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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Waffenhund Panzer: A Metal Max Retrospective

Post-Apocalyptic visions of the future have been around in fiction for longer than anyone can remember, & Mary Shelley's The Last Man from 1826 is generally considered the first "modern" example of the genre, but in the past 30 or 40 years it's really started to become much more focused, defined, & expected. Today, it's easy to think of fallout-riddled wastelands filled with road warriors & legendary omega men that roam about metal jungles on planets of new dawns due to the fact that war never changes. Out of all of the countless takes on the post-apocalypse, though, one has always dared to be different, challenged the status quo, and found no hesitation in being the most bizarre of all...

In 1986, Hiroshi Miyaoka was a 27-year old college drop-out from Shinjuku's Waseda Unversity, working as a "free writer" for video games. He eventually was brought on to work as a scenario assistant & dungeon designer for a new RPG on the Nintendo Famicom being lead by Yuji Horii, a friend from his little "Wizardry Club"; the game was called Dragon Quest. Yes, Miyaoka was a part of the iconic franchise's earliest days, and wound up being an essential part of "The Roto Trilogy" that comprised the first three games. Following the release of Dragon Quest III in early 1988, though, Miyaoka decided to start up his own development studio, Crea-Tech, with the intention of creating his own RPG. Unlike Horii's creation, however, Miyaoka's would be the complete opposite, conceptually; ads for the game even said, "We've had enough of dragon slaying!". Where Dragon Quest was generally linear & fantasy-based, this new RPG would be as non-linear as possible & influenced by post-apocalyptic works, like George Miller's iconic Mad Max Trilogy. In fact, Crea-Tech made no attempt at hiding the influence of those movies, because the game would be called Metal Max.

With today marking the English release of Metal Max Xeno, the latest entry in the franchise, I figure now is the perfect time to give a detailed overview & retrospective on Metal Max, from it's humble start on the Famicom, to the death of its original trademark holder & creation of an offshoot series, to its revival for the modern era. So let's head out in our tanks, with our rocket launcher-strapped dogs, & get into a "Battle with the Wanted"!

It all started with the original Metal Max, which saw release on the Famicom on May 24, 1991, with publishing duties being handled by Data East, a company known for its own quirky catalog of misfit video games. The game took place in a world destroyed by Noah, a supercomputer created by scientists that was supposed to figure out a way to save the planet's environment, only for it to mathematically determine that the complete eradication of humanity was the best & easiest option; to be fair, it was a rather "clean" apocalypse, since nuclear weapons wouldn't be good for the planet. Following the destruction, the remaining humans gathered together into villages & the like, with those who decided to fight the various monsters & robots that walk the Earth becoming known as "Monster Hunters" by the populace. You play as a young man who decides to become a Hunter, even getting disowned by your mechanic father in the process, and after getting the help of another male mechanic & a female soldier, you eventually wind up fighting against Noah itself to save (what's left of) the world.

Of course, how soon the final battle with Noah would occur was solely up to the player, because Metal Max was truly as open-world & non-linear as could be done on the console. While there was an overall "end game" to be reached, there was no linear storyline that you were forced to follow, with a series of missions to choose from being the replacement. In essence, you could finish the game anytime you wanted, & even after defeating Noah & saving the world you could simply continue playing to your heart's content, hunting down bounties, finding more secrets, and creating & customizing tanks. Yes, the other major aspect of Metal Max was the vehicle system that allowed your party to pilot things like a van, buggy, Tiger I, M1-Abrams, Merkava, & APC, among some others, all of which were usable in battle & could be customized & upgraded. Metal Max also featured music by Satoshi Kadokura (Windaria, Mobile Suit Gundam F91) & character/monster designs by Atsuji Yamamoto (Ultimate Teacher, Elf 17), the latter of which was actually an old high school friend of Miyaoka's; these three would be the most consistent part of the entire franchise, working together on almost every single game. In particular, a specific song by Kadokura named "Battle with the Wanted", or simply "Wanted!!" (depending on the game), is not just one of the all-time best boss battle themes in RPG history, but has become the de facto theme song of the entire franchise, appearing in every single game ever made. Another important member of the staff was Tomoki Tauchi, a programmer who would go on to direct some future entries, and has since gone on to be director of games like Glory of Heracles III & IV, as well as MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (which Miyaoka actually was the narrator for!). With a reported 150,000 copies sold & decent critical scores, Famitsu gave it a 29/40, Metal Max was shown to be a successful experiment, so it's only natural that a sequel would get greenlit.

