Metal Saga (PlayStation 2) review
"I had no reason to go anywhere other than to get in fights and earn money to buy better equipment for my characters and their tanks. With no motivation beyond personal gain, everything I accomplished in Metal Saga seemed hollow — a never-ending series of frivolous events only connected by their lack of connection."
One of the greatest video game moments I’ve ever had came partway into Dragon Warrior II. I’d just killed a few monsters in some town on the far reaches of the first continent and received a ship. However, since this was one of the earliest console role-playing games, minor details like “plot” and “story” were still pretty much unheard of, so I had no idea where to go next. With no set destination in mind, I roamed the seas and ported on any land mass I came across in the hopes of finding something I could fight that didn’t have my party completely outclassed. While the overworld map of this game wasn’t particularly large (especially by today’s standards), I felt for that brief moment I was embarking on a mysterious quest in a vast world. Where I would go and what I would do were questions to be answered later, but for now, I was an adventurer and adventure I would find!
Now, imagine if an entire game was based on that freedom. Imagine a brand new American release having next-to-no plot and the bare minimum in character development, while seemingly having all its focus placed on the acquisition of personal wealth and power. Imagine a game like Atlus’ Metal Saga, which lives and dies by the concept that players can go anywhere they want whenever they want...as long as they’re strong enough to handle whatever comes their way.
On one hand, it sounds intoxicating. Without being led from one place to the next on rails by an all-encompassing story, I found a degree of freedom that few (if any) modern RPGs have. On the other hand, it gets boring. I had no reason to go anywhere other than to get in fights and earn money to buy better equipment for my characters and their tanks. With no motivation beyond personal gain, everything I accomplished in Metal Saga seemed hollow -- a never-ending series of frivolous events only connected by their lack of connection.
Metal Saga is the latest in a Japanese series of RPGs that weren’t released outside of that country. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, this installment puts you in the shoes of a young dude seeking to be a hunter, leave his crummy hometown and kill him some outlaws. Or, he can follow his mother’s wishes, become a mechanic and live a quiet, boring life. Pick that option and the game ends abruptly. Then again, that might not be such a bad thing. It’s not like the life of a hunter was all that thrilling for me.
Anyway, before leaving town, the hero needs a vehicle, so while exploring the obligatory tutorial dungeon (in this case, a mountain made of junk parts and scrap metal), he finds a buggy. Objective met! The rest is up to the player. Enjoy traveling the vast world, my friend!
Now, there are a few half-hearted attempts to provide some sort of story. As the hero explores and expands his party to four members, he finds out that a supercomputer (named NOAH) tried to destroy humanity in an attempt to preserve the world, but was smashed in the process (after turning our fair planet into the “Western movie with computers” hell it currently is). Also, a few black-garbed agents seem to have designs on snaring the secrets of the NOAH-era’s technology. CAN THEY BE TRUSTED? Tune in next week to find out!
Every once in a while, I even got reminded of that plot. But for most of the time, I was left to my own devices, which revolved around killing outlaws, improving my vehicles and acquiring better ones. Outlaws are what most games would call “bosses”, except Metal Saga handles them differently. Some appear at the end of dungeons like one would expect a boss to, but others are random encounters and a few wander around the overworld waiting for someone to blunder into their path. Killing them gives one a hefty reward from the local town’s Hunter Office --money that is quite handy in buying better equipment, both for vehicles and for the characters themselves.
But! There are other things for a Hunter to be doing, as well. Why, just look at all the possibilities......
1. By repeatedly interacting with a number of characters (mainly female), the option to buy them EXPENSIVE gifts at specialty stores opens. By spending tank-money on these chicks, one can trigger any of a handful of endings where they possibly just might hook up with the girl of their dreams! I will go on the record and say I hope and pray none of these endings have my main character wind up hooking up with his mother or sister, but anything goes in these weird non-linear games!
2. Talking to the right people around the world allows one to enter drinking, dancing and posing contests. A professor wants the hero to give him monster data, while a weird guy is seeking rare medals hidden all over the world. Most taverns have one of two arcade games that also offer a diversion. There’s no shortage of minigames and minor quests to participate in!
3. By repeatedly interacting with people, going in and out of towns, killing outlaws, finding vehicles and doing all sorts of busywork, new quests are doled out on a regular basis. Maybe a new outlaw makes its presence felt, another hunter challenges the hero to a duel or spoiled rich girl Rosa decides to test the hero’s aptitude for tank battling. One never knows, as anything can happen at anytime in Metal Saga!
But after 35-40 hours of playing, I was completely bored. While the game had lots to do and possessed a quirky sense of humor that manifested itself quite frequently (especially in monster designs), there was nothing to tie all of its elements together. What it all boiled down to was me going to a town, buying a bunch of stuff, going to a dungeon, killing an outlaw, killing a few more in the vicinity, possibly buying more stuff and going to the next town. With no real plot, there was nothing to distract me from just how repetitive all this was. To make matters worse, the graphics were bland and not particularly detailed, the music was hit or miss, there was no voice acting and the game was plagued with constant load times -- whether I was entering or leaving a town or simply opening a door to enter a tiny room. I’ve played many games by Atlus and have always respected that company’s ability to craft intricate worlds with seemingly flawless programming. When I think Atlus, “ugly game with annoying load times” isn’t something I expect, which made this game’s failings all the more noticeable to me.
In the past, I’ve made my feelings clear on how I don’t like the way so many RPGs of today mask overly-linear gameplay by throwing an overly-convoluted story with dozens of twists and turns at the player. Metal Saga proves that doing the exact opposite isn’t any better. Having the freedom to do what I wanted with the only restriction being my party's strength made the game seem unfocused and the absence of any real plot made me wonder why I even bothered to make my hero a Hunter in the first place. After all, maybe his life as a mechanic would have been boring, but I would have been able to wash my hands of this game within mere moments of starting it!
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 09, 2006)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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