Mato Anomalies Review
Creating a balanced story is difficult. Nuance, development, and care all go into creating a work of art. Unfortunately, developer Arrowiz bites off more than it can chew with its turn-based RPG Mato Anomalies. The story tries too hard to be poignant and ends up being a jumbled mess. There’s some promise in how the game plays, but user interface shortcomings undermine what are some actually interesting ideas. Combined with some odd gameplay mechanic decisions, the result is a convoluted mess of a game that has a few ironically enjoyable moments.
Players take on the role of Doe, a private investigator who barely makes ends meet in Telosma City. One day he’s given the job to uncover the origin of Handout, which has been surfacing on the black market as a means of making people forget their worries as if drugged. As Doe uncovers more about the Handout trade, he learns that it is associated with Bane Tide, inter-dimensional parasitic entities that hide in lairs connected to the real world and feed off humanity’s distraught emotions. Almost losing his life to a Bane Tide, Doe is saved by a bandaged swordsman named Gram. As Doe is not a fighter, and with Gram unconcerned about anything beyond eliminating Bane Tide, they join forces to figure out the connection between Handout and Bane Tide. Mato Anomalies‘ story begins as a simple investigation but quickly derails into a bunch of high-concept fluff and bad slam poetry that tries to sound more grandiose than it actually is. This makes the game’s story ironically enjoyable, if players are able to sift through the over-the-top dialogue and sudden revelations through to its end. Unfortunately, the answers Doe obtains often feel unearned because players aren’t deducing anything, leading to a lot of empty philosophy, while the party goes through the rote motions of taking on the next boss in line.
Life in Telosma City just gets more downtrodden as time goes on. Bane Tide keep multiplying, turning the place into a buffet of pain and suffering. Any argument, crazy scheme, hidden pain, or guilty conscience ultimately results in the formation of a new lair to conquer. Someone contacts Doe about changes in their neighbours, friends, or surroundings, which he investigates before grabbing Gram and using his android assistant to open the path to that lair. As the story develops, the rabbit hole deepens as elements of cyberpunk, nihilism, and even time travel combine to make a convoluted mess that’s hard to parse through and take seriously.
Mato Anomalies attempts to hit all its narrative bases, from Doe’s investigation to providing each of its additional party members with in-depth backstory. However, there’s a lack of balance as the investigation gets continual focus while the characters never really grow, spending the rest of the game trying to overcome their shortcomings. This leaves everyone feeling like they are one-note psychological messes that all hate the Bane Tide and find it difficult to deal with life in a normal manner. Occasionally, Doe will even come across an uncooperative individual that he will need to connect to and “perception share” with to gain a greater understanding. Perception sharing uses a device from Gram’s android assistant to hack into the other’s mind and make them more malleable. This mind hacking takes the form of a card game wherein Doe has to face off against and defeat the host and their demons. Unfortunately, mind hacking is a tedious affair that adds extra time to an already long game, and too often relies on chance rather than strategy by requiring the use of certain cards to defeat some demons.
Lairs are barren, often featuring wall-less paths that either end in treasure, the next story beat, or a boss. Along the way, there’s the occasional puzzle that may require running around to set up lasers or obtain keys to continue along the path. Bane Tide block the paths forward and are visually represented allowing players to know what they’re getting into as they stay stationary until players engage them.Save points and health talismans serve as markers for when the boss will appear. Random lairs add sanity talismans that players need to grab before their sanity runs out or else risk taking debuffs at the start of combat. These lairs are worth traversing for the extra experience and the best available equipment to make bosses more manageable, even if they only contain combat, treasure, and a lot of dead ends, making them repetitive after a while.
Combat in Mato Anomalies is enjoyable, but also gets repetitive quickly. This is due to having all of the game’s abilities available before the halfway point and the user interface that makes swapping weapons and party members cumbersome. Luckily, players have the option to auto battle and skip animations, making battles go faster. However, players have to manually skip each animation. In another odd bit of design, the party — consisting of up to four combatants — has one health bar, which does prevent the need for revival items but is otherwise just a distraction to have to get used to. Attacking is simple, as every participant has a weakness and a resistance to one of the three attack types: slash, pierce, and crush. Party members have up to eight abilities in total, three from their equipped weapon, two from talent trees, and three for free use. Swapping weapons and abilities maintains some usefulness throughout the game, but good equipment can override this.
As characters fight, they build up an ultimate skill bar that allows one of them to use their strongest ability. This can be a devastating attack, a large health boost, or an attack and defence increase. At first these ultimate skills are scarce but through the use of talents the bar can fill every few battles. Talents are the one way that Mato Anomalies provides any customization, as with each level up players choose to upgrade a skill between two different branches based off the characters’ weapons and abilities. Talent points become oddly limited, as after a certain level players stop getting them, making it impossible to max out everything and forcing players to use currency to respec if they want to try out different combinations of talents. Doing this at low levels is pointless and at high levels swapping everything is cumbersome, making the whole system less than ideal.
There are also accessories, called gears, that can influence combat, though the process of equipping them is unfriendly at best. Gears are placed on a three-by-three grid and are able to connect to others of the same name for additional benefits, though with directional limitations. Unequipping or moving gears involves extra button presses, and choosing new ones means sifting through a long inventory list. There is an auto-equip feature, but it doesn’t take into account usefulness, prioritizing higher levels first and gear connectivity second. All gears feature one of three stat boosts, with defence and health being less effective in battle, while attack gears can mean the difference between a regular enemy going down in two strikes versus thirteen. While the system brings good ideas to the table, its awkward implementation means that it’s far more likely players will wait until enough new attack gears have been found and simply use the auto-equip feature.
A lot of corners were cut in the visual department. One-off NPCs on the street and their character portraits when spoken to have no eyes, making it a weird contrast with the more detailed important characters whose portraits even feature animation. Enemies are unique, but it’s very easy to figure out each one’s weakness at a glance, as geometric shapes are often weak to slash and bulky animal or robot types are weak to crush. Important story beats can take the form of comic-book panels or full-motion cutscenes. Both are done well enough, but cutscenes often look as though they take place in an entirely different area than what came before it, and voice acting is interrupted during panel transitions in comic-book scenes. Music is an easy-going jazzy affair that fades easily into the background and isn’t memorable in the slightest. Voice acting during combat gets repetitive very quickly as every character grates on the nerves by the end of the game.
Mato Anomalies has some good moments but all have caveats. Many quality-of-life features that current turn-based RPGs have are implemented in odd ways, and what new things the game tries tends to fall flat. Combat is enjoyable, but a disjointed user interface and repetitive ability use make it stale sooner rather than later. This is a game that is very dense, with a time-consuming interface and a story that tries way too hard to be something grand, throwing strained dialogue and empty contrivances together to the point where most of the meaning is lost. There’s some fun here, but mostly it is an unintentional headache that is hard to take as seriously as it’s trying to be.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Combat is enjoyable
Enemy designs are unique
Too ambitious for its own good
Story is a convoluted jumble of platitudes and ideas
Odd user interface and design choices