Releasing a couple months shy of two years later, Metal Max 2 came out on March 5, 1993 on the Super Famicom, the 16-bit follow-up to Nintendo's Famicom. Though having the number "2" in the title, this game was not an actual sequel to the first game, though one can argue that all of the games take place in the same overall universe, as each game takes place in its own specific section of the world. Instead, it was a revenge plot where you played as a young man who wants vengeance on the organization Bias Grappler, after your village gets destroyed by a force led by the double-flamethrower-wielding Ted Broiler, one of the "Four Heavenly Kings". For the most part, Metal Max 2 was an improved update of the original game, with the non-linear, mission-based gameplay loop maintained, & the tank customization options were expanded upon, though now there were areas that you simply couldn't bring tanks into; just like saving the world, getting revenge for your family happened at your own leisure. Where Metal Max 2 really changed things up was with some new additions, all of which would become standard features for the franchise.

The biggest of all was easily the inclusion of dogs... WEAPON-TOTING DOGS!!!!! Yes, you could recruit a dog to your party, and it fought by way of varying weapons that could be strapped to its back. To no surprise, the image of dogs shooting rocket launchers from their backs has become a bit of a mascot-like visual for the franchise, and this leads to another aspect of Metal Max in general: The zaniness of it all. While these games were obviously inspired & influenced by much more serious examples of post-apocalypse, Miyaoka went into a completely different direction & showcased a world that can be as insane as some of the people living in it. This is a world where you not only fight other humans, giant tanks, & robots (plus all manner of indescribably zany machinery), but you also wind up having to hunt down giant apes wielding flamethrowers, a massive land octopus donning an entire brass section on top of it, monstrously huge Venus fly traps, or even literal "sand sharks"... And these are just some of the tame examples! Introduced in the original game, but limited due to the hardware, Metal Max 2 was probably the first real example of this franchise's notoriety for being mind-blowingly bizarre; to this day, there probably still isn't a post-apocalyptic world quite like it. Anyway, this sequel also introduced things like the "Target of the Week" (a specific monster which you'd receive extra money for if you killed it during a specific time), the ability to customize your living quarters, and various mini-games like "Pushing a Drum"... Which was exactly what it sounds like. Metal Max 2 wound up selling as high as a reported 280,000 for the Super Famicom, proving that Metal Max wasn't just a fluke, but rather was a force to be reckoned with.

There wouldn't be a third Metal Max game for another two years, but instead of simply counting to "three", Crea-Tech & Data East decided to do something different: Remake the first game. Yes, even though the original was only four years old at this point, the third game in the franchise was Metal Max Returns, which came out on September 29, 1995 on the Super Famicom. With help from an assistance studio called Kuusoukagaku/Fantasy Science, this was a straight remake of the 1991 original, with the same exact world & plot. Of course, it also brought with it the additions & advancements that Metal Max 2 introduced, as well as making direct references to the sequel, while also adding in new bounties to hunt, new areas to explore, & toning down the "Nintendo Hard" difficulty of the Famicom game. The end result of it all was a game that is still considered by fans to be one of the absolute best entries in the entire franchise, and so far it's the only game to have received a complete English fan translation. As for Japan, Metal Max Returns wound up selling somewhere over 170,000 copies; not as great as the sequel, but still better than the original. Unfortunately, after the remake's release, Crea-Tech would have a string of difficulties in making a proper third Metal Max game, so let's go over those.

