After 15 years, the satirical video game Metal Wolf Chaos XD is finally being released worldwide. Today its depiction of a crazed, militaristic America seems more prescient than ever, writes Sam Brooks.
In gaming, very few things are truly inaccessible. If someone knows there’s a game they might love, they’ll do their best to get it. Download it illegally, find a translation patch, or, in my case, buy a Playstation 2 from the United States so you can play games released there that never came out at home.
Metal Wolf Chaos is an exception to that rule. The game was released exclusively for the Xbox in Japan in 2004 – a weird enough choice as it is, given the console had almost no cut-through in that country – and created by the now-famous developer FromSoftware. Back then, the company was most known for the Armored Core series, and Metal Wolf Chaos was their attempt to help Microsoft tap into the Japanese market – American references through a Japanese lens.
Although the game was intended for a worldwide release, complete with a title that positioned it as a cousin of Metal Gear Solid, it never made its way out of Japan. When you look at the premise, you can, uh, kind of see why:
“By the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, the United States has plunged into a state of civil and economic unrest. During this time, Michael Wilson, a fictional relative of Woodrow Wilson, is serving as the 47th President of the United States. The military launches a coup d’état, led by Vice President Richard Hawk, and succeeds in gaining control of the nation’s government institutions. Wilson realizes he is the country’s last hope for freedom, and he dons a special mech developed in secret by the military to fight Hawk and the rebel forces.”
In a world that wasn’t that far removed from 9/11 and not even remotely removed from the Iraq War, you can imagine that a satirical look at the militaristic nature of the United States might not have been well received.
Enter Metal Wolf Chaos XD, a remastered version of the game 15 years after the fact, and the first time the game has (properly) hit stores outside of Japan. This is thanks to the critically acclaimed publisher Devolver Digital who have brought games like Hatoful Boyfriend (pigeon dating simulator) and My Friend Pedro (banana serial killer simulator) to our screens. In 2016, the developer reached out to FromSoftware and the original producer of Metal Wolf Chaos, Masenori Takeuchi, and offered to localize the game. Three years later, we’ve got it.
When reached via email to discuss the game, Takeuchi seemed unfazed by the game’s continued cult success. It frequently comes up in wishlists of games that people wish would be localized, likely because of its wild premise and assumed outlandishness.
“The game itself has only been released in Japan, but a lot of people got to watch game-play videos on YouTube,” he said (note: Takeuchi’s answers have been translated from Japanese into English). “Some prominent YouTubers saw that and found the game interesting enough to import a Japanese Xbox (original) and the game to play for themselves.
“I’m sure the unforgettable main character had some part of this as well.”
He’s not wrong there – the main character of the game is about as wild as you could possibly imagine a US president in a pre-Trump world. In the very first few moments of the game, Michael Wilson is sitting in a massive robot and mowing down army dissidents in the dozens. By the end of the introductory level, he’s responsible for more war crimes than the zombie Nazis in Wolfenstein. He’s loud, he’s brash, he kicks asses and takes liberties.
He’s what every conservative cartoonist thinks Trump is like, essentially.
Metal Wolf Chaos skewers America, and the hollowly patriotic Uncle-Sam-wants-you way it sells its military culture, more accurately than any game made in America ever could do. It’s a far cry from the propaganda of Call of Duty, and even from the Heart of Darkness homage Spec-Ops.
Takeuchi gives some pretty solid reasons for that: “For better or for worse, Japan has very strong ties with America on multiple fronts. A lot of Japanese people are interested in everything American, and are under the strong influence of that country.
“However, the countries are different, and sometimes America seems strange – I’m sure they look at us and think the same way. Japanese people do not have the positive and optimistic spirit that many American people have, and how American people tend to think things in a simpler manner is also something we do not have.”
The game plays on a lot of stereotypes that people have about American culture, which the developer recognises. ‘Freedom’ is used as a justification for pretty much everything, including those presidential war crimes. A government run news station – ‘the government policy promotion department’ – blames unemployment on an influx of immigration. As he boards Air Force One after shooting down scores of his own citizens, Michael Wilson is told to ‘believe in his own justice’.
Takeuchi puts the game’s thesis very simply: “It’s a view of America and its people from the perspective of a Japanese person.”
Having played a few hours of the game, it’s a fun enough time – a shooter from 15 years ago is going to have all the mechanical and control jankiness its age implies – but where the game really shines in how goddamned funny it is. Devolver Digital have put a lot of work and time into the localization of the game, and whether or not the script is identical to the release, it feels even more prescient than it did at the time. The writing isn’t necessarily Veep, but it commits to the ridiculousness of the presence and the voice cast are hamming it up so much they’ll be getting letters from PETA.
Strangely enough, Metal Wolf Chaos has turned from bizarre cult artefact into dead-on satire – if we needed a Doctor Strangelove for the Trump era, this is it. And there’s a cruel, bleak irony to the fact that this game, 15 years old, made in a foreign country, seems to be a more honest critique of American institutions that its own journalistic stalwarts seem capable of. “Trump Urges Unity vs Racism” anyone?
After the very first mission, Wilson’s chirpy, Kellyanne-esque secretary informs him that he has a conference and dinner party at the Japanese Embassy regarding wildlife protection.
The US president’s response is basically a Trump tweet with better grammar:
“I’m heading out to save America. Can you let them know I won’t be able to make it?”
Metal Wolf Chaos XD is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows.