For many, Last Raven was the last “real” Armored Core game before the paradigm shift of the next generation entries. It was also a brutally difficult and thoroughly exacting game, expecting nothing short of absolute concentration and a steely set of gaming skills in order for the player to survive. In short, Last Raven was a bit of a bastard (to find out how much of a bastard feel free to read our review of the PlayStation 2 original).
However, like bastards are prone to behaving; it was relatively fair. Almost every time the game spat out your charred robotic carcass onto the heap it was invariably your fault. You’d been too cocky and wasted too much ammo, only to have a Pulverizer introduce you to the business end of several rather terrifying weapons. With enough practice and forethought though, you could endure and eventually triumph.
In this PSP port though, there are problems. Quite serious ones in fact. Despite resolving the input framerate issue via a data install, the entire game is still balanced as it was in the original PlayStation 2 version. Except, this time, you don’t have a DualShock 2 to help you out.
The premise of Last Raven is that a final war has kicked off between the corporations and the mercenaries they used to hire to do their dirty work, the Ravens. Set over the course of 24 hours, the player treads the very treacherous path where the ultimate aim is for them to be the final Raven standing. All this is set against the background of ancient technology that can obliterate entire civilisations if it feels it’s having a bad day. The narrative, for the Japanese version at least, was also quite well wrought and featured multiple branching paths that shed interesting viewpoints on each of the characters and overall plot.
Last Raven also benefited from being, in many ways, the developmental zenith of the PS2 Armored Core games. As such, it was balanced for people who’d been playing the games since 1997. Saying it was a hard game should be obvious. This PSP port is, in many ways, a totally faithful reproduction of the PS2 original and this is where the main problem lies.
Unlike the PS2 original though, this PSP port lacks a Dual Shock 2 to play it with. This is a very real issue as being able to track airborne enemies quickly and efficinetly was entirely necessary to stay alive. Last Raven, like Nexus and Ninebreaker before it, also sported a full-blown dual analogue control setup to cater for this.
Put simply, the PSP physically lacks the necessary control inputs to allow the player to stay alive in many of the missions. Relative to the PS2 original (to which the PSP version is still maddeningly balanced against), this version is unimaginably difficult. Not an account of some carefully crafted mission scripting but instead due to the total lack of foresight that the PSP is not suited to the functional demands the original game expected.
Thankfully, the input framerate issue that hampered Armored Core 3 Portable so severely can be sidestepped through a data install. However, even with this most welcome concession, the core game needed another balance pass to suit its new control setup.
This is not to say that the game is impossible, as you can just about make it through the campaign and even take down the trickier enemies, such as Zinaida and the Final Pulveriser. The difference with this port though is that there are many times where the controls fail you and you end up being fried in your own mechanical juices. At least in the original when the game spat your AC back into its garage after a failed mission you knew that either through your own improving skill or a subtle configuration change you could succeed. This port is palpably unfair in comparisonand most players, even veterans, would be hard pressed to see much point in persevering.
Difficulty is necessary in gaming but it has to be tempered with objectives that are realistically and consistently manageable for most players. A learning curve is one thing, even a harsh one, but a random player death generator is very much another.
Even if you know nothing about Armored Core and/or never played the original Last Raven, this port would be infuriating for many. Simply because it makes wholly unrealistic demands of the player for most of the game. As such, Last Raven Portable is to be avoided unless of course you have actual robotic fingers.
This review was undertaken via the Japanese UMD release.