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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (432)

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Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5
Immortals: Fenyx Rising 4.5/5
Boot Hill Bounties 4/5
Pathfinder: Kingmaker 2/5
Borderlands 3 4/5
Horizon: Zero Dawn 3.5/5
World of Final Fantasy 4/5
ReCore 3/5
I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5
The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5

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Daemon X Machina   Nintendo Switch 

Ew, Someone Got Weeb All Over This 'Armored Core'    3.5/5 stars

“Daemon X Machina” (“DXM”) is the third game developed by Marvelous First Studio, an internal development team started in 2017 by the merged publisher of a variety of Japanese media, Marvelous, Inc. “DXM” is a Mech Sim of a particular style pioneered by From Software with its venerable – not to mention formulaic, repetitive, and dormant-for-a-decade – ‘Armored Core’ series. Indeed, “DXM’s” producer, Kenichiro Tsukuda, was a long-time project director and producer at From Software, who worked on the last ‘Armored Core’ games I personally played, before leaving the company after it caught Souls Syndrome, and moving on to the greener pastures at Marvelous. Naturally, with From Software still sitting on the ‘Armored Core’ IP rights, Tsukuda couldn’t make a new ‘Armored Core’ game, so he did the next best thing, pushing out “DXM” as a spiritual successor to that franchise.

“DXM” originally released as a Nintendo Switch exclusive, shortly before receiving a PC port to both Steam and the Epic Store. This led me into quite a dilemma. In spite of the fact that I have generally found the ‘Armored Core’ series merely to be on the positive side of ‘okay,’ the unique gameplay gimmicks of mech customization and piloting did scratch a particular itch, and after skipping the releases in the “Armored Core 4” and “Armored Core 5” lines (due to my growing disdain for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360), I found myself jonesing hard for a similar experience, yet was unable to find one. Thus, when “DXM” released on the Switch, I foolishly grabbed a physical cartridge for a measly 25% discount. However, within a week of my purchase, the PC version was announced. While I waited for the PC version to receive a truly worthwhile discount, the Epic Store gave away the game as part of its ongoing campaign to waste money and bury Epic account-holders with freebies… which almost always turn out to be trash.

So, there I sat with two copies of a game for two different platforms, utterly paralyzed by the decision of which to play. So, I ended up splitting the difference, and played the Nintendo Switch version of “DXM” in the Yuzu emulator on my gaming PC.

Presentation
“DXM” is representative of modern Japanese development studios finally getting their doo-doo together and embracing modern development tools. Instead of being built from the ground up in a proprietary engine, “DXM” is simply built in the Unreal Engine, with a significant amount of effort put into making the game’s polygonal visuals look unique. “DXM’s” visual identity is a bizarre mix of full-blown anime – complete with cell-shading – and the grim, gritty, realistic mech designs that can be found in pretty much any mech-based IP that isn’t trying to ape ‘Gundam’ or ‘Transformers.’ As a result, the cell-shading and generic anime cast are really the only things that stand out about “DXM,” and the mechs are generally quite boring to look at (even when painted with a pattern that wouldn’t look out of place in my closet full of Aloha Shirts). Worst still, in a game about mech customization, the individual mech parts all look far too samey. Worst of all, the environmental design doesn’t look like it’s evolved any since roughly 2002.

Audio has never been a particularly important aspect of Mr. Tsukuda’s work, whether on ‘Armored Core’ or “DXM.” As a modern game, “DXM” is fully voiced, and as an anime-inspired game, the usual cast of English-speaking dubbers are on the payroll, including the ubiquitous Wendy Lee. The performances are adequate, but far too much of the dialog and character archetyping is so cringe-inducing, it drags-down the overall experience. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is mostly a disaster. Outside of the excellent OP and ED tunes, “DXM” is accompanied by a mix of terrible, grating music that is definitely evocative of ‘Armored Core,’ and not in a good way.

Technically, “DXM” is… fine. The Switch version has some limited motion control support for the Joy-Cons, which is nice, and the PC version supports Xinput out of the box. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the Switch version, in particular, is that certain parts of the game are completely walled-off without online connectivity. That may have been ‘fine’ prior to the Nintendo Network subscription fee, but nowadays is a major black mark.

