met the few mankind survivors. The game has no cutscenes, and every interaction is set in a visual novel style. A static image illustrates the character while a Japanese voiceover reads the text aloud. Then, without even a simple please, they sent me on a quest to destroy Castatropus, the imminent decimator of what is left of humanity and nexus of all monsters. Come on, Metal Max! To be fair, there is another main quest rolling to find survivors worldwide, but that still doesn’t add anything to the narrative.
Ok, I went back into the world, and my experience summary is something like this: did some exploring around; found a collar, got a dog; found a survivor, fed her; did some WANTEDs, boasted, and motivated the drunken boy in the base to do the same; discovered a library, saved an immortal woman (what?) and all of sudden I had a whole group of monsters hunters steamrolling in the desert with our tanks. And not one cutscene in the midst of it all.
I don’t know if Metal Max wanted to fully embrace the freedoms of the gameplay and butchered most of the narrative and cutscenes, but whoa, talk about a slaughter. If you want to know more about the story, better prepare your kidney. I got most story tidbits from the bar. After finding and delivering some bottles scattered through the world, the barman shared some pieces about the world’s past.
Humanity created Noah, an electronic brain supposed to do some thinking, solve environmental troubles, and so on. Guess what? AI discovered that humans were the most harmful factor to the environment and orchestrated an attack on mankind: The Great Annihilation. I’ve heard this story before, and you probably have as well. Probably the only person who doesn’t know this one is Mark Zuckerberg.
The most menacing of NOAH’s creation and still running the protocol that commands it to render humanity extinct is Catastropus, so at least we know what we are fighting for, unlike Zero in Mega Man X4. And to kill these SoNs (Sons of Noah, really) of a beach, upgrading and building new pieces to our tanks is primordial.
But since capitalism does not forgive even the world’s only savior, we need money. At this point, the game introduces us to WANTED enemies, which, as you might imagine, are side-quests of hunting bounty enemies in exchange for gold and their marvelous parts. I’m a sucker for this kind of side-quests. Since I was already exploring the map in search of spoils, coming across one of these monsters and eliminating it were a plus to my enjoyment rather than a side-track.
But if you are one of those who play an RPG primarily for its narrative, then this game is not for you. I felt scattered and lost for a few moments, not knowing what to do next. I knew that I needed to upgrade my tank to progress since leveling up doesn’t do shit for it.
But in due honesty, I felt like I was playing Jetpack Joyride again, where the main purpose of the game is to spend money on upgrades to go further in it so I can earn more money and buy more upgrades to go even further until I defeat the big bad boy. You should know that I had a blast playing Jetpack Joyride, so that’s why I relished Xeno Reborn, even though its plot had fewer words than a coloring book.
What Drew me to the Game
So why did I, someone who puts stories on pedestals, continue to play the game even though I knew this aspect would frustrate me? The gameplay progression is addictively fun. Xeno Reborn throws main quests, sub-quests, and mini-quests at us, and they all do something in common: evolve our characters. Which RPG player doesn’t like to see their character rise from a meek high-schooler to a godslayer? And we need to do some extreme upgrades to our tanks because the difficulty spike in each new map is insane.
Here’s where the progression of the game really shines through. I got a weapon, a material, or both as a reward for defeating each WANTED. Those will usually be far more powerful than the one I had at the moment. If not, the reward gold helped me buy new armaments.
After I killed Zamza, a creepy giant mechanical spider, it dropped a bladelike cannon. This weapon boasted around 1300 attack power, whereas my previous one had 610. Do you see what I mean? Get the parts/weaponry from all the WANTEDs on each map, then proceed to the next one until I become the Ultima Weapon. This progression roadmap helped streamline my experience. Where it once was chaos, now there was a bit of order.
Oh god, have I mentioned the minimap? I can’t stress enough how much I love minimaps that show items’ locations. Maybe it’s my early 30s, or I’ve grown tired of exploring maps and bumping into dead ends. Seeing the white dots on the minimap and knowing they are chests made the game feel faster and flowy. Thanks, UI designer.
Beauty is on the Inside?
The game is not ugly per se, but you can see that Kadokawa has not set aside much budget for the graphics department. It’s as if the staff used a free version of a new graphics engine. It reminded me slightly of the graphics in Enchanted Arms, a game from From Software before it was acquired by Kadokawa. Doll-like characters, bland scenery, and unimpressive special effects. Metal Max Xeno Reborn reminded me of a The CW series that started to lose its audience, and they reduced the financial scope to keep it alive.
If, for any reason whatsoever, all my babbling made you give up on the idea of acquiring Metal Max Xeno Reborn but still found some features charming, I can suggest some alternatives. For real-time and turn-based combat, you can try Final Fantasy XII. Its settings starkly contrast the sci-fi post-apocalyptic of Metal Max, but the battle is quite similar.
Wanna stick to futuristic war, but are willing to consider adding kaijus, an intriguing storyline, and real-time strategy into the fray? 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is your go-to. Or, if you like to customize machines, but instead of tanks, you prefer giant robots, I suggest you wait a little longer for the remakes of Front Mission. The game is set for Summer 2022, so it won’t be long now.
Pros and Cons
- Controlling tanks is a welcoming change of pace from most JRPGs
- Crafting and upgrading weaponry is fun
- Progression is rewarding and visible
- Subpar narrative elements with translation issues
- Uninteresting and uncharismatic characters
- Graphics resemble a PS2 end-of-the-generation game
- Lack of tutorials in some gameplay aspects
Question: Is Metal Max Xeno Reborn a remake?
Answer: Yes. Metal Max Xeno Reborn is a remake of Metal Max Xeno, a 2018 JRPG release for PS4 and PS Vita.
Question: What are the differences between Metal Max Xeno and Metal Max Xeno Reborn?
Answer: There are some. The most glaring are in the battle mode, which has changed from turn-based to a mix between real-time and turn-based, and in the narrative. They removed all cutscenes and many parts of the plot in favor of… I don’t know what.
Question: Is Metal Max Xeno Reborn part of a franchise?
Answer: Precisely. Metal Max Xeno Reborn is part of the Metal Max franchise, which stemmed from a 1991 tank-themed Family Computer game.
In the end, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is an oddly endearing game. It’s like a palate cleanser after playing a text-heavy RPG like any Legend of Heroes or if you got tired of repeatedly dying in a Soulsborne. You can play Metal Max Xeno Reborn while watching your friend on Twitch or chat on Discord. I don’t know about you, but I need a game like this now and then as a breather.
At New Game+, you unlock the Survival mode. The recovery facilities worldwide are removed, and the player has to survive only with parts and medicine found on enemies. An experience for those who no longer desire to taste joy in life. Besides trying these modes, I see no reason to replay it more than once. So unless you’re a speedrunner or want to spice the challenge in your life, you might as well shelve Metal Max Xeno Reborn until the need for saving Tokyo arises again.
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