Metal Saga - Staff Review  

Sagacious Heavy Metal
by Tyler Willis

30 to 100 hours


Rating definitions 

A Hunter, His Tank
Mechanics, Soldiers, Oh My!
Bazooka Bernards.

Metal Saga, the latest game of the Metal Max series and first of its kind to reach North America, stars a young, nameless lad who desires to follow in the footsteps of his father and be a famous hunter. Starting out in Junkyard, penurious, gearless, and vehicleless, he has a long road ahead of him to reach the level of his father's renown. Luckily, the world is full of potential friends, companions, quests, random abandoned tanks, outlaws, and bizarre descendants of unholy consummations betwixt man/machine/plant/cyborg/weaponry/all of the above. Oh yes. And bazooka dogs.

The background info on the world is fairly simplistic. With a failing environment, humans built a supercomputer named Noah to reason out a method of restoring ecological balance. After running countless simulations, Noah came to the conclusion that the only solution was the final solution: wiping out humanity and violating that pesky First Law of Robotics. The resulting war between maker and makee became known as the Great Destruction. Mankind was nearly wiped out, and the remnants now struggle to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, fighting against the remnants of Noah's army.

Metal Saga presents an open-ended, non-linear form of gameplay, and it is completely up to players to direct the path of the youth's journey. While this does offer the opportunity for great exploration of a fairly detailed world filled with humorous characters and dialogue, it disappointingly skimps on a cohesive plot that would enjoin the player to continue moving forward. What little plot exists is sadly clichéd and unoriginal: saving the world from an apocalypse. Er, second apocalypse. Anyone know the plural of apocalypse?

Punks in the wasteland must die. Punks in the wasteland must die.

Along the way, this youth will find a number of companions but be limited in the number he can take with him on the journey. The first and perhaps most important recruit is a mechanic, someone skilled in the very necessary art of vehicle repair and maintenance. The third member is a soldier: either a busty gunslinger or a swordsman of the Persian persuasion. And finally, with enough looking, one can come across the results of a mysterious research program: the bazooka dog. Of course, the dog is non-controllable and has a very yellow belly, but he will still chip in and do some damage occasionally.

But no matter how strong the characters, nothing beats being surrounded by several tons of pure destructive firepower. From the humble Buggy to the rather odd Wild Bus, Metal Saga features over a dozen different vehicles of various capabilities. Vehicles can be equipped for three different types of attack: sub gun, main gun, and SE. The sub is a basic attack, a little weaker than the other two but uses no ammunition. The main gun usually packs the biggest punch, but it is limited by the amount of shells that can be carried; SE works the same way except that it is usually aimed at taking down a particular type of enemy: airborne, sheltered, stealth, or the like. The vehicle chassis determines how many and what type of weapons may be equipped; all vehicles must be equipped with an engine (determines the load a vehicle can manage) and a C-Unit (determines the defense of the vehicle).

During the turn-based battles, characters can fight on foot or inside their vehicles, assuming that they are not in an area inaccessible to vehicles. Vehicles take damage that results in the loss of armor plates, and the loss of all plates will result in vehicle parts being damaged, perhaps even to non-functionality. Armor cannot be replenished in battle, but a mechanic with a Quick Fix skill can sometimes restore broken equipment. If vital parts are broken, then the character is ejected and forced to fight on foot. The tradeoff is that characters on foot have access to their customizable skillset, though each usage costs money that is subtracted from overall winnings.

She has a gun. She has a gun.

While all the customization options are a nice feature, battles themselves tend to be a bit of a drag. Given its open exploration nature, it is quite possible to accidentally find oneself supremely outgunned at any given time. Furthermore, the nature of leveling up discourages forays into stronger areas. Levels are gained for every one hundred points of experience; experience is determined by character strength inversely proportional to monster strength. Weak enemies relative to character level grant very little experience, sometimes just a single point; it would follow that strong enemies grant lots of experience, but Metal Saga puts a cap on experience gained. No matter how much stronger the enemy, a character can only gain twenty-five points of experience.

Since the overarching plot is little more than a series of coincidences strung together, most of the playing time will be spent in various questing activities: modding the vehicle, finding a teddy bear, trying to locate ancient artifacts, hunting down Outlaws, etc. Of the options, hunting down the thirty plus Outlaws will likely be the most enjoyable. Outlaws are basically boss monsters wanted by the Hunter's Office; bagging one nets a reward, often quite substantial. Unfortunately, finding some Outlaws is a trick in and of itself, and, once found, Outlaws tend to use rather cheap tactics that can render themselves invulnerable to all but a very specific type of weapon.

Graphically, Metal Saga does not push the PS2 to its limit, but it does provide a distinctive barren atmosphere. Monster designs are particularly well done, but dungeon areas become quite repetitive. Despite the anime-style introduction, the game boasts no cut-scenes or FMV sequences.

Aurally, Metal Saga features a handful of distinctive tracks that are enjoyable and fit the mood of the game. Regrettably, these tracks are consistently overused and become wearisome by game's end. The game does not feature voice acting.

In terms of replayability, Metal Saga boasts a fair number of diverse endings to achieve. Finishing the "main" ending will result in a cleared game save file that can be continued to find more endings or simply to hunt down the remaining Outlaws. The game also features a dozen mini-games of varying originality. Metal Saga is only recommended for RPGamers needing something a little different from the RPG norm, a game that focuses on tinkering and exploration in a post-apocalyptic world.

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