While never officially announced, Crea-Tech did start work on "Metal Max 3: Heart of Gold" (the rumored title Japanese magazine Super Logo Design used) for the Sony PlayStation, which would have moved the franchise over to 3D polygons, but that got cancelled internally due to budget shortages; the only proof it even existed is from a 2010 4Gamer interview that admitted as such. According to a 2010 Famitsu interview, there was also interest in producing a sequel for the Game Boy, but nothing came of it. What is more known is the second attempt at a polygonal game, Metal Max: Wild Eyes for the Sega Dreamcast. Originally announced at TGS 1999 as "Metal Max Overdrive", the game was going to be heavily influenced by MMORPGs like EverQuest, would feature a "seamless" 3D world map, & was promoted as "the greatest love story in Metal Max history". Unfortunately, due to various issues, including co-publisher ASCII Entertainment leaving the industry, Metal Max: Wild Eyes wound up being cancelled before its scheduled Winter 2000 release; all that's left are some short video clips & a handful of images, while no prototype has yet surfaced.

Following the cancellation of Wild Eyes, the series would continue in a bit of a lull, because while Crea-Tech was the creator & development studio, it was Data East that actually owned the rights to Metal Max. At this point, the company wasn't doing too well, & even stopped working on games itself come 2000; that's why ASCII was going to publish Wild Eyes. The company tried selling negative ion generators for the next few years (yes, I am serious), while also occasionally licensing out its properties for others to work with. One of those third-parties would be Now Production, a studio that's worked on a wide variety of games since its inception in 1986, with the intention being to port Metal Max 2 & Returns over to the Game Boy Advance. Metal Max 2 Kai/Custom came out on June 20, 2003, just a couple of months after the game's 10th Anniversary, which added some extra bounties to hunt down & tanks to drive, but just five days later Data East declared bankruptcy. Not just that, but the initial batch of cartridges contained various bugs, which required Now Production to recall them all & put out a fixed Version 1.1 release, which still contained a few stray bugs! Likely because of the bankruptcy & recall, the GBA port only sold around 9,500 copies, making it the worst-selling entry in the entire franchise. Due to the bankruptcy of Data East, the rights to the Metal Max trademark wound up being purchased by non-gaming company Shinjuku EXP, which resulted in "Metal Max Returns Kai" being cancelled & the franchise effectively killed off.

This brought an end to the "Data East Era" of Metal Max.

At the same time all this was going on, though, a team at game company Success, best known for the Cotton shoot-em-up series, wanted to make their own Metal Max game for the new PlayStation 2 console. Due to some underestimation, especially since it was decided to go completely polygonal after initially thinking of using 2D sprites over 3D environments, the game wound up taking 2.5 years to develop, during which Success managed to get the assistance of Crea-Tech itself. Initially, Hiroshi Miyaoka didn't want any involvement, as he felt that Metal Max was dead & buried, & Atsuji Yamamoto did not contribute any designs (Masaya Kamiduna took his place here), though Satoshi Kadokura did return for the music. Eventually, though, Miyaoka & Tomoki Tauchi would get involved & be credited as "Production Assistance", while Yamamoto was simply given "Special Thanks". The end result was Metal Saga: Sajin no Kusari/Chain of Sand, which came out on June 9, 2005, a game that was pretty much Metal Max with all of the serial numbers scratched off. In terms of story, the game was a sort of semi-remake/sequel of the original 1991 game, where you played as a young man who dreamed of becoming a Hunter, just like your father, & eventually you wind up taking on a revived Noah, the supercomputer that caused the "Great Destruction", which had been defeated by a nameless Hunter some time before. Please note that there has never been a default name for your character, with people instead misreading the kanji for "shujinko/main character" as an actual name over the years; his name is not officially "Syu", though you could always name him that, if you wanted. Also maintained was the zany sense of humor through the use of various endings that you can trigger throughout the game, with the player even literally able to finish the game in mere minutes by answering your mother's plea of becoming a mechanic, like her, with, "Okay, I'll become a mechanic instead."; you were then called out for having gone home & become a mechanic family man. There were also 12 different mini-games to be found, ranging from shooting galleries to drinking contests to even trying to keep up with posing-obsessed body-builders; you could even "illegally download" games & music from the bars you visit!

