Mato Anomalies on PS5
Detective stories and visual novels go just about hand in hand. Everyone likes a good mystery, though Mato Anomalies doesn’t exactly place the work of solving it in the hands of the player. While it kinda falls short in other areas, visual novel fans will find the game worth their time.
The main character Doe is a private detective who regularly finds himself under the employ of information broker Nightshade. He’s somewhat naive but still dedicated and knowledgeable, which means he regularly gets caught up in unexpected conspiracies.
The whole game takes place within the city of Mato, which is rather rundown. The city is a bit of an enigma, as it might truly be the only thing that exists, given that it is completely closed off to the outside world. The downtrodden atmosphere only grows and gives Mato character as more and more is opened for exploration.
The story starts with Doe on a mission for Nightshade to track down some new commodity called HANDOUT. Through this mission, he ends up somewhere he absolutely shouldn’t be and is saved by the enigmatic shaman, Gram. As it turns out, Gram seeks out the enemies found in the game’s dungeons, which are referred to as Lairs. The two strike up a partnership as Gram needs help tracking down Lairs, so Doe’s investigative skills come in handy. The game is incredibly well-written, and the characters’ interactions are entertaining, so I never found myself growing bored with the story.
Most of the game plays out as a visual novel but occasionally will transform into a comic book for a few scenes, kind of like the game XIII. While these scenes and the very infrequent cinematic cutscenes are the only ones that are fully voiced, their appearance always felt random and somewhat unnecessary. It gave me the impression that the developers were trying to do too many things with story delivery.
Exploring the city is handled in a very player-friendly way as the amount of walking needed is cut down by an excellent fast travel mechanic that can be accessed from anywhere. The required locations are always very clearly marked, and it made keeping track of where to go for side quests and other objectives frustration-free.
While the story sections are the highlight, the combat and dungeon exploration is certainly where the game becomes something of a chore. The dungeon layouts are mostly just simple paths where enemies aren’t roaming free in the dungeons. Instead, they are distributed along the route at certain intervals, which makes every dungeon excursion simply a trek between enemy fights, as they cannot be avoided.
Each Lair only has a set number of enemies that don’t respawn once defeated, so there’s no way to farm out any XP. Instead, that is reserved for gaining the ability to visit randomized Lairs at any point to grind a few levels and find new equipment. While I rarely had to do this, having the option was a big help when it was needed.
Mato Anomalies does feature one fairly unique idea for battles: the whole party shares a single HP bar. The combat itself is fine but basic, with each character having a normal attack as well as stronger skills/attacks that work on a cooldown system where each has a certain number of turns to be usable again. This makes sense in the fight, so you aren’t too overpowered, but those cooldowns carry over between fights and regularly felt like a punishment for using more effective attacks.
The game graciously features an auto-battle feature, of which I quickly took advantage in just about every fight. The AI of the auto-battle is nicely cognizant of the health bar and will regularly use healing abilities. You can further speed up battle animations, but I left them for a while as they are still pretty cool for the most part. Seeing as I doubt the combat was ever going to grow on me, this was the best way to get to the parts I actually wanted to experience.
Mato Anomalies doesn’t just give way to turn-based RPG sections to break up the visual novel, either. There is a different type of gameplay called Mind/Hack that plays out like something of a card-battle game that comes up during the story when Doe needs to extract information from someone. Your goal is to lower your enemy’s Mind Power to 0 with Persuasion Power attacks while defending your own Mind Power from retaliation.
The tutorial made it seem like these sections might be somewhat simple, but Mind/Hack quickly became annoyingly difficult and feels luck based rather than requiring any sort of strategy. Thankfully, there is a built-in out where you can skip the whole thing if you lose three times. Needless to say, I almost always just threw each game to get to the third loss and skip as quickly as possible.
Mato Anomalies is a solid visual novel with an engrossing story that will keep you hooked as you meet new characters and experience how they interact. While other mechanics in the game fall somewhat short, players are afforded certain options to clear through them faster and get back to the story without much hassle.
3 / 5
Reviewer: Cameron Waldrop | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Engaging story.
- Useful fast-travel.
- Well-written characters.
- Mind/Hack feels almost completely unnecessary.
- Uninteresting combat.
- Every dungeon is just a series of unavoidable enemy fights.
March 10, 2023
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC