Giant robots have captured imaginations for quite a while. These inhumane machines often touch on deeper themes of humanity- all while epic game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots is playing out. Daemon X Machina is the latest game to tap into the genre, developed by the folks behind Fate/Extella Link and God Eater 3. Should you hop into the pilot’s chair, or is this better off as scrap? Read our full review to find out!
Daemon X Machina
Publisher: Marvelous, Nintendo
Developer: Marvelous First Studio
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 13th 2019
The moon fell to Earth, devastating the planet and starting a plague. Attempts to seal off the area with machines went south when they revolted, becoming “Immortals” and converting others. Thankfully, those born within the impact site (the Oval Link) became “Outers,” possessing the unique skills needed to pilot mecha called Arsenals.
Now these Outers work for Orbital- an AI tasked with restoring peace to the world via distributing mercenary jobs for major consortiums. Conspiracy and intrigue soon abound, as it becomes clear those doing the fighting live harsh lives, and are being used as mere pawns in conflicting schemes.
While mecha anime has run the gambit of philosophy, space operas, and political dramas; here things take a muted approach to the above. You are thrust into the action with very little explanation of major terms, and gradually learn as you play. Once the mysteries start, you can probably work out how it is going to end.
Despite big talk about choosing what consortiums and mercenaries you work for carefully- this never pans out in either story or gameplay. You can complete all story and “free” missions, and both consortiums will still offer missions and rewards. You can blow up a rival pilot in one mission, then fight along side them the next.
That being said, the personalities of the pilots come through in banter prior to and during missions. Their wants and desires become apparent fairly quickly, though you may struggle to care aside from a few of the stranger characters or personal favorites.
The story gives you a reason to fight, but there is nothing terribly original or engaging on the table. While missed opportunities abound, the story does very little wrong. Though missing those opportunities could be the very thing that infuriates you, if you become invested in the world and characters.
Gameplay builds into a surprisingly mellow loop. You go on a mission to kill everything, interact with objects, kill a specific thing, keep something alive, and so on). During missions you have the chance to loot the bodies of enemy Arsenals- literally.
Along with picking up weapons (including assault rifles, rocket launchers, swords, machine-guns, and laser guns), you can even take their body parts- either to be sent home or equipped to you then and there. Experimenting with new weapons and parts (or “armor”) during missions can sometimes backfire- especially if you have no idea how it works.
Sadly, this chance to change what you wield during missions is rarely capitalized on. Rather than gain something useful for that mission, looting is mainly to find something rare, slight variants in a weapon type (such as further effective range, more damage), or having attachment slots and attachments themselves. More on that later.
Nonetheless, the missions are quite enjoyable. Your reactions are tested, as well as your patience. Weapons will target your foes if you are at the right range and keep them in your targeting ring. So rather than you manually aiming to get an enemy in the cross-hair, just keep them in-sight long enough and then pull the trigger. This is deceptively simple.
With how fast foes can move, spraying and praying rarely net results- even if ammo is usually in abundance from slain foes. While most regular enemies can go down quickly, later enemies move at an alarming rate. Slower moving shots may also require you to be closer to foes so the shot connects. You may also remap controls and even disable elements of the UI as you see fit, to help make this easier for yourself.
There are other mechanics as well, such as stamina for boosting, and “armaments” that act as stances to temporarily increase your speed, damage, or defense. A curious addition is Femto Energy. While you can recharge this energy from some places on maps (and occasionally from killing enemies)- Femto-based weapons did not seem overly powerful or special for the most part.
It can however, be utilized to create a mirage- a doppleganger to briefly take fire for you. An end-game upgrade also allows you to revive your mech, though you may not even be able to afford it, or your pilot will die before being able to pull it off. For all the narrative importance of Femto, it felt rather underwhelming in gameplay.
Some levels feature more unique objectives- such as defending something from attack or navigating a maze. Sadly, these unique moments can be hindered by feeling half-baked. Mazes can have corridors that all look the same, and you only have your radar to let you know if enemies are near the thing you are protecting. Missteps in these levels are a rarity however.
