Metal Saga
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Crea-Tech
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 04/25/06
Japan 06/09/05
Official Site: English Site

Graphics: 73%
Sound: 74%
Gameplay: 80%
Control: 81%
Story: 78%
Overall: 77%
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Three cheers for street vendors.
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Shopping at the post-apocalyptic vending machine.
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John K.
Metal Saga
John K.

There are a large number of games in the RPG market today for gamers to pick and choose from, especially for PS2 owners. With the variety of games available, an RPG has to have something to offer that its RPG brethren don't in order to carve out its own niche in a gamer's library. Metal Saga is a game that attempts this by trying to serve up the feel of a free roaming do-what-you-want approach to story while presenting the lesser used post-apocalypse setting over the standard fantasy fare. The results are a mixed bag that hit the mark in some areas while leaving elements to be desired in others...

The Story

The world ended. This is the kind of thing that happens when mankind makes a supercomputer called Noah but doesn't bother to install a 'Don't destroy humanity with a host of created weapons' command. Fortunately for the human race, Noah wasn't too thorough in wiping out its creators, and over time humans began to rebuild something akin to civilization in the post-apocalyptic world. Oh, and a friendly hero-type dispatched the pesky Noah. The world is still filled with Noah's monstrous creations, along with bandits, thieves, Arnold worshippers and a host of other weirdos; so someone got the bright idea to create a group of people called 'Hunters' who, as the name suggests, traipse about the world and take down the bad guys for a hefty pay-off.

In Metal Saga you play the role of a young boy, named however you wish, who wants to follow his father's footsteps and become a Hunter. From there the narrative goes at whatever pace the player wishes as you are more or less free to go where you please once you complete the first quest to get your hands on a vehicle, one of the most important weapons in a Hunter's arsenal.

Of course, the freedom you have is limited to the scope of the story and side-missions that comprise the game, and the decisions available in dialogue, but this basic freedom is still one of the hallmarks of the game and creates an enjoyable free-roaming atmosphere within what is essentially a linear story. The main character is not alone in his adventuring as he can get a hold of several fellow Hunters, who have their own little side stories to find and unveil. You'll also meet a varied number of other people in your travels, friend and foe alike. The background and personalities of these characters tend to range from the simplistic to the moderately amusing: meaningful dialogue is rare. Still, this somehow seems to suit the style of the game just fine, and people looking for a lighthearted narrative are not likely to have complaints.

The story does have something of a central arc and a finale of sorts, revolving around a group of mysterious folk in black suits and their hidden agenda, but this seems to take a back seat to the meat of the game which would be the pursuit of bounties, each of which has a bit of background story to them.

The Gameplay

The battles in Metal Saga don't deviate much from standard RPG conventions. The characters have hit points, stats, equippable weapons and armor, and so on. Fighting is turned based and involves attacking the enemy with various weapons and occasion skills until said enemy is dead and the characters receive money, experience, and even an item every now and again. One difference to note is that skills, instead of requiring some sort of arbitrary MP or TP or what have you, instead cost money to perform. Though the logic of this is fuzzy at best, it does change the way one views skills when one's only limit in their use is how much cash is on hand.

The major difference in battle and gameplay from the ordinary RPG is that your characters have tanks and other vehicles to make use of in battle as well; in fact, using vehicles is recommended for many of the battles and especially the bounties, which constitute the game's boss fights.

Characters can freely switch in and out of their vehicles during battle, and each vehicle can be equipped with a variety of weapons ranging from hefty cannons, anti-air missiles, and machine guns. While the battles in Metal Saga are mediocre in their basic simplicity, customizing the load out and appearance of one's tanks and other machines of war is an entertaining diversion, and even takes some skill to properly equip a set of vehicles. Balancing weight and armor versus the need for more powerful weapons is key, and not as simple as one thinks at first glance.

Battles take place randomly on the world map, which the player can run about on foot or travel around on in their vehicles. Towns, trader camps, and dungeons abound the vast wastes and other terrains, and in each town a variety of services and shops are available, not the least of which is the Hunter Office. Here one finds out about what bounties are to be had. This includes story bounties, which have a picture, a brief description, and the payoff for dealing with the nuissance. There are over fifty of these bounties, and going after them is going to take up much of a player's time while playing Metal Saga. The fun of going after the bounties is that there is no set order in which they must be caught; indeed, a player can skip over or miss quite a number of bounties while going through the game and some of the bounties are so powerful that taking them on might require waiting until one has the right level and equipped tank to take them on.

To keep track of bounties, and other bits of info, players have a nifty "Satcom" containing a world map, a list of known bounties, and an e-mail and journal function to help keep a player on track.

If one gets tired of fighting random monsters or hunting down bounties, Metal Saga does have a few other things to keep one entertained such as minigames, side-quests, and gift shops to buy items for folks you've befriended in your travels. These distractions are a nice addition, though in the end offer only little extra to the overall enjoyment of the game. The ability to download music to one's Satcom from jukeboxes in each tavern was rather amusing though.

The Graphics

Metal Saga's graphics are not the most awe-inspiring to grace the PS2. Colors are generally dark and bland, though this may have more to do with the post-apocalyptic feel of the world more than anything else, and the level of detail to be found in both characters and textures are only adequate rather than gorgeous. This doesn't change in battle either, as things tend to look just as bland in battle as out, with minimal affects used for attacks and skills.

Fortunately, while the graphics may not overwhelm, they don't detract so much as to actually hurt the game. One won't be inspired by anything one sees during play, but neither will the player find the need to burn out one's eyes with a red-hot poker. In that sense Metal Saga's appearance suffices for the game's purpose, but does little else.

The Controls

In truth there is little to say about how the game controls overall. The menus are simple and easy to navigate, and there are few situations in which the characters will not go where a player tells them to go. If anything, Metal Saga's controls are fairly smooth and easy, especially in comparison to the way some games these days seem to feel the need to bombard the player with menus and unusual camera angles that make characters go in directions other than where the player directs. The only complaint in this department is the unfortunate occurrence in towns or dungeons when one is trying to mount one's vehicles after having dismounted for whatever reason, only to find that one person or another in the party cannot reach their vehicle. This leads to a bit of looping around until one find just that right spot for previously mentioned character to get his or herself back into their vehicle. An annoyance, but a minor one altogether.

The Sound

The music of Metal Saga does exactly what it needs to do without doing anything spectacular. Some of the tunes will stick in the mind, such as the boss battle music and end theme of the game, while others will just fade and leave no impression behind. By the same token, the sound effects do little more than provide proper background noise for the action on-screen, and players will likely forget anything to do with Metal Saga's sound as quickly as it was heard.

This is unfortunate for, as was mentioned above, it is possible to listen to the game's various tracks at the jukeboxes found at the taverns of each town, and these tunes can be downloaded to the Satcom to be listened to anywhere in the game. A more powerful and memorable musical score would've been a balm of quality in an otherwise average setting.

The Conclusion

Metal Saga tries to add an element of freedom to the average RPG story. This concept could've been pulled off beautifully with a richer backdrop to play with and more vibrant and active characters...not to mention a more innovative or original battle system, smoother and more colorful graphics, and a stronger set of tunes. Still, with some enjoyable minigames, an interesting set of vehicles to customize, and a large variety of boss baddies to go bounty hunting after, the game does still offer a solid and enjoyable, if somewhat underwhelming RPG experience.


© 2006 Atlus, All Rights Reserved.

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