Metal Max Xeno: Reborn is a redux of Metal Max Xeno that came out in 2018. There have been many changes in this revision and while the overall product is better off for it, it is disappointing that some aspects of the vanilla Metal Max Xeno got cut.
The Metal Max franchise at large has been mostly unrepresented in the west. Before the vanilla release of Xeno, only Metal Saga on PlayStation 2 made it to western shores. As of this review, Metal Dogs still is not in English on consoles.
The Metal Max franchise may not have ever had a fair shot in the west, but at least we got Metal Max Xeno: Reborn. Thankfully, this happens to be one of the best RPGs featuring a dog with a machine gun strapped to his back.
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: June 10, 2022
Price: $39.99 USD
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn is a post-apocalypse, open-ended, turn-based RPG with an emphasis on vehicles. Imagine something in between Fallout and Final Fantasy‘s ATB battle system; the ending result would be Metal Max Xeno Reborn.
Battle can be done on foot or with an armored vehicle. Both have their advantages, but a majority of the time is best spent launching missiles or mortars from the safety of a tank’s cab. Vehicles cover a lot of ground quickly and are generally devastating against small threats.
When setting out on foot, players will be able to get inside structures, caves or explore other vantages that cannot support the crushing weight of a 55 ton tank. The heroes are not helpless despite living in a violent and dangerous wasteland. Everyone can be equipped with various weapons, armor, and learn skills like in any good RPG.
All party members can equip any weapon the player desires, but a thoughtful strategy is to capitalize on their weapon affinities. Considering the freedom to customize any play style for the party, every recruit has a skill tree that can boost survivability or their effectiveness while in a driver’s seat.
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn offers a lot of tinkering with builds and seemingly endless possibilities with how players can form a party. On top of the adrenaline pumping, strategic battles – players will have very little hand-holding while exploring.
Even though Metal Max Xeno: Reborn has a very hands-off approach to guiding the player, there is never any confusion on where to go. The environments may appear vast and wide-open, but they are very straightforward and linear. Despite this, there is still plenty of exploration and convenient fast-travel makes backtracking painless.
Since Metal Max Xeno: Reborn has very little guidance, players can unwittingly skip party members. Thankfully, there is plenty of wiggle room to recruit them, but this kind of design can easily lead players astray and maroon them in dangerous areas with an incomplete party.
Even the loyal to the bitter end Shiba Inu party member is tied to an optional event that can be easily overlooked. This dog was not in the vanilla version of Xeno. Although he can’t be directly controlled, the dog can save the party in a pinch with a healing ability or serve as a distraction to the enemy’s aggro.
This is a challenging experience. Not just because of the lack of guidance, but also because Metal Max Xeno: Reborn‘s definition of a “boss”, is not tied to a rigid structure like in every other RPG ever made. Almost all of them are optional, but crucial due to the enormous bounties.
New areas will always have some new and powerful bounties to engage, but it also means that players will be spending a lot of time being chased by a foe who will utterly melt their armored vehicles. Most of the journey is scraping by on whatever means available while riding the razor’s edge of survival and extinction.
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn is designed around pushing the player forward and making playability as smooth as possible, even if it comes at the expense of logical design. There are no downsides to getting blown up and players can fast travel back to home base at no cost at almost any time. It is a free restore and only costs a load screen, which can be a little tiring.
The Metal Max Xeno: Reborn experience is a harrowing uphill climb. Every time you feel powerful with a newly upgraded tank, expect to get the chair kicked from beneath you and feel the sting of having to climb the mountain once again. The journey is very rewarding as players take back the world gradually, even if the world is a pile of garbage- literally and figuratively.
There is no getting around the fact that Metal Max Xeno: Reborn is based on a PlayStation Vita game. Character models are passable and have decent animation, they generally get the job done without too much distraction. The visuals falter with the environments, which are low poly and lack detail, often resembling Dreamcast quality graphics.
There are also a lot of short ledges that should be easily driven or walked over. Moments like this emphasize the artificiality of the world and become frustrating – like when having a swift chase come to a screeching halt just because your monster truck got snagged on a rotting sedan that’s half buried in sand.
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn gates progress by using destructible walls of rubble that require the player meet a specific skill-check. This concept sometimes falls flat when the rubble 3D model is small enough that anyone would be able to demolish it by driving over it or even walking over it. It is moments like this where the shoestring budget becomes impossible to ignore.
Other signs of lack of polish show up with the sloppy localization. There moments where Japanese text is left completely untranslated and there are extremely bizarre phrases that just may make you tilt your head in befuddlement. It seems like a first draft, but in a way the roughness enhances the rugged ambiance of the Tokyo wastelands.
The music is laid-back and has a somber, listlessness to the melody. At times it evokes memories of the soundtrack of NieR or Automata with the vocals that sound like they are lamenting.
When battling a bounty, the music shifts to a high octane and chaotic nu-metal riff that inspires panic to creep up the player’s spine. It’s as if it is an alarm going off and the explosive and devastating attacks filling the screen only serve to give the player a thousand yard stare as the wailing guitars overwhelm the senses.
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn is a highly enjoyable and entertaining JRPG that is stuffed with ideas that mostly work, even if some come at the cost of logic. The story and characters lack presence and it is due to the after thought presentation. The protagonist is borderline mute, and it is jarring when he suddenly speaks and everyone acts normal.
This RPG is one of those unique cult games that rarely comes around. Like Deadly Premonition, it has that perfect balance of ambition and creativity that make the obvious flaws seem like nothing in the grander scope of what the game achieves.
Metal Max Xeno: Reborn was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by PQube. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Metal Max Xeno: Reborn is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.