Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: T for Teen
When Daemon X Machina was announced as a new IP a couple of years ago I was reasonably intrigued. Here we had a mech shooter with elements of Monster Hunter World thrown in. It was something new and fresh for Switch owners to look forward to and a game that looked and felt like something completely out of Nintendo’s wheelhouse. It was exactly what Nintendo needed at the time. But now the game is here and after having almost a month of hands-on time, including with its most recent demo which let me carry over my save game to the full release, I can definitely give an opinion on whether or not this game is worth your time and money.
Daemon X Machina (DXM) is a third-person mech shooter. That being said, the game also allows players to exit their mech suit, called an Arsenal, to fight enemies on foot which feels more like a typical TPS. As such, there is a lot of violence in this game; seeing that most of the enemies consist of mercenaries in mech suits, drones, tanks, and AI controlled Arsenals, though, there is no blood or gore, just lots and lots of explosions which look great with the game’s cel-shaded, anime-style graphics. Some characters do use minor expletives and make references about wanting to drown their sorrows in alcohol after a hard won victory. The most interesting theme presented by the game concerns how much we can really trust technology. This is prominent in gameplay as players are forced to ask themselves if they want to augment their pilot’s (Outer’s) limbs to give them enhancements, which actually causes their flesh-and-bone limbs to be replaced by cybernetic augments and implants therefore calling into question the morality and wisdom of becoming the very thing you’re trying to destroy. While there isn’t a lot of dialogue about religion in the game, many of the mercenaries and their factions are named or themed after religious concepts. For example, Diablo, is a menacing, all-black Arsenal with a head piece that resembles demon horns. Other pilots have call signs that reference death, Heaven, Hell, Demons, etc., and their distinctive look and personalities often match these themes. It’s all very anime in its presentation.
Daemon X Machina is a good, but not great, mech action game from the producer of the Armored Core Series, Kenichiro Tsukuda. With that pedigree you would think the game would be a resounding success. And for some, it undoubtedly will be. But for others, like myself, the game seems to be missing its identity, not fully knowing what it’s trying to be. See, DXM borrows elements from Monster Hunter (defeating bosses and harvesting their parts to further refine and customize your character) and other similar mech shooters to create something that feels unique, yet confusingly redundant at the same time. There isn’t much here that players won’t also find in a Gundam anime or other mecha games like Zone of the Enders.
With all of that being said, the game’s strongest feature is in its customization. Nearly every aspect of a player’s Arsenal (mech suit) can be customized. If you want a pink and yellow Arsenal with a focus on lock on distance and defense that dual wields flamethrowers, then that’s exactly what you can create. There are also hundreds of decals, stickers, and paint jobs that can be unlocked over the course of a playthrough that allow each player’s Arsenal to really stand out from one another.
However, the robust character customization doesn’t stop there. Players can also fully customize their Outer (pilot) with a variety of skills which not only increase specific stats (jumping ability, lock on range, etc.) but will significantly alter their physical appearance as well. For example, when I gave my Outer a double jump ability his once human legs were replaced by advanced prosthetics that allowed him to sprint longer and jump higher and further at the cost of losing part of his humanity. There isn’t really a positive or negative effect on gameplay for choosing whether or not to upgrade your Outer in this way, as I never found myself venturing outside of my Arsenal too often. Some players may have second thoughts about turning their pilot into a cyborg and thankfully, if that happens, the game provides the option to start from scratch and respec your Outer at any time.
Outers are effectively mercenaries who all work for a company called Orbital who offers them missions and contracts for money, Arsenal gear and augments, and personal glory. This is the basis of DXM’s barebones and bonkers story. Every character in this game feels like an over-exaggerated anime stereo-type. For every overly serious military brat there is an equally devoted religious zealot reluctant to take up arms against the machines as they’d rather just stick to being a pacifist. Meanwhile, many of the women have crazy exaggerated hairstyles, overtly evil personas that simultaneously try to come off as sexy and/or seductive, and it just felt too over the top. Their pre-mission dialogue doesn’t help to flesh out the details of exactly what the player’s motivation is at any point in the game’s roughly 15-20 hour story. I am about half-way through and I am only just now starting to see a juicy mystery spring up out of the game’s near non-existent plot.
Missions themselves don’t really add any weight to the narrative as nearly every single one is some variation of “destroy this base”, “escort this asset”, or “defend this location”. The overwhelming majority of them are completed by simply clearing all enemies on the screen. To make matters worse, exploration is strongly discouraged outside of a baffingly small “arena” provided for each combat mission. There are two boundaries that players must never step out of, lest they are subject to an annoying chirping sound until they return to the poorly marked mission area. Staying outside of the red boundary for too long can result in a defeated Arsenal or the death of the player’s Outer. While Arsenals can be repaired by Outers, if you die outside of your suit…that’s game over.
