Mato Anomalies Review
Futuristic neo-noir games like Mato Anomalies are quite common to see, ranging from Deus-Ex, to Katana Zero, to Blade Runner, but a mix between a visual novel, a turn-based RPG, and a deck building card battler is more unique. Upon starting Mato Anomalies you see a menu that has a rotating carousel of images that look like they are hand painted. These images include a body buried in trash at the garbage dump and multiple samurai-like characters suspended by strings looking like they are marionette puppets; they are quite creepy setting the tone of the game.
“Here, there is no past or future”; this place called Mato, is like a broken mirror that has shattered into different dimensions. The protagonist of this story is Doe, a would-be detective who is described as opening the door to fate. Doe comes home to find three men dressed in black from their hats to their shoes, wearing sunglasses inside. They are working for the game’s femme fatale — Lady Nightshade. She has requested that the detective be brought to her at the Telosma Hotel. Donna Nightshade is one of those people who has a lot of “friends” — some are more respectable like doctors, accountants, and politicians but she also knows at least 12 other more sketchy people with skills like money laundering or making imitations of legal documents. She has come into possession of some documents with your signature on them. Clearly they are forged, but to get them back you will have to do her a favour. HANDOUT is a new commodity on the black market and there is a shipment of this drug that is going to be unloaded at a place called the Immoral Harbour. She wants you to retrieve a sample of this new drug and bring it back to her. Just in case, she gives you a handgun.
Getting around the map in Mato Anomalies is incredibly easy, instead of having to walk everywhere and figure out where to go next you can fast travel to the next location you are supposed to visit. If the icon is outlined in red with !!, it is for the current main quest, if the icon is orange with !, this will be for a tracked side quest. There are also purple markers for untracked side quests and a ? for a new side quest. This sounds a little confusing, but it is incredibly easy to follow when you are in the game. Once you travel to the desired location, a bar is displayed at the top of the screen with a number telling you the direct distance between you and the target. This makes it easy to tell which direction you need to head in, so you never feel lost.
Once you get to Immoral Harbour, you will experience your first enemy fight, but the gun that Nightshade gave you doesn’t work. Fortunately, a heavily-tattooed, ninja-like character named Gram jumps in to save your butt. You are taken to a tutorial that will show you how the battle interface works when you are in a Lair; this isometric battlefield is located in a hellish dimension where you battle the demons known as the Bane Tide. While in a fight it shows the turn number and the members of the team that are participating in this brawl, in the beginning Gram is the only one fighting but as you progress in the game you will meet characters who will join your battle against the demons. You will select a skill for this turn, you have a limited amount of points and every attack costs a certain amount of points to use. The base attack can be used as many times as you want with no cooldown between, whereas the stronger attacks replenish after two or three turns. This leads you to be more strategic with your points. As you progress you will unlock new attacks and points to spend on strengthening your team members' attacks and defensive moves.
Our main character Doe may seem weak since he isn’t helping Gram fight off these demonic creatures, but he will have to collect the truth and collect intel in Mato — the human world. Doe will have his own types of battle to wage to get the information he needs. While questioning people, if they try to resist, Doe can use a device that Gram has given you called the SkyEye. This glove lets you occupy their mind, but you will have to overcome their mental defences by defeating them and bringing their mind power down to zero, but you also have to defend your own mind power or you may lose the game and also your mind. These are deck-building, card battles where you lower the mind power of the host, trying to fight off the demons that are trying to destroy you. Doe does not have to defeat these demons to win the battle, just the host, but they are a huge pain if you don’t knock them down, but if defeated, they will not be killed but will respawn in a few turns. Red cards are used as attack and persuasion moves to use against the enemy, while blue cards are skill cards that can be used to apply different effects like increasing your defence before the enemy attacks you. You can use up to three battle points a round, and each of your cards costs a different amount of points to play. If you happen to run out of cards, your turn is over, but the deck will be reshuffled and you will have your full hand of four cards for the next round. If you complete side quests in the game you can acquire new cards to use in your deck, to help make you stronger and make these battles a bit easier.
The cinematic stories are told through panels that look like they are straight out of a manga novel. These boxes pop up on screen from right to left, just like how you would traditionally read these panels. The content within is animated with great voice work and speech bubbles that appear as the character is talking. The music is very fitting of a noir-style story, it has a jazzy sound to it and it feels like it is straight out of a movie like The Maltese Falcon. When you aren’t viewing part of a cinematic movie, there is no voice acting, just text boxes but you will see the character who is speaking and they aren’t completely static. They will sway, breathe, their hair moves, and they even blink which really makes the characters feel alive and not like they are paper cutouts. When you are walking around in the different areas of town you will notice that there is some repetition of sprites, in one area I found five old ladies that looked identical — and I’m sure they didn’t just all go shopping at the same place. There are also tons of the same Bane Tide enemies to battle. With the grannies it wasn’t a huge deal as you don’t really interact with them, but when it feels like you are always fighting the exact same type of enemy it gets annoying.
I was a little concerned when I saw that this game was a visual novel as I have played titles in the past from that genre where you did nothing other than sit back and click a button to progress the story (though if you would rather just sit back and watch you can click a button to make the fights automated.) So I was very excited to see that Mato Anomalies is full of action that will definitely keep you busy. I really enjoyed that the two main characters had different methods of fighting, it really added variety to the game and prevented the game from feeling repetitive. The story and characters in Mato Anomalies were really interesting, having the more dressed-up detective in the suit in trenchcoat was a good contrast to the heavily tatted Gram with his messy ponytail and covered face. With tutorials to explain everything, multiple difficulties, and an easy to use quick travel system, this game is easy to understand even with multiple stories and battle systems going on at once. If you are a fan of intriguing, paranormal stories full of mystery, with a great manga aesthetic, Mato Anomalies is a fun time despite the overuse of some enemies.
Mato Anomalies (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Mato Anomalies mixes mystery, turn-based battles, and card-building all into one game with a great look and fun characters. If you like futuristic neo-noir games with a JRPG feel, this title is going to be one you will want to look into, even with a lack of distinct enemies.