I have little time for extracurricular games these days. In order to have actual material to write about for my various big girl writing gigs, I have to constantly fill my time with games people actually want to hear about. I’ve found sly ways to fit in games that I’m just interested in, but there are only so many ways I can pitch them to editors.
Metal Max is my recent obsession. If you read the filth I peddle on Destructoid, you’ve already heard. It started with the most recent entry: Metal Max Xeno Reborn. It was one of those situations where the editors thought a review would be worthwhile, so I picked it up because it looked like a beautiful mess. It was. I fell in love. So I quickly pivoted to playing through the first title in the series on Famicom, and that was also great. So, now I’m onto the remake of the second one on DS (the actual Super Famicom version of Metal Max 2 doesn’t yet have a fan translation). I’ve got nowhere to put my thoughts on it, except here, where I answer to no one but the Gods of Chaos. Praise me, my lords!
STILL NOT SURE WHO MAX IS
Metal Max 2 Reloaded is connected to the original Metal Max by its world, and not a lot more. The planet got destroyed by various bad things, but no one seems entirely certain what. The end result is that the remnants of humanity have banded together in the name of survival, but a bunch of jerks called the Bias Grapplers have been going around and abducting people for nefarious reasons.
You show up in the town of Mado with your mentor and a bunch of other mercenaries paid to protect it from the Grapplers. Subsequently, they stomp all over you and run off with some townsfolk. Your mentor is dead, leaving you to try and pick up the pieces and maybe get revenge if you want. The Metal Max series is pretty light on narrative, and that’s no different here. The Grapplers are constant bugaboos, but really, you do you.
I did me, which means I was mostly interested in helping people if it would lead me to better vehicles. I hunted Wanted Monsters (big boss monsters with bounties on them) because that was the fastest way to afford better gear for my tanks. Considering that is most of what I loved about the previous Metal Max games that I played, you can probably predict how I feel about this game.
Really, Metal Max is a series of JRPGs made for me, specifically. They’re packed with humour, very inventive, but most importantly: they feature tanks. Tanks are central to Metal Max, asking you to find and upgrade your fleet of metal monstrosities. Almost everything in the game is in service to decking out your treads, and the customization options have been extended here to a dizzying extent. I occasionally have trouble clicking with JRPGs. Who would have guessed the secret formula was Dragon Quest 3 with tanks.
Metal Max was a fairly open game. Progression was largely gated off until you fulfilled certain conditions, but there wasn’t necessarily a strict order to things. Metal Max 2 is similar, but a huge chunk of the game is unlocked all at once. At that point, you have to really stretch the edges of the map to find a barrier, and when you do, it’s almost hard to believe there isn’t a detour available.
It’s almost too much. At times, I had feelings of aimlessness, where I wasn’t sure what, at my level, I was supposed to do. I’m going to be honest and say I have a compulsion to try and overpower my characters. I’d push to try and get past spots that are difficult if it meant I might find something that made easier areas easier. Wow, that makes no sense, but that’s how I play a lot of games.
In any case, Metal Max 2 is a pretty terrible gatekeeper. To its credit, it tries. A little waveform on the top of the screen tells you what enemies you’re likely to run into; whether or not they’re at or below your level. But then it will let you waltz through an area swimming with easy cannon fodder, and suddenly you hit a boss that wipes the floor with your entire party. The punishment for death isn’t huge. You need to revive your party members, reclaim your vehicles, complete the necessary restocking, then you’re off again. However, that can start becoming a pain.
Never knowing if a boss can destroy you until you try is something that Dark Souls did, but Dark Souls never loaded the preceding level with easy prey to make you think you were over-leveled.
This continued all through the game, to the point where the end section had me skipping fights because they were too easy, just to wind up at a brick wall of a penultimate boss. I will say that this made the final boss battle meaningful, as I barely limped through to the end credits, but it also felt somewhat cheap.
On the other hand, it rewards you for preparedness. A lot of Metal Max 2’s content is optional, merely providing you with extra gear to tank parts to upgrade your party. While that’s not unusual for a JRPG, Metal Max 2 is incredibly gung-ho about it, and the fact that it actually pays off is a rare trait. I mostly just wish the boss battles were more in line with their underlings.