Story
“DXM” takes place in a thinly-veiled reskin of the dystopian world of From Software’s ‘Armored Core’ series, in which various corporations hire mech pilots to do freelance jobs. However, in “DXM,” the corporations have been replaced with ‘consortiums,’ and the grim-and-gritty dystopia has been replaced with generic shonen anime tropes. ALL of the tropes!

Our hero is an unnamed (customizable) silent protagonist who is only ever referred to as ‘Rookie’ by other characters. Rookie is thrown into a world where a mysterious disaster in the not-so-distant past caused the moon to shatter, sending large chunks to collide with the earth. Riding on these chunks of moon-rock were a mysterious source of energy known only as Femto Particles, which corrupted many of the world’s computer systems, unleashing a plague of rogue AIs.

To fight back against AIs, humanity developed the Arsenals: Humanoid battle mechs that can only be piloted by people known as ‘Outers,’ who have been exposed to Femto radiation, and thus have the ability to interact with advanced AI tech. These Arsenal pilots, however, all split off into a variety of private mercenary companies, working for which ever consortium is willing to pay, while a global mercenary network operated by a non-corrupted AI named Four (who sounds exactly like GLaDOS, from ‘Portal’) pulls all the necessary strings.

Each of these mercenary companies is painfully (not painstakingly) introduced in the manner of a shonen battle manga, like, say, “Bleach,” with a wide variety of egos, stereotypes, and inane dialog ripped straight from the pages of Japanese media aimed at pre-teen boys. Not only are there too many mercenary companies, there are too many characters within each company to really give any of them time to shine, or even time to give most of them a basic layer of character development. Trying to follow “DXM’s” story and keep track of all the characters feels like watching half the episodes of the first season of the “Bleach” anime at random, then skipping the rest of the series. There are formulaic conversations that happen in every shonen anime or manga. There are pseudo-philosophical bull-sessions where the writers demonstrate their ability to dump techno-babble and philoso-babble, while making them both equally meaningless. There are lore dumps, there are non-sequiturs, and there are attempts at plot twists that just feel incredibly ham-fisted.

In short: Only the weebiest weebs among those self-described Western Otaku who believe that Japanese media is superior by virtue of being Japanese will get any enjoyment out of this game’s trainwreck of narrative, plot, and character development.

Thankfully, “DXM” isn’t a terribly long experience. It does, of course, allow for a great amount of variation, depending on how much the player wishes to grind through replayable missions in search of loot. I, however, got almost exactly 30 hours out of it, with what I thought was a reasonable amount of repetition, but without pursuing the ‘best’ anything. Sadly, I was glad to be done with the game instead of looking forward to any post-game content (which doesn’t exist).

Gameplay
“DXM” is a third-person Action/Shooter dealie which sucks nearly all of the novelty out of the ‘Armored Core’ formula it is so clearly based upon. Back when I still bought and played the samey, repetitive entries in the ‘Armored Core’ series, it was known for being a sluggish, clunky experience (like all From Software titles). Apparently during the “Armored Core 4/For Answer” era on the PlayStation 3, though, the series underwent a shift to make it ‘faster.’ I was surprised, then, that the producer of the last ‘slow’ ‘Armored Core’ games would produce a clone of the ‘fast’ games in that series when given the opportunity to do whatever he wanted.

Mechs in “DXM” have the ability to fly in perpetuity, so long as they have any stamina remaining. Typically, stamina is only consumed by boosting (either on the ground or in the air) or being hit by heat attacks, and it regenerates extremely quickly. Thus, while the mech games I tenuously enjoyed on the PlayStation 2 featured ground-bound mechs that could jump, hover, and maneuver through the air in brief spurts, “DXM” features near constant neurotic dogfights where mechs buzz past each other and out of radar/lock-on range all the time. Radar and lock-on are very important, as “DXM” isn’t so much a ‘skill-based shooter,’ since the Arsenal’s onboard computer will auto aim and correct for targets on which it has a lock, while manually aiming really only works for stationary targets.

This high-octane maneuverability, naturally, requires open space to employ it, so, unfortunately, far too many of “DXM’s” missions take place in open, yet surprisingly small, combat arenas instead of… anyplace interesting. These ‘open’ arenas are bordered on all sides by out-of-bounds areas, while flying ‘too high’ simply kills the Arsenal’s flight boosters and causes it to plummet back into the ‘in-bounds’ gameplay area. Even when missions do take place inside buildings, the layouts all feel bland, samey, and procedurally generated – even though most of them aren’t.

