What do you get when you mix equal parts Romancing SaGa and The Road Warrior with a dash of Harvest Moon and plenty of self-referential humor? The answer is Metal Saga, an open-ended role-playing game set in a postapocalyptic future full of strange creatures and even stranger characters. Although it has an appealing blend of dry ingredients, there's nothing holding this cake together, which makes it a tough one to swallow.
There are some interesting creatures and characters in Metal Saga.
Metal Saga takes place on Earth in the distant future, after an event known as "The Great Destruction" turned the world into a barren wasteland. This apocalypse was brought about by a super computer that was created to solve the pollution problem on Earth. Apparently the computer came up with an answer to the problem right quick: kill all humans and pollution will cease. Of course, the computer wasn't entirely successful, but it did manage to pretty much wipe mankind off the map, save for a few groups of particularly hardy folks. The most resourceful of the survivors became hunters and scavenged the remains of forgotten civilizations in an attempt to rebuild their world. This is where you come in. You play the game as a young boy who is just starting out as a hunter--and that's your entire story. You are a hunter now, so go hunt things.
That's how the game plays out. You go to the hunter office in town to find out if there are any outlaws about that you can collect a bounty for, and then head off to wander around, killing enemies and collecting items at your leisure. Then you return to town, collect your reward, sell your items, and do it all again. The primary goal for most of the game is to amass wealth, which you can use to purchase better equipment, and which you can then use to bring down bigger targets and get even more money. It's an endless, aimless cycle that tends to get stale fairly quickly. All of the missions are optional, but you earn different endings based on how much of the game you manage to finish. It can take anywhere from less than a minute to 40 hours or more to complete the game, depending on which ending you're going for.
As a hunter, your best friend is your vehicle. Not only does it make it easy to move across long stretches of desolate terrain, but it can also be outfitted with some heavy weaponry that is essential for taking down most of the enemies. You start out with a modest buggy that you find in a trash heap, but you can find, purchase, or rent a variety of other tanks to suit your hunting needs. You can completely customize your vehicles, from the paint job to the weapons, engine, and armor. It pays to take care of your ride, because most of your time is spent driving around and engaging in random encounters as you would in any other role-playing game.
The battle system is the same whether you're on foot or driving. You can have up to three people in your party at any given time, and each character can drive his or her own vehicle. The battles are turn-based and play out according to initiative. When in a vehicle, you can attack with a sub gun, which has unlimited ammo but short range; a main gun, which usually has longer range and inflicts more damage, but also expends ammunition; and an SE weapon, which also uses ammo but serves a specific function, such as taking down flying enemies that other weapons can't reach. There is no magic in the game, but while on foot, your characters can use special skills, such as calling in remote missiles. These skills cost money though, and if you use them too liberally you'll find yourself in the red.