Metal Saga

Much like Mom used to be able to take a plain pile of ground beef and mold it into a succulent meat loaf (with apologies to our vegetarian readers), so does tiny publisher Atlus take ho-hum role-playing gamesand turn them into masterpieces. Metal Saga is the latest in the company's line of games you wouldn't necessarily be excited for but should seriously consider checking out.

The world of Metal Saga is no utopian fairy tale by any stretch. The fact that it starts you in a village surrounded by a massive garbage dump is a good indication of the state of things. A computer designed to clean up the planet attempts insteadto destroy its every inhabitant. In the aftermath, your character decides to follow in his father's footsteps and become a hunter. After all, there's no shortage of baddies to take down. Sure, neither your mom, sister nor girlfriend is too happy with your decision, but it's not theirs to make.

Hunters take on dirty jobs, meet dirty people and make dirty money. Fortunately, they've got some decent technology on their side. For one thing, you end up getting vehicles to tool around the overworld in. They've got heavy armor and powerful weaponry, so you can afford to be a little more arrogant than those confined to foot travel.

Whether in or out of a vehicle, battles are traditional random-encounter, turn-based affairs. Special attacks that cost money to deploy and interesting monsters like a knife on a unicycle abound, but nobody will herald Metal Saga's combat as anything but cookie-cutter basic. Fortunately, the game makes up for this simplicity with its charm.

Dialogue is snarky and witty, without seeming like it's trying too hard. You'll be motivated to talk to everyday citizens multiple times. For example, you come across a tank in the junkyard. The first time you inspect it, you find out it's busted beyond repair. The second time, the game informs you, "Upon further inspection ... it's still a hunk of junk." The cast is full of life, even without spectacular character design or vibrant voiceovers. Make sure you pay a visit to Laura, the most beautiful brain in the world.