While it certainly wasn't a true evolution for the franchise as a whole, aside from finally bringing everything into the polygonal world, it was the first "new" game in a decade, and as such was the first time a new generation of gamers were able to play a Metal Max game, even if it wasn't technically going under that name. It was the best-selling game the week it came out, & by the end of 2005 the game sold just shy of 100,000 copies in Japan. In fact, Metal Saga was the first game in the entire franchise to ever see an official English release, as Atlus USA would localize the game for North American release on April 25, 2006, minus the subtitle. While the general reception to Metal Saga in Japan was pretty welcoming, it had a much more mixed reception in America. Just about everyone praised the brilliant localization for maintaining the off-kilter sense of humor & world, but complaints were levied at the graphics (though, to be fair, the entire franchise has never been a visual powerhouse) &, most interestingly, the extremely open nature of it all. Today, open-world games where you can literally spend hours, if not days, effectively doing nothing tend to get praised for their ability to let you operate at your own pace, without any feeling of obligation to advance the story, yet just over a decade ago Metal Saga did the same exact thing & got disparaged for it; it's interesting how things change over time, isn't it? Regardless, the game did earn itself a cult fanbase outside of Japan, but sadly no other games in the franchise would come over for the longest time, likely due to Metal Saga's mixed reception (& possibly underwhelming sales).

In Japan, however, the success of Metal Saga prompted Success (no pun intended... I think?) to move ahead & make this spiritual successor to Metal Max its own series, so a sequel of its own was greenlit; there was talk of porting the original games as well, but rights issues killed that idea. Not just that, but Miyaoka now wanted more to do with this new game, becoming main designer, while Tauchi would direct. The end result was Metal Saga: Hagane no Kisetsu/Season of Steel for the Nintendo DS, which came out on June 15, 2006, only a year later. With Miyaoka having more direct involvement in development, he decided to do something bold & make this new game a true sequel to his original game. Yes, Season of Steel was a direct continuation from the story of the original Metal Max, the first time these two series would be directly linked together, detailing how the child of the original hero, now given the official name of Rebanna, has to eventually put a stop to a revived Noah, which took the slim chance of defeat into consideration & had instituted a backup that was stored inside a super-alloy called Noah Seed.

Since this was the first completely original entry in the franchise to be released on a handheld, Season of Steel did change things up a bit, likely in an attempt to appeal to a more general audience. First, instead of everyone being able to ride in their own tanks, your party had a single tank that everyone got inside of; during battle, each character would use a different weapon on the tank. Second, instead of the traditional world map that you could freely explore, the game used a point-to-point system, with new locations only opening up when certain objectives were met. Finally, since the DS featured a touch-screen, all movement & selections normally assigned to a d-pad were replaced by touch controls. It should come to no surprise, but these changes annoyed both long-time Metal Max fans & newly-minted Metal Saga fans, and the game only wound up selling approximately 25,000 copies, only a quarter of the prior game's sales.

While this was a sharp downturn in sales, Success decided to stick with this new series, releasing Metal Saga Mobile, also known as Metal Saga: Senritsu no Rensa/The Melodic Linkage, on July 7, 2007 for DoCoMo's iAppli line of compatible cell phones. It went for an 8-bit aesthetic, making it look more like the original Metal Max, and actually acted as a direct sequel to Metal Max 2, as Bias Grappler returns a couple decades after their original defeat, and it's up to a new group of Hunters to take them down; Miyaoka helped design this game, as well. Technically, the game still exists in some form, but since it's only playable via an outdated line of cell phones, it's not exactly easy to get a hold of today.

This brought an end to the "Success Era" of Metal Saga.

