Machina of the Planet Tree: Planet Ruler Review
Developer: Denneko Yuugi
Publisher: Sekai Project
Machina of the Planet Tree is a quaint little JRPG, and one that I genuinely struggle to describe in all seriousness without pointing out its genre. As its very conception, most basic of premise, and general narrative trappings are all so familiar to even somebody with so much as cursory experience with the genre. It is the story about a trio of young people travelling across a variety of locales, battling ravenous monsters along the way in search of discovering the sacred seals needs to supposedly stop a loosely described and foreshadowed big bad by the name of Apocalypse from, what else, bringing about an Apocalypse. It is a hockey storyline about the merits of humanity in spite of the negative things the collective whole has done due to the institutionalized means of progress that are perpetuated throughout an industrial revolution.
I honestly glossed over most of the story, and very little of it stuck with me as I gradually paced my way through the game. Its central characters, Cram, the straight man protagonist, Relta, the spunky cat girl, Esty, the demure and unemotional sort, and Chronos, an ancient robot glove worn by the protagonist, do manage to come off as fairly entertaining, albeit very tropey set of party members. Yet despite their regular banter between each other, so much else about the game comes off as being so familiar that it almost feels like a deliberate move on the behalf of the developers.
From the elite four of colorful subordinantes who support the unassuming big bad up, and an overly destructive villain that tries to be somewhat insightful, but may as well be one dimensional. Additional side characters exist, yet their purpose feels rather tertiary. Furthermore, everything is presented so directly, without a lot about this world or its history being properly shown to the player, as emphasized by how most of the game takes place in abstract dungeons that are disconnected from the small town setting the game starts in.
With regards to the gameplay though, Machina is far more unique and ambitious, even if I am almost certain that its core gameplay was lifted from one of several of the many oft forgotten JRPGs from the PS1 and PS2 generations. It is a turn based combat system centered around building up combos during each character’s turn, stringing together several attacks, or rather Arts, together as combos to deal increasingly high amounts of damage to enemies, while also discovering and subsequently exploiting their weaknesses.
It’s actually rather enjoyable, involving a lot of flashy and bombastic attacks unique to each character, while still managing to feel involved and expedient. Things are made more interesting thanks to the TP system, which allows characters to use extended and more powerful variant of each Art, or can be spent on more passive and restorative skills. However, the combat system is unfortunately hampered by two things.
You know how I said that exploiting enemy weaknesses was a major part of the combat? Well, most Arts possess a variety of attributes that may or may not correspond to enemy weaknesses, which leads to additional experimentation over what specific enemies are weak to. Except it is seldomly made clear what exactly an enemy is weak too, and in the few areas where enemy varieties are plentiful, it can be difficult to keep track of what each enemy is weak against, and what they resist, as there is no way to analyze or scan an enemy for weaknesses.
Secondly, Machina of the Planet Tree is not necessarily the best balanced game. It occupies this odd niche in difficulty where the game can be very easy if the player is able to dispatch all enemies before they can deal an attack on the three party members. Doing so is rather easy given the high damage output of the party members. Unfortunately, if the enemies have the opportunity to attack the party, it is entirely possible for them to kill a party member off in one or two hits, even if they are the proper level. Bosses follow this rule to a certain extent, though their higher HP often necessitates the use of healing abilities, most notably the passive Regenerate skill.
It’s all a somewhat sloppy yet enjoyable combat system that is enough to carry a game like this through its fairly short runtime, at least in theory. While Machina is a game that could easily be cleared within 10 hours, it is also one of the most egregious examples of materials farming I have ever seen. Equipment in Machina is restricted to two categories, accessories, of which there are only two types of, both of which are only available after the 90% mark of the game, and weapons. Weapons themselves are not found in a traditional sense, nor are they bought, but rather they are upgraded from broken husks into usable weapons by injecting them with materials.
That does not sound too bad, but the material distribution here is some of the worst I have ever seen. From weapons that require 50 materials when the player can only hold 99, RNG driven material harvesting spots, and many upgrades that require rare materials that in turn can only be obtained through specified grinding. In order to get nearly everything in Machina, it easily added another 4 hours to my playtime, and was about as dull and soul crushing as the game could manage, having me go through areas I already cleared, and running around in a circle in hopes of being blessed by the gods of RNG with rare drops. Needless to say, it sucks.
Furthermore, the game’s approach to weapon upgrading is needlessly confusing in the sense that the player can get duplicates of the same weapon, when each character has their own proprietary weapons, and the only useful thing to do with additional weapons is to sell them. Yet the only things to buy are healing items that are frequent enemy drops, overpriced common materials, and the aforementioned accessories, or rather accessory. It goes to exemplify this game’s lack of polish, and its presentation does that as well.
Machina of the Planet Tree is yet another RPG Maker title, and unlike many of the over games I covered that were made in the engine, Machina makes use of many of the pre-included assets of the engine, and bases a notable amount of its art direction around that style. From the design of the general world, which does not include a single unique or particularly memorable tileset, the monsters who are simultaneously heavily detailed and generic looking, and the UI that I find to be sloppy and garish, basing itself too heavily off of the aesthetically unappealing assets included with this user interface by default. Seriously RPG Maker, I really want to like you, but your wack resolution options and general aesthetic really make doing so far harder than it should be.
There is a significant amount of work done with original assets, with character sprites, some menus and backgrounds, and so forth all looking notably better than the stock RPG assets, while trying to maintain a similar enough style with them. I can certainly admire the dedication of that, and do believe that certain custom assets look rather good, ranging from character art, to sprite animation, to even certain backgrounds. It looks unrefined, and a bit messy when viewed as a whole, but is both effective and has a sort of lo-fi zero budget charm to it, while having visuals that aspire to be comparable to a DS or PSP title.
I can see quite a lot of potential in Machina of the Planet Tree: Planet Ruler, as just about everything it does has some merit. Yet its drab and overly familiar story, fixation on stock RPG Maker assets, and general lack of polish with its core gameplay mechanics make for a game that feels vehemently average, and overly typical as a JRPG. There is some fun to be had with its bombastic combat system, yet most of the things surrounding it fail to stand out in any meaningful way. It certainly provides a promising and interesting base for the developers of the game, but on its own, it is not particularly noteworthy.
On that note, a sequel is supposedly in production, and a demo was released in 2015. But the game’s switch to Unity has supposedly caused its development to falter considerably, and I have no idea if development is even ongoing at this point.