I played 15 of From Software's HARDEST games

I played 15 of From Software's HARDEST games

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All the way back in 2016, we learned that a new Armored Core game was in the works. So back then I thought.."man..I really should go and play all the old Armored Core games. I need to understand why people love this series. How many games could there even be?

5? 6?" But then I realised the truth. There are 15 unique Armored Core games. And that's not even counting the 3 PSP remakes, or the multiple discs some of these games have. Not to mention the arena modes. The branching mission paths. Hard mode, NG+, optional objectives, the lore that makes even my head spin - These are complex, challenging, and extremely intricate games. And while they never really hit mainstream appeal, it was Armored Core and its dedicated fans that kept From Software afloat for many, many years. And then, sadly, it was those same fans who had to watch their favourite franchise take a back seat when Souls became From Software's breadwinner instead.

So I wanted to experience these games the same way the old fans did. Not with emulators, but with old hardware, and all of the authenticity and all of the frustration that comes with that. So many Ebay purchases and over $2000 US dollars later, I had them. Three used consoles, two retro capture devices, and 18 absurdly expensive old video games. I was ready. So I went back. To the first Armored Core,

released all the way back in 1997 ... ... And I was thrown straight into the deep end. "You must battle against the opponent AC and survive. If you survive, you will be considered a Raven. That's all. Good luck". This is how Armored Core begins. With you in a fight for your life, taking fire as you frantically run around the arena and attempt to puzzle out the controls. There's

literally no guide or tips - nothing..just From Software saying "ehh, they'll figure it out". One by one, I stumble through the controls and try to commit them to memory. X is boost, Square to shoot, Triangle to change weapon..

but when it comes to aiming: something feels wrong. Because these enemies can fly, right? which means I need a way to aim up or down at them. And since moving forwards and backwards are already bound here..that means..yeah. So looking UP and DOWN is bound to the LEFT and RIGHT back triggers. And that sucks. Ima be honest - even after beating all of these Armored Core games, I'm sitting here now, writing this script, and I honestly still could not tell you from memory which back trigger moves the camera up or down. If there

was ever a time I needed to look up at something, there was a 50% chance I would look down at the floor instead. But somehow, I push through, and I do eventually learn how to get good. These games will simply not allow you to progress if you don't. It's classic From Software: even all those years ago. They throw you in the deep end, and expect the best from you. Will you sink? Or swim? This is the Raven's Nest. Here, you can assemble your mech - but you have no new parts. So

you go to the shop, where you have no money. So you end up at the mission board, where you become a wage slave to the two biggest corporations - "Chrome" and "Murakumo", who are in a desperate battle with eachother for supremacy. But your first mission is from the city guard, who are very angry..because some workers are

protesting in a nearby factory. And since it's not a good look for the city guard to use lethal force on..you know: innocent civilians: they give you 14,000 credits to do it instead. The workers' crude cranes and worker MTs are no match for your armored war machine, and you walk away with 14,000 credits - Except..wait, you have to pay for the bullets you used on

those evil protesters, and you'll also need to repair the damage you took during the mission as well. But don't worry! There are always more striking workers who need to be taught a lesson, and there's always someone else's dirty work to profit from. I was making pretty good money - that is, until the third mission, where I was tasked with rescuing a truck filled with chemical weaponry. I proceeded to promptly blow up the truck - and I assumed I would get to just try again..but no: instead, the

mission completed, and gave me my reward: Minus 1.4k for ammunition, minus 4.4k for repairs and minus 200 credits in compensation for that poor civilian's car I crushed in the heat of battle. So...I hadn't just failed the mission: I had actually lost money attempting it. I knew I was going to be morally bankrupt going into this game, but turns out you can be financially bankrupt as well, if you play poorly enough.

