I’ll admit, this is a game that came out of left field for me. And fair warning, it has no official English release, so you’ll need to get your hands on a romfile if you want to use its english patch (I’ll link the patch, the rom you gotta find or dump on your own). That said, 30 hours in there’s still plenty left to see and do, but I love it so much I just gotta talk about it!
TRANSLATION PATCH HERE: https://www.romhacking.net/translations/6375/
So, Metal Max. It’s a very interesting franchise in that it combines a few things I didn’t think would go well together: A Dragon Quest styled traditional JRPG, a post nuclear apocalypse wasteland, and vehicular combat (With a focus on Tanks in particular).
The series admittedly lacks a lot of Western exposure, with only Xeno and its updated re-release Xeno Reborn having gotten any kind of English localization officially. I can’t comment on those but know they have a very mixed reception, even amongst the fans of the franchise. But we’re here to talk about what I think is the strongest entry I’ve played so far: 2 Reloaded for the Nintendo DS. But y’know me, gotta do some history first, especially for a series that you probably don’t know a thing about.
Metal Max is a long running series that started on the Nintendo Famicom by Crea Soft, and definitely shook things up at the time. The premise of the original Metal Max is that you’re the son of a mechanic who is bored with learning the trade of fixing up tanks, and would rather pilot one yourself to clean up the post apocalypse wasteland of monsters, making some cash in the process. Dad decides you’re an idiot for this and kicks you out, leaving you to fend for yourself by exploring said wasteland and hunting bounties (in the form of dangerous monsters and criminals) to make money. The big twist being that rather than just do it on foot, you’ll be doing it on foot and in a tank. The original Metal Max, while somewhat fun, hasn’t aged particularly well as it falls into the older dragon quest formula of “Get the best gear possible and only the best gear possible.” It lacks any kind of real character building beyond just making your stuff stronger, and the narrative is a bit on the weak side outside of a few specific bounties and side quests. But it’s still enjoyable as an introduction to the series if you know what you’re getting into.
2 Reloaded on the other hand, WOW. As a remake of the second game (which debuted on the SNES), it is such a huge improvement in so many ways it’s hard to even list them all. I’m gonna TRY to, but fair warning there.
Metal Max 2R starts with a much stronger focus on narrative. After a brief story bit that tells you how the world came to be ruined (Turns out telling a computer to do whatever it has to fix the world is a bad idea when it inevitably decides humans are the problem) and then has you create your character. Said character is the orphaned son or daughter (based on your class/gender choice) of a veteran bounty hunter, Maria. She and several other vets have come to the town of Mado to protect it from a large military organization known as the Grapplers. The Grapplers, for reasons unknown, attack settlements in order to harvest the young, either killing or leaving behind the old. Why they do this isn’t known, but needless to say, most towns aren’t thrilled with the idea, so Mado hired some protection when they learned of an imminent raid by the Grapplers.
Unfortunately for you, the Grapplers bring one of their best commanders with them, Ted Broiler, a dual flamethrower wielding madman. He incinerates the lot of you, but somehow you survive with no disfiguring burns while the rest of the hunters bite the dust. …Well, more like they *ARE* dust now. …Too soon?
Either way, 2R does a much better job of establishing a premise for you to go on your journey. This isn’t because you just want to be famous or make money. Oh no, you’re out for revenge against your adoptive mother’s killer, nevermind your real parents were killed by the Grapplers as well. So we’ve got villains, we’ve got a big bad we’re after, we’ve got some established motive for you to start hunting monsters and Grapplers. It also does a much better job of painting the world of Metal Max as a bleak one, as the original is surprisingly upbeat for a post apocalypse setting.
So, I mentioned character classes: This is one of the ways 2R greatly improves on the original game. You have six player classes, and each of them has their own skill-set, as well as pros and cons.
-Hunters excel in vehicular combat and are decent at combat outside of a vehicle, but not as good as other dedicated non vehicle combat classes. They also lack the skills to do any any kind of vehicle repair beyond restoring damaged armor via Armor Tile Packs (A consumable for restoring lost armor).