In 2008, Enterbrain, a subsidiary of Kadokawa Shoten, got interested in making a new Metal Max game, even convincing a producer for Metal Max 2 to join, but found trademark problems six months later. Unlike Success, however, Enterbrain eventually managed to wrangle the rights over to its side, & in April 2009 trademarked Metal Max for itself; for the first time since 2003, the original name could be used again. Work quickly began, and on July 29, 2010 the world finally received Metal Max 3 on the Nintendo DS, 17 years after Metal Max 2's original release in 1993; it's not the longest span between numbered entries in games, but it's up there. While Hiroshi Miyaoka & Crea-Tech were brought on board to help design the game, development duties actually went to Cattle Call, which was formed by ex-Data East employees following the company's departure from game development; at this point, it was known for RPGs like Tsugunai: Atonement & the two Arc the Lad games for PS2. Not just that, but Atsuji Yamamoto returned to provide character designs, this time alongside Masaki Hirooka (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia) & Shun Kise; as usual, Satoshi Kadokura was back for the soundtrack & Tomoki Tauchi once again directed.

This time around, you played as an amnesiac recovered by mad scientist Dr. Minch, a recurring character that's been in every prior game, primarily to revive dead party members; Atlus renamed him "Dr. Mortem" in Metal Saga. As you can't remember anything, you decide to become a Hunter, hoping that the world traversing will help uncover clues as to who you really are. Unlike the prior DS game, Metal Max 3 was as true to the franchise's standard as possible, focusing on open-world & non-linear gameplay, with all sorts of bizarre bounties, various mini-games, & tank customization to help make you take as much time as you wanted to recover your memories. Really, the only notable thing that the (finally) "third" entry introduced was a class system, meaning that your party was no longer relegated to the "Hunter, Mechanic, Soldier, Dog" dynamic that had always been around; now, your characters could also be Nurses, Artists, or Wrestlers. After Metal Saga: Season of Steel's poor reception four years earlier, Metal Max 3 wound up selling, at last count, around 91,722 copies, putting it a tad below the original Metal Saga's sales, but overall Enterbrain & Kadokawa were pleased with the results; there's also an ongoing English fan translation effort in the works.

Interestingly enough, however, Success didn't simply bow out with Metal Max's return to relevance, because the same year as MM3 saw the release of Metal Saga: New Frontier, which was playable through various Japanese social networking services. Unlike any other entry, New Frontier was actually a simulation RPG, where you played as the owner & operator of "The Company", where you hire & send out Hunters to accomplish specific missions, with the goal of beating other players & becoming the most successful in the business. Now, technically, this did predate Enterbrain's game, but only via Mixi, as it wouldn't see release on other services until the following September & October, and all services ended for the game on December 11, 2013. It's interesting that, where Enterbrain brought back the old way of playing, Success decided to try something different & not directly compete, & that must be commended.

To help celebrate the revival of Metal Max, Enterbrain didn't simply make a "third" game, but also brought back the originals. The Wii Virtual Console saw re-releases of Metal Max, Metal Max 2, & Metal Max Returns across 2010 & 2011 (though, unfortunately, neither they nor Metal Max 2 Kai were ever offered on the Wii U VC), & the Famicom original also saw a 2013 re-release on the 3DS VC. Not just that, but everyone involved with MM3 came back together to develop a full-on polygonal remake of the original sequel using the new game's engine, which resulted in Metal Max 2: ReLOADED for the DS, which saw release on December 8, 2011, just a month after Returns' VC re-release. Similar to that Super Famicom remake of the original, ReLOADED retained the first sequel's story & overall gameplay, but added in the class system of the threequel, gave your party a shared inventory, added new characters, monsters, quests, bounties, vehicles, & whatnot, expanded on storylines for some of the supporting cast, added in a "New Game+" option, increased the difficulty, & even allowed you to make your main character a woman for the first time ever in the franchise; it also gave the default name of "Ken" or "Rena" for the main character, depending on the gender. The general reception for this remake was positive, and the last sales report I could find put it at selling around 57,000 copies; just like Metal Max 3, there is also an English fan translation effort going on for this remake.

