Mato Anomalies Review – Not everything is true

Mato Anomalies on PS5

Detective stories and visual novels go hand in hand. Everyone likes a good mystery, although Mato Anomalies doesn’t put the work of solving it directly in the hands of the player. While it kind of falls short in other areas, visual novel fans will find the game worth their time.

The main character, Doe, is a private investigator who is regularly employed by information broker Nightshade. He’s somewhat naïve, but nonetheless dedicated and knowledgeable, which means he regularly gets caught up in unexpected conspiracies.

deer and nightshade
Image Credit: Arrowiz via Twinfinite

The whole game takes place in the rather seedy town of Mato. The city is a bit of a mystery as it really could be the only thing that exists as it is completely sealed off from the outside world. The subdued atmosphere only grows, adding character to Mato as more and more are opened up for exploration.

The story begins with Doe on a mission for Nightshade to track down a new commodity called HANDOUT. Through this mission he ends up in a place he absolutely shouldn’t be and is rescued by the enigmatic shaman Gram. As it turns out, Gram seeks out the enemies found in the game’s dungeons, known as Lairs. The two form a partnership as Gram needs help tracking down Lairs and Doe’s investigative skills come in handy. The game is incredibly well written and the character interactions are entertaining, so I never got bored with the story.

Most of the game plays out as a visual novel, but occasionally turns into a comic book for some scenes, much like Game XIII. While these scenes and the very rare cinematic cutscenes are the only ones fully voiced, their appearance always felt random and somewhat unnecessary. I felt like the developers were trying to do too many things with story delivery.

Exploration of the city is handled in a very player-friendly manner, as the required amount of walking is reduced by an excellent fast-travel mechanic that can be accessed from anywhere. The required locations are always very clearly marked, and it was frustration-free to keep track of where to go for side quests and other objectives.

Lair layout
Image Credit: Arrowiz via Twinfinite

While the story sections are the highlight, the combat and dungeon exploration certainly make the game a chore. The dungeon layouts are mostly just simple paths where enemies don’t roam freely in the dungeons. Instead, they are scattered along the route at specific intervals, making any dungeon excursion simply a trek between enemy fights as they cannot be avoided.

Each hideout only has a set number of enemies that don’t respawn once defeated, so there’s no way to farm XP. Instead, this is reserved for the ability to visit random caves at any time to grind a few levels and find new gear. Although I rarely had to do this, the option was of great help when needed.

Mato Anomalies offers a rather unique idea for battles: the whole party shares a single HP bar. Combat itself is good but basic, with each character having a normal attack as well as stronger abilities/attacks that work on a cooldown system where each has a set number of turns to be reusable. This makes sense in combat so you don’t get too overwhelmed, but those cooldowns carry over between fights and regularly felt like punishment for using more effective attacks.

Image Credit: Arrowiz via Twinfinite

The game mercifully has an auto-battle feature, which I quickly took advantage of in almost every fight. The auto-battle AI knows the health bar well and will use healing abilities regularly. They can further speed up combat animations, but I left them for a while as they’re still pretty cool for the most part. Since I doubt the fight would ever grow on me, this was the best way to get to the parts I actually wanted to experience.

Mato Anomalies doesn’t just give way to turn-based RPG sections to break up the visual novel. There is another type of gameplay called Mind/Hack that plays like a card battle game that pops up during the story when Doe needs to extract information from someone. Your goal is to reduce your enemy’s mind power to 0 with Persuasion Power attacks while protecting your own mind power from retaliation.

The tutorial made it seem like these sections were a bit easy, but Mind/Hack quickly became annoyingly difficult and feels more luck-based than requiring any sort of strategy. Luckily, there’s a built-in exit where you can skip the whole thing if you lose three times. Needless to say, I almost always just threw every game in order to get to the third loss and skip as quickly as possible.

Mato Anomalies is a solid visual novel with a compelling story that will keep you hooked as you meet new characters and see how they interact. While other mechanics in the game are somewhat neglected, players have certain options to clear them faster and get back to the story without much effort.

Mato Anomalies Critic Review

Reviewer: Cameron Waldrop | Copy provided by the publisher.