I’ve been planning to play though a good portion of the Armored Core library for awhile now and now that the seal is broke, I probably won’t stop until I’m done with AC3 (I want to play AC4 and For Answer but lacking a machine that can do PS3 emulation, I’ll need to track down physical copies so… who knows when that’ll happen). But instead of waiting to finish the 3rd Gen of games (which… might be as many games as I’ve played so far), I figured I’d write about AC1 and 2 as they make up the first “universe” of Armored Core.
So right now I’ll be talking about Armored Core, Master of Arena, Armored Core 2, and Another Age, skipping only Project Phantasm (which seemed good but MoA was the more ‘must play’ entry) and about half of AA.
Armored Core (PSX)
Why did I not get this game when I was like 14? Bleak yet fun, clunky in the right ways, and so many options I would have played with if I was 20 years youngers. A game almost every AC fan tells new players to skip and foolishly!
I’m going to try to and avoid turning my journals into reviews ago. You probably know how AC works, and if you don’t check elsewhere. I just want to talk about what stuck out to me…
First, the utter bleakness. The first two missions give you the choice between “Eliminate Squatters” and “Eliminate Strikers”. These aren’t “in universe terms”. These are people squatting in a building and striking workers. With mechs, but whatever. The game immediately has the corrupt corporations that run the Earth to partake in unethical and unnecessarily lethal behavior. While the game is never so on the nose after that, it sets the tone and sets you up read between the lines as Murokumo and Chrome bicker about the other while trying to make themselves look innocent. But you’re a mercenary, you don’t care.
I also liked how the subtle priority you give to missions dictates which corporation wins in the end. While the plot leaves no true winners in the end, it adds a lot to the flavor. As does other things like how bits of the plot is revealed in emails, or the ranking system of Ravens, seeing lists of pilots and ACs that you might encounter in future missions.
The Human Plus event is horridly bleak and a great balancing mechanic. If you go into crippling debt, you sell your boy to medical experiments, losing your name but getting superhuman piloting powers. The game even hints that this is how most “volunteers” end up in the program.
The game is kinda ugly, even by PSX standards, but holds up more clearly than King’s Field (which I also love). But it’s ugly in an APPEALING way I wouldn’t want to see changed.
The game ends with a brutal, tedious, awful, save state demanding mission where you realize the top ranked Raven is none other than a Computer AI that is controlling the world. The computer begs you to stop. “Go back…it is not too late… …What is your wish? …Come no closer.“
Once you destroy critically damage it, it accepts it’s fate
“You are to destroy order? Destroy the world? Is that what you want?
We were needed, that is why were born. People cannot live without Order, even if it is a lie.
Go on living, Raven. You or I… which one of us was ultimately right? You have the right and duty to find that out.”
Armored Core: Master of Arena (PSX)
Master of Arena is strange in the original AC continuity. It serves as an alternative retelling of the original Armored Core. The Raven mercenary rank listing has been replaced with an Arena system where you can challenge those above you to reach “Nine Ball/Hustler One” (the AI in the original AC) to get revenge for killing your family.
Despite being a retelling, you can import your save from AC1. This hits into a problem with both AC1 and 2. Once you have what works for you, there isn’t much to tinker with. There could be such a thing as mission specific loadouts, but the game is never clear enough with you what you might want to bring. It also doesn’t help that some bits of equipment seem to just outclass everything. I found myself almost always running Karasawa and Moonlight Blade (Yes, that Moonlight) on a medium mech with only slight tweaks in exact arm and leg models through most of Master of Arena.
Still it was a lot of fun. The missions felt way more diverse. The way the game would suspend your arena license for plot reasons to make you do normal missions worked very well. The game also has an entire second disk of arena matches I Didn’t touch but would have entertained me for hours as a kid. It had arenas operated by weight classes to try and encourage build variety and using every leg type.
The twist (your operator being an AI/Huster One) wasn’t really much of a twist since you assumedly played AC1, but the fight is much much more intense, compared to the almost sad, deflating ending of the original.
The AI’s message to you is a little different, but it drops another line that will be important later.
“Those who wield too much power…those who only bring chaos…they are simply not part of the program.”
Armored Core 2 (PS2)
I loaded up Armored Core 2 thinking ‘wow, finally, I Can use analog sticks’! When that didn’t work, I went googling to find that, to my disbelief, Armored Core didn’t get analog support until deep into AC3!
That said, upon playing the game, the difference in controls were immediately transparent. The camera and aiming reticle just worked nicer and movement felt great. It was still largely the same game. Oddly, it might have actually ended up feeling smaller than AC1. Less big sprawling maps of underground complexes and more almost cramped arenas.
Mechanical changes were a mixed bag. Overboosting could be fun but felt extremely impractical and I absolutely hated the exact implementation of the heat mechanic, which is like some weird Dark Souls esque poison system. But that all didn’t matter compared to how much nicer the game felt to move in.
Karasawa still dominated the game for me. Apparently this was it’s most powerful incarnation. As such my builds were pretty stagnant, but still fun. The missions, while often simpler, were much punchier. It made it easier to go through missions, knowing I wasn’t going to walk into some massive 20 minute mission like I would sometimes in AC1.
Most of the story didn’t stick with me too much. A much more diverse version of the cooperate rivalry in AC1. But the villain Leos Klein, stood out. Klein is implied to be the your character from AC1. The most striking part of this feeds into how his lines echo Nine Ball.
“We all make mistakes. Don’t you think, Raven? We humans need strict supervision. We cannot live on our own. A state dedicated solely to Ravens… I’m a realist, not some fool. All that I’ve wanted to do was to revive the ways of old…”
When the computer asked the Raven in AC1 “which of us was right?”, Klein’s ultimate answer was that it was Nine Ball. That his actions were a mistake. That he has to… crash… Phobos into Mars to… bring back the old ways with Martian technology? I’m not sure how this was supposed to work but the message was clear.
But upon defeating him, he tells you how to stop Phobos. Nine Ball and Leos, as Ravens, both respect strength as the ultimate authority. You were victorious… so as Nine Ball cedes gracefully to Leos, Leos cedes to you. There is a whole lot of little thematic details in the story about the destabilizing effect of personal strength… that people as strong as you are dangerous for the world… and they’re probably right.
Armored Core 2: Another Age
To keep this short, I didn’t finish Another Age. Another Age is exactly the type of product I would have wanted when AC2 came out. Just an ABSURD amount of content, over 100 missions. Easy structure to see progress with. Missions tend to be more repetitive, but it’s more missions to use with your cool mech! I played abouth a 5th of the way through and decided it was time for AC3.
So if you’re replaying Armored Core now, it might merit a skip, but every missions would have been a precious gift to 18 year old me.
All and all, so far I’m having a ton of fun. AC3 is going slowly but well, and I expect to write stuff up again once I finish it and Silent Line.