Vehicular combat-based JRPGs may be ten a penny for all I know, but Metal Max Xeno: Reborn (MMXR) is the first one I've come across. So having never heard of the original release, what’s the difference between Metal Max Xeno and Metal Max Xeno: Reborn? Well… Metal Max Xeno originally came out in 2018 on PS4 and PSVita, and the Reborn subtitle refers to the fact that this is pretty much the same game, just with a graphical makeover and a more open world experience than the original game. So can a combination of turn-based & real-time combat and that familiar JRPG game style work when driving a tank or a buggy?
The story goes that most of mankind has been wiped out by an AI called Noah in a war that has turned the Earth into a post-apocalyptic desert. A few of the remaining humans have gathered in a desert fortress known as 'the Iron Base,' and you're soon invited to join them to help their seemingly hopeless fight against the innumerable mechanical enemies. Okay enough of the environmental doom & gloom, is the game any good?
Very early in the game you find a MK10 tank! Rather unexpectedly this handles well, with R2 being accelerator and L2 brake & reverse. Hold L2 & R2 and you can do a "neutral turn" with the left stick (spin on the spot.) L1 & R1 swivel the turret independently of the tank body, and these features make Metal Max's tank's handling more realistic than many so-called serious vehicular combat games! Unfortunately the neat control method for the tank's movement isn't matched by the clunky, overcomplicated combat process or the terrible collision detection, which will see your tank unable to pass scenery that it clearly should, and weapons miss by going straight through enemies. The usual RPG "virtual dice roll" mechanic (that decides how successful or accurate an attack or use of an item will be) may get on your wick too, especially when you use an energy drink on an ally within touching distance and get a "MISS"... As I'd expect, your chances can be improved with buffs and affinity enhancements but even after the many RPGs I've played, turn-based combat still grinds my gears every time I get a complete "MISS" from a distance that seems impossible to miss from. This wouldn't be so bad if you were lobbing tank shells at an enemy on the horizon, but sadly Max's weapons never have that much range.
At the Iron Base you meet Po-M, an android assigned to managing the base, D'Annuzio, who seems to be housekeeper & barman, Yokky the drunken bum and Jingoro, the ancient maintenance engineer. Quite how this useless bunch of weirdoes was surviving or waging war before you got there isn't clear, but the Iron Base is a handy hub that you can use to repair, upgrade and modify your vehicle(s) and fast travel to from any location.
As previously mentioned, combat is a strange combination of turn-based and real time. You can select what you want to shoot at and keep the tank moving, which is very cool. What isn't cool is the way you seem to repeatedly get tutorial messages from Po-M which freeze the action. She babbles on in Japanese and you have to read subtitles, which is fine but seems lazy. Fortunately this doesn't go in for too long.
Combat difficulty varies hugely even early on. There are enemies that just don't miss and devastate you with heat-seeking missiles, and ants that are easily killed on foot or with one shot of the tank's main gun. Some enemies are extremely tough and impossible to destroy early on, and also outgun you massively. Although you don't ever really die, should you be incapacitated you'll need to be recovered, tail between your legs, by the Iron Base.
When you have sufficient money and have scavenged enough junk that is scattered around the desert, you can modify the tank and even manufacture new parts. When you have enough funds you can sell your old mods and manufacture brand new ones tailored to your own preferences.
The game's graphics are smooth but look truly ancient, much older than they should considering the original game was released in 2018. In fact some locations reminded me of 16 year-old Final Fantasy XI on the Xbox 360! The antiquity extends to the UI too, and MMXR has one of the clunkiest menu systems I've ever used. Nothing can be done quickly and just getting out of or into your tank requires a truly remarkable 7 (SEVEN) button presses!!!!!!!
During combat you need to keep an eye on your health bar (and any of your companion's) and an attack cooldown circle, which limits how often you can fire your tank's weapons. The turn-based combat cuts in only when you get scanned or surprised by an enemy, so there are opportunities to destroy many smaller enemies in real time combat by using "hit & run" tactics. It's also a bit of a shame that your companion's vehicles only appear when in turn-based combat (in true JRPG style), as seeing a small convoy zoom around the desert would have been cool.
Like many RPGs, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is a bit limited and frustrating initially, but grind away a little, upgrade your tank, your pet and their weapons and the game suddenly opens up and becomes a lot more fun. MMXR is a slow burner, probably too slow for most, and I just wonder how many people will play the game long enough to appreciate its finer points and best moments…
On a positive note, thanks to the combination of on-foot and armoured vehicle combat MMXR has an appeal all of its own, and certainly has its moments (exploring with your pet being the best of them by far), but sadly these are few and far between and the gameplay too rough for me to recommend to anyone but JRPG addicts.