RPGs are one of the most ambitious genres to work in. An entire world must be realized and it needs history and a sense of place to be convincing. The settings need characters to populate it and abstract or alien concepts need to be conveyed in a manner that makes sense to most people.
Making an RPG with 3D graphics and having a compelling gameplay system will only make the process more ambitious, especially for a small indie team. Arrowiz is a Shanghai-based developer with a lot of passion and inspiration fueled by the indelible Persona 5. Passion can only take a team so far- regretfully, Arrowiz aimed for the stars and could barely reach the roof.
There is a lot of thought that went into Mato: Anomalies. Its problems lie in its execution and the developer being spread far too thin to fully realize their vision. It has a wealth of fascinating ideas that don’t stick to landing. Where does it go wrong? Find out in this Mato: Anomalies review!
Publisher: Prime Matter, Plaion
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: March 10, 2023
Price: $39.99 USD
Telosma City is like any other cyberpunk dystopian metropolis. It has your big glowing neon signs, decrepit sheet metal shanty homeless villages, and massive hologram ladies trying to sell you the latest worthless product. Like any iterative cyberpunk setting heaped with Eurasian dominance, there is an underground drug trade that has vague connections to the Bane Tide; a force of demons from another dimension.
Players assume the role of Detective Doe, a non-action guy who does most of the adventuring, interrogations, and investigations in the city. When venturing into the cracks in space and time, (aka: “rifts” or “lairs”), players take control of Gram, Doe’s ninja exorcist partner. These areas are functionally similar to the dungeons or “palaces” from Persona 5 and are where the combat happens.
The story in Mato: Anomalies is very hard to follow. A lot of it has to do with a large amount of unusual jargon that is not clearly explained and the lengthy pages of text during the unvoiced visual novel sections.
These sequences go on for a long time, and processing all the information without any visuals outside of static portraits to convey the story won’t make it easier. The presentation can vary depending on how the story is expressed.
Sometimes there is voice acting, but it is only in very specific cutscenes and there is no way to let the scene autoplay. Every line of dialogue requires a prompt from the player to proceed to the next line, so there is no way to sit back and let scenes play out.
Other times scenes unfold in a comic book-like style with panels and static models with implied movement. Mato: Anomalies did not have the animation budget to fully realize its ambition and had no choice but to jump around between styles to convey its narrative. Regretfully, the story is unbelievably confusing and difficult to follow.
How anything works is extremely obtuse. Gamers will be left stupefied at what is happening and what any of it means. Mato: Anomalies isn’t a long RPG, but it feels longer due to the staggering amount of text and the bewildering plot that feels like an anime nightmare that you can’t wake up from.
The visuals are also a mixed bag. Some of the enemy designs are interesting and the main cast has cool outfits that make them seem like a hard-boiled group of private eyes. Some of the lairs have inventive use of symbolism and the backdrops, while superficial, do have thought put into their meaning.
Where the graphics fail to impress are with the details. There are only a few NPCs and they are reused throughout. They’re also too plain and stick out compared to the designs of the main cast.
Telosma is made up of small, very barren, and low poly rooms; looking more like something from a sixth gen game. Doe sticks out in this setting because he is more detailed than anything else and it further exacerbates the artifice of the world.
Mato: Anomalies is made up of a few gameplay modules; turn-based combat and mind-hacking interrogations. The combat does have admittedly novel ideas like how all party members share one HP pool and special attacks have a turn-based cooldown. This interesting approach to streamlining keeps battles fast-paced without compromising strategy.
Party members can build up a gauge that is similar to unleashing a limit break. There is also some customization in character building and there are not enough talent points to max out a character. Respec options exist, but Mato: Anomalies is the kind of RPG that demands players be thoughtful when building a character and commit to a decision.
Battles only happen while exploring the rifts in the dimensions. Sometimes referred to as “lairs”, these places can be themed as abstract concepts, but it is all set dressing. Every lair is made of hallways and small open areas suspended in a dressed-up surreal void.
Enemies appear on the map to prevent excessive random encounters. The trade-off is that they are completely unavoidable due to them being completely impassable. It is obvious the team had a novel idea for their take on what Persona has been doing for a while, but the genre is far too demanding for what the developers could realistically deliver.
Mind hacking is the other major gameplay element of Mato: Anomalies and they happen whenever Detective Doe encounters a person of interest who is either in a coma or isn’t interested in spilling the beans. He will have to extract the information from the POI’s head and it takes the form of a surprisingly fleshed-out card game.
The mechanics of mind hacking revolve around reducing the opponent’s mental score to nothing. Building a deck with the right amount of persuasion cards and being prepared with defensive and squashing regenerating bugs is very involving. This isn’t a mini-game, mind battles can go on for over ten minutes or longer, and failing these can be devastating since it means starting from scratch.
It would seem that even the developer realized that the mind-hacking card game could be a huge buzzkill and allows players to completely skip them without consequence. This seems sad because a lot of work went into these moments and the way it clashes with the pacing of the story and gameplay will lead to most gamers opting out of these.
Mato: Anomalies is a very flawed RPG that tried. It had big ideas in its story but god bless anyone who is fat-brained enough to understand it. The gameplay has small sparks of creativity, but it is lost under the woefully low-budget presentation.
Mato: Anomalies was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Prime Matter. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Mato: Anomalies is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.