Daemon X Machina doesn’t give you a lot to go on at first. The mecha action game opens with a shot of the moon shattering — its contents spilling across the surface of its anchored Earth. That’s… about it. You’re whisked into character customization to build a mute pilot. To its credit, Daemon X Machina joins a growing surge of games where voices, hair style, and body types aren’t locked according to gender. Although it does phrase the two body types as “male” and “female.” My silent and decidedly non-binary protagonist didn’t have time or the lines to explain how their world works, though. That’s left up to the rest of the cast.
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This is what has me hooked on Daemon X Machina so far. I absolutely love the ragtag mercenary bands you’re thrown into the fray behind, as the latest rookie among world-saving mech pilots. I don’t just love the cast because each member is colorful. They are, though! It’s a gaggle of sycophantic anime girls, and kind but straight-laced veterans — of workaday siblings just trying to survive, and nobles in the robot-killing business for the glory.
But part of what’s so interesting about mecha fiction is that it’s custom-built for this kind of variety. Mechs can be an outward expression: extensions of body and soul, sculpted and controlled by their pilots. They’re also a commentary. Mobile Suit Gundam in particular uses them as code for real-life war machines. Sometimes the walking weapons are made to look cool, in order to package up and sell war to the masses. Other times they’re just a twisted inversion of life made to bring death as efficiently as possible. They’re machine guns with faces.
Despite how slow it teases out its story, Daemon X Machina makes it immediately clear which series it draws influence from. Your handy A.I. helper is named “Four,” which immediately brings to mind another character from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Your pilot wears cyber duds called a Plugsuit: an even more obvious reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion. There’s plenty of other stuff — not to mention that Daemon X Machina is made by some of the people behind Armored Core, a beloved but dormant series of mech action games.
What to Do When the Moon Falls on You
And Daemon X Machina understands its source material. It’s a pastiche, but gives its constituent parts time to breathe. You might even argue the game is a bit too slow. Fourteen story missions in, and I still don’t quite get what’s happening. Corporations at war over dwindling resources; evil A.I. have taken over most of the planet; a bad robot is biding its time to do… something. It’s not a lot to go on, sure, but it’s a good backdrop to make various mercenary companies trade philosophies.
Those philosophies are pretty interesting, too. The conglomerates pit their meat against each other for profit and worldwide games the rank and file aren’t privy to. Money is the main incentive; everybody needs to eat. Although one faction has a 400-year prison sentence they need to reduce by completing dangerous missions. Several players don’t care about what their employers get up to, so long as they pay out, but others aren’t happy to be pawns in a game for world domination. Just as one pilot reveals they’re happy to use the corporations as the lesser evil — a way to preserve knowledge from the old world that would otherwise be lost to sentient machines — another character says they’re only in it to impress their boss.
It gets pretty over the top sometimes. Yet none of it feels out of place. There’s even a whole spectrum of body types, skin tones, and ages to further refract the different personalities. And I just love it. I adore the juicy drama that bubbles out when their material and moral needs clash. I wish my character could talk, too; I always wish that. But there’s no shortage of high-minded philosophy and boots-on-the-ground necessity weaving together. That’s what I love about mechs.
I Love My Weird Friends Who Try to Kill Me
The shooting, looting, and air-to-air combat? That’s good, too! It’s gotten a little repetitive, but taking down swarms of A.I. has a satisfying ka-chunk to it. My Arsenal (the Daemon X Machina name for giant robots) skates and flies around with weight and speed. Then, when I get back to my hangar, there are numbers to tweak with scavenged parts and researched weapons.
That’s when the game reminds me the most of Armored Core. Fiddling with my build lets me play the way I like. At the moment, that means leg mods that make me recharge my boosters faster when I’m on the ground. I get to bunny hop from objective to objective, then blow them away with lock-on missiles and assault rifle fire. Yes, the game understands that these war machines are nightmares, but it doesn’t manifest that by making them a hassle to use. I get to have my cake and eat it, too.
Because after every zippy mission, there’s a grizzled veteran there to reveal some new wrinkle to the plot — some new view on the world at large. That’s all the incentive I need to reach out for the next mission.