It’s the Fourth of July and what better way to celebrate this American holiday than with a lot of explosions, especially if you’re the President of the United States trying to save freedom from an evil Vice President. The good news? You’ve got a mech suit armed to the gills and enough ammo to wage a one man war against the enemies of America!
If that sounds insane, it is, but it’s all in good fun in From Software’s Metal Wolf Chaos. The studio now more famous for its Souls series delivering dungeon crawling humble pie to the action RPG crowd used to dabble in a lot of other things years earlier. Released in 2004 for the Xbox in Japan, this action blast ’em up put players in the shoes of President Michael Wilson, a distant relative of President Woodrow Wilson, who is overthrown in a coup d’etat by his villainous Vice President, Richard Hawk.
Richard manages to sway a large part of the military over to his side, Seven Days in May style only with super weapons like a giant spider tank armed with a microwave beam weapon of some kind. He’s acted swiftly to turn the United States into a prison to serve his power mad schemes doing things like sending Chicago residents to re-education camps, Miami citizens off into white slavery, draining the southwest of its resources, and generally making an ass out of himself. It’s up to the player as Michael to fight for freedom by traveling around the USA in his powered suit of mega armor, liberating cities and laying the smackdown on the rebels.
Story-wise, Metal Wolf Chaos easily comes off as satire in the same vein that Team America: World Police is (which, incidentally, was also released in the same year in theaters). Elements such as Michael Wilson hearing his father’s voice if the player shoots his statue outside of the White House (questioning his soul of America when he does so) to hiding Air Force One and an entire runway beneath the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial, to the President having his own power suit (and military background) just add to the humor. Altogether, it’s an intriguing look at America as seen through the lens of humor from another part of the world.
The bad news for English speakers is that the game is in Japanese — it never saw a release in the West outside of a small hidden demo in the Official Xbox Magazine’s 2004 holiday special. The good news is that the controls are fairly intuitive with a bit of trial and error. But more interestingly, all of the spoken dialogue is in English so that the story comes through regardless of whether or not you can read kanji. The subtitles and most of the in-game menu and briefing text are all in kanji but there’s enough English to get through and learn how everything is supposed to work. That along with a plethora of playthroughs and “how to” guides already available by other fans.
Action is seen in third-person and Metal Wolf, the codename for Michael Wilson’s alter ego, can dual wield a large number of weapons with a few requiring both hands to use effectively. Health is measured in blocks and is affected only after damage chews through Wolf’s regenerating shield. Wolf can jump, glide boost in the air or across the ground (thanks to a regenerating boost gauge), or just walk through most destructible props without being bothered.
Wolf can arm up to four weapons on both arms (with a few taking up a slot on both because they’re so huge) and flipping through each one is as easy as hitting the B button and using the triggers to sort through what’s there allowing for a variety of colorful wrecking options. Dual wielding missile launchers, a different type on both arms? Not a problem. Shotgun and pistol? Yup.
Aside from completing the major points in an area to progress, there are also bonuses such as rescuing citizens caged inside exploding jail cells or finding extra ammo, cash, or health in the wake of stomping through cargo containers, humvees, or in taking down giant watchtowers. Big boss encounters often wait at the end of each zone, especially at the end of the game when you go up against Richard Hawk in his own powered suit of mayhem in orbit over the United States for the big finish.
Players can also repeat completed missions in order to find any citizens that they may have missed the first time around, bonuses, and grind up cash that they can use to research new weapons by investing in one of the several categories available. Investing is only the first step, however, as players also have to make sure they have the cash with which to actually make the weapons they’ve researched.
The game can also be quite challenging, especially early on without having a lot of weapons at your disposal, Weapons are limited in ammo and with so many targets, can be tough to find drops that can keep your bullet belts fed and missiles warm.
Each area also carries over elements from From Software’s Otogi series with the level of destructibility that can be visited on them from San Francisco’s Chinatown (The solution to stopping an enemy attack? Utterly destroy a multimillion dollar tourst attraction, of course) to Miami Beach and the enemy weapons perched on the seashore. Metal Wolf will blow through fences, annihilate innocent cars parked on the streets, bring down buildings, smash signs, and leave a wake of destruction that would leave FEMA shivering in a cold sweat at night. And of course, there are explosions — juicy ones that even Chuck Norris would approve.
It’s a bit of a mystery why Metal Wolf Chaos was never ported over to the West. As an action game, it’s an amazingly solid and fun blast ’em up coupled with an interesting upgrade system, exciting challenges, and a lot of weapons to try out in From Software’s uber patriotic playground. At the same time, not everyone might find this satirical look quite as entertaining — after all, the Yakuza series had also suffered its own bouts of self-censorship with parts of its games removed because there was concern that they were too Japanese for Western audiences. Then again, not every Japanese title makes over to the West for whatever reason, a familiar refrain stretching back decades.
Today, copies of Metal Wolf Chaos can be found floating for sale in places ranging from Amazon’s marketplace to Ebay. New copies can command prices well north of $200 USD while used ones are considerably less. There was even the game’s soundtrack, The President’s Spirit, that went with the game with its own separate, patriotically designed case with the American flag emblazoned all over it.
Metal Wolf Chaos is an amazing classic on several levels — fast action, over-the-top humor, and plenty of reasons to replay the game. If you’re in need of 100% USDA graded, tongue-in-cheek patriotism, and don’t mind spending a bit of coin to get there (or can find a great deal), Metal Wolf Chaos effortlessly delivers everything that that the Electoral College can’t with the fury of its own justice.