While it took nearly two decades for the franchise to finally count to "three", there were no problems whatsoever to continue counting, as Metal Max 4: Gekkou no Diva/The Moonlight Diva came out on the Nintendo 3DS on November 7, 2013, just 3.5 years after the third game. The story followed Hinata, the first time in franchise history the main character had a default name from the start, as he & his gynoid-who-can-turn-into-a-makeshift-motorcycle foster sister Sasha head out to rescue their foster father Gib, as he & Hinata are actually "Hot Seeds", humans who had been put into hibernation chambers shortly after Noah started destroying the world 50 years ago. An army has kidnapped Gib, because he was one of the creators of Black Mole, an indestructible mobile fortress that was meant to destroy Noah, & the army wants it for their own purposes. At this point, Hiroshi Miyaoka wanted to try some new things out, instead of simply expanding on what had already existed, as he had done with MM3. What this resulted in was an entry that was much more story-focused than Metal Max had tended to be, similar to what was done with Metal Saga: Season of Steel; the main character & lead female of Metal Max 3 even made appearances. While the overall gameplay was still as open-world & non-linear as usual, there was just an overall feeling from fans that this Metal Max changed things up just too much, though it was critically received well. Famitsu even gave it a 35/40, which remains the highest score the series has received from the magazine.

It's obvious that Enterbrain had high hopes for Metal Max 4, as it even brought in a second development studio, 24Frame, to help out, & Studio 4°C was hired to produce animated sequences. Unfortunately, when all was said & done, the game only wound up selling around 23,164 copies, even less than Season of Steel, making it the worst-selling "new" entry in the entire franchise. Following this, Miyaoka was still able to make another new entry, but October 2015's Metal Max Fireworks wound up being a free-to-play mobile game released for Android/iOS, a first for this series. It was still an RPG like its predecessors, but simplified for quick play by focusing more on simply accepting quests & traversing dungeons; open-world exploration was mostly eschewed this time around. Like many games of this ilk, though, it wouldn't be supported forever, & services ended on August 31, 2016.

Of course, not to be outdone, Success would release its own free-to-play Andoird/iOS follow-up, Metal Saga: Kouya no Hakobune/Wilderness Ark, later that December to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the series; this time around, it played more like a simplified RPG, similar to Fireworks. Services ended on February 28, 2018, & currently it's the last game in the Metal Saga series. Success likely had good hopes for it, too, as it even had an anime opening done by J.C. Staff & a theme song performed by Steven McNair, who would go on to do King of Fighters XIV's theme song, "Follow Me", a year later. If anything, it's possible that Success won out this time around, with a longer-lasting mobile game.

After the longest break the franchise has had since before Enterbrain's revival of the original series, Hiroshi Miyaoka was allowed to bring his baby back to non-mobile platforms, which brings us to the current day. Originally released on April 19, 2018 for the PlayStation 4 & Vita, Metal Max Xeno -Horobosarezarumono-tachi/Those Who Are Not Destroyed- became only the second game in the franchise, & first for the original series, to ever see an official English release in North America on September 25; this was also Europe's first official release for the entire franchise, on September 28. The first home console release since the original Metal Saga, & the first non-Nintendo entry for the original series, Xeno was advertised as the 25th Anniversary game, even though 2018 was the 27th Anniversary of Metal Max... Unless it's celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Metal Max 2, which would be a little odd. This time around, Miyaoka decided to bring things "back to basics" for the franchise, feeling that he included too many mechanics in Metal Max 4, and it also allowed him to bring about some closure on an unfinished chapter, as Xeno's development was heavily influenced by the unreleased Metal Max: Wild Eyes. As usual, Satoshi Kadokura returned for the music, but Atsuji Yamamoto only returned to design the monsters & overall world of the game, with character designs this time around being done by Non Oda, a renowned hentai artist who had also worked on properties like Queen's Blade & Bikini Warriors.

