When all is said and done with the Nintendo Switch in about five years or so (because Nintendo WILL keep milking this machine into the ground), I think everyone will be able to raise a toast to the number of ports that this console received. It’s not just the Nintendo ports of games like Tropical Freeze or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that came over, but things from the Vita finally get a chance to shine. Akiba’s Strip, Danganronpa, so many visual novels…the list goes on. And now, a lesser known but nonetheless impressive JRPG makes a massive splash, as we celebrate the Steam release by checking out the Switch port of Metal Max Xeno: Reborn.
Now, if you’ve played Metal Max Xeno before on another console, here’s what you can’t expect in this version: better graphics, some minor QOL improvements, and fewer crashes. I did take a look at the Vita version for comparison, and, between a normal Switch Lite and a classic OLED Vita, the differences are negligible at best. Having said that, I still think it’s immediately worthwhile to look into this game if the key words and ideas strike you well. Let’s take a look for a moment, shall we?
In a distant future, a hyper sentient and ultimately psychotic computer called NOA has decided that, to save the planet, all of humanity must be wiped out. Honestly, not a bad argument, but I’m tragically human and would prefer not to be geoncided. Humanity is able to fight back against NOA and vanquish it, but not before NOA creates a series of subservient machines, called SoNs, to finish the job. Like all great post apocalyptic games, Metal Max Xeno Reborn starts in the desolate remains of Tokyo Bay, now a desert, where the last remnants of the human race hide and survive. From the wasteland comes a boy with a metal arm called Talis, who says he can help lead the resistance and destroy the murderous SoNs. All he needs is community, togetherness, and the tenacity to stand as one and defy the machines! Oh, and a tank. Several tanks. Several massive, insanely customizable tanks.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn is basically two games mashed up into one: a classic 3rd person JRPG and a 3rd person mech shooter with turn based combat (sometimes) and pirate-style warfare (always). Starting off simple, you can quickly develop your tank into a more versatile machine, with tons of fine tuning options to adapt it to your gameplay style. These different augmentations are found through both communicating with survivors and destroying enemies, so you must balance out your slower gameplay moments (chatting and choosing to help in minor quests) with the bigger issues (blowing the hell out of a mechanical desert terror). This game is one of those shockingly massive titles that can suck up hundreds of hours IF you’re totally into the tank aspect. As someone who wasn’t, I still managed to put about twenty hours in before sitting down to write my review.
With Metal Max Xeno Reborn, a player has to be willing to either love both of these games or at least make allowances with the game as it gets presented. For example, the human aspect of the game was something that I loved. Going into the bunker cities and ruins were some of my favorite moments, and watching Talis develop relationships with the people of Iron Base and beyond was excellent, as it was well scripted and dramatically paced. When we finally meet Ittica, who is such a great character, and then get a reveal about Toni and Yokky, it almost seems like we were departing from the world around us in order to get a glimpse into the humanistic aspects that still existed in spite of everything. Hell, ultimately the game feels like a story of friendship and togetherness more than some of the cheesier visual novels I’ve played, and it was heartwarming, to say the least.
On the other end of the spectrum, the pacing of Metal Max Xeno Reborn is completely hamstrung by the tanks, which were my least favorite part of the game. Having to grind so many different enemies and even bosses in order to get the appropriate number of elements to buff up your tank was an arduous nightmare. In the beginning, it was straightforward: you knew what to add on in order to get additional turrets, faster response, more armor, etc. And there’s an elemental Rock Paper Scissors aspect to the magical damage portion, so you get used to that right away. But soon you find yourself spending so much time trying to get the fine tuning of your tank right in order to play the way you want. I’m all about speed and damage, so when I just had to keep grinding it out again and again to get the aspects that would benefit me the most, I hated it.
Additionally, the customization not only means a ton of tweaking that can and should be done, but it also means more strategy in the fighting. In the traditional combat with just the humans, you strap in, get your spell work and such in line, and go to town. With the tanks, there’s the risk and reward of targeting specific parts of each tank and having yours targeted in turn, resulting in debilitating attacks that prevent the enemy from using their biggest weapons on you (yay) and you needing to drag your sorry metal corpse back to Iron Base to buy brand new paneling (boo). For these moments, my brain almost went into autopilot as a necessary part of what I needed to do. Like having to wash dishes after cooking an amazing meal. You really enjoyed everything about the food and the presentation, but the necessary chore of cleaning up afterwards just causes you to check out mentally.
Still, in spite of my griping, I have to hand it to Metal Max Xeno Reborn as bringing something truly unique to the table. By blending these two genres and then baking in a good soundtrack and solid graphics, I was able to appreciate something I wouldn’t normally have tried, as just a straight up customizable tank shooter would be a hard pass in any other world. I enjoyed seeing what was new and different, and I can appreciate that this is a fantastic title in the right hands. If anything about taking a JRPG and turning it on its head in terms of fighting and story progression sounds interesting, then come join us in the wasteland. We need more fighters!
Metal Max Xeno Reborn
This mashup of JRPG and Tank Simulation is a wild swing that delivers as long as you’re prepared for both.