Looking back at my footage now, I realise I was scared to spend credits, probably because new parts and their stats were so overwhelming. Eventually though, I would realise that..you can't go too wrong spending credits in these games. If it's expensive, chances are it's an upgrade: and even if you regret buying it..well you can always sell those parts back to the shop for the same price you bought them at, and just buy something else instead. This is a game that won't stop you making mistakes. BUT it won't always punish you for

those mistakes either. So I had no idea what I wanted to buy from the shop, but I had heard whispers about two legendary weapons that existed in this game, and I knew I NEEDED to try them. I needed to figure out why they were so popular. It's called the "Karasawa", an energy rifle that you actually can't get in the shop. Instead, it was one of the many hidden parts in this game. These were parts that you actually had to hunt down, and pick up during missions.

I had read somewhere that the Karasawa was hidden behind some explosive barrels in an early mission - and it was easy enough to find. This thing was insane. It DRAMATICALLY increased my firepower, and most enemies would die in just a few shots! But it wasn't without its downsides: for one, the Karasawa was extremely heavy - so I realised I needed to buy heavy legs in order to accommodate it. The Karasawa also has limited ammo, so I equipped some light missiles as backup. It's really interesting how just changing one part can fundamentally change your build: new parts will introduce new problems that need to be solved, but by solving these your knowledge about parts and stats will just naturally increase. And I think

that's really cool. I also realised that the Karasawa was an energy weapon, so it costs energy to fire. That meant I needed to take a closer look at my generator, and I needed to decide whether I needed a generator with high energy regen, or a generator with high capacity. High regen would make me better in prolonged fights, but high capacity

would allow me to fire a ton more shots and overwhelm enemies in the short term. Again, it's really amazing that Armored Core allows you to change something as fundamental as energy regeneration. The final thing I learned from the Karasawa, was that its energy ammo was actually free. And in the early game when you're strapped for cash: that's an amazing thing. And so I was learning so many lessons that would serve me well in

all of the Armored Core games to follow. Now, these parts were powerful - but it's not like they made the game easy. Looking up and down was still a pain, some missions had VERY unclear objectives, and there were so many missions where I'd spend ages navigating mazes of corridors with agonisingly slow turn speeds..only to die, or run out of ammo, right at the end. So most of the time, I was just craving single combat against enemy ACs. Those were my favourite fights.

And if the fight had some questionable voice acting to laugh at, well: even better. "you..you're a raven? I don't know anything about those things here. *explodes*" There was also a frustrating moment at the end where I died to the final boss, and then I got a unique cutscene. But this wasn't just a unique cutscene..it was a..game over screen. So for the first time in HOURS of play, I discovered this, and it booted me back to my last save, which I had made SO LONG ago. So it was just so much fun having to redo all these missions again and try to remember what I had changed in my build..that was..great. /s And you might say say "well you should have just saved!" but this was PS1 era, you know? Saving took time.

Menus were slow. So I didn't bother to save until I had this experience. But I pushed through. This last level I was stuck on was tricky, because it required me to clear rooms and rooms of enemies really efficiently, so I had to make sure to manage my health and ammo so that I had the resources required for the final boss. It was fun overcoming it. Except this was NOT the final boss. And I wasn't done. Not by a long shot. The true final mission takes place at the

Raven's Nest headquarters, where a mysterious band has broken in, and left behind a set of floating mines. Now, the Raven's Nest itself wants you to come in and dismantle them. The first part of the mission is simple enough. I had to take out one small room of five easy enemies, making sure I used my blade to conserve ammo. Because the next room was considerably

more difficult, as it was so packed full of enemies that my playstation lagged uncontrollably. This room was tricky, but easier with some practice. And..I had plenty of opportunities to practice. Because while your ammunition and health is restored after completing this second room, if you fail after this point, you'll get game over and have to go back all the way back to your last save. So for part 2 of the mission, you find yourself in this vast, square hallway.

