Using a word like “Reborn” in a re-release of a game that may have had a poor reception the first time around denotes a course correction, the publisher or developer acknowledging something was off or broken, and a wholesale overhaul to set things right. For the initial release of Metal Max Xeno, we found much that could have used fixing. Metal Max Xeno Reborn is all about salvage, but has Kadokawa Games done enough to salvage the title? How bad can something be before it’s unremakable?
The story largely seems the same in Metal Max Xeno Reborn (by the way, no relation to THAT Xeno series). In post-apocalyptic Dystokio, machines have almost entirely obliterated humanity, which is apparently down to one tiny collective of survivors who are barely hanging on. The environment management system — whose name has been changed from NOA to Noah to explicitly clarify the ironic Biblical reference — has a sole mission of eliminating humans. Your character Talis, a quiet man with a mechanical hand, wakes up and rides a tank to Iron Base to gear up to fight the dreaded Catastropus, a giant machine with its sights set on you. Though you can glean a few more details about the world around you from speaking to your newfound friends, that’s pretty much the entire story. Most of the plot revolves around finding stronger weapons so you can get to Catastropus and fight it.
The most notable aspect of Metal Max Xeno Reborn is a return to the series’s roots. Specifically, your party is joined by Pochi, the Shiba Inu, the Metal Max series’s mascot. Pochi is undoubtedly a good boy, and once you meet him, he will join you on all your excursions into the wasteland. Though you don’t get to control him directly in battle, he does contribute and has his own skill tree like any other party member. You also get to outfit him with armor and guns strapped onto his back, the best form of dressing up your dog. One of his abilities makes enemies “disheartened” and I chuckled at the thought that these literal killing machines might be saddened because a Shiba is mad at them. Some of his more advanced abilities teach him to shake and beg when you interact with him back at Iron Base, and of course, you can pet him. Pochi is one of the few things that makes life worth living in Dystokio.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn is an open-world JRPG with a few unique quirks. As you traverse the burnt-out remnants of Tokyo, masses of enemies appear across the landscape. Battles aren’t triggered by touching the enemies. Instead, when they spot you, a meter begins to fill up, and when it’s full, a battle starts. However, there’s no separate battle screen; the fights take place right where you are. This makes for an openness befitting the SaGa-like series’s open structure, as enemies wandering through the area can and do freely join your battles.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn emphasizes mobility. You have options for dealing with the enemy even before you enter battle, as you can fire one of your weapons at any time. Of course, it triggers a fight if you don’t destroy them. It’s also viable to move around the enemies, and until you pick up some better equipment at least, that’s going to be a common choice early on. The battles, formerly turn-based, are now more like active-time battles. While you’re waiting for your meter to fill up to perform an action, you’re free to move your characters around the battlefield. How much this affects, I couldn’t tell. I got the sense that different weapons may be affected by distance, but there wasn’t any documentation to confirm that theory. Mainly, you can maneuver your characters away from the enemies to retreat. Flying enemies that encourage land-to-air weapons add another wrinkle to combat.
The combat is bolstered by a robustly customizable party system with a wide range of options for outfitting your characters and the tanks they drive. There are multiple weapon slots for each tank, and you can add more. Each piece of equipment has a weight and durability, and heavier firepower also tends to weigh more and be easier to destroy. So, there’s a delicate balancing act of deciding what you want to take with you for your next battle with a massive foe. The party members’ customization is not as impressive or interesting as the tanks, unfortunately.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn’s appearance is fine, though dated with its typical anime stylings. The enemies exploding upon defeat instead of just blinking out and a much higher framerate are both improvements over the original. Because of the vast payload of explosives soaring across the screen all the time, battles can make for joyous visual chaos. That joy is only heightened by some of the enemies’ wacky designs. Albatrosses attacking from above sporting bombs under their wings, and what look like massive turtles housed inside ships in place of shells are some favorites. The gritty style of the artwork during loading screens looks really cool and made me wish the game dug into that grittiness a bit more. For music, it’s pretty standard JRPG fare with some generic metal and synth-heavy prog tracks. The controls are mostly functional, though the myriad of menus can be a bit much to navigate. Targeting can be wonky, but you get that with open-world games.
Underneath it all, unfortunately, is a lingering emptiness, mostly because of how sparse Metal Max Xeno Reborn’s story is. It’s hardly exciting when your main objectives often consist of getting to the next area. With SaGa games, the idea is to provide the player a massive, open sandbox in which to build their own stories, and as such, they tend to be polarizing. Metal Max Xeno Reborn similarly presents you with an open path to complete one singular goal. It’s just that, as you’re scouring Dystokio for equipment and allies, your finds are generally uninteresting or underdeveloped. Despite such a dark setup, the game still lacks any hook through characters or story, anything to get the emotions going. All you’re doing is strengthening your arsenal for the big, final fight. Even at 20-plus hours for the main story, it almost feels like merely a first chapter or an extended demo for what could potentially be an epic game. The best part of the story is the “bad” joke endings that hold more humor and wholesomeness than the entire rest of the game and which I consider to be the true endings. For a game that probably felt dated upon its initial 2018 release, Metal Max Xeno Reborn has only fallen further behind in 2022, and the improvements aren’t enough to change that.
Sadly, the women characters still appear to be fawning for some action with Talis’s machine hand, (if you know what I mean). At least the men also seem interested, so at least there’s some equality on that front. More egregious, however, is the design of one hypersexualized woman character whose clothes are far more revealing than any other character. While we commonly talk about how women characters would benefit from armor designs that would be appropriate for the situations they’re in, Metal Max Xeno Reborn goes extreme in its revealing outfits. In battle, that woman sports a flimsy ensemble far different from her counterparts and inappropriate for fighting off hordes of vicious machinery.
As Kadokawa Games is preparing to release a sequel as well as a spinoff (where you lead a team of dogs, currently in Early Access on Steam), it’s clear that they and PQube are committed to Metal Max, so it’s understandable that they’d take a second crack at the first game. Perhaps the updated combat will mesh even better within a game built around it from the beginning. If the combat and overall gameplay needed an upgrade, they’re in a good spot, but the lacking story is still the most significant issue. Perhaps the developers have learned something from this exercise and Metal Max: Wild West will be the post-apocalyptic RPG of this generation. But for now, Metal Max Xeno Reborn demonstrates that simply slapping the word “Reborn” on a troubled game doesn’t automatically transform it into a masterpiece.