-Mechanics aren’t the best at on foot combat, but they’re decent in a vehicle, not as great as a Hunter though. What makes Mechanics special is their ability to do repairs in the field if a vehicle’s component is damaged or completely broken, plus they have skills that let them weaken and seriously harm machine type foes. If you want to ensure your vehicles stay running, you want a mechanic.
-Soldiers are combat experts. They’re not that good at vehicle usage, being worse than the Mechanic, but aren’t as bad as the other dedicated combat class. What they lack in vehicle skill though, they make up for in the ability to kick ass on foot, as well as provide attack buffs to the team. They can also use some of their skills on Motorcycles, giving them a way to use their own combat skills while driving something.
-Nurses are your healers, and in my opinion, a must have. Just having a nurse on your team effectively doubles the power of all healing items outside of combat, and any the Nurse uses themselves in combat. On top of that, Nurses can use healing items on the entire team in a single turn, do emergency healing without items a limited number of times, provide HP regen, and even have access to a deadly injection that can instant kill organic foes. They’re not very good at direct combat in any form compared to other classes, but that healing will go a long way.
-Wrestlers are all about close combat. They lack any kind of vehicle capabilities like a Soldier and aren’t very good at using them, but they can wreck face with their devastating melee based arsenal of weapons and skills. The downside is they are entirely about doing damage and lack any kind of support or party utility: They are just here to beat your enemies’ faces in.
-Artisans are an odd bunch. They specialize in crafting custom ammunition for your vehicles which can inflict various elemental damage types, hit multiple targets, inflict negative statuses like burning/freezing, or just do a ton of damage in general. They also have some other odd skills in combat like costumes with random effects, or playing dead to avoid incoming damage. They lack direct combat utility, but their ability to make ammo to adapt to any situation is definitely a strong point. Nevermind the fact they can also Overmod, tweaking vehicle parts beyond their original limits to give them more oomph.
Now, what makes the class system of this game neat is that while your characters’ primary classes are set in stone, you unlock Subclasses a short way into the game, which allow you to gain the skillsets of a second class of your choice! And you can also freely switch between subclasses at any point. So if you want the healing power of a Nurse, but you want that Nurse to be able to kick some ass, make or recruit a Soldier and then make them a Sub Nurse, boom! You’ve got yourself a combat medic. The fact you can freely change subclasses also means you can change things up on the fly to fit a situation. Let’s say a tough vehicle fight is coming up that you know is going to require some mid combat repairs. Make your Hunter into a Sub Mechanic, and there you go.
This right here is one of the things that makes Metal Max 2R so great. It takes the great premise/setting of the original Metal Max, and adds some much needed depth with character/build customization, in a way that lets you adapt to what your current needs are. While your primary class is a choice you have to live with, your flexible subclass options mean you can, with some grinding, adapt to pretty much anything and everything thrown at you.
Now, what makes character building in Metal Max 2R so great is that on top of this, the gear system isn’t a “Just buy the strongest stuff” approach like in older JRPGs. Instead, every piece of gear for your characters offers pros and cons you have to weigh when deciding what to use. On the weapon side of things, weapons can be single target, or some form of multi-target like a narrow/wide cone AOE, a circular AOE, or a linear AOE, or they might hit a single target multiple times. Weapons also come with elements, physical (which nothing is weak/strong against), and then you’ve got Fire, Ice, Gas, Sound, Lightning, and Beam. Most enemies have weaknesses, resistances, or immunities to various elements. And thankfully you can be quite flexible as you’re allowed to use a whopping 3 weapons on each character, although you can only attack with one per turn in most cases (Soldiers gain a skill to use all of their weapons at once). This means you have to not only consider attack power on a weapon, but also its element and targeting method. Sometimes a lower Attack value weapon may end up being a better choice purely because it can hit an entire group of foes rather than a single one. Armor is similar in that it may offer resists to elements (aside from physical), as well as bonuses or penalties to other stats like speed and attack on top of the Defense value. So you have to often weigh if the increased Defense of a new piece of gear is worth something you might lose, like a large chunk of speed on a heavier piece of armor. As for all the skills I mentioned, most active skills have a limited number of uses per day (though this usage may increase as you level up, and usages are on a per skill basis, not an MP or similar pool system) meaning you have to choose when and where it’s a good idea to use them. This does all make for far more engaging on foot combat than the original Metal Max though, where your only options were attacking with one weapon or using items. No skills or real depth. As someone who loves when a JRPG gives you control over your character building, 2R does a fantastic job of it without overcomplicating it. You also have consumable items, which actually do contribute a fair bit to the combat beyond just healing. Blinding enemies is actually a viable tactic in this game, and you’ll also get other gadgets like deployable barriers that temporarily reduce incoming damage, as well as items to inflict other negative effects on enemies. Yeah, a JRPG where the non healing consumables actually have use? Crazy, I know.
