Finding Its Own Voice
If you’ve ever thought Persona needed more talk about labor and the nature of capitalism, Mato Anomalies may be for you. Although it’s set in a futuristic world, labor and the power that wealth can provide are major factors in the early going of Mato Anomalies. Despite this interesting twist, anyone familiar with Persona will feel instantly at home.
The world of Mato Anomalies had my attention almost instantly. It’s a city where things have gone bad, and corruption rules the day. Poor citizens literally can’t afford clean oxygen to breathe, they’re barely managing to get by. Meanwhile, private investigator Doe, an exorcist named Gram, and a cat burglar going by Butterfly are trying to locate a man who sold his co-workers out at their factory, getting a lot of people hurt in the process.
These lead to a series of rifts; demonic portals that allow you to attack supernatural forces invading this dying city, many of whom are exerting an influence that seeps into the normal world as well.
Moving around the city will remind you of many similar RPGs, but the second you dive into the rifts, there’s no mistaking the Persona influence present in Mato Anomalies. There are even sections decorated with televisions. These surreal dungeons are linear affairs, tasking you with continuing to move forward and take out a series of enemies in order to progress.
If a lot of areas of Mato Anomalies feel like homages to the series’ influences, though, battles are where things are set apart. Enemies are always on screen and mostly sit in set locations blocking your path, at least in the early going, so you have time to prepare. Heal up, upgrade your skills, make sure you want to get into a fight, and then dive in.
Once in battle, each character will get to choose one of their attacks or abilities each turn. While there are no magic points or anything of that nature, every ability outside of your generic attack has a set cooldown period. That means some attacks may not be usable for three turns after you use them. That leaves you deciding if this is the right opportunity to use your best move, or if the next turn might be better. Each move has its own cooldown time, so you’ll have to pay attention when choosing options.
Another strategic layer comes from your entire party sharing a pool of health. No worrying about one character going down, though it also means you can’t have a tank try to take all the damage for you. Staying alive is obviously imperative, so in several spots, I had to decide if I was confident my attacks could take an enemy out before they got one more hit in. There are other considerations as well, like the ability to turtle and limit damage and the timing that goes along with that. A late boss in the demo required some real strategy for such an early point in a game like this. My first attempt to fight them led to an easy defeat that left me wondering if I needed to go grind, but a second attempt where I figured out the pattern needed had me take him down easily. I’m excited to see where this battle system can go.
Outside of dungeons, there’s another sort of fight. Mato Anomalies has a card-based interrogation system for when you need to get details out of a foe. Your enemy will have three demons guarding them, each with an ongoing effect and with the ability to attack you each turn. You need to take out the enemy before they can kill you, breaking past their mental barriers to get the information you need. Doing this doesn’t necessarily require beating the demons, and even if you do, they come back after a few turns, so there’s a real push and pull of whether it’s worth wasting a move on trying to take them out and figuring out which demons are most important to remove. The couple of chances I had to mess with these interrogations were fairly simple, but I can see potential for this to get a lot more involved in the full game.
While it’s intriguing, there are some concerns in the demo build I got to try. The framerate is far from smooth despite graphics which look nice and stylized but don’t exactly feel taxing to my system. Even swinging the camera around felt choppy though that seemed to improve as I played, or maybe I just got used to it. Transitions between scenes, between areas of town, all of these feel very abrupt at the moment, like they need some sort of transitional effect. Still, these aren’t major issues, and there’s still time before Mato Anomalies is set to release, so I would hope that can all be ironed out.
I want to see more of where this story goes. Will the early game focus on labor issues that if not directly from the real world at least seem to echo some of what we’re dealing with continue, or will it give way to the more fantastical elements about demons and other worlds? I’d love to see it continue to balance the two. Finding out more about what’s going on in this city has me eagerly waiting to see more when Mato Anomalies is set to release in 2023.