WE’RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER CANNON
I feel like part of the issue is that Metal Max 2 Reloaded is a massive game for something originally created on the Super Famicom. While the lack of a complex narrative means that you can go at your own pace, the world and its interconnected systems are pretty vast. Some quests can end in different ways, and they’re so spread across the map that there’s a mechanic for being pointed in their direction so you can even find them. Considering any drunkard slumped across a bar can have a quest for you, it helps alleviate the problem of having to talk to everyone in town.
Tonally, Metal Max 2 Reloaded carries on the humour set by the first game; dark and weird. Allies are still revived by a mad scientist wielding electricity, the enemies are still a mix of animals, tanks, and animals with tank parts. The Fallout series had a humorous twist to it, but Metal Max is completely weird. It’s like The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; humans are wretched, let’s laugh at our collective misfortune. And it does it so well. Almost everyone in this post-apocalyptic world is still most interested in themselves and their own gains. Humans never changed; only the world did.
It can be downright hilarious at times. Like the first game, some of the situations you find yourself in are just entirely weird. Its approach to monster design is sometimes complete genius, having you fight staircases and giant puddings. It also has something that tickled me in Metal Max Xeno Reborn, and that’s relationships with other characters. But unlike something like Mass Effect where your affections are rewarded by a show of bra, Metal Max 2 rolls the credits and tells you that the world ended because you were too busy being emotionally fulfilled in a relationship. It’s the sort of dark humour where the joyousness of it all overshadows any of the really dark parts. You can glean the darkness if you look, but it’s more amusing than it is morose.
What’s strangest to me is its approach to gender. You can create party members, selecting their class and gender; Male, Female, and Crossdresser. You can then make them more manly or feminine, regardless of their player-assigned gender, with there being benefits to more feminine ladies or more manly men. There are also segments that lock you out if you have an all-lady party (though you can swap party members at any time, much like Dragon Quest 3). I prefer being able to choose the gender of my character, I just find the way they centered certain mechanics around how they present to be quite strange.
TANKS FOR ALL THE PUNS
In its massive mass, Metal Max 2 Reloaded also makes the odd misstep. One of the most vexing was with a particular boss. You have to defeat their first form, then make your way back to your vehicles to defeat their next phase. Watch where you park! In my first attempt, the boss’s second form was standing between my party and their vehicles, and you’re not supposed to attack them on foot. I thought I was clever by going around and escaping the building from another exit, but when I went back, the boss had reset, and I had to do the whole thing over again anyway. Also, the boss is a jerk. It wouldn’t be the last time I needed to retry.
This is also the point of the series where things start to go a little unexplained. There’s actually an in-game help menu, but it doesn’t really go into concepts like the defense stat of vehicle components or cross-dressing. What’s the attack power of certain battle items – no, scratch that – what do certain battle items even do? I may have the patience to carefully tune my tank’s engines, but I don’t feel much like trial-and-error.
For that matter, the combat at its default setting is quite hectic. Attacks are essentially queued and then launched in rapid succession. This makes battles both spectacular and quick, but also difficult to discern. Who missed? Why did they miss? I’ve been firing my beam weapon at this target all this time and it’s been deflecting it through the whole battle?
But note that I said “default setting.” You can change it so that it moves at your own pace or like a conventional JRPG; I just never bothered to adjust it. As we’ve discussed, I enjoy chaos.
Yeah! Another terrific game in the Metal Max series. Why did it never make it to North America? That’s bullshit! My thanks to the fans who translated some of these games (In this case, Metal Dreamers). I can see why they tackled Metal Max 2 Reloaded rather than the Super Famicom version. Not only is it (probably) superior, but it’s built on Metal Max 3’s engine. If you’ve already torn down one, why not the other?
It’s not a game without flaws, but in this situation, it’s the price of ambition. The original Metal Max might be a more solid experience, but it’s also a much narrower focus. It’s easier to get things right when you’re being less flamboyantly insane.
Nonetheless, Metal Max 2 reaffirms my love for this series. It takes the foundation of the original and builds on it. It’s the Fallout 2 of the Metal Max series: bigger, better, and maybe a little too ambitious, but that’s okay. It has all the tank customization that I love, I can put cannons everywhere and launch them at the same time. I can fight three-headed mosquitos called “Mosquidorahs.” It’s fantastic. This is why I love video games.
This review was conducted on a PC using a filthy emulator and a much appreciated fan translation. The author does own a copy on DS, but she’s not that fluent in Japanese.