You know when you put something together, and it’s finished, but you’ve got a handful of pieces left over? Or you had the parts and were somehow missing the instructions? Either way, few things are as frustrating as botched IKEA syndrome. Likewise, Atlus’ new Mad Max meets Final Fantasy release, Metal Saga, could have been a decent invention had its pieces been stuck together better.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by an event known as “The Great Destruction.” Mankind built a giant computer called Noah to fix pollution, and naturally, Noah went ahead and annihilated civilization. As expected, he missed a few spots (you’d think a murderous supercomputer would be more thorough), and pockets of human resistance managed to fight back and destroy it. By the time Metal Saga gets cracking, you’re pretty much out to waste the stragglers.
[image1]There’s a fine line between ‘open-ended’ and ‘aimless wandering,’ and although we’ve seen worse in recent RPGs (*cough* Romancing SaGa *cough*), Metal Saga can often leave you feeling like you have nothing to do. Although the game gives you a choice between ‘mechanic’ and ‘hunter’, the former leads directly to one of the multiple endings, each of which is determined by how may things you accomplish before you complete the game. Sans a major plot line or tutorial, it’s hard to tell what, where, and how to actually do that.
So you’re a hunter, which mostly involves killing a ‘monster-of-the-week’ for cash, or taking down a boss-type ‘outlaw’ for a more cash. There’s not much plot surrounding any of the outlaws other than a work contract or a basic description of their gang. While other hunters and mechanics join you from time to time, the lack of a coherent story to follow throws a huge wrench into the works. I’m beginning to think that the title Saga is becoming synonymous with pointless.
The game is a turn-based, menu-driven, random-encounter RPG, and as this is technically the latest iteration of the ancient Metal Max series, your chariot is a pile of bolts and artillery. You’ll start off with a lemon scrounged from a junkyard, but every town has different tanks you can rent and you’ll find more vehicles along the way. A decent level of customization between a couple weapon categories, engines, frames, control units, and ammo gives you a lot to tweak. It’s reasonably robust.
But again, some parts were left on the garage floor. For example, for every type of part, item, or customization, you’ll have to locate the correct vendor out of about ten. It’s fun to trick out your tanks, but not when you’re meandering around just trying to find the right guy.
[image2]Plus, you can’t exactly shop ‘til you drop. If you ever exceed the weight limit of your tank, it stops moving right where it sits. That makes sense, but when you discover a part, it has to be carried on a tank since your scrawny ass is definitely not Mr. Lost Planet, hoisting mech parts and such. If you can’t carry the part, you’ll have to drop some weight (armor, equipment) or just leave it. This happens far too often and leads to a pretty significant inventory management pain.
These foibles extend into battle as well. In typical fashion, your three-character party of vehicles takes turns whacking at enemies. Rather than standard health, the vehicles have SP, which is determined by the number of armor tiles you’re currently carrying, which in turn collides head-on with the weight restriction problem. Also, if there’s no mechanic or repair kit in your party and you sustain too much damage, you’ll have to head back to town every time you need to repair your vehicle, tow it there with another tank, or abandon it where it sits and come back later. With a little more ease of vehicle management - say, calling a tow truck or congealing the multiple vendors - Metal Saga may have at least felt more fluid and less tedious.
In an attempt to add some flair, the game lets you play a ton of mini-games. The 12 of them are nicely varied, from basic casino games to a muscle-flexing contest, but they seem tacked on and more suited to a sandbox or party game. I suppose between the threat of rival gangs and having to work on your tank all the damn time, you’ll need the diversion.
[image3]Especially from this bleak, depressing world. Post-apocalyptic or not, bland textures and monotonous scenery abound. Unexpectedly, some pretty killer weather patterns can move in during battle, and the monster design is awesome. In the first few hours, you’ll fight giant killer sunflowers, unicycle-revolvers, dragonfly-helicopters, cannons sitting atop fishnet stockings, and a huge VW Beetle. You read that correctly. Don’t get me started on the dogs with heavy artillery; they rock as hard as the equally unlikely soundtrack.
Right from the intro movie, the quality of the tunes is surprising. The main theme centers on a wicked, easily identifiable riff which resurfaces in big battles and lends a sense of episodic cohesion to the otherwise nonexistent continuity. Groovy battle music stands out too, the rock being a nice change of pace from standard, orchestrated RPG fare.
But even a hot stereo can’t save this beater. Equal parts chrome and rust, Metal Saga has what it needs to get you down the road, but forgets to include a map or destination. Lease, don’t buy.