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Reviews: Another Century’s Episode R (5/10)

Posted on : 26-08-2010 | By : | In : Reviews



Banpresto have a pretty sketchy record when it comes to mecha action games. After numerous botched attempts they did the smart thing and hired From Software to helm a series of mecha games called Another Century’s Episode. Linked in spirit to Banpresto’s turnbased strategy focused Super Robot Wars series, it featured multiple mecha from disparate mecha series in an action game context all high fiving for the win. Of the three games that were released on the PlayStation 2, it’s hard to find fault with any of them. From Software knew what they were doing and had finally been allowed into the playground where all the cool mecha toys were kept, so the results were obviously rather wonderful.

When ACE:R was announced, there was a sizeable amount and quite justifiable excitement over the game. As this would be the first entry to be in HD on a new and more powerful console. However, as this was meant as “rebirth” Banpresto mistakenly involved the SRW team on the production, most probably to bring the two massive franchises into a closer alignment – or some such mind numbingly stupid corporate agenda. The outcome is something rather unfortunate indeed.

Before I delve into ACE:R it’s worth clarifying what made the first three ACE games such great fun to play. Despite being based around a variety of very specific mecha licenses, each of which had esoteric nuances of their own, From Software picked a functional middle ground and then riffed off that for each series. This meant the core of the game had to give a large amount of control to the player to make the pop-cultural nods to various anime series work.

This transpired via a a two tiered combat setup, you could either fly around and shoot with greater accuracy or initiate a boost dash that limited your turning rate and forced you to find a good ballistic arc on your shots. Couple with this the ability to do quick lateral boosts for dodging, which also fed into your boost gauge, meant you you had lots of movement options at your disposal and a very fluid animation system that could be interrupted at any point. Added to all this was the fact that all your weapons were active on start of each mission and whilst often infinite in ammunition they had to be managed in terms of their reload rates.

The last aspect of the older ACE games was the camera setup, as it allowed you to not only look at your mecha from any angle in game but also aid in what targets you wanted to select. You literally would reposition the camera towards an enemy and select it directly.

As the games progressed, the boost dash became more nuanced as dashing directly past an enemy would put you at a disadvantage as it would turn the mecha around and have you boost backwards at a slower rate – leaving you vulnerable to attack. The weapons also became more numerous per unit and easier to manage. Not to mention the wonderful aspect of having in-game cel shaded characters from the respective series to ground the respective licenses in their host anime.

All of the above is now pretty much absent from ACE:R.

In place of the original boost dash is a new approach that only really allows the player to cover distances quickly, you can’t fire your weapons during this now and the animation delay means you have to gauge when to release the dash – otherwise you’ll often over shoot a target. This means the only real way to initiate combat is via the non-boosting mode of movement, which leaves you vulnerable (as it did in the original games). To make matters more awkward, doing quick boosts isn’t a simple matter of just flicking the left analogue stick but a combination of a direction and pressing the X button. Couple this with an appalling lack of feedback on how many times you can quick dash without being left prone, originally you just had to manage a boost gauge but now you have to second guess the mecha’s animation instead, makes the whole aspect of movement very frustrating. Just the basics of moving around the environment have been become very restrictive, to the extent the changes feel wholly necessary. There is a new shield option, that negates most ranged attacks from enemies, but this is something that doesn’t work very well as the game doesn’t really message the types of attacks which will actually cause you damage.

Apart from the neutered approach to movement, the game now drastically limits each of your weapons in terms of their usage. This is the down to a new “Tension” system that fills up when you use your very basic (read: awfully weak) range weapon or close-combat. Each time a bar is filled that unlocks other attacks, the more bars you have available the more powerful attacks you can use. This is one of those design decisions that, on paper, sounds brilliant but in reality is not too dissimilar to nailing your gentleman vegetables to a wall.

To clarify, each mecha has its signature attacks and weapons effectively locked-out from use from the start of each mission. To make matters worse, in order to have enough tension bars available you need to upgrade the new pilots stats. So not only does the game deny you much of the combat variance from the off but it also expects the player to grind away before they can even use them effectively.

There are also awful interface decisions with the tension system too, as each panel has to be scrolled through to reach the different attacks. This means you can often have one or more panels that act as a deadzone to reach the attack you want. This is in stark contrast to the original games’ approach, where all the attacks were directly available.

The final element that really ruins this game is down to how it deals with mecha transformation and consequent control knock on that now affects the game camera. Specifically, someone played Artdink’s recent Macross PSP games and decided to copy the controls that mapped the transformation to a direction input on the analogue nub. This worked brilliantly on the PSP as you could pick any mode of your variable fighter with a simple directional flick. This functionality is now present in ACE:R for all mecha that transform, but the controls have been mapped to the right analogue stick instead of the d-pad. This means the camera control, that facilitated the specific lock-on to enemies is now absent – as it now needs a combination input (with L2) and it has look spring not to mention reverting back to your orientated view when released, which is just awkward. What transpires is a nightmarish selection of lock-on options, none of which let you really pick the target you want during game.

