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Metal Saga - Impression

Grandia III
Platform: PS2
Developer: Success
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: Spring 2006

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It's Japanese to Me

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Fishnet-clad legs + howitzer = mobile infantry unit.
Canine + big honkin' gun = man's best friend whose bomb is worse than its bite.
Atlus + post-apocalyptic Earth = a completely bizarre and open-ended RPG called Metal Saga.

Atlus has a bit of reputation when it comes to releasing RPGs, and quirky does not begin to describe it. With titles such as Disgaea, Cubivore, Thousand Arms, and the Shin Megami Tensei series under its belt, it should come as no surprise that its latest project follows tradition by breaking tradition and creates a unique gameplay experience.

Metal Saga is the latest in the Metal Max series, which dates back to the Famicom, but North American gamers are catching their first glimpse at this series. The background plot is standard post-apocalyptic fare with an Asimovian twist: a supercomputer named Noah was built to control pollution but decided to get rid of the source of pollution, namely humanity. The actual war between the robot lords and the humans has passed, and humanity is starting to pickup the tattered remains of civilization. While the war may be over, the world is still a dangerous place, chock full of sentient machines, cyborgs, and gun-toting bumblebees.

But at first glance, that backstory has little to do with a young man who is the main character of Metal Saga. This unnamed hero is the son of a famous Hunter and a renowned mechanic, and he has decided to follow in his father's footsteps and explore the world as a Hunter. The story opens with him going off in search of a vehicle, a very necessary accessory to survival.

"Overall, Metal Saga looks like an intriguing entry into an RPG field usually over-laden with sword and sorcery epics."

Metal Saga is distinctly open-ended and non-linear, and it is up to players to determine what happens to the youth. This sort of freedom is rarely found in Japanese RPGs, but the game takes full advantage by offering multiple endings at various points during exploration. It's quite possible that the game holds a record for shortest RPG ever since a full end-of-game scenario can be reached within a few minutes of starting a new game. Needless to say, choices can have unexpected consequences.

Random encounters cause turn-based battles, but Metal Saga throws a kink into the mix with the utilization of vehicles. While battles can and will be fought on foot, continued existence is heightened by fighting from a souped-up tank, complete with a massive main cannon, subgun, several specialized attack attachments, and enough armor plating to withstand a barrage from a crazed Herbie. Finding, modding, upgrading, maintaining, and even painting these vehicles is a major draw for the game, but they are not necessarily invulnerable. After taking enough damage, different parts of the vehicle will become disabled; while severity varies, it is quite possible to be ejected and forced to continue the fight on foot.

Beyond the battles, Metal Saga offers a large and intriguing world, complete with Atlus-style humor. Since quests and bounties are completely up to the player, it's possible to just wander around enjoying the scenery, finding a remarkable array of diverse items, or participating in one of the numerous mini-games. Of course, the game does offer suggestions for where to go next, and high level monsters tend to make chopped scrap metal out of low level tanks.

The graphics quality is adequate but is helped by the unique flair that is the world of Metal Saga. The soundtrack displays a significant diversity, ranging from piano tunes reminiscent of Final Fantasy to hard rock evocative of the original Spy Hunter. Thus far the game has featured neither voice acting not cut-scenes.

Overall, Metal Saga looks like an intriguing entry into an RPG field usually over-laden with sword and sorcery epics. Keep posted to RPGamer for a full review closer to release date.

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