Lucky for you, there's a way up. Unlucky for you, the devs forgot what game they were making halfway through and decided to start making a platformer instead. But this isn't doodle jump, this is armored core. Remember: looking up and down in this game is excruciating..and this hallway is vertical! So you have to look up to where you're going, and then you have to look DOWN to make sure you have your landing secured. Every time. Because all of these platforms are moving. They're moving in different directions as well. And all at different

speeds! Some will even run into eachother and slide you off, which is great! And then there's the turrets attached to the top and bottom of many platforms, which will give you knockback and stagger and damage while you attempt your ascent. They don't do much damage, and they don't take many hits to defeat..but oh man - you're going to really miss that HP and ammo when you finally get to the top. Because the worst is yet to come. This is just a frustrating, time-consuming interlude for you to enjoy every - single - time you have to re-do this mission. And unless you're

god or using save states on an emulator, you WILL have to re-do this mission...and that's because of what..or who comes next. Name of AC: Nine-ball If you had ever looked at the "ranking" menu in the raven's nest, you would have seen a list of all the enemy ACs in the game, and Nineball is the top ranked AC, piloted by someone named "Hustler one". And he's top rank for a reason. Just watch this attempt of me fighting him. But not to worry - after Getting Over It 20 minutes later, I was back for round two. Which went like this: and on, and on, and on it went, until I simply

gave up. Nineball is overpowered. Literally - he actually has something unlocked called "Human Plus", which is an overpowered state you can unlock if you go 50,000 credits in debt. Which is cool, but I didn't do that! So Nineball can fly better than me, he's faster than me, he has better weaponry than me, he approaches from above with the high ground, and he forces you to fight by aiming up and down because of the nature of the vertical arena that you're in. Plus, you've already been weakened mentally and physically by playing Jump King for the last 10 minutes every time you attempt this. So.. I decided not to fight at all. I decided to run for my fucking life, past this absolute terror, to see if I could just get past him and complete the mission that way.

On my first escape run, I choked, and I missed the tiny hole you're supposed to fly into. And then on my second try......I made it. But somehow, Nineball managed to get in after me. Back then I guess I had one thought in my mind here - and that was to flee. Down the corridor in terror, away from this black and red AC that had been killing me all day. The AI core that you destroy at the end is somehow a part of Nine-ball's consciousness, and you destroy it. Mission complete. Thank god I don't have to fight that guy again.

Next up was Armored Core: Project Phantasma - which was released only a few months after the first Armored Core! They were able to do this because..while Project Phantasma can still be played as its own standalone game, it's perhaps more accurate to call this an "expansion". The game essentially plays the same as the first one, except with new missions, new parts, and some rebalancing to old parts. You can even transfer your save from the first game OVER to this one if you want to continue with your previous AC, and all its parts, which is really cool. And this is basically how all the Armored

Core games work. The easiest way to understand how they're all connected is when they're arranged like this. Each row represents a "generation" of Armored Core games, where your save can continue within the generation. There's gen 1 for the PS1, gen 2, 3, and 3.5 for the PS2, and then gen

4 and 5 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Gen 1-3.5 play quite similarly, but the series would eventually change radically in generation 4, and then again in generation 5, as you'll see later on. Anyway: I wanted to try a new build in Project Phantasma.

And I'd since learned that the most defining part of your build, are your legs. It's kind of like the RPG equivalent of choosing a class. They determine how fast you move, how fast you turn, the nature of your movement, and perhaps most importantly: how much weight you can carry. First I tried some tread legs. Tread legs allow you to carry extremely heavy loads, and even allow you to fire heavy back weapons WHILE moving or flying, which no other leg part can do. However, this comes at the cost of your movement and flying ability aaand..one mission was enough to decide that this was not for me. Like..imagine completing every mission

in the game going this slowly. What I ended up settling on, were quad legs. Quad legs are like tread legs in the sense that they allow you to fire heavy back weapons while moving - though you can't fly while you do so. But unlike tread legs, quad legs exist on a bit of a spectrum, where you can equip heavy load bearing quads, but also fast, lightweight quads as well. I opted for the latter. Now lightweight ACs are kinda hard to put together, because there's a lower weight limit, which prevents you from choosing stronger, weightier parts. So putting this build together would require a lot of trial and error..and I realised that there's no better place for

this build process, than in a place called the arena. In the arena you fight exclusively against enemy ACs in one-on-one combat, ranking up and earning credits as you go. And while enemy ACs are some of the toughest enemies you can face..there are no ammo costs here, so you can only really benefit from these fights. But best of all it teaches you about different enemy builds, and it shows you what works and what doesn't work and it shows you the limit of your own build.

It's the perfect space to refine and adjust your AC into a machine capable of taking on some of the hardest fights in the game, and that's exactly what my build quickly became: A fast, lightweight quad with machine gun arms, and ammo canisters on its back. A build designed to do one thing really well, and that was to run circles around opponents, staying out of their FCS lock box, and keeping them in my own. It's hard to explain just how satisfying it is to refine your build in these games, and to see it all come together perfectly at the end. You solve weight problems, energy problems, ammo problems..you compromise on some parts, stand your ground on others..and if you're lucky, you'll end up with a build that is entirely your own. You know how to play it. You know what it's weaknesses are. You know its strengths. You know exactly what challenges went into creating it, and

it's yours. So when I went back into missions and I realised machine gun ammo costs were going to put me DEEP into debt, it was easy for me to tweak my build into a more cost efficient one for most missions, because I understood how to undo certain parts of my build. But for the final mission, I wheeled out my lightweight, expensive AC killer, and went to town. The final fight was against Stinger, who's..a bit of a joke, honestly - at least compared to Nineball in the previous game. His strategy was to shoot out so many

rainbow bullets that my FPS would drop to unplayable levels..and it almost worked - because I actually ran out of ammo in this fight, and assumed that I'd lost. So at this point I actually gave up and went close to him so that he could kill me faster and get it over with, but then this happened: His own missiles dealt the final piece of damage to himself! Pretty fitting way for this guy to go out. My AC gloriously flies into the roof, and

that's the end of Project Phantasma. I felt like I was getting pretty good at the series..but From Software were watching - just waiting to tear me back down again. Because the next game was "Armored Core: Master of Arena", and I legitimately felt dread when I put in the disk, loaded up the first mission..and watched this cutscene. Nineball was back. And this time, it was personal..on a few levels! Because..I wanted revenge on

Nineball for him shaming me in the first game in front of all my YouTube viewers, and apparently my character wanted revenge as well. Lana is your contact at the Raven's Nest, and mail from her reads "When we first met on the network, you mentioned becoming a Raven because there was someone you wanted to kill. AC Name: Nineball. Pilot: Hustler One. Top ranked AC in the Arena. That is all we know." She comments that anyone who attempts to face Nine-Ball in battle will surely be destroyed, but that if we're really serious about this, then she can arrange it so that we will one day fight him. So Lana immediately passes us a mission from PROGTECH, who manufacture AC parts. They want us to put down some rampaging robots in their factory, and in return they'll give us some free parts, and sponsor us in the Arena.

What follows is this glorious mix of mission and arena gameplay. Sometimes your mission board will be completely empty, and all you can access is the arena, which you'll need to progress in in order to unlock missions again. And then sometimes it's the reverse, where the arena is locked off because there's an urgent mission you need to complete for your sponsor. And it's this balance...the way that arena and mission gameplay is interwoven,

that makes Master of Arena easily rank in my top 3 Armored Core games. Because..the pacing here is just phenomenal. In the other games, missions would sometimes feel like a grind; and doing the arena often felt like an optional side-quest. But in this game missions had me feeling like I was strengthening my relationship with my sponsor - and when I progressed in the Arena, I knew it was in pursuit of a goal: to rise through the ranks, so that I could one day have the right to challenge Nine-Ball, who is formidable in the story of this game, just as he's formidable in a gameplay sense as well. So I continued to chip away at the missions, and in the arena, I was a demon - I was this red AC wielding the Karasawa and the moonlight sword and some really fast legs. These legs were so fast that I didn't really need my boosters, which meant that I had more energy for shooting my Karasawa while grounded.

With this build, I flew through the arena - and if I was ever having trouble with an opponent, it would be because they were flying. But if they were flying, I'd take them to the garage - an arena level which limited their flight capabilities, and kept them on the ground with me so that I didn't have to press the accursed R2 and L2 triggers. I was feeling pretty confident..and then the final fight against nineball arrived. I thought this fight went pretty well! Got him on the first try... Except that wasn't the end.

Phase two has you fighting..TWO nineballs. And that's exactly as difficult as it sounds. The reason there's two, is because it's been revealed that the