For Xeno, Miyaoka & his team decided to start from scratch, creating a new world decimated 50 years ago by the supercomputer "NOA", hence why this game didn't bother with a number in the title; this was "The Other Metal Max". In fact, this world was so desolate that the focus of the plot was based around Toni, "The Last Maiden of Mankind", and the people of Iron Base who gather together to protect her from the monsters that roam the world called the "Sons of NOA/SoNs". To no surprise, then, the idea of sex & rebuilding humanity was a large factor; there's good reason why Non Oda was brought on. Technically, though, the main character of the game was Talis, who wants nothing more than vengeance against the machines, because the center of the Asian populace he called home, TOKIO, was left to nothing but rubble half a century ago; it's now named "Dystokio" by residents. First & foremost, Miyaoka definitely wasn't kidding with wanting to go "back to basics", because Xeno actually removed two of the most common aspects of the entire franchise, Dr. Minch & your dog ally, bringing things back to how they were in the original Famicom game; because of this, reviving was done through consumable items. Also, in place of the standard random encounter system the series utilized, battles were all up to the player to initiate by attacking enemies that were seen on the field; this was likely one of the influences Wild Eyes had on the game, as it was very MMORPG-like. The class system was retained, though, with new classes like Survivor & Gangster joining the standard Hunter, Mechanic, Soldier, & Medic. Overall, it was definitely a new take on Metal Max, for better or worse.

In Japan, Metal Max Xeno sold just shy of 30,000 copies across the PS4 & Vita in the first week, and scored a 31/40 over at Famitsu. Sales-wise, this was better than MM4, but nowhere near the numbers of MM3, the first Metal Saga, or even MM2 ReLOADED, though one could argue that those days had long passed for many Japanese games in general by this point. As for reception towards the PS4-only English release, handled by NIS America (& NISA Europe), it was received about as mixed as Metal Saga was, with complaints towards the visuals once again (the Vita version obviously constricted how much it could push the PS4), simplistic characterization, & sex-focused storyline (it does make one wonder if Wild Eyes' plot was going to be like this, though). At the same time, though, praise was given to the customization options, the post-apocalyptic environment, the open-world nature (especially once you get access to New Game+), & even the seemingly brisk play time, as most reviewers reported to finish the main plot within 17-20 hours; the $40 price point was also brought up as an understandable compromise.

This brings us to the day of this retrospective's publication date, with us currently still in the "Modern Era" of Metal Max/Saga.

Finally, let me just quickly mention the variety of non-gaming works based on the franchise. There were short manga anthologies made for Metal Max 2 & Metal Saga: Sajin no Kusari, a mid-90s manga short by Atsuji Yamamoto titled Metal Max Momo, & even the two-volume manga Metal Max 3: Shojushin no Majo/The Double-Barreled Witch drawn by Yamamoto & written by Hiroshi Miyaoka. There was also 1993's Metal Max: Kaien Suisho/The Flame Crystal, a novel written by Aoi Kitazawa. Alongside all of that were soundtrack releases, guidebooks for every home console entry, & even an old "gamebook" for the original Metal Max, which I guess was like those old "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" books that were popular in the past.
It really should say something about the staying power of Metal Max after this retrospective. The original "Data East Era" had only two games, plus a remake of the first, released in the first half of the 90s, yet in that short amount of time it managed to attract an audience that seemed to always be hungry for more. Unfortunately, various circumstances kept a proper follow up from happening, but a decade later people still wanted to make more of it, even when it was legally impossible to do so, which lead to Success creating Metal Saga. And then when Enterbrain managed to revive the original series nearly 20 years after it first debuted, Success still kept at, resulting in there being two series emanating from the same original three games. In fact, it's interesting that, today, Metal Max & Metal Saga co-exist, and they don't seem to be acting as rival series, but rather feel like long-lost twins, the second of which came into the family business after the first went missing. Even when the other one came back, though, the two siblings decided to each take the concept of the family business down their own respective paths.

Today, post-apocalyptic worlds are nothing new in video games, with some of the most cherished, popular, & influential franchises of all time utilizing them. All the meanwhile, though, there was Metal Max, & later Metal Saga, which takes this generally serious worldview & does its own zany things with it; one could even consider it a parody of the genre. But let's face facts here: As wild & kooky a Fallout game can get, I can guarantee that it will never have giant sunflowers that shoot missiles, missile launchers atop a pair of panthyhosed female legs, or giant knives & revolvers moving around via unicycles... Let alone being able to strap a long-barreled cannon or giant trident to the back of your ever-lovable Dogmeat!

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