Mato Anomalies in the test - Unfortunately, the mixture of visual novel and JRPG does not always work out

Mato Anomalies in the test - Unfortunately, the mixture of visual novel and JRPG does not always work out

Mato Anomalies in the test - Unfortunately

A few months ago we were allowed to take a look at Mato Anomalies, which comes from the Chinese developer studio Arrowiz and wants to get into the classic Persona genre. This consists of JRPG and visual novel elements and wants to combine the best of both worlds. But when we took a second look last fall, we noticed: Mato Anomalies doesn't quite make the jump, but it's still just about on the right track. We remained optimistic about how the JRPG would fare in the final development process through to release. Whether Mato Anomalies got the curve just before the end, you will find out in the following lines.

A cyberpunk Shanghai haunted by nightmares

In Mato Anomalies, you slip into the role of detective Doe, whose clever acumen is needed in the futuristic neo-port city of Mato to solve mysterious cases there as well. Because a kind of portal has appeared on the coast of the place, which is pulling people into a parallel world and will not let them return. The residents of Mato don't know exactly what this means, so the brave Doe is sent ahead and resolutely slips through the unknown construct. Lost in a so-called metasphere, he encounters dangerous nightmares, interdimensional creatures that embody sinister monsters and feed on human emotions. Before Doe's time has come, however, he is rescued by the fearless shaman Gram, who wields his katana like no other and shortly thereafter joins the detective. The two of them are a well-established team: while Doe goes in search of new information about the mysterious portals and metaspheres in the port city of Mato, Gram takes on the carving in the parallel worlds. These are also known as rifts between worlds with distorted space and arise anywhere in the world including in and around Mato reminiscent of Chinese Shanghai.

In Mato Anomalies you explore the neo-port city of Mato, which looks quite nice

© Arrowiz

As usual in big cities, this city also shows both crushing poverty and wealth, which can hardly coexist. Where wealth and poverty collide, not only capitalist companies have their fingers in the pie, but also criminal organizations that are fed up with the money game. This also applies to the new companion Butterfly, known as the butterfly fairy, who, as a master thief, has set herself the task of distributing her loot in the manner of Robin Hood and thus ensuring justice. So the motive is set: In addition to the dangerous metaspheres, from which people have to be rescued from time to time, Doe and his friends uncover criminal machinations in the city and want to clarify the appearance of the dimensional rifts once and for all.

< The story unfolds half as a visual novel and half as a JRPG, as fans of the genre already know from the masterful Persona - now the development studio Arrowiz also wants a crumb from this cake. The journey through Mato is told in different ways, but in each case through a lot of text to be read. By default, the drawn character models are displayed and subtitled; Only the rarely occurring cutscenes are set to music. The existence of the English voice output is praiseworthy here, but it is really not a nice sound for the ears. The immersion is additionally broken by asynchronicity and poor animation of the images. On the other hand, the animated comic strips are very nice, which also appear from time to time and form a middle ground between fully animated sequences and blocks of text. I would have liked more of these. The story isn't great, but it's not boring either. There are surprising twists and turns here and there at well-placed intervals, and the world of Mato with its versatile, funny characters and organizations offers a lot of room for interesting alliances, which could also have been a little more exciting. In general, however, I liked the writing of the characters and the story. Interestingly written passages rush by between the narrative middle lane creepers.

Two parallel worlds – two weak gameplay types?

While Detective Doe and his squad bounce between Metaspheres and Mato, each with their own distinct gameplay styles, they also differ in playstyle. Doe tinkers through some of Mato's locations, which are visually very chic to look at, but apart from a few uninteresting and collision-free NPCs, they don't offer much. Nevertheless, the detective has to visit some of them in order to get information. In order for him to get this, he uses his so-called mind/hack power, a card mini-game that gives you useful information if you succeed. With given decks of cards you "hack" the "mind" (or spirit) of your opponent, who is possessed by demons with special effects.

