Reviews: Armored Core Master of Arena (10/10)

In terms of mecha gaming vintages, 1999 was definitely an exemplary year. From Omega Boost to Virtual On Oratorio Tangram, punters had access to some of the finest mecha games ever released. Then there was the final entry to the PlayStation Armored Core saga; Master of Arena.

In development for almost two years, the game had a substantial engine overhaul as well as some of the most revolutionary aspects the series had then seen. It was also a truly massive game and aptly named, as one whole disc (out of two) was solely dedicated to a new arena setup that had been introduced in the prior title, Project Phantasma. In short, it is simply one of the finest and best entries into the Armored Core series.

Following on from the previous games, especially the first, Master of Arena’s narrative was based around the resurgence of a Raven known as Hustler One who piloted the terrifying Nineball. Now at the end of the first game, this was revealed to be an AI controlled unit that did the bidding of an unseen but positively deified intelligence. Naturally, being a mecha pilot you riddled said AI avatar full of holes and, supposedly, brought an end to the machine god that pulled all the strings of future human society. Turns out, things weren’t that simple and pulling the plug did very little to undermine the plans of whatever was still in power.

Over the course of the game, the player would learn what Nineball truly was and that there were in fact scarier monsters lurking in the depths of our world. The missions themselves were subsequently quite polished and lean, making great pains to help bookend the narrative that had started in the first game. The missions were also substantially more of a challenge than those in the previous games.

The name of the game wasn’t just for show either, as most missions ended with an AC encounter and progressing further through the game meant you had to beat a certain number of separate arena opponents first. The big addition was the Ex Arena on the second disc, which featured a dizzying number of opponents. Many of which were tournament winners recreated in AI form. Compared to the relative walkover of the arena opponents in the previous game, the new Ex Arena antagonists were a lot tougher.

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However, the most intriguing and ultimately quite revolutionary feature that facilitated all this arena based arse kicking was the all new Ranker Mk mode. This basically allowed you to build your own AI AC from the ground up, using the same tools that were available to the development team.

So on top of having a very polished set of missions, a vast number of arena opponents you also had the ability to create your own roster of opponents. Despite the delay in its development, with the amount of game on offer it was worth the wait. This is not to say that all the core customisation and balancing hadn’t been reworked extensively either, as Master of Arena was one of the most visceral entries into the PSone saga.

Master of Arena’s legacy is then an important one. It took a risk in extending the development cycle to polish its core content, something that hasn’t really happened since, as well introducing a near limitless almost Carnage Heart-esque AI creation framework. In the case of the latter, this new AI setup fed into numerous games in the series since. All these reasons aside though, we still love Master of Arena for its reveal of Nineball Seraph and the subsequent squaring off against the player. Whilst Seraph has appeared in a fair few games since, we still have very fond memories of finally reaching the end of the mission with barely enough AP to take it down.

In summation, Master of Arena is one of the few defining mecha games that have shaped the genre. It’s also one of the few PSone games that have stood the test of time, remaining as playable today as it did when it was originally released. As such it is one of the few true mecha gaming classics and comes thoroughly recommended to the discerning gamer.

Tamashii: 10/10

In truth this is not the first time we’ve reviewed this game, as back near its release we also penned a similarly glowing review.

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6 Comments

  1. Do you think that FROM is seriusly thinking about a remake of PSOne games in this remake-age?

    On topic, as you said this was a really revolutionary game, but I wouldn’t give a 10 to it. Maybe a 9 or 9.5 from 10. May be nostalgia has a good role on this game, don’t you think so?

  2. One beef I always had with Project Phantasma was that none of the parts that were hidden in AC1 were available on a new game, so you didn’t have access to the Karasawa, Moonlight, or most of the other best parts in the game. Do you know if that was the case with Master of Arena as well? It’s one of the few games in the series I somehow managed to never play, but if I can’t get all the parts, I’m not going bother tracking it down on ebay. I don’t give a crap about Human Plus, which is just a cheat, but the parts are a different story altogether.

    1. You can unlock all the parts in MoA, they only thing you can’t get from the game are Plus and overweight. These have to be unlocked in the first game and then carried through.

      I don’t have any hang ups with either ability, as ultimately the series ended up making them default in AC4 and ACFA.

      I finished MoA with both setups too, as in with Plus and one without. If I’m honest, Plus was more fun.

    2. What you’re saying makes no sense. It’s like not wanting to watch one of the best Star Wars movies because TIE Fighters aren’t in it.

      It’ll probably take some time getting used to the old graphics, but I really suggest giving this game a whirl.

  3. I love this game! I haven’t played this maybe for at least 10 years, touching it maybe once in 2003 or 04, but I still remember Tallspot from the Arena, and how I got owned so badly by him that I had to bring it to the garage stage to beat him so he couldn’t hop so much. I still remember my AC design, it was the coolest I’ve ever made in any AC game since — it was based off of Grey Fox from MGS.

    And I don’t know if it was tournament winner designs, but I remember getting thoroughly spanked by an AI AC with plus, as it just hovered above raining down grenades.

  4. I only played this on an emulator a few years ago during my big AC kick (using a keyboard, which is probably why I resorted to savestates just before Nineball Seraph).

    Such a great, engaging game. I wish I got more enjoyment out of the Ranker Mk feature, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

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