Before the days of the stoic Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, From Software was a niche developer nestled between regular releases of the mecha-action series Armored Core and the occasional oddball side project. Fifteen years ago, the developer released a game that blended its talents for mech combat and off-the-wall humor: Metal Wolf Chaos. Developed for the original Xbox, this action satire puts you in the role of the 47th President of the United States, Michael Wilson, who embarks on a high-octane trip across America fighting mech, soldier, and other machines of war following a coup led by vice president Richard Hawk.
Essentially a pastiche of action films, Saturday morning cartoons, and Japanese mecha anime, Metal Wolf Chaos pokes a lot of fun at American culture, embodied by the lead character who also happens to the leader of the free world. It's a setup that seemed like it would have made for a decent third-person shooter for the North American audience–however, it would never arrive in the West. The original Metal Wolf Chaos for the Xbox was a Japan-only release, positioned as a hardcore action game intended to attract new players to the system. Unfortunately, it wouldn't make much of a dent in the market, and its release came and went. Now in 2019, From Software and Devolver Digital have released Metal Wolf Chaos XD, a revival of the forgotten game for modern platforms. Out now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, it's not often to see a game that has lived a second life as an internet meme return for a third with a remaster.
What makes the circumstances surrounding Metal Wolf Chaos' original release so strange was that the intended audience for its ridiculous satire of American culture was, ironically, unable to play the game. From Software never provided an official reason as to why Metal Wolf Chaos never made it to the West. However, publishers at the time were already in the transitional phase for the upcoming Xbox 360, and the game's satire of terrorism and American culture on soon-to-be outdated hardware likely made it a tough sell. Developed on a budget and in under a year by 30 developers, Metal Wolf Chaos keeps things simple, leaning heavily on the over-the-top mech action with its revolving set of weaponry. President Wilson's trek across the country to restore the so-called American way of life is emphasized with his mantra of "believing in your own justice," which puts a certain gravitas behind the game.
In an interview with Destructoid, From Software producer Masanori Takeuchi described their approach to interpreting American culture, and how it was intended to attract both Western and Japanese audiences.
"It is America as perceived by the Japanese. It's completely fictional, but at the time, it was our idea of this ideology of American culture and comic book heroes, and we pieced that together and it became the president piloting the mech," Takeuchi said. "We think that when Japanese look at it that way, from the American point of view, it's almost like how they imagine a Japanese ninja, and sort of the same ideologies, the same kind of fantasy, so it goes two ways."
To put things into proper perspective, Metal Wolf Chaos is a political game–even when it focuses on fun. Its original release came during the height of Bush-era jingoism following the events of September 11, 2001 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The style and tone of Metal Wolf Chaos are all about America, and the main plot often comes across like a Hollywood fantasy. The lead character, the strongwilled and capable US president, takes matters into his own hands to fight back against the invasion of the country, taking advantage of America's ease of access to guns to do so. The game opens with the president of the United States piloting his mech, shouting "Let's Party!" as he faces off against Hawk's homegrown militia. From this intro alone, you know you're in for something of a farce. To play Metal Wolf Chaos is to contend with a barrage of one-liners, melodrama, and cheesy platitudes of what it means to be an American–and it does everything with the utmost sincerity. It's essentially a Japanese anime honed through an American fetishized lense crafted by Michael Bay.
Though North America missed out on the full game, some western players had the chance to try a short demo of the game thanks to the Official Xbox Magazine. With every issue, readers also received a complimentary demo disc. This particular disc featured a hidden demo for Metal Wolf Chaos, allowing players to jump into the game's early levels set in San Francisco. Unless you owned an imported Japanese Xbox or modified your system to play games region-free, this would be the only way for Western players to experience the game.
In the years since its release, Metal Wolf Chaos garnered a cult following in the West. This was due to the game receiving something of a revival in YouTube Let's Play videos and internet memes highlighting select moments. But in 2016, indie publisher Devovler Digital–who's past works included Hotline Miami and the Shadow Warrior reboot–reached out to From Software on Twitter, offering to get the game released in the West. Devolver even used the hashtag #FreeMetalWolf in their offer to the developer. After the tweet went viral, Devolver Digital and From Software began their collaboration on a remaster for modern consoles.
When compared to the original, Metal Wolf Chaos XD keeps things faithful to the original–low polycount and all. Some notable changes, however, include the upgraded resolution to play at 4K, along with a new save system, removing the original's notoriously taxing process. Metal Wolf Chaos is a pure action game, leaving most of its main story beats for mission bookends. It's a very low-budget game, and it shows. In a way, though, the low budget ends up creating an aesthetic that offers some added charm to Metal Wolf Chaos's ridiculous plot and mostly straightforward, objective-driven gameplay. In that regard, it fills that similar "so bizarre, it's good" space that Swery65's Deadly Premonition inhabited.
Playing through the game now, however, it's hard not to draw parallels with the events and storytelling tropes of the game and today's political climate. With homegrown terrorism, fascism, and propaganda on the rise, it can make some of the events of the game feel eerie–even when its story is totally absurd. Between levels, you're treated to breaking news segments from major news channels where your battles against the Hawk's militia are intentionally misconstrued and repackaged as propaganda. Essentially, fake news.
That's not to say Metal Wolf Chaos is prophetic. But rather, From Software had an awareness of the inherent ridiculousness of American jingoism in 2004 and the absurd results that it could foster. Though we don't have mechs in 2019, the level of overt patriotism on display in Metal Wolf Chaos isn't that foreign. Playing through this satire of American culture can be a fun trip down memory lane circa 2004. Yet, there's an interesting topic of discussion to be found in this game. In many ways, the tone and plot of this cult hit lands harder now then it did before–likely more than the creators ever imagined.