Metal Saga

Metal Saga

Adventures in scrapping.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 5, 2006
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Choice can be a wonderful thing. Role-playing games in particular support choice (or at least the illusion of it) more than most genres, and it almost universally makes for a better game experience. But there is such a thing as being too open to cutting one's path, and Metal Saga straddles that line without the kind of confidence you'd expect for a highwire act. The game never gets too out of hand -- RPG staples like tougher enemies ensure that you can't just run all over the world whenever, but it also means the game suffers from a bit of guidance for the player.

Still, if you can get into the concept of not being led from town to town while a story lays everything out for you, there's a lot about Metal Saga to love. In fact, I fell in love right after the first choice in the game. You're given the choice right from the start to opt to be a mechanic, carrying on the family business or a hunter and see the world. For kicks, I chose the former. This is what I was presented with:

"And so, Sam inherited the family business, spending his life as a mechanic. He would never fight a giant flying manta ray... Nor would he find a pet dog with heavy artillery on its back. No, he wouldn't even encounter a cult of body-builders obsessed with ab toning and proper waxing techniques. Truly, Sam lives one of the most boring lives ever imagined. Sure, he eventually gets married and has a few kids, who go on to lead equally dull and boring lives. And, of course he dies quietly in bed. But every man dies -- not every man truly awakens an attractive female robotic weapon, designed long ago by scientists that time forgot. Sam didn't, anyway, that's for sure."

And then the credits rolled. And I fell in love.

Seriously, Metal Saga has one of the best localizations you're likely to see in a Japanese RPG. It's filled with humor, the post-apocalyptic world is rife with odd characters and the storyline -- such as it is -- is something you're not likely to have experience before in this kind of setting. You're just going to have to actively look for said characters, and in a way that's refreshing.

It's also addictive as hell. See, as a hunter, you're wont to pick up a tank of your own and explore the barren wastes. Along the way, you'll probably pick up a mechanic, a hunter friend and a dog, which as the game already helpfully outlines, can rock a cannon on his back. The game never forces you to do any of this, though you probably won't get very far if you don't.

Once you have built your party (and for the hunter and mechanic aspects, you can choose from a male or female, and between four different breeds of dogs), you're welcome to just go exploring. The game gives you a gentle nudge in the direction of the next town, but you'll have to actually find it yourself. The same goes for the rest of the storyline. You'll have to talk to townspeople, upgrade as money allows, and make the effort yourself to track down the next bit of interesting happenstance that's taking place in the world.

That world is divvied up into a western and eastern continent. The latter is where you start out, and the former is where the game gets good, but it's possible to spend a good 10-15 hours exploring the east before you even hop a train to the west. Because the game doesn't ever limit where you can go, it's possible to run as far west as possible and buy the most expensive tank parts and personal equipment (for when you fight on foot), then go back and just decimate enemies in your old stomping grounds. If anything, like trial-and-error exploration, the game encourages it.

Luckily, exploration is helped by a handful of key refinements to things. Once you've visited a major town, you can teleport there instantly, cutting down on travel time. So long as you have the teleporter equipped on your vehicles, you can also warp out of dungeons (useful, since you can only save in towns), and have your vehicle delivered to ouside a town you've been to. This is handy because you'll probably find yourself dying a bit, and when you do, you'll have to go get your vehicle. Luckily, there's no penalty for dying (you even come back with full health) aside from having to travel back to where you are and hunt down your vehicle. Even the battles can be fast-forwarded by holding L2.

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