I’m just here for the gasoline
In the course of playing Metal Max Xeno Reborn, I reached the point where I could make a move on a female party member. I did so, and the game told me that the two protagonists lived happily ever after while the rest of humanity died. It then rolled credits and kicked me to the main menu. Cool.
I later got the opportunity to make a move on one of the male party members. I was curious, so I did so and got the same result. And that’s how my rampant bisexuality ended the world.
Like many in the West, I had never experienced a game from the long-running Metal Max series before. While the series has been around since 1991 on the Famicom, it has only rarely reached our shores: Metal Saga in 2006 for PS2 and Metal Max Xeno in 2018 for PS4 and Vita. Xeno didn’t go over so well, so the teams at Kadokawa, Cattle Call, and 24Frame went back to the drawing board and overhauled it into Metal Max Xeno Reborn. Sorry if you bought the original a scant few years ago, I guess.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn is certainly unique in the JRPG sphere, taking place in the crappiest imaginable future. Humanity developed a super-AI called NOAH to help us with all the destruction we were wreaking on the natural environment. NOAH decided that humanity was the problem and went to work wiping us out. I have to say, that’s fair enough. That would probably be the most efficient way of fixing things.
The AI absolutely stomped all over humanity’s collective butt. Then it stomped some more. Just as it’s lined up to shove its foot all the way in, Talis (or whatever you name him) shows up and suddenly becomes the savior of all humanity. What’s left of it, anyway. Which isn’t a lot.
Your goal is simple; NOAH’s ultimate weapon, the Catastropus (I am absolutely not making that up), is primed to take out Iron Base, one of the final strongholds of humanity. Talis needs to find some weapons and some people to use them, and stop it.
We’re not smart creatures
Refreshingly, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is rather light on narrative. I’ve grown accustomed to JRPGs beating me over the head with exposition, so it’s nice to find one that gets its point across and leaves you to your own devices. In Metal Max’s case, your devices are tanks. Forget magic and enchanted swords, you’ve got tanks.
You find a tank in the very next room that you start in, and while there are plenty of sections where you need to get dust on your boots, most of the action is from the armored safety of a tank. Some of the most exciting moments in the game are when you come across new tanks out in the desert and most of the combat strategy involves putting the right armaments on your vessel and finding the most effective way to fill the air with them.
Indeed, in the midst of battle, there’s little flexibility. It’s a mix between real-time and turn-based, but hiding behind things never really got me far. Instead, it’s best to equip for your enemy’s weaknesses and then try to hurl as much pain their way as you can before it strips the steel off your tank.
Where the legacy of the past lies dormant
It’s largely a linear RPG. As you progress from area to area, you hunt down and face off against “wanted” monsters, which are essentially bosses. Some directly block your way, others can be bypassed, and some need to be discovered. All of them put up a fight, and you can easily get sucked into one unprepared. You don’t always know how to prepare without throwing down first. Thankfully, the penalty for death is essentially nothing. It takes some of the tension out of the fights, but it does mean that you won’t pay dearly for biting off more than you can chew.
The battle system is kind of a mess, but also really neat. The enemies that roam the wasteland only get replenished if you take time to rest. Otherwise, if you clear a safe route, it’s going to be mostly safe if you need to backtrack. You alert enemies by crossing their line of sight, which is unreliable and weird. I’ve been in the face of enemies who didn’t notice me. I’ve been in the middle of combat and suddenly the foe decides it can’t see me anymore and the battle abruptly ends. They don’t replenish their health, so it isn’t much to resume fighting, but it is rather clunky.
In a lot of ways, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is incredibly basic. The graphics are more suited for the Switch or Vita, and even with that in mind, they aren’t terribly impressive. The UI is also a heaping pile of butts. So much of the game involves simple crafting and improving your weaponry, and a lot of the details are simply not available or not easily found.
It’s safer here in my armor-plated womb
You’re left to figure out a lot of things on your own. While I frankly prefer this over being overloaded with information early on, I have to wonder how many things I overlooked because the information I was provided on it was insufficient. Some weapons seem underpowered or innocuous, but maybe that’s just from a stat standpoint and they have some special function that isn’t stated. The arsenal in Metal Max Xeno Reborn is dizzying, and I simply don’t have the interest in testing out everything individually.
The storyline is going to be off-putting to some. The narrative itself is incredibly basic and doesn’t feature much at all in terms of twists and terms. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the backstory, which you pick up in bits and pieces. While it’s rather to the point, I found it to be strangely engaging. An apocalypse caused by man’s hubris is hardly a new perspective, but there’s this resigned “we probably deserved it” underlying everything. It’s a dark, almost humorous cynicism. It tickles me greatly that the overall backstory is the tale of a colossal screw-up, then when our backs were against the wall, we continued to screw up.
There’s an assortment of party members to pick up, but while some of them are interesting enough, interacting with them isn’t. As you work with them, their lines of dialogue in the base change and you get more of their back story. That’s about it, though. There’s very little interaction, you just talk to them until there’s world-ending sex.
Everything is better with a dog
As for the improvements made Metal Max Xeno that gave it the reborn moniker, I can’t say for sure because I never played the former. Apparently, the art style was redone. Originally, character art was handled by hentai artist Non Oda, and they were toned down for this one by Takeshi Oga. Don’t worry, there’s still a soldier character wearing panties and a garter belt, so it hasn’t completely been painted over with the color prude, but it’s maybe more in line with a lot of other anime games.
The greatest addition, however, is a dog. Yes, someone looked at the game and decided that the best way to improve it was adding a dog, and they’re absolutely right. Yes, you can pet him, and yes he helps you in combat. You strap a cannon to his back, cover him in armor, and he blasts the enemies alongside you. He’s even got his own skill line so you can use his experience to build him into the best boy.
I always found it hilarious when these big hulking enemies would look at a line-up of three tanks, then decide to focus their attention on the little Shiba Inu biting at its toes. Don’t touch my dog, though. I will blast you.
The translation is a bit screwy. I noticed quite a few typos, but those might be fixed in release patch. It happens. But even with that, there are some weird choices of words. For one thing, your dog has the ability to debuff foes by barking at them, at which point the word “dejected” crosses them. That’s the word you went with? Maybe they’re feeling dejected because they can’t be friends with your dog. That’s reasonable, I guess.
I really wasn’t expecting to love Metal Max Xeno Reborn as much as I did. I picked it up because I was curious. A tank-focused JRPG? It’s like the developers have been reading my diary. Sure, I could even see its jankiness on display in the screenshots that caught my attention, but that just deepened my curiosity. It’s definitely not a short game, at least 30 hours, but I absolutely ate it alive without slowing down.
It’s unique. As much as JRPGs always seem to try to one-up each other on spectacle, there’s nothing like a trio of tanks unloading their combined ordinance on a towering monstrosity of flesh and metal. And Metal Max Xeno Reborn seems to know it. It gets out of your way and lets you go.
It sometimes feels antiquated; a late arriver to a bygone era of JRPGs. An amalgamation of the directness of SNES RPGs and the pomp of the PS2 flavor. I can only dream of what the series would be like with a bigger budget and staff. But even with what we have now, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is something special. Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go to work digging through the series past. I need more, and I need it now.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]