In addition to the boring and uninspired mission areas, the mechs themselves feel a lot less inspired and – dare I say – diverse than Mr. Tsukuda’s previous projects. While Arsenals are, like Armored Cores, built from a torso, head, legs, a CPU, and separate arms (the latter of which can be two completely different types), the lack of variety is stunning, especially with regard to legs. While they were probably left on the cutting room floor for the sake of the ‘fast’ movement and constant flying, “DXM” doesn’t feature any mech leg types outside of standard humanoid: No reverse-joint bird-style legs, no quadrupeds or insectoids, and definitely no tank treads or wheels. Also, while it’s not quite as disappointing as the lack of leg variety, the overall classification of individual mech parts often feels disorganized and pointless, with some parts described as ‘light’ having more armor and durability that parts described as ‘heavy,’ along with numerous stat distributions and/or bonuses that just feel arbitrary.

Arsenals can carry one weapon in each hand, a shoulder-mounted weapon, an ‘auxiliary’ weapon (which usually isn’t a weapon at all), and two weapons mounted on rear pylons. At any time, the player can swap a weapon from a pylon to a hand, effectively allowing an Arsenal to bring four hand weapons and a shoulder weapon to each mission. However, I always felt like the ammo stocks on EVERY weapon are ludicrously small, while every shoulder-mounted weapon outside of missiles feels situational – though the shoulder-mounted repair kits can be a life-saver… or an immense aggravation if the opposing side deploys them.

If actually assembling mech parts feels uninspired and disappointing, acquiring them feels grating and tedious. While there is an in-game store that allows the player to spend credits earned during missions on mech parts, the store… doesn’t actually have anything in-stock until the player spends yet more credits and sacrifices a specific mech part from their inventory to do the R&D on each and every individual mech part and weapon. Where does the player acquire the necessary parts in the first place? Looting them from downed foes, of course!

Each mission will typically pit the player and a team computer-controlled mercenary allies against a large number of trash enemies. However, intermixed with the trash enemies are corrupted Arsenals known as ‘strais’ (or even uncorrupted Arsenals piloted by opposing mercenaries). Defeating an arsenal allows the player to loot one of its available components by walking up to the wreckage and inspecting it. This is the primary method of acquiring mech parts, and there are a large number of infinitely repeatable ‘Free Missions’ that open up as the player progresses through the mandatory and linear path through the ‘Offer Missions.’ Each time a player replays a free mission, the strais and enemy mercs they’ll face are randomized, allowing for a ‘Diablo’ level of repetitive grinding and finger-crossing in the hopes of getting a good/rare drop. Perhaps most annoyingly, researched mech parts almost never come with expansion slots, while looted mech parts can come with up to three, with each slot allowing the player to apply a small stat boost to the part in question by installing a mod chip.

While most missions and battles are against trash robots and a handful of opposing Arsenals, “DXM” also features a number of big, impressive boss fights… which tend to get less impressive as the game wears on. This culminates in a three-phase final boss which seems intentionally designed to force players to retreat to the mission hub between phases, since each phase has wildly different strengths and weaknesses that can’t all be compensated for in a single Arsenal build.

Lastly, perhaps the most incoherent thing about “DXM’s” gameplay is the fact that the player can eject their Rookie from their Arsenal to run around on-foot at any time during a mission. An Outer on-foot is incredibly weak and squishy, with very limited capabilities. Thus, outside of specific Outer-only missions, the ability to eject is completely useless. I can’t help but wonder if the game went through an earlier development phase where ejecting to manipulate small-scale environmental controls or solve puzzles was part of the design, but was ultimately scrapped. I have been hoping for an open-world mech game where the player can eject to do things on-foot before re-boarding their mech… but the execution of that concept in “DXM” isn’t what I was looking for.

Overall
While it tries to go in a different direction from its ‘Armored Core’ inspiration, largely by embracing every anime trope there is, “Daemon X Machina” ultimately reminded me why I stopped buying ‘Armored Core’ games during the PlayStation 2 era. The narrative value in this game is next to nonexistent; the gameplay, while somewhat evolved, ultimately feels incoherent; and the mech customization – which should be the beating heart of the concept – feels watered-down and uninspired. I can only recommend this game to dedicated mecha fans, who will likely get at least something out of it, even as they suffer through the bad parts. Everyone else should knock a half-point off my overall score.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 1/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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