Mato Anomalies by developer Arrowiz and publisher Prime Matter is a complex game to critique, primarily because of my mixed feelings regarding the final third of its story. What starts as an intensely compelling noir/cyberpunk tale set in the futuristic city of Mato ultimately stumbles at the finish line, souring my overall experience. However, I enjoyed the first two portions of Mato Anomalies enough to be curious about its extra story chapter DLC, Digital Shadows. Could it help salvage my overall opinion, or would it strengthen my discontent regarding the ending? To my pleasant surprise, I find Digital Shadows a largely self-contained tale. While it doesn’t necessarily smooth over the base game’s ending, it does help to provide a positive Mato Anomalies play experience once more.
Digital Shadows takes place during the main game’s Chapter Six. After purchasing the expansion, you can access it directly from Mato Anomalies’ main menu should you, like me, have already cleared the game. Going this route bypasses starting the title from scratch, which is quite helpful. Instead, you get a new Chapter Six save file with preset levels, items, and equipment. You do have to reset the entirety of the party’s talent pool and adjust difficulty settings per your preferences, but that isn’t too cumbersome a task when it allows you to jump right into the DLC. Whether you play through the game to the point where Digital Shadows becomes accessible or use the handy main menu bypass, all you have to do to get the party started is talk to Mato’s new Happy_Supervisor NPC.
In Digital Shadows, a new virtual reality experience takes Mato by storm. Called Dragon Palace, citizens use special VR headsets to log in and experience augmented reality. But what seems like an entertaining diversion might not be so, as several people in Dragon Palace fall into comatose states back in Mato, addicted to a card battle game called Duel of the Brave. One of these victims is the powerful information broker Nightshade, an ally of Doe and Gram and a person near and dear to the electronic idol Mist’s heart. Guided by Gram’s android companion SkyEye, who is much more knowledgeable about the digital realm than anyone else in the party, can the team save Nightshade and the others held captive in Dragon Palace before it’s too late?
Given the narrative circumstances, Digital Shadows’ plot primarily focuses on SkyEye and Mist, though all party members have dialogue moments. Gang leader Lady Edelweiss continues to have some of the best lines! The DLC is the first time that SkyEye is a genuine playable party member, something I always thought was a missed opportunity, given her prevalence in the base game. Her weapons range from a bizarre elephant doll to a computer, giving her a wide range of skills that prove quite effective against many enemies lurking in the Lairs of Dragon Palace. She also “synergizes” with other active party members in combat, sometimes providing an extra attack on their turns. Overall, she is a welcome addition to the game’s combat roster!
Similar to previous exploration in Mato as Doe, you navigate the virtual reality outside of Lairs as SkyEye, talking to NPCs, shopping for items or equipment, and completing objectives for the main story quests or unlocked side quests. Duel of the Brave is essentially a rebranded Mind/Hack from the base game, complete with the same concept of a battle of wills represented as a virtual card game people play in Dragon Palace. It can be challenging to carve away your opponents’ health and get through their defenses, especially when they have several helper demons doling out status boosts until they get dealt with. However, you can “skip” these card battles once you’ve attempted them three times. The game registers it as a win regardless.
Lair exploration is much the same as the base game. You enter the dungeon, exploring and completing block-moving puzzles to gain further access to the level. Eventually, you reach the endpoint and have a boss fight. Besides the welcome addition of SkyEye into the ranks, everything is very familiar, so anyone who has played Mato Anomalies will quickly get the hang of what to do in the dungeon areas.
As previously mentioned, and mainly to its benefit, Digital Shadows is a self-contained side-story. You don’t necessarily need to play it to get a sense of the base game’s overall plot, but it helps to further flesh out characters like SkyEye, Mist, and Nightshade. Truthfully, the main antagonist, Player001, is far more compelling than the final foe for the actual base game. Other NPCs that occasionally feature in Mato Anomalies during main or side story quests, such as Cheyne, Ah Tsai, or the flower girl Alice, also appear as logged-in Dragon Palace players. That was a neat touch. Digital Shadows helps add depth and world-build the setting of Mato. Since that’s arguably the most substantial aspect of the base game, I appreciate the return to form this DLC provides.
Graphically, Digital Shadows tells its tale using the same tricks as the base game. The 3D graphics are serviceable with even more of a futuristic tinge, given the “virtual” state of Dragon Palace. An old street on Broadway, a Wild West-themed locale, an empty circus, and even a pirate ship are some of the DLC’s locales due to their online nature. For instance, a hacking backdoor provides a spinning and rolling corridor, helping to showcase its twisting, ever-changing nature. There are occasionally traditional cinemas, but most essential story scenes use comic book-styled stills. Artistic VN illustrations also depict crucial narrative points. The visuals aren’t groundbreaking, but they still do the trick nicely. Voice acting is sporadic but passionate, and the soundscape fits Mato Anomalies. I only noticed one typographical error in the script when playing through the DLC, so the English translation is quite good.
That isn’t to say that Digital Shadows is without flaws. While the central DLC narrative is relatively meaty, many side-quests are “find these points of interest and then claim a reward,” so they’re not the most interesting. I found the Duel of the Brave segments significantly more challenging in Digital Shadows than the base game’s Mind/Hacking, bordering on frustration. Digital Shadows is on the cheap side for an expansion DLC, but you do have to buy the base game first. Since I still have mixed feelings about how Mato Anomalies ultimately closes, I can’t say that Digital Shadows repairs the damage from the base game’s inevitable outcome. It’s more akin to a band-aid covering a lingering scar.
Still, Digital Shadows is a pleasant surprise. It reminds me how much I like the first two-thirds of Mato Anomalies from a plot and character stance, helping to improve the sour taste that the last third of the game left me with. I enjoyed playing this DLC expansion and returning to Mato’s fascinating underbelly. I look forward to the planned extra story chapters if they get made, especially if they’re similar. Digital Shadows is a worthy additional purchase for those who have already played or have decided to try Mato Anomalies.