I’m not sure where to begin with this review. Mato Anomalies was bad. It was so bad that I started jotting down bullet points about all the things the game did wrong midway through. The biggest offender was how the game feels like it’s setting you up for something wonderful. For those that played the first Shadow Hearts, you probably remember the excitement and atmosphere from the first half that took place in Asia. Mato had a similar feel during the prologue and first chapter. Nearing the end of the second chapter, I was let down. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll save you the trouble of reading further: don’t play Mato Anomalies. It’s bad. If you want more information, then continue reading.
Mato Anomalies takes place in the city of Mato, a town that looks like a mixture of China Town and Gotham City. It’s a city rife with conflict and corruption. It stars Doe, a private detective looking for odd jobs. His latest job takes him to the to the Telosma Hotel where the owner, Nightshade, asks him to look for an item simply called HANDOUT. Doe (as in Re-Mi) follows the leads to the Immortal Harbor. His investigation causes him to get swept into an interdimensional rift where bizarre demons run amok. Doe is saved by Gram, an exorcist covered in bandages and tattoos. Gram explains that he’s been swept into a Layer. The monsters are called Bane Tide and feed off negative energy. Doe and Gram team up to stop the Bane Tide and to see what’s going on in their city.
The prologue and the first chapter hooked me. Doe, Gram, and some of the residents that call Mato home have a great banter that keep the pace moving forward. Once you hit the second chapter, things get hairy. One of the features advertised in Mato Anomalies is its visual novel storytelling. Sometimes, the story is told in budgeted but heartfelt movie scenes. Other times, the story is told in comic style panels that give a small nod to something like Phantasy Star IV. Most of the time, the story is told in typical talking head style with the awkward moving artwork portraits. These story sequences take too long and are often difficult to keep up with due to the way they’re presented, the font size, and the lack of voice acting. Normally, I don’t care for voice acting during story sequences, but they would have helped me to understand who was talking. The actual content that gets discussed is usually repeated information. Pacing comes to a screeching halt before you know it. The game’s playtime could have been cut in half if the characters stifled half the useless stuff they said.
And that’s just the start of the problems. I typically integrate the issues within each section but I’m just going to lay out a bunch of them here. First, the HUD is crowded. When you have a lot of events going on, it’s hard to tell which is which. Second, there are these supplemental pieces of gear Gram and the team can equip called Gears. As the party’s level increases, more Gears can be equipped. The right combination of Gears can add more perks and bonuses. It sounds neat but the game drowns you in Gears. The saving grace from this poor organization is an auto-equip option that usually gives you the best combination of Gears. Third, the game constantly feels like it’s about to crash. When you exit a menu, load a new screen, or something else innocuous there’s a brief stutter. I played on PlayStation 5, but from what I’ve heard, this issue is worse elsewhere. On the topic of crashes, there’s a game breaking bug in chapter six: if you leave a story-related dungeon, then you’re screwed. The music is mostly forgettable and voice acting sounds forced or phoned in.
As Doe moves from story point to story point, there are times when he must convince someone to divulge information or come to his HQ for more questioning. This leads to a trading card inspired game called Mind/Hack. This aspect of Mato is bad enough to get its own section. Mind/Hack feels like the most superfluous, silly thing added to the game. Instead of cutting out a chunk of fluffy dialogue to move the story forward, more was added so that Doe can go into someone’s mind and “hack” it. To this day, I still have no idea how half the decks work. It felt like such a waste of time, energy and resources to add this. Lowkey, I think some of the developers thought the same thing because, thankfully, you can skip the card game after three failures.
Similarly, I think combat got the same sentiment from the developers since there’s an auto-battle option. Combat will take the same amount of time with or without it on so I (and the game) recommend it. I started the game on Normal difficulty, but moved it to Easy because enemies have way too much HP. Even then, battles take too long. On paper, they sound fine. It’s standard, turn based combat. Your party of three has a choice between two weapons, both of which have unique skill sets. The turn order is displayed at the top of the screen. They’ll learn new skills as they level up. Leveling up also earns the team one talent point. Talent Points are used for upgrading learned skills and acquiring new ones. Indeed, I said “the team.” While they each get their own Talent Point, the party’s HP is shared – a concept I haven’t seen since the flop Forever Kingdom on the PlayStation 2. Note that it doesn’t make a major difference since combat is easy outside the final boss encounter.
There are two more major issues with combat. The first is that it’s unavoidable. Enemies block your path in dungeons. This means forced combat. There is no escape option so you’re forced into every encounter as you head towards the destination. There’s also the cooldown time for 90% of everyone’s abilities. Instead of Magic Points or Skill Points, the more powerful moves require a certain number of turns to pass before they can be used again. The bad news? This cooldown time carries over between battles. So, if a move needs four turns before it can be used again and you finish combat in two, then you still need to wait two more turns in the next battle before it’s accessible again. If combat had more strategy (or more of anything, really) then that would be one thing. But, there’s zero substance in combat. It’s stuff we’ve seen before without being fun. Mercifully, you can skip combat animations.
Mato is a cool town to explore, at least at first. Its inhabitants lack the same level of care, but I wasn’t too mad about it. Traversing around a town that’s a character in and of itself is a neat concept. Characters move well and execute some flashy moves. And then…there are the enemies. Remember how I thought the game was about to give me something akin to Shadow Hearts? One reason I thought that was because of the first monsters encountered. Sadly, we go from unique looking demons to things like windmills, polyhedrons, gears, DNA strands and other objects that are supposed to appear threatening. It’s such a wasted opportunity.
Actually, all of Mato Anomalies feels like that: a wasted opportunity. I can’t emphasize enough how enticing, exciting and engaging the introduction was. Don’t be fooled. It doesn’t take long for things to go off the rails, unable to recover. I finished the game in about 25 hours. With each passing hour I was hoping that something – ANYTHING – would bring me back to that fun I felt when I initially started. Also, I spent some time grinding for trophies because I’m stubborn. Things aren’t great for Mato’s inhabitants. Things aren’t much better for the titular game, either. Avoid this game no matter how much you enjoy RPGs.
Overall, 3.5/10: Let this review serve is a warning. There are plenty other RPGs to enjoy on a modern console that don’t pull the same stunts as Mato Anomalies.