To top it all off, players will inevitably be forced into a load screen, albeit a short one, at random times during a battle for more nonsensical dialogue that pits one set of mercs against another with competing mission objectives. You now have to fight a team of enemy Arsenals piloted by Outers you just worked alongside in the previous mission. You’re never told why you’re fighting each other or what the other team’s mission objectives were. They just show up, spout some nonsense about their group and wanting to see what you, The Rookie, can do, and then you fight until the mission ends. It’s still a mission success whether your objectives were completed or not and oftentimes these mid-mission fights and the motivations behind them are not mentioned until five or six missions later once players have forgotten about them.
Despite the monotony of all this, there were a couple of back-to-back missions that stood out from the rest. The first had me infiltrate the enemy base on foot to steal their newest Arsenal prototype. After successfully securing the Arsenal, my evac jet was destroyed and I had to find an alternate way out of the base. From here, the game forced me to sit through the mission end screen, which allows me to collect any weapons or gear left behind by enemies (that I could later kit out my Arsenal with) instead of just transitioning to the next phase of the mission. Breaking up missions in this way was jarring but the next phase made up for it. In it, I was dashing through a series of tunnels in the prototype Arsenal, which was unarmed save for a single “gun-arm” which fired what looked like large shotgun shells, while simultaneously trying to evade the two enemy Arsenals that were hot on my trail. This felt a bit like the game turning into a racer as I used my mech’s shotgun arm to blast obstacles out of my way and keep my pursuers at bay until reinforcements arrived to help me escape.
There are two types of missions available in DXM: Offer Missions which progress the game’s story, and Free missions which allow players to replay story missions for additional gear, money, and other rewards (like grinding boss fights to collect blueprints to develop exclusive new gear pieces and weapons). The free mission boss fights are far easier than the story boss fights, as players can choose to call in the aide of any mercenaries they have already met and fought alongside of in the story. Each merc brings something different to the table as far as versatility, equipment, and personality during battle. While boss fights are fun and challenging, they are also drawn out and lack creativity. It often feels like dozens of lock-on boxes appear anytime the boss gets remotely close which makes it difficult to admire the game’s visuals.
While environments can look rather bland and uninspired, the character models for both the Outers and Arsenals are fantastic and some even look like they were ripped straight out of a Mobile Suit Gundam episode. The voice acting is fine and feels like your standard anime fair. Characters who inexplicably grunt, scream, or laugh maniacally in the middle of dialogue make up a good portion of the cast. While I appreciate the beautiful, anime-inspired look, the over-the-top character designs and personalities were kind of annoying. While Fire Emblem Three Houses’ characters were at least charming and mysterious, and their dialogue was very well written, the cast and writing here is mostly forgettable. The controls, at least, are tight and work very well. Despite the overwhelming number of things you can do in this game, the controls never felt confusing or difficult to get used to. Most attacks and dodging are mapped to the shoulder buttons, while auxiliary equipment, jumping/flight, and picking up gear are handled using the other buttons.
Despite my complaints with the game, fans of mech shooters, Mobile Suit Gundam, and anime in general will likely find a lot to love about this game. I personally loved the customization and found myself spending the majority of my ten hours with the game in the character customization screen tweaking every aspect of my Outer and Arsenal until I was satisfied with the look and combat performance of both. Now I can essentially one-shot most basic enemies with my bazooka while whittling down larger enemies’ health with my lazer rifle. But the fun kind of ends there, as progressing through dozens of similar “destroy everything that moves” missions got boring fast and there wasn’t much to keep me coming back other than testing out that new weapon or gear piece I earned. I am slowly working my way through the story but there is an overwhelming number of missions with little variety between them so its not the most thrilling experience.
DXM also had the misfortune of launching right between the vastly well received Astral Chain and Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Illusive Age, so it not only had to compete with better titles but it had to do so in what was one of the most jam-packed months of game releases in quite some time. Everything that was announced to be coming to Switch earlier this year seemingly launched in the same month, all at once. With so many options for players to spend their hard earned cash on, I can’t recommend DXM over the avalanche of games that released in September. However, if you’re even remotely interested in the game, I recommend checking out the prologue demo on the eShop, as you can transfer over your saved data if you do decide to purchase the full game later on.
The Bottom Line
Daemon X Machina offers plenty of customization, and fans of mecha anime and games will love its style, but its monotonous mission structure holds the game back and keeps it from truly standing out.