Mato Anomalies Review – A Messy Adventure
Title: Mato Anomalies
Release Date: March 10, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Prime Matter
Genre: Adventure RPG
Sometimes great ideas can be held back by a lack of focus. When it comes to the Arrowiz-developed JRPG Mato Anomalies, there clearly was love poured into the experience. However, as an adventure, dungeon-crawler JRPG, visual novel, and semi-deck-builder, players have a lot to wrap their heads around. The design is there, but the focus is not, making this one experience that doesn’t quite nail any of its features outside of a rather impressive battle system and character design.
Mato Anomalies wastes absolutely no time throwing players into its narrative. First, we meet Doe, who is seemingly captured by some thugs, but he’s actually on a job of some sort. Okay, here’s the issue. I don’t know who Doe is, but everyone else seems to. They all have a past with the character casually brought up in conversations yet has nothing to do with the issue at hand. What happened to opening the game with some inner dialogue to introduce its lead so we can all be on the same page? Instead, the next thing I knew, I was on a case and investigating some criminal activity where. I found myself in a rift where I met an exorcist named Gram, who can fight creatures in these Lairs.
This all happened in the first 15 minutes or so of the game, and I still had no idea why I was doing this. The writing is like this for most of the game, where there are these deep themes of corruption, with our two leads doing their best to fight back against it, but their relationship is as flimsy as the plot. Gram tends to be smug almost always, while Doe talks himself through problems to progress the story.
Okay, after playing the opening a third time, I think I understand what’s happening. There’s this group called HANDOUT (all caps), who Doe is investigating for a top-level spy named Nightshade. While investigating some cargo, he is sucked into a rift and attacked by the in-game enemies known as Bane Tide, and this is where Gram shows up to save, and they work together. At no point do I understand why Gram has this power and if Gram is even real, but others end up joining their cause.
The investigation because more complicated the deeper down the rabbit hole Doe goes, but let me tell you. Oh, let me tell you, this story gets insane. But, suppose you can follow along in the slightest. In that case, you’ll be treated to an approaching apocalypse, time travel, resurrection, and plenty more fantastical plot points that will make you think back to how simple things were when your only task was to investigate HANDOUT (all caps). It is possible to replay old chapters at any time, which I had to use a few times.
Bottom line, the narrative is incredible, but good luck keeping up because the writing is extremely dense. These characters go off on long-winded tangents before inserting some joke and moving on to the next subject. As a result, nothing feels cohesive, and the writing generally comes off as extremely dry. There is a ton of work put into crafting this godly story of every fantasy element into one game, but your guess is as good as mine why Doe doesn’t just move to a new city.
Gameplay highlights a bit more of Mato Anomalies’ qualities. Players can explore a city and take on side-quests that make things more confusing. The game is separated into exploring the city as Doe and Lair dungeons as Gram. The city is connected by subways and gets pretty big in the later chapters. There are NPCs you can talk to, even though I don’t suggest it because you need to stay focused on the story, but the city does look alive. It has a great design and surprised me with its many locations, regardless if there’s no real reason to explore. Just go to the mission destinations and progress the narrative.
The Lairs are actually where gameplay gets exciting. This is likely the coolest part of the game, thanks to the clever dungeon themes and battle system. Throughout the game, you’ll add new party members to your team who can fight the Bane Tide. Each has some elemental property used to take advantage of enemy weaknesses. However, don’t like the Persona-like appeal fool you; there are no staggered or down enemies here for finding their weaknesses.
Regardless, it’s a fun and fast JRPG. But, you know what, I wouldn’t have minded if the entire game was just this. Sure, through some story in there, but this is where I had the most fun. It’s rough in some areas, like the difficulty being on the low side, but there are optional dungeons with higher difficulties and plenty of cool enemy types. As Gram becomes a central figure in the narrative, these dungeons become more interesting.
Through battles, you’ll gain levels that unlock new skills. In addition, the equipment can be purchased, which boosts the characters quite a bit, and Talent points can be distributed to improve base stats. It’s a very standard JRPG experience, but after the mind f**k of a story, that’s all I wanted. A randomized dungeon option can be completed for gear, but the difficulty is high in these encounters. However, I will say that characters don’t learn too many skills after what is initially available from the start. Still, the party is varied so you can mix things up a bit.
Okay, there’s also this Mind Hack minigame tied to some quests, but I didn’t enjoy it all. After a while, you can customize some aspects of the deck, but this should have been left as a minigame because every time it came up, I brute-forced my way through it, randomly selecting cards till it was over.
All of this packaged up is extremely messy. There’s a lack of focus from the very beginning that never gets corrected in the later chapters. It’s as if several teams worked on different systems, and then they threw them in a blender, expecting it to work. And I haven’t even told you about the random comic-book style cutscenes vs. 3D animated cutscenes; like, come on, just pick one; why both? What’s sad is that this game is incredible based on the presentation alone. I loved the character animations in battles, the designs of various dungeons, and the overall tone of the adventure.
Mato Anomalies is a unique and messy experience from beginning to end. You’ll never know what the narrative is going to throw at you. I felt no connection to the main protagonist or his quest to save this city, but I enjoyed the battle system and dungeon-crawling aspect enough to stick to Chapter 7, which wasn’t easy. However, there are a few solid gameplay mechanics here, and I hope the developers use what works to create something more focused.
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