Annoyingly, the transformation setup also massively limits the usage of the mecha modes of most of the mecha now too – with the Macross Frontier units being notable. This is down to the change in setup for units that don’t hover in their respective series. Meaning that the player has to manually maintain altitude via the shoulder buttons. In addition, the armored variants from Macross Frontier can’t be used on the ground based stages in the game – something that was dropped in the last ACE game on the PS2 as it was just annoying (despite being accurate to the series in question). Not being able to freely fly around in battroid mode, like the older games, is just idiotic too.

Overall then the game is a functional mess and whilst playable it’s not really enjoyable as the overt restrictions make it very frustrating – simply because you never truly feel in control of the mecha you’ve selected.

The presentation is also pretty budget too, as inter-mission narrative segments look as though they were lifted straight from SRW XO and they lack any kind of spoken dialogue. The in-game cut-scenes are also criminally long and the character animation on the face, when shown as a thumbnail in the corners of the screen, is just laughable. As all they do is generically move their mouths without actually being in-sync with the speech. Again, all this being in stark contrast to the previous two games where entire characters were rendered and animated in cel-shaded 3D models. To add insult to injury, vast swathes of these awful cut-scenes are unskippable and accompanied by the catchy notification of “not skip movie”.

The thing about all these changes, is that many of them feel SRW induced. From the tension system, to the grinding of pilot stats and the annoying menu system in the game’s front end; it’s all very out of place. The biggest tell tale sign though is the emphasis on long and rigid animations. In that the game, to look at at least, appears dynamic and impressive but when you actually play it is just plain unwieldy. Even the overtly generic quick dash “teleport” animation that all the mecha use seems like the unavoidable concession From Software had to make in order to fit in all the verbose melee animations (this being a criminal waste, as the original games had wonderful and unique animations for each of the mecha – which gave them character and helped to cement them in the mythos their host series had created).

The sad thing is that ACE:R has sold very well already, almost guaranteeing further sequels. However, Banpresto need to realise that the sales stemmed from the genuine quality of the three previous games and not this one. Considering the pretty widespread gamer dissatisfaction with the game, here’s hoping Banpresto step away from the series and let From Software do their jobs again.

Tamashii: 5/10

Final Boss


Comments (27)

Thanks for the review Cacophanus.

Btw, frustrating is misspelled in the review. Just do a search for : “aspect of movement very frsutrating”.

Too bad about this, but you sound very sure this is the SRW’s teams fault. Couldn’t the mistake have been joint, like some of those bad ideas you listed was from the FROM team, such as the copying of Macross Frontier transformation controls? I don’t know too much about it, but I think some blame needs to be put on the FROM guys for letting it happen.

I kinda wish I read the review before I got the game. But yeah It’s pretty accurate. Might try to unlock some things, in the game then, back to Gundam 0081 for me.

0081 FTW!

After watching some gameplay videos, I think your review is very accurate. But now that a lot of us aren´t going to buy this game, can you upload some Nineball’s videos in this game? I think he’s a little exception here 😛
Thanks for the review, very nice.

Epic Fail on the “Final Boss” vid, when Lelouch uses the Geass. I guess that those who have seen the anime will know why.

I actually just received my copy today, and I have to say, I’m disappointed, though I will still get as much enjoyment out of it as possible.

I think you’re inference that the SRW team is mostly responsible for the problems in the game is probably more warranted than most would want to believe. I would say that at least we got the OG units out of it, if it weren’t for the fact that due to the control changes, I can’t even really enjoy using two of them. Cybuster is still fun, but Alteisen is heavy and bulky in all the wrong ways, and ART-1 feels rediculously overpowered due to what appears to be a significant programming oversight.

Also, there’s the point glitch that completely nullifies the need to grind for mechs, but feels cheap and detracts from the enjoyment of getting progressively stronger. In addition, there are times when even using the super-buffed units (yes, I cheated) still results in a failed mission because it feels like I can’t control the mech.
All in all, those are some more general complaints, but I could go on for hours about more specific stuff like the Alphato’s (?) multiple modes or the easily abused support skills, but that’s all unnecessary.

Overall, a good review of a mediocre game.

What have they done to one of my fav mecha game series!? what a total let down, I thought this was going to be mecha game of the year, but looks like it will be the worst.

Not a great year for console mecha games, I was very dissapointed with how Lost Planet 2 turned out to be and now this, Front Mission Devolved has been giving me bad vibes since I’ve seen it, so no hope there.

I can only hope From Software redeem themselves with AC5, without the SRW team in there way, that game “should” be class.

Surely for the next ACE game they should just let From Software do there thing, it is true most people bought this of the success of ACE 3.

Sometimes it only takes one mediocre release to kill a franchise *cough DMC2* much like the follow up to that, the next ACE game will have to be on point, or I fear thats a wrap.

