On paper Daemon X Machina should be a phenomenal game: take mech gameplay and customisation from the Armored Core series, through in enemy loot and mission replays from Monster Hunter, and package it up in a unique anime art style.
If you’re a fan of just one of those pillars that this game is based on, you may have been watching this title closely (as we have) since it was announced some years ago. Unfortunately, after pouring hours into this title, we’re not convinced that it managed to deliver on any one of those big premises.
Let’s start with the mechs themselves then, because anything with a mech in it is automatically better and we imagine it’s what most people looking at this game care about.
The mech you get to pilot – called an Arsenal, no relation to the football team – is highly customisable and made up for five pieces of armour: head, body, processor, right arm, left arm and the legs.
Each piece of armour can be completely unique and is interchangeable. Want to make an Arsenal with a huge upper body for added beefiness but spindly legs for more speed? Go ahead. Want to make a glass cannon? An all rounder? A tank? It’s all possible.
To compliment this there’s also the option to paint your Arsenal as you see fit, colours to individual parts of the mech together with various decals and patterns. Because of this you get to make cool creations like this: a Samus mech with a gun arm. If we can make something that looks that half decent, so can anyone.
While playing mech dress up is fun and all, most Arsenal still look very much alike. Due to the art style here even the most customised Arsenal still looks like a spindly anime Eastern mech with lots of greebling. When other NPC Arsenals are duking it out on the battlefield, they all kind of blend together because there isn’t enough variance in the silhouettes.
Unfortunately this sense of blandness extends to the combat itself. Like your armour, the weapons you can equip are suitably varied. Each arm can use a distinct weapon, and a secondary for each can be swapped out in the battlefield. A shoulder weapon can also be equipped, and finally an auxiliary item rounds off your Arsenal’s arsenal.
Once on the battlefield you can walk, boost using jets, or fly around, and the first problem rears its head. All the Arsenals feel rather light and inconsequential. At times it doesn’t really feel like you’re playing a mech game, but rather some kind of jet or similar flying game. Even if you equip all heavy armour for maximum chonk, your Arsenal then feels slower instead of impactful.
Once you start shooting this feeling continues. Even the biggest anime weapons that are almost the size of your mech give very little feedback when used, and have rather wimpy sound effects to match. The enemies you fight – all other types of robots – barely react to your assaults and just sponge up the attacks.
Mech games are supposed to give you this sense of superpower achieved with maybe possible future tech. In Daemon X Machina, everything just feels too light and weak, even with the biggest guns and mechs in the game.
The combat problems are exasperated by how loot works here. The main way to acquire unlocks here is to defeat other Arsenals.
If, for example, you fight another mech that’s got a really cool laser sword, when you defeat it you can pick that sword off of its body. Unfortunately you can only take one item per looted enemy, so if you take that sword you’ll be missing out on the interesting rocket launcher that the Arsenal may have been using too.
This means you have to make difficult choices as to what you want to be using in the future, and it means that experimentation is rather limited. This, on top of the fact that you’re likely to choose one playstyle early and stick to it, means that the vast amount of weapons on offer will be ignored.
If one in game counter is to be believed, there are 999 weapons in this game. Even if you discount weapons in the same family behaving much in the same way (which does happen frequently) that’s a hell of a lot to play around with, but you see very little of it if you’re just playing through the missions are normal.
There’s other major problems too. In many missions, especially boss battles, you’ll be short of ammo meaning that you either need to be stingy with bullets or go back to the hanger to switch to less than ideal weaponry with more in the clips.
That isn’t helped by the fact that most of the enemies in this game are ridiculous bullet sponges. It’s actually kind of ridiculous how many bullets, rockets, and laser beams you need to pump into most of the other Arsenals before they fall down.
This, of course, loops back into that feeling that you’re kind of underpowered, even when you’re getting through missions easily. It’s just such an odd design choice to give the player so much customisation, and then not reward them when they use it against enemies.
And now for arguably the worst part of Daemon X Machina: the story. We did find moments of fun and joy in the looting, customising and battling in this game, but we did not every time story reared its head here.
The premise of the game is rather simple: you’re a mercenary, you get money (credits) to fight AI robots, and there’s a mystery around the moon breaking apart and a type of energy source called Femto which your Arsenal can use in battle.
But from there it goes absolutely off the rails with the worst anime trope, over explained, needlessly complex tail that we’ve seen in a long time.
In the past we’ve avoided story beats to save readers from spoilers, but this time we’re doing it to save your time. If you’ve watched any piece of meandering media in the past – the one with overwhelming tropes, tired scifi concepts, and poor writing – then you can you’ve experienced the story in Daemon X Machina.
What’s worse is how much the game pushes it down your throat. At many points in this game it feels like a 50/50 split between actually playing and sitting through endless cutscenes.
Don’t like custscenes? Well the game can pester you in other ways. There’s also voiced text conversations to suffer through, as well as mission briefings. It’s absolutely absurd and annoying, and you’ll be reaching for the Skip button very soon after you start playing. Our only saving grace is that a skip button actually exists.
And that’s Daemon X Machina really. A mech game with disappointing mechs, a looter game with frustrating loot, and an anime story that absolutely insufferable.
You can have fun here at times, but those issues overwhelm the enjoyment and it walks away without a recommendation.
Daemon X Machina was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided to us