And that’s just the on foot stuff. Shortly into your journey, you will be given a dune buggy capable of mounting a cannon and machinegun, allowing you to fight enemies from the comfort of a driver’s seat! Vehicle combat goes by its own set of rules that shakes things up quite a bit compare to the traditional on foot combat.
For one, vehicles technically cannot be destroyed, though they can be rendered inoperable which will require extensive repairs. They also have weight limits which determine how much armor and weaponry you can strap onto the things, with armor being the HP of a vehicle as opposed to a defensive modifier (Your other parts handle this). And this is where things get interesting: Your vehicle Chassis (its body) has a base weight, but also needs an Engine to provide it with weight capacity, and a C-Unit to operate the vehicle and its weapon systems. Along with this, most vehicles can be modified to have up to five weapon slots that can use Cannons, Autoguns, or Specials (Which are general melee, missile/rocket launchers, and other non gun things). All of this gear takes up weight which cannot exceed the maximum load your engine provides, or the vehicle won’t be able to move.
This makes for very difficult decisions, as you have to determine the best possible loadout for a vehicle based on the weight capacity, balancing its offense and defense. Because for every unit of weight being taken up by equipment, that’s less weight you can devote to the vehicle’s effective HP pool in the form of its armor. And any time a vehicle takes damage with 0 armor, a part has a chance to be damaged (Giving it a chance to malfunction in combat) or break (Be rendered completely inoperable). If your Engine or C-unit is broken, your vehicle’s not moving. If your Chassis is broken, you are forcefully ejected from the vehicle and left without the protection it provides its occupants. And typically, vehicle combat involves much harder hitting attacks, meaning an attack your vehicle could shrug off may very well oneshot its exposed occupants.
Further complicating (in a good way) the vehicle customization is that you can mod most aspects of a vehicle once you fight the right people: You can modify the ATK/DEF/Capacity values of most guns, tune engines to give them more weight capacity, add additional weapon and item slots to your Chassis, just to name a few options. But with every action that strengthens your vehicle or its parts, the thing you strengthen becomes heavier, meaning maxing out every possible upgrade on your guns and C-Unit will result in a much heavier loadout that will have to sacrifice armor, if it can even support the weight at all. It becomes a fine balancing act of figuring out how to best tune your vehicle and its parts to get the most performance out of them in combat.
On the combat side of things, those three gun types I mentioned all function very differently. Most Cannons have high attack but limited ammo reserves, Autoguns are typically unlimited ammo but with lower attack, but many offer firing arcs that can hit multiple targets or can attack a single target multiple times. S-E (Special) weapons are typically (but not always) missile launchers with incredibly high power, but lower ammo reserves and much higher costs to reload at a Resupply Service, which are how you refill your ammo and restore any armor lost in combat. Like the weapons your party uses, they also come in elemental flavors, although as long as you have one cannon capable of firing shells, you can also load special ammo that can have boosted power or additional effects, which comes from an ammo pool separate from your weapons themselves that is determined by the Chassis. Character customization is one thing, but vehicle customization is on a whole different level with tons of different ways to build. You could make an all rounder sporting a variety of weapon types, or just make a tank with five Cannon slots and a C-Unit that allows all five of them to be fired at once in a turn, giving you a way to deal some ridiculous burst damage at the cost of being able to do anything else like multi-target.
