Way back in the gloomy depths of 1998, Banpresto decided to release their own third person action game. Utilising their mecha anime intellectual property licenses from the highly successful Super Robot Taisen series of games, it was called Real Robots Final Attack and was released on the PlayStation. It is also important to note that nobody bought it.
Around about the same time, From Software were in the process of releasing their second Armored Core game, called Armored Core Project Phantasma. The already large number of Armored Core fans pondered that a From Software version of Real Robots Final Attack would have been an amazing game. It took Banpresto almost eight years to figure this out (and now From Software are on their twelfth Armored Core, game in case anyone was wondering).
Another Century’s Episode (or simply ACE) is what Real Robots Final Attack should have been; more importantly the holy union between Banpresto and From Software is now a wondrous reality.
The game, much like Super Robot Taisen, features famous mecha from various equally famous anime TV shows, OAVs (original animated videos) and movies all battling it out in the same world. Unlike Super Robot Taisen however, ACE has the player directly control each mecha from a third person perspective. In short, you really are the pilot of each of the thirty eight playable mecha in the game (all of which are obviously varied in abilities and weapon load outs, faithful to each of their respective series).
If this alone wasn’t immense enough, each environment is massive and can be fully traversed with ease. You can walk around villages, all recreated to scale, fly up into the air and deal with multiple foes with several well placed melee moves and then dive into to the ocean just for the hell of it. Moreover, land based environments aren’t the only ones available – the player also has access to space based stages as well.
There are also an abundant number of missions that the game has to offer. The story mode has the player stomp through forty five separate missions (another two are unlocked after completion of the game). Almost all of these missions have a unique environment, many of which are faithfully recreated from the individual series the mecha come from.
Each mission has different objectives, some secret, and many aren’t the gung-ho antics that you would expect from a game such as this. In one mission, For example, Relena Peacecraft (a character from Gundam Wing) is giving an anti-war speech from a palace on an island. Naturally, the enemy forces are keen to silence Relena and dispense mecha to deal with the problem. You are ordered to defend her but there is one small problem: press helicopters are flying around the palace and you can’t be seen to be shooting down the enemy during an anti-war speech (it makes for bad PR apparently). Therefore, having to negotiate these mutually antagonistic mission objectives and traverse the environment quickly enough to deal with each enemy squadron is a far more cerebral affair than the button-mash-o-thon the genre is often famous for.
In terms of gameplay control, it’s very simple. You have a lock-on that can be scrolled between different targets, and upon closing the range to your opponent, melee moves become available. Movement is interesting though; there is a boost function that is turned on and off. With the boost switched off you can still move and the shots fired from your weapons will have a greater chance of connecting, but you are often a sitting duck and consequently will get pummelled by the enemy. When the boost is on you move faster but your shots can go astray. It’s a simple device, but works well and with practice you can learn the most effective ballistic arc whilst boosting. Negotiating land and space environments does differ somewhat though: on land losing and gaining altitude is undertaken via the shoulder buttons but in space you also have to keep track of your opponent with not only the altitude control but also the pitch of your mecha (the vertical inclination of scrolling up or down basically). It’s a sage implementation and again makes the game feel more akin to an easy flight simulator than just another mecha game.
Another Century’s Episode may appear a tad derivative, especially after the rather lacklustre Zone of Enders games and the considerably more impressive Omega Boost (the latter looks a tad dated visually these days), but the derivation is purely an intentional and utterly aesthetic one; it’s meant to be a mecha mega-mix of a game. A lot of love has been poured into ACE, from the insane level of visual attention to detail, making these mecha feel almost palpable to the famous set pieces faithfully recreated from each series (the climactic battle from L-Gaim being notably impressive). It’s clear to see that From Software – the custodians of quality real robot gaming in the form of the Armored Core series – know their stuff when it comes to mecha.