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Developer:
Success
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PS2
Release Date: April 25, 2006

by Aaron Slater




Metal Saga is a different role-playing game, a very different role-playing game. A game which, in the first few hours, offers the opportunity to fight a colossal sand shark in the desert, to chug drinks at a bar, to be resurrected by a creepy mad scientist, to fight a group of bandits attacking a trade camp, and to train to become a dancer. Yes, Metal Saga is yet another quirky offering from Atlus, but despite its offbeat nature, it is actually a very solid and very entertaining role-playing experience.


Metal Saga is the first appearance of the Metal Max series on American shores, and the first entry to appear on the PlayStation 2. The Metal Max series on the Nintendo and Super Nintendo systems were open-ended post-apocalyptic role-playing (you can never have enough hyphenated words) games that allowed the player to fight both on foot and in tanks. One of the most alluring features of these games was the ability to almost craft your own adventure, and fortunately this is a feature that is taken to the extreme in Metal Saga.


See, unlike most games, Metal Saga lacks a cohesive storyline. There is an overarching storyline, involving a super computer trying to annihilate humanity, but the player is never forced to save humanity. In fact, the player is never really forced to do anything. The game is, more or less, completely up to the player to decide. There are many different missions and events going on throughout the game world, with dungeons to explore, people to meet, bounties to go after, things to discover, and much more, and the best (and worst) part is that the player can choose to do whatever seems most interesting. Want to hunt down a renegade Volkswagen bug in the middle of the desert? Go for it. Want to strut your stuff as a body builder? Step right up. Want to see whether or not anything lies in those abandoned buildings north of town? The choice is yours. Metal Saga offers the player the ability to create their own story.


Unfortunately, along with the ability to choose to take on whatever quests seem like fun, comes the game's largest problem. The game lets the player choose whatever the player wants to do. The player is never forced to do anything, and as a result there is almost a lack of urgency in the game. The world never seems like it is on the brink of destruction and a motley band of heroes must go and save it, quite the contrary. Many times it feels like the player is simply undertaking an endless chain of side quests and doing nothing of any real value, and it is not necessarily a good feeling. With no real driving force that a main storyline could give the game, many of the quests the player undertakes seem inconsequential. Although there are many sub-plots and small storylines that the player can involve themselves in, once they end the player is left all alone in the big world that is Metal Saga, simply wondering what to do next. The lag time between missions at times can be quite long, and at times the open-ended game play that can be so fun and exciting seems dull. Although the events offered are almost countless, and there is always something to do, there certainly are moments where one would simply like just a bit more urgency or just a bit more of a reason to do any of the many things Metal Saga offers.


The player chooses to do whatever they want in many ways. There are Hunter Stations in each town which will show the player “wanted” monsters in the area. The player can then hunt down the wanted monsters and fight them. What ensues is a boss fight-like altercation in which the player will fight ridiculously tough enemies that usually have a ridiculously humorous design. The player can also accept quests from people in bars or around town. While wandering the world map from town to town the player may discover an area and, through exploring it, discover a quest or initiate an event. There is no right way to play Metal Saga, so instead the game offers many things to do at various points throughout the world and lets the player discover them.


Battles unfold in a typical turn-based fashion. The character can attack, defend, use items, or special skills to defeat the opponents. The player also has a trump card, in that at any point one of the human characters can switch into a tank to attack the enemies. The tanks are typically more powerful than the human characters, but also tend to be much slower. Tanks can fire from their main gun or use any of the additional armaments to attack the enemies. Tanks are needed for most of the encounters in Metal Saga, and are the primary mode of both battle and transportation. They are very customizable, from the type of equipment they are fitted with to the paint job, and fortunately customizing the tank is both necessary and fun. Parts for the tank can be upgraded, new parts can be found, and if certain components are gathered, parts can even be assembled in towns. Tanks are not the only addition to battle that helps to spice up the otherwise tried and true turn-based battle system, the party can also add a dog to their ranks. This is not just any typical dog however, but a dog with a heavy firearm on its back. Yes, that is right, Metal Saga offers the opportunity to have a terrier with a bazooka strapped to its back fire away at a giant flying insect helicopter. The dog cannot be controlled by the player, but instead will attack on its own merit. By feeding the dog and teaching it new skills from skill masters in town (who also teach the human characters new skills) the dog will become more useful in battle. Skills, interestingly enough, do not sap from a certain point value unique to each character, but instead cost money to use, so managing funds also means managing the amount of skills used in battle. All in all, the unique elements of Metal Saga’s battle system help to liven up the otherwise tedious turn-based battles.


