Ben's Top Mecha - Day 1: Armored Core 4

The Armored Core series is one that is pretty special to me. Long before Dark Souls was a thing, From Software was releasing these mech games seemingly non stop. With mecha design by Shoji Kawamori, (that's the guy who created many of the robots that would go on to become Transformers, like Optimus Prime, create the Macross Series, and even eventually pave the way for the whole "virtual idol" genre), it was a series unlike anything I had ever seen before. Ever since I was a little kid watching Power Rangers, mechs really interested me, and Armored Core was the first game that really let me feel like a pilot. It was a dream come true for me, but it was also one I had to wait many years to actually get into.

Getting Into the Series:

The very first time I heard of Armored Core was actually from my friend Ian. He's the guy who would eventually get me interested in series like Final Fantasy and .hack, but Armored Core in particular was one that sounded amazing from the get go. I didn't have a PlayStation 2 so I never expected to actually play it, but the way he described it at school sounded amazing. You could build your own mechs however you wanted them, swap out parts, give them different weapons, adjust their stats, color them, add decals, and so on. You got to do pretty much anything you want, and you then got to go out on missions where the pilot of said mech could actually die. That was shocking to me, and reminded me a lot of what I was watching on Toonami after school (that being Gundam The 08th MS Team). No other game I had seen came anywhere near that realism, and I wanted to be a part of it. (Although the whole dying thing did kinda scare me to be honest). It took awhile, but eventually I had my chance.

A year or so later, I graduated from 8th grade, and with my graduation money I bought a PlayStation 2. At the time I was more interested in playing Mega Man X8, but Armored Core 2 ended up being one of the first games I'd rent for the console. We had a new movie rental place open up in a town near by, and, unlike my local shop, they actually let you keep the games for a full week! This was perfect for a game like Armored Core. I rented the thing over the weekend when my parents were free to drive me up there, and then I spent all week playing it (summer vacation)! It was amazing. Very hard! But so amazing. I loved that game, and wished I could own it, but finding it wouldn't exactly be easy. So I ended up never owning it... Sure I did try to buy it when that movie store closed down, but they wanted an outstanding price from what I recall. Most titles were going for $80 bucks or more, so they just weren't worth buying. That being said, things did change about four years later.

When I finally got an Xbox 360, Armored Core 4 was one of the first games I bought. I remember giving the money to my dad so he could stop by GameStop on his way home from work, and when I handed him the piece of paper with the game's title on it, he thought I spelled it wrong. "It's Corp, not Core" he said, but of course he was the one who was actually wrong. I don't think the game was what he expected, but he picked it up for me that night, and I spent the whole night playing it. Of course the next day I'd go back to school and tell Ian all about it (just as he had told me about 2 all those years ago), but what happened next was kinda unexpected. The reason I ended up playing the game as much as I did...

I'm not sure how much later it was (maybe a week?), but one day during PE at school I screwed my back up. Bad... Really bad. We were playing baseball and I was in the outfield. The ball was hit in my direction, so I ran over to grab it as fast as I could, but when I spun around to throw it back towards home base something went wrong. My foot slipped and my leg went outward, my body twisted in ways it shouldn't, and I ended up throwing the ball in the completely wrong direction. Everyone looked at me and laughed like I was an idiot, but I really didn't care. The pain came fast, but it wasn't really bad enough for me to tell the teachers or anything -- so I just continued playing the game like normal. That was a big mistake. After running back home, and hitting the ball myself, I was dying. I couldn't move, couldn't breath, couldn't walk, couldn't sit, and just couldn't do anything. It was horrible. I ended up having to stay home from school, and the doctors weren't really able to do anything for me either. They basically told me to rest it, and that's really all I could do. So instead of going to my senior year's pep assembly at school, I was stuck home in my chair unable to move. Thankfully I had Armored Core 4.

So, why do I consider this one to be one of my favorite mecha games? Well, putting aside the nostalgia... It's everything I wanted from a mecha.

Armored Core 4:

While Armored Core 2 was pretty great, it was actually pretty limited in a lot of ways. It was on PS2 hardware so the stages could only be so big, and there were restrictions on what weapons could be equip to what arm. With AC4 however, all of that was pretty much stripped away. These mechs had full customization, they added extra "cosmetic" parts that you could equip that also slightly altered stats, there were different types of engines and what not you could install, you had reserve weapons, shoulder mounted weapons (one on each side), back mounted weapons, and you could fine tune the mech to fit your style perfectly. Wanted to have a high speed mech that duel wielded energy swords, and could doge so fast that your eyes can't possibly keep up with it's actual movement? That was doable! On the other hand you could also build mechs that were fully suited for flight, and that was something new for the series.

This time around, flying actually played a much larger role. Sure, you could be a grounded mech with only small bursts of flight available to you, but that would make things a lot harder. The levels in 4 were made at a much larger scale (compared to the PS2 games) with multiple layers to them. Often you had to fly up shafts inside buildings, or get to top of mountain ranges, and without the ability to truly fly, reaching such places was a challenge. Then there was the fact that you had a lot of enemies that could fly as well, and being on the ground simply put you at a disadvantage -- especially if you only had melee weapons with very limited range weapons in your reserves. While not everyone might have liked this change from older entries, I personally loved it.

The main campaign had a wide verity of challenging missions to undertake, the battle arena tasked you with rising through the ranks as you took on challenging bosses, and the local and online PVP modes let you put your own mechs to the test against other players. There was just so much to do in the game, and because of the deep customization, you seriously had millions of possible combinations for your mech. It was nearly impossible to run into someone who had the exact same build as you, and even if you did find someone with the same parts, it's unlikely they were tuned the same way yours was. The game was all about expressing yourself, and building your mech to suit your personal play style, and because of that you never really knew what you'd run into when you played the game online. It was always interesting to see what others had created, and it was always a challenge to come out on top in a fight. You always had to be at your best, and you had to know your mech's capabilities inside and out if you even wanted to stand a chance at fighting. It was a "hard core" PvP system that took a lot to get used to, but once you got into it, you were hooked (sadly PS3 players had their servers shut down early on).

These are just some of the reasons why I continued to come back to the game non stop, and why I was so excited when it's sequel "For Answer" was released. I simply couldn't get enough of Armored Core 4. However, while that game did improve on a lot of 4's features, it was also sadly a step back in a lot of ways. The co-op was great, sure, but the loading screens, and sometimes unfair missions really put me off. It was like every step forward that game made, there was also a step back. Even so, it did "replace" 4 for me, and was a game I'd continue to go back to until my Xbox 360 finally died.

Moving past AC4, I did actually enjoy ACV and AC Verdict Day as well, but they just weren't the same. They featured smaller mechs, and felt more like something out of Code Geass rather than Armored Core. The cool thing about them was the fact that they could move at high speeds and wall kick off of buildings to launch themselves in the air, but the down side was that actual flight combat and flight based missions were completely removed. The game also had a higher focus on being online with almost like an MMO styled structure, and that's something I missed out on with V. V's servers were shut down when VD became a thing, and I was late to the party for that too. While the servers were still going when I played through VD, they were no longer nearly as active as they once had been. Still I had fun with the game, but still wished it could've been better.

That being said, I still consider Armored Core 4 to be the best in the series, with the older titles still having their own charm as well. The Armored Core 3 series of games were titles I'd eventually go back and buy the moment I got the chance, and, despite being spoiled by 4, I actually really liked them. Each game in that series is pretty different from the last, and it was cool to see how things changed as time went on. (If only we'd get a remaster of them someday...)

So yeah, if you're interested in mecha at all, or like From Software's challenging games, then give Armored Core a shot. It's great.

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