Normally, in the history of Armored Core, the subsequent releases within the numerical classification are broader in scope and obviously more polished. Master of Arena had a customisable AI setup called Ranker Mk, Silent Line had an organic learning AI and an enormous amount of parts. Yet all these improvements were off the base release that preceded it. Admittedly, I am selling the earlier games a tad short but compared to For Answer, the improvements were linearly obvious.
This cycle has been broken with the latest version as it’s evolved past its roots to a terrifying degree.
In previous games, there have been normally one instance where the player faces off against a larger MT that’s in its prototype stage. You normally only have one per game and in all honesty they weren’t all that big or that complicated to take down either. For Answer by contrast has seven unique Arms Forts with an additional three variations, totalling ten in all. All of which require bespoke strategies to enact their demise. They are also absolutely huge.
To clarify, one Arms Fort is a vast land based train that goes by the name of the Great Wall. It’s 7 kilometres long. You have to fly over its entire length in order to reach the entrance at its rear, only to speed back up its innards to take out the generator room. That’s quite a simple Arms Fort but still an epic endeavour and something that is wholly unique in the world of gaming. The sheer visceral thrill upon taking out something so malignantly monstrous is refreshingly palpable.
Unsurprisingly the work that went into creating these mobile fortresses was rather extensive, so much so in fact that For Answer also broke the mould yet again inregards to its creative background.
Previously, one man has been involved in the mecha design for Armored Core. That man was Shoji Kawamori, a monolithic figure in the world of anime having created the Macross saga and a sizeable portion of the Transformers lineage. Put simply, without Kawamori Armored Core wouldn’t be where it is today.
Which was why his absence on Armored Core 4 was something that hurt the series somewhat, as many associated Kawamori’s involvement as a necessary part of the process. Admittedly, the work of Yuzo Kojima was greatly appreciated and it was only fair that he be given a chance to flex his creative worth (as he had been a shadow mecha designer on the series for a good few iterations) but Kawamori needed to be involved.
Instead of having him create the entire parts list, as per the original games, From Software gave him one task; create the new version of White Glint. As this NEXT plays an iconic role in the game’s narrative. So having Kawamori return to the fold was a natural and obvious thing to do. Yet, he wasn’t the only mecha designer that got on-board.
Along with Kawamori, two other prominent mecha designers were hired. Specifically, to design certain Arms Forts. From Software also picked their designers quite carefully as the respective styles of Kazutaka Miyatake and Makoto Kobayashi fit the sheer scale of these immense structures.
To clarify, Miyatake created the design of the original Macross. This being the transformable spaceship that housed a city inside it. He also penned the massive amount of detail to make the structure seem believably huge. Having someone with this kind of talent design the “Stigro” Arms Fort was a stroke of genius.
Kobayashi on the other hand is also a man of fine detail, coupled with a practical sculptor’s gift. Of all the mecha designers in Japan, Kobayashi is one of the few that creates scratch built kits of his creations. He has garnered quite the name for himself in the Japanese modeling community for his attention to detail and sheer expertise. Having someone with this level of tactile understanding design the floating Arms Fort “Answerer” of impossible proportions seems fitting for a game where you would obviously functionally interact with it.
Even without these designers on board, the artistic proficiency within From Software has generated a huge amount of interest. With several non-gaming magazines going into great detail on the whole process (most notably of these being the animation mook, Animation Note, with this particular issue being available here).
Creatively, For Answer has set a new benchmark for the mecha genre of gaming. The only other series of games that has this amount of designer variation would be Super Robot Wars but that’s more a re-appropriation of what has gone before. Having unique designs created to flesh out a bleak yet epic dystopian future is definitely something that lifts the game above its peers.
All of the above, whilst impressive, are really only surface dressing for something quite functionally profound. For Answer isn’t just a simple continuation in terms of content, it positively antiquates what has gone before it.
To clarify, taking out huge mobile fortresses requires a design solution as to how you’d reach them without being shot to pieces. The mad but brilliant solution is the Vanguard Over Boost, a literal extension of the over boost functionality that debuted way back in Armored Core 2. The difference here is that you’ve got solid fuel rockets strapped to your back and it hurtles you forward at a terrifying speed. Not even Ace Combat 6, with its array of super sonic jet fighters comes close to the sheer insane velocity witnessed in For Answer.
Yet this is something that folds into the remainder of the game and could only make sense if the rest of the game tried to match this ratcheting up of functionality. In short, the whole game is blindingly quick and the player is placed in a position of unique potency that almost no games dare to offer (as the balancing is no mean feat).
Everything has been souped up, armor, boosting, weapons. It all feels as though this is what an AC should handle like. Even the new Assault Armor setup, where the player can purge their Primal Armor in a spherical detonation that obliterates almost anything within it’s radius, is something that when absent in earlier games is now almost inexcusable.
Armored Core is not meant for your average gamer. It’s built upon half a century of mecha mythos that is only beginning to show its true depth outside of its native Asia. For Answer absolutely will not convert those unfamiliar with its heritage, however for people who appreciate what is trying to be achieved here they’ll find a richly rewarding experience unlike any other in gaming.
[spoiler show=”Final Level Video”]