About AC5… Any news on it?

Rumour is that it will be playable at this year’s TGS.

Sad to hear about this…I had heard great things about the previous ACE games, and had hopes for this one.

@Son of Chronos–it sure seems that way. I’m torn about trying out LP2, but I’ll give FM:E the benefit of a doubt–probably a rental first and decide whether it’s a piece of @*!$ or not.

As it is, the only mecha game I’m playing with any regularity is MACROSS: ULTIMATE FRONTIER (and that came out in 2009!!).

[…] inseriamo un video tratto da una bella recensione che Mechadamashi ha pubblicato nei giorni […]

Thanks for the review! Sounds like it was a little heartbreaking for you to do though.
Marc, Give LP2 a chance it’s pretty fun. I’m looking forward to giving FM:E a chance as well.
Plus there’s Macross Trial Frontier to look forward to. Even if it’s only an HD version of the PSP games I’m in!

Compared to ACE 2 and 3, how does the level design compare?

Very similar to ACE3’s plain environments, so not great really. There are a few more complex areas but nothing that brilliant.

I felt very disappointed, The Price is too high but the gameplay is so boring

Oh dammit! It’s like game companies want everyone to long for the halcyon days of the PS2 and turn away from the current generation.

It’s not a case of everything being bad- that’s just not true- it’s a case of too many disappointments. Granted, it’s still looks good enough to grab secondhand, but ACE is better than that. Heck, it’s COOLER than that.

Honestly, the game is pretty darn cool, they actually change things around and make the games more than a glorified 3D shooter. And it actually has a steep learning curve for once, unlike the other ACEs.

You guys are judging too much on the review rather than trying the game yourself.

Having had the chance to play through the game a few times now, I have to say that it is enjoyable, but it is a very different experience from the previous games. I would go so far as to call this game “Super Robot Wars: Active Combat Experience” (sorry if that seems a bit lame as a title). It really does feel like the SRW team had more say in this than they should have, but it isn’t as different in terms of balance. Macross units are still a bit overpowered due to multi-lock missiles and high mobility, whereas Gundams and the Aquarion are less effective due to their lower mobility and weaker crowd control.

There are a lot of things in this game that could be done well in a future game in the series, like pilot switching, the new combo attack system, multiple campaigns, and even the tension system for the overdrive abilities like Suzaku’s “Live On” command or the SEED mode, since the last few games mostly let you use stuff like Nirvash’s Amita Drive or Original Layzner’s V-MAX only when you were almost dead, but there are system differences that make for a less impressive game overall. Weapons need ammo, you need access to all your tools quickly (or at least pause the action for a quarter second, like ZOE2 or Bioshock), and the long-range boost should be accessible in all modes. Oh, and hovering needs fixed.

I just doesn’t feel much like an ACE game, even if it is still fun after the initial difficulty of not being able to plan ahead. And I STILL want the Xi Gundam and Penelope, dang it.

Oh, and the third to last mission being a glorified unskippable cutscene, regardless of whether or not it may be awesome, is absolutely ridiculous and not cool. And the animation of characters, especially in that stage, is just abysmal.

Seriously, you can play that stage by picking a unit and setting the controller down to go get a stiff drink.

5/10 is too generous
I’d rate 1/10 for ruining a potentially great game by fucking retarded controls and camera angle. And we all know from software is good at doing mech games way back since playstation era,all the blame goes to SRW team. I’m still raging right now for getting such crap with such a high price

That hypocrisy.

God, had only I read this sooner. I unlocked every damn unit in this game only for the satisfaction of having done so. This game really was a fucking disappointment. I thought ACE gave equal representation, but in this game Macross literally controls the story with their characters everywhere and units being overpowered with missile spamming. Not only that, but the stats system really didn’t belong and was severely flawed along with the tension and just the damn controls overall. Just a waste of money overall.

I understand very little Japanese. My question is aside from understanding the story, will I be able to navigate easily through menus, customisation screens and have a general idea of what I have to do to complete a mission?

Thanks in advance.

I don’t really know why you guys seem to take this game negatively. I played all three PS2 games along with this and I have to say, despite the over-abundance of Macross Frontier characters (they appear in nearly EVERY mission) this game is more fast-paced and has more modern franchises than it’s prequels. I know some changes made for the game, I too was bugged by it until I get used to it. I also get the infinite ammo and Tension gauge thing, but it justifies the fact that all the basic weapons are weak as hell and all you do is to continuously pound your enemies to gain access on more powerful weapons. At least, you can still strafe while shooting unlike the garbage that is Gundam Memories: Tatakai no Kioku. I wish I can get my hands on ACE Portable soon.

ACE Portable is absolute crap, I’m sorry.

Not really…

No, yeah, really.

[…] since, Orguss has partly dropped off the radar. Though this all changed when it was included in Another Century’s Episode R and Super Robot Wars Z, with it actually being integral to the narrative of the […]

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