And then we get into the real meat of the game: Its massive non-linear storyline. While you do have an ultimate goal of destroying the Grappler organization in its entirety, the order of things you do to accomplish this is not set in stone like most JRPGs. The progression of 2R is incredibly non linear (not unlike the original, one of its strongest points) giving you a ton of side tasks you can look into as soon as you finish taking the tour of the first town. You could go straight into the main story, or you could go off exploring to find some side jobs like hunting a sand shark (who will probably kill you unless you have a decently kitted vehicle) or using a metal detector to find a lost wedding ring (Plus side, you keep the metal detector!). It also surprised me with the fact the first big town you visit outside of the starting one has a story arc that is not done entirely in one visit like most traditional JRPGs would do. El Nino is essentially under the control of the Grapplers and a mob boss who rule it with an iron fist. Liberating El Nino is something you can do, but it’s not a required part of the storyline, and it’s not something you can even do all at once. You’ll have to actually come back to El Nino several times as you gain Reputation from bounties, side quests, and hunting challenges to advance its resistance focused plot over several of its own quests before you finally get to help the town’s citizens retake it.
The actual main story path is slightly linear starting out, as you have to first clear a bridge checkpoint of Grapplers in order to go anywhere beyond El Nino, and then take out a major Grappler commander in his fortress before you can open up a big chunk of the world map. From there however, things start getting a lot more open in terms of where you can go and what you can do, and then it opens up even FURTHER when you finally get access to your own ship. From there, things get ridiculously open ended, with the option to go straight to one of the toughest Grappler leaders available to you (Though I wouldn’t recommend going straight there, you’ll probably die)! And even before the world gets this open, you’ll come across a number of sidequests, and also bounties you can hunt. Bounties being tougher enemies (Bosses, basically) that allow you to claim a sizable cash reward upon killing them, but often require some advance prep to bring down as some have unique gimmicks that can easily wipe an unprepared party. Some must be taken on foot, others may offer the option to hunt with your tanks. Some may flee during combat, requiring you to track them down to finish the job, though in these cases any major damage you did before they ran away sticks. This open endedness is honestly the biggest selling point of Metal Max 2R for me. While there is a plot to follow, you’re still allowed to carve your own path through it, deciding when to tackle major story things, and when to follow side jobs that may lead to new equipment or entirely optional storylines you might miss otherwise.
The one thing that is a bit odd about Metal Max however, is probably its world design. While this is a Mad Max style post apocalypse with a focus on vehicle action, at times it can be surprisingly lighthearted. Many bigger towns are thriving centers of business and trade with upbeat JRPG town music, and monster design definitely takes a page from Dragon Quest, with a focus on weird and wacky. Many creatures in Metal Max are fusions of beast and machine in some way, which SHOULD be horrifying, but instead comes off as more goofy. For example, Seagulls with surface to air bombs on their wings that they happily drop on you. Or large caterpillars with miniguns for faces. Or giant fuse lit cannons on wheels. While there are more traditional enemy vehicles as well, the monster lineup is something else, to say the least. I mean, we’ve got sentient, six legged gas-cans (capable of spewing flames at you).
At the end of the day though, all the pieces that make up Metal Max 2R come together incredibly well, creating an absolutely amazing JRPG that I think it’s an absolute crime didn’t come out in the West, and had to be fan translated 10 years later instead. That said, MetalFan and his team have done an amazing job with this and Metal Max 3 (and are working on 4 as we speak), so there’s plenty of potential Metal Max goodness coming to us thanks to them.
If you’ve been looking for a new JRPG but you’re tired of the usual fantasy setting they use, Metal Max 2 Reloaded is an amazing breath of post-apocalyptic air. Come for the wacky monster designs, stay for the ridiculously fun tank customization and using them to wreck everything in your way.