If you’ve got a soft spot for tanks and dystopian futures like me, Metal Max Xeno is a JRPG you should definitely check out. I know, I know, there are a ton of other JRPGs coming out this month and over the next couple of months, but hear me out, especially you hardcore guys and girls… this is a solid game. There’s no doubt Dragon Quest and Valkyria Chronicles will drown out a lot of other JRPGs this season, but I think Metal Max Xeno deserves a place amongst these discussions even while it may only appeal to niche audiences.
Metal Max is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. If you haven’t heard of the series, don’t worry, neither have I! This shouldn’t be all too surprising to anybody considering this is only the second game in the series that has made its way overseas. Originally, Metal Saga released back in 2005 for the PlayStation 2.
Xeno takes place in a dystopian future where humans are nearly extinct. Pockets of survivors litter the world after a supercomputer we created turned against us. You’ll find yourself in Tokyo, now renamed “Tokio.” You play as a young man named Talis, and holy crap this dude is the king of edge-lords. Talis has a powerful metal arm, blood red hair, and if that’s not enough, two katanas on his back that he’ll never actually use in battle. He screams a lot, he kills just about everything that isn’t human, and the game doesn’t ever really make you care about him until the last couple of hours.
The rest of the cast fares a bit better, albeit nobody personally stood out to me. It’s worth mentioning that Oda Nan’s 2D character art looks really, really good. The 3D character models simply don’t do the fantastic artwork justice. This is a game that’s also on the PS Vita in Japan though so I did keep my expectations in check there in terms of graphics. We’re never really given too much character development amongst the cast, which is a shame considering it’s quite entertaining watching them set aside their differences for the fate of humanity. They’re all housed in a location known as Iron Base, one of the last safe havens for humans in Tokio. There’s so much focus on what they’re going to do next in order to ensure survival, we don’t really get much time to know the party, perhaps this was intentional though as death is a normal expectation in this world.
While the characters aren’t always the most compelling, the tanks in Metal Max Xeno steal the show, and thankfully, you’ll be spending a ton of time in them. There’s a commendable amount of customization players get with each tank, you can change things like guns, the insides, and the overall aesthetic of each individual tank and there’s a good number of them to find. Being able to change the paint on your tanks really allows for some personalization, which we sometimes don’t get to see in too many JRPGs. I also found myself experimenting with different tanks, trying to figure out what the best combinations would be for battle as you can take three out with you each time you explore.
Metal Max Xeno tries to take on some intriguing ideas with its storyline but they never get as much focus as they deserve. Sex is a theme that can easily become a trope in Japanese video games, widdy in some ways and unimaginative in others. In this case, we see the characters exploring the need for sex to continue the human race, an interesting discussion that would definitely be had in this scenario. As serious as the storyline tries to take this discussion, it amounts to nothing more than melodrama more often than not. Some may enjoy this and some may not. I personally found myself desiring much more from a game that has the pieces to be something a lot better than that.
Combat is easily the strongest part of Metal Max Xeno. It’s quite awesome seeing different developers take on the turn-based combat fans of the genre know and love, and modernize it in different ways. Xeno’s battles are fast-paced, but they’re not easy. You’ll have to strategize, allocate skill points, and have the right equipment for the right boss battle if you plan on progressing in the game. There’s no handholding so hardcore players should expect a real challenging treat with Metal Max Xeno. I will say that I personally found the game to be a bit too grind-heavy, especially towards the end. As much as I loved the turn-based battles, there was a point where I just wanted to keep making progress but felt as though I had hit a wall.
The world of Metal Max Xeno is designed in a very linear way. Some may like this, some may dislike it. I was personally indifferent about it for the most part; it does make the world feel very small, with little to explore or do outside of grinding or the main quest. Towards the end there’s a bit more backtracking and exploration involved but it’s still not much. Again, as this is a Vita game as well, it’s not too surprising, just keep your expectations in check and you won’t be disappointed. If you’re expecting a wide-open world to ride your tank in, you won’t find it here.
All that being said, Metal Max Xeno is a really great game for PS Vita’s remote play. I enjoyed a good chunk of my time with it while lying down in bed with my good old Vita in hand. It just felt right. I wish the game had received a PS Vita port over here in the west but this isn’t something I’m going to dock points for, just a personal wish that I felt was worth mentioning for those who also wanted it. Perhaps the game will receive some Nintendo Switch love in the near future, fingers crossed, as I’m sure it’d do really well on the handheld-hybrid device.
In a year filled to the brim with triple-A game releases, there’s no doubt some of the smaller games will be lost in the fray. I hope that Metal Max Xeno isn’t one of those games. While it may seem like I had a lot more to complain about than praise, I actually did really enjoy my time with the title, and it was a nice surprise considering how unfamiliar I am with the series. At $40, Metal Max Xeno is a worthy addition to any JRPG-lover’s library, I hope you’ll consider it.