The Mind/Hack -Mini game is quite nice and provides variety, but cannot convince in the long run while some rely on powerful, charged attacks for knocking out a high number of attack points, others make use of more defensive strategies designed to nip enemy demons in the bud. In the course of the game, the strategic possibilities expand pleasantly, but at some point they can unfortunately overwhelm you, because you have to "try out" decks from time to time and see which ones are suitable for the fight. This eats up time and is frustrating when it sometimes takes time to fail on purpose. However, once you find the right deck, Mind/Hack can be fun, but it didn't really stick with me. I would have really liked it as a nice gimmick on the side, like the card game in Final Fantasy VIII, but as a central part of Doe's everyday life it didn't convince me in the long run. Modifying the decks would have been nice here, instead of just being able to choose from a few pre-made sets.

Well, if that one half of the gameplay isn't really convincing , the other one must be stronger, right? In essence, this also happens in Mato Anomalies, but just as insufficiently as in the other elements mentioned. In turn-based battles, you and Gram & Co. slice your way through the metaspheres and free them from dangerous but monotonous nightmares, which depending on the sphere are visually very uncreative and rarely require special strategies. As a team of four comrades-in-arms, you have a common life bar and neither mana nor skill points. Instead, each of your attack and support abilities are given a cooldown, which decreases each turn. The usable items can also strengthen you, damage the opponents, recharge your life bar or free your team from status changes. In general, the tactical options during battles are very limited, but each character offers its own style of play: Gram, for example, focuses more on his sword skills, while Butterfly offers some support skills and has fast attacks in its repertoire.

Although the dungeons become more complex as the game progresses, they ultimately retain structures that are too linear

© Arrowiz

These differences are important for the composition of your gear -Kits: You can assemble the gears from different companies on a grid and, depending on their position and connection, passive skills are activated that benefit your entire team. For example, if you have equipment of the same type, you will get set buffs that extend your life bar or increase your attack value. The system worked quite well and motivated to adjust the kit regularly. But here, too, developer Arrowiz limits the development of the characters: the kit applies to the entire team, individual comrades-in-arms cannot be specially equipped; except for the choice of weapon, which is also limited to two genres. However, each weapon enables additional skills that you can use in battle. Here I would have simply wished for more instead of being so narrow in my role-playing experience. On the other hand, motivating are the classic skill trees, of which each character has three pieces: active and passive skills as well as the improvement of the ultimate attack. Here you can either choose an offensive or defensive path, which suits your character better - unfortunately they are not that extensive in the end, but they do offer some strategic depth to adapt your playstyle.

In the turn-based battles, you can also let an AI kick in and kick back

© Arrowiz

As touched on earlier, Mato Anomalies is visually quite handsome, too on the Nintendo Switch. The locations are diverse, but not very extensive. Basically, you only run through limited levels with their own functions, such as a separate side street that houses some traders and important NPCs. That's a pity, I would have wished for a slightly more open setting, at least in Mato, but savings were also made in the design of the world. The situation is similar in the metaspheres, which are initially very manageable, but later at least gain in complexity. Unfortunately, they never seem very sophisticated until the end. The movement options are hosed and Arrowiz doesn't even try to give the player the illusion of an expansive area, instead sending you through narrow passages with enemies you have to clear out of the way in order to continue. A small highlight, however, are the boss fights in some story-dependent dungeons, which attract attention with their appealing character design and tactics and bring some wind into Mato Anomalies - here too: more please!

While we were able to write the preview based on the smoothly running PC version, the Nintendo Switch unfortunately has serious technical problems. In handheld mode, the fan roars and your hands get sweaty from the heat. But the question arises as to why the console is struggling so much. Mato Anomalies looks pretty good, but there really shouldn't be much technology under the hood. However, the frame rate often drops and the game crashes every now and then, so you can comb the dungeon again from the last save point. If you want to adjust your equipment, you will be tortured with an almost unbearable input lag that makes the input difficult. The loading times can also vary in length, but they appear on every occasion, which really raises questions in a town as small as Mato.

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