Several missions allow you play as your pilot on-foot. While the pilot can be upgraded with more skills and abilities, you always have a few health points, and your attacks kill most enemies fairly quickly. These pseudo-stealth missions feel rather easy as long as you are somewhat careful.
On the other hand, should your Arsenal be destroyed- you might as well reload. While your pilot can eject, there are very few Arsenal-based missions they can win on their own. The game could have functioned quite well with no pilots at all.
Bosses are a delight- titanic machines that are shockingly nimble. Its very easy to get hammered into the dirt by them. In addition, their weak-points are usually in places that are risky or hard to get to- offering rewards for those who pop them.
In rematches, it is almost necessary to take pay an NPC to fight alongside you (as you can in most non-story missions) so the boss has someone else to bully. At least, until you have mastered the game or are utilizing high-end gear. These rematches can also net you lots of enhancements, and even earn boss-gear through repeated battles.
For those who remember the issues with the maps edge and bosses from the demo- there have been changes. All maps have two out-of-bounds “rings” around them. The first will kill you after a set amount of time, but still grant you full control to move around. The second will kill you on contact.
It is a fair compromise that lets you loot Arsenals that have fallen beyond the first ring, yet still punishing you if you do stand too close to the edge of the map when the boss back-hands you.
Once you clear a mission, you have a minute to loot any Arsenals you may have missed, find decals in the environment to apply to your Arsenal later, or heal yourself. Any damage to your Arsenal must be repaired out of the money you earn from the mission.
You are free to fully heal yourself by finding healing tankers that generate a field when destroyed. However, rare missions have little or no healing tankers. Even with the maximum profit on each mission, you will need to grind missions to afford everything.
Missions can also have side missions within them, such as beating the event quickly. While these are clearly shown in free missions, they are hidden during story missions- which cannot be replayed until completing the story.
Once you return to base, you can change your Arsenal’s equipment, paint it, add decals, and buy and sell equipment. The two areas you will spend your money are the factory and body enhancements.
The factory allows you to assign enhancements (minor stat changes), and create new armor and weapons by trading in old ones (“developed” during your next mission). This unlocks more equipment to develop in turn. Meanwhile, body enhancements for your pilot give branching skill trees to improve your Arsenal or your pilot on-foot.
As mentioned before, money is tight. When you have unlocked both facilities, you often have to choose between developing new equipment, or saving up for a modification. If you neglect one, you cannot access the higher tiers of it, though you might access higher tier equipment via looting if you are lucky.
That being said, each piece of gear you develop can be bought at the shop afterwards, meaning it can be easier to use them as ingredients for future upgrades. While later weapons were better overall, the armor sets encouraged different styles of play and helped in different missions.
Regarding the earlier point about on-foot missions, it also undercuts some of the body-modification. As the vast majority of the game’s missions are in Arsenals, it seems pointless to offer a choice between Arsenal or on-foot stat improvements. Thankfully, only one body part tree has this- with others focusing on either pilot or Arsenal, with each branch focusing on different play-styles.
One major gripe with the body modification system is how it makes you look. While the character creator is very basic, you can still make something decent looking- even if all the parts are pretty much what NPCs also use.
Except as you modify your body, the parts are replaced by robotics. While the robotics do look cool, it can be annoying to see the face you made slowly being turned into something you have no control over.
In extreme cases, you can even look more robotic than a human. Lore-wise it makes sense, but the ability to have control over human or robotic-looking parts would have been nice. All choices made in body modification can be undone and partially refunded.
One final facility is an ice-cream parlor. By selecting a combination of flavors, cones, cups, and so forth, you can give yourself a small stat modifier for the next mission.
Unfortunately, the flavors available are random, most combinations give you boosts to your on-foot stats, and re-selecting the combinations is cumbersome. Combined with how minor the stat increase is, and it is not needed at all.
