The futuristic city of Mato has a problem. Among the corruption that keeps the elite on top and the destitute underfoot, there is a supernatural evil that threatens to destroy the city. Enter haphazard private detective Doe and the mysterious exorcist swordsman Gram. This unlikely duo bands together with other characters to save the city and slay evil where they can find it. Mato Anomalies has a very interesting premise, and it was enough to sink its claws into me and keep me playing. That said, some boring foes, janky presentation, and repetitive quips keep it from being great.
Looking for a HANDOUT
The story of Mato Anomalies begins with the aforementioned detective Doe being called on by the owner of Telosma Hotel, the enigmatic matron Nightshade, who also happens to run a very intricate intel ring that deals in information and secrets. Nightshade approaches Doe with an investigation into a resource known as HANDOUT, which is apparently a hot commodity on the black market. Only it can’t easily be traded because it’s a mysterious energy source. When chasing down leads, Doe finds himself sucked through a vortex to a strange dimension where deadly creatures known at the Bane Tide attack him.
Enter Gram, a swordsman and exorcist capable of killing Bane Tide. He helps Doe out of a tight spot and even helps him discover a vessel capable of holding HANDOUT energy, which it turns out comes from the vortexes known as “Rifts.” Gram is only interested in killing Bane Tide and sealing Rifts wherever he can find them. Nonetheless, given that Gram has no people skills and Doe is no good in a fight, the two form a shaky partnership where Doe investigates and finds clues to track down Rifts as long as Gram helps him cut a way to the truth about HANDOUT. Where I was a little underwhelmed at first, I found Mato Anomalies’ story pulling me in and keeping me engaged and interested as the mystery unraveled.
Mato Anomalies' presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. In its narrative, Mato sometimes presents its story as comic book-style panel scenes in which the characters voice the panels. I really enjoyed that presentation style. However, it’s used sporadically throughout the game, with regular cutscenes and unvoiced narrative points taking up a majority of the story progression.
Moreover, there’s a lot of abruptness in this game. A cutscene will finish and just stop and go right back to gameplay in the most jarring of ways, especially when it puts your character in a new place. You’ll watch the comic book format playout, and then, without any real transition effects whatsoever, you’re plopped in the next thing without any fanfare. This happened throughout my playtime, and it pulled me out of the moment nearly every time.
The place these characters talk the most by far is in combat. By that I mean they drop a quip every time it’s their turn, every time you choose an attack, every time they launch said attack, and every time they get hurt. There are only a handful of quips for any party member in any of these situations and it gets repetitive fast. It’s a shame because the game is very well-voiced. However, I can only hear “It’s time to take out the trash” so many times before I want characters to stop talking, no matter how well they deliver the line.
The extended cast of characters and villains you encounter in Mato Anomalies is compelling. It isn’t long before you get characters like Butterfly, who utilizes poison and trap attacks and acts like a kind of female gentleman thief in her efforts to buck corrupt authority and aid common people. She was fun to have and her dynamic with both Doe and Gram was fun to behold in both investigation in Mato and combat in the Rifts. The game is full of interesting characters like that.
If one strike is not enough, then I’ll give you two
Mato Anomalies progression can be considered similar to the Persona series. In the real world Mato, you often operate as Doe, gathering information and bringing it back to Gram and the rest of the party. Gram then uses the info (along with his supercomputer android partner SkyEye) to locate, open, and engage Rifts and the Bane Tide therein. Of these two aspects, I prefer Gram’s side. Rift lairs are interesting mazes set to various themes and filled to the brim with monsters, though I’ll admit the monsters are reused frequently and aren’t that exciting to begin with. Still, the combat system is interesting.
Gram, Butterfly, and other party members don’t have their own health bar. Instead, they share a single combined health bar. More than that, they have skills that don’t use mana or some other resource. The skill simply goes on cooldown for a few turns. Here’s the catch: The cooldowns persists between battles while you’re still in a Bane Tide lair. That means if you used Gram’s Bladeless Blade to strike all enemies in one fight, you’ll have to wait three turns for it to be available again, even if some of those turns cross into the next fight. I thought this was a good way to make me strategize about what attacks I would throw out. I might hold onto one and keep it at the ready if I thought a hard fight was coming. That’s the kind of choice and strategy it cultivates.
Combat works on a sort of rock-paper-scissors system. Every enemy and party member has various weaknesses and strengths between blade, pierce, crush, and other forms of damage. Moreover, allies will always have certain skills, but they can change primary weapon types or learn new skills through a tree. You can even utilize a Gear system to upgrade one form of damage or another. Figuring what Gears and weapons you should bring to balance out or specialize your squad can be crucial to surviving a lair. I just wish the enemies were more varied and that the characters didn’t have a quip in combat for every single action they take.
It's mostly better than what Doe has going on in the investigative side of things, though. While a lot of the narrative plays out on Doe’s end in Mato Anomalies, his gameplay isn’t all that compelling. You mostly just run back and forth between objectives and people until you complete a quest or collect the information needed to open a Rift and fight the Bane Tide.
The only time Doe’s side of things gets really spicy gameplay-wise is when he has to do a Mind-Hack to coerce info out of a suspect. This results in a mini game in which you must utilize cards related to persuasion and arguments to break a target and pull crucial information out of them. The fun of this is that as you gather characters, you gain access to decks that do different things.
Gram’s deck relies on cards that have bonus effects if you use them in a certain sequence. For instance, you might see a card that does bonus mind damage to the target if you use it as the second card in your turn instead of right away. Meanwhile, Butterfly offers a deck that uses the Mark feature to add stacks to your target, causing them damage based on how many Marks you apply by a turn’s end. These segments are fun diversions from the fetch quests that populate most of Doe’s adventures, and you can even get closer to characters with Doe and not only learn more about them, but also unlock stronger decks if you gain their trust.
Mysteries in Mato
Mato Anomalies was a kind of game that pushed me away and pulled me in frequently. I found Doe’s investigative side to be boring outside of good story bits and the Mind-Hack card battle segments. Meanwhile, between the Gear system and skill cooldown system, exploring the Rifts and fighting the Bane Tide would be really fun, if not for the lack of enemy variety and non-stop one-liners. The story was good enough to help me look past some of the issues, but ultimately Mato Anomalies has a lot of repetitive annoyances that keep it from being better than many of the RPGs it borrows from.
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Mato Anomalies comes out on PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on March 10, 2023.
- Compelling story that gets good fast
- Interesting combat system
- Intriguing characters and villains
- Plenty of battle style customization
- Mind-Hack card game is enjoyable
- Interesting comic book presentation at times
- One-liners for days in battle
- Enemy monsters are dull and repetitive
- Too many fetch quests for Doe
- Comic book presentation is used sparingly
- Transitions to and from story segments are abrupt
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Mato Anomalies review: Cut to the truth by sword and scrutiny