From battles characters gain experience points, and when one hundred points are reached the characters level up and their statistics increase. Players can be equipped with different weapons and armor, as can tanks, and all of them have their own unique attributes and whatnot. Character customization is kept rather simple, as the real focus of Metal Saga is on creating the toughest tanks, which is a very fun and deep undertaking. Unfortunately it is hindered by one of Metal Saga’s greatest problems, its load times. Leaving and entering towns prompt load screens, initiating and ending battles takes a while, and even opening the menu has a bit of a lag time. If the player has a hard drive the game can be installed on it, which will significantly decrease load times, but if not, the player simply has to grin and bear it. Metal Saga certainly does offer enough in terms of game play to make the load screens bearable, but when the graphics are nothing extraordinary it does make the load times questionable.


As was stated earlier, the graphics in Metal Saga are not that great. Nothing in this game pushes the PS2 hardware to its limits, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The world of Metal Saga is highly stylized and everything about it works to create the lighthearted atmosphere that the game wants to create. The enemies are very well designed and are sometimes quite humorous (where else would one find a renegade rice cooker or a heavy firearm attached to a pair of legs in fishnets and heels). The character designs are also quite cute and very well done, with many of the major non-player characters being designed uniquely. Even the tanks are quite nice to look at, and the ability to customize their appearance through custom paint jobs adds even more to this. While the graphics are certainly not revolutionary, they fit their purpose and service the unique and comic art style that Metal Saga seeks to portray.


As far as the game works on an aural level, there is not that much to say. The game lacks voice acting, which really does not matter since the translation is worth reading. The music in this game is quite nice, however, with some very interesting pieces mixed in with some very banal ones. The game allows the player to “download” certain pieces to the SATCOM. From the SATCOM the pieces the player has downloaded can be played back, and there are certainly some pieces that one will want to hear again. Sound effects all match the animations, with guns sounding like guns and rockets exploding sounding like rockets exploding. There are some quirky sound effects that also work quite well with the tone of the game, but all in all the game offers a relatively average soundtrack.


An area where Metal Saga certainly stands out is in the translation. Atlus should be commended for the localization they have given Metal Saga. Metal Saga is a game that does not take its post-apocalyptic tone seriously, and simply drips with humor at every bend, and Atlus has made sure that almost all of the dialogue reflects this. Conversations with characters are often laced with humor that fit the personality of the characters or the actions at hand. It is not just the major characters that have humorous dialogue however, the townspeople have things to say that are quite humorous to read. Even saving the game has some puns attached. The humor in the game really comes through thanks in part to the very well-done localization.


Upon first glance, Metal Saga might just seem like any other quirky and slightly offbeat Atlus role-playing game. However, to dismiss it as just that would be quite the understatement, as Metal Saga offers a genuinely open-ended role-playing experience on the console, with the ability to craft your adventure the way you see fit. Although from a technical standpoint, Metal Saga certainly does not stand out from the pack, the interesting game play style as well as the sense of humor conveyed from an outstanding localization help to elevate Metal Saga from mediocrity. Despite the lack of a strong central storyline and lag times in the game play, Metal Saga simply offers so much to do and executes it effectively enough that it works for both long bouts of gaming as well as short spurts. Metal Saga certainly sets out to be a very different experience, and fortunately it accomplishes much of what it intends to, in spite of its dated presentation. While it will not appeal to everyone, Metal Saga will be a welcome addition to the library of any open-minded gamer.


Final Grade: 82%


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