Online facilitates multiplayer co-op. Playing with others can be a blast, especially local co-op. That being said, you cannot change your loadout in a multiplayer lobby. Considering how varied missions can require your output, it seems a strange omission. In addition, blade clashes are also removed from online play.
Aside from a few elements that fail to live up to their intentions, the gameplay is still a solid experience. The loop of missions, developing, buying, equipping, customizing, and diving back into missions gets you into a rhythm. If you have enjoyed similar gameplay loops, you will be at home here.
Design-wise things look great. Maps provide a lot of environmental storytelling, showing how quickly everything was devastated when the moon fell. Cities, ruins, and army-bases show there are still desperate attempts to hold onto the past, in a future that demands cold sci-fi efficiency. Mutant plants and strange skylines can also make this part of earth feel alien. Albeit, with some rather jagged shadows and textures when you get up-close.
The mechs look fantastic. While devoid of human features, they still present a lot of personality- and NPC Arsenals often have to “fill-in” for emoting for their pilots. Not to mention personal touches with decals and paint-jobs on your own arsenal makes it feel like yours.
The only exception is the shoulder-mounted weapons- which can often feel tacked-on compared to how well the other sci-fi weapons integrate. In fact, weapons you earn appear around your base- showing the scale of your arsenal off even more.
Unfortunately, this is the only real life in your little cube-shaped hanger; with generic engineer and worker NPCs standing around or complaining you just walked into them.
Major characters do look very interesting- even if 75% of their parts come from (or are used in) the character creator. Most show a vivid personality, though a few blend together when they do not have wild features. This is somewhat alleviated by their personalities.
Characters and the world itself look great, along with special effects. Everything is a little stylized, so explosions kick up swirls of dust that almost look drawn, and the rare maps you have lightning briefly turn the scene black and white with each flash.
This attempt to evoke a manga look does not always work though. In cut-scenes, NPCs have a distinct line between shaded and lit parts of their faces. It can make them look like they wiped off a thick layer of grease from half their face. That being said, the effect is soon ignored and is not present for dialogue boxes and portraits.
A larger issue comes from performance. When a large number of enemies spawn or during some moments of intense action, the game will hang for about half a second (with audio continuing) before snapping back to reality.
This happens frequently enough to be noticed, but not so often it interrupts or hinders gameplay. This persisted in both handheld and docked modes. However, there were no noticeable moments of lowering frame rates- even if the frame rate is already sub 60FPS.
There are animation issues as well, purely from humans. At times they almost look like the first takes of motion capture. NPCs will often have motions that are too wild or calm compared to the delivery of their line, or are generic enough to be shared across other NPCs.
This might start sounding familiar: Despite a few flaws that were not expect from a major developer, the core presentation is very good. A little more time spent ironing out issues and adding a few touches would have been nice, but it looks and runs great the majority of the time.
We hope you like rock, metal, techno, and faux orchestras with Latin chanting. The soundtrack runs down the checklist of “music to use in a sci-fi action scene”- and it worked. There are even a few curve-balls with softer pieces, and even the odd bit of rap.
Its a soundtrack that is worth checking out. Mostly because you may not notice it over the action and sound effects. Gunfire, jet boosts, and explosions all sound great. Despite the sheer bombardment of noise, it never gets old, and certainly gets you into the fighting mood.
Voice acting is also surprisingly good, aided by most scenes not requiring to match lip-flaps. Actors and actresses express emotions fully, without getting hung-up on clunky or unnatural lines. Even the few characters who are two-dimensional are a blast with how they chew scenery. Dual audio is provided should you desire it however.
Daemon X Machina is infuriating from a critical point of view. The game is certainly fun, but it is baffling seeing some rather basic errors considering how much care and attention went into other areas.
Still, if you like finding loot, building giant robots, or even if you want to chill but not totally disengage your brain, this is perfect for the job. The devil might not be in the details, but you can have a hell of a lot of fun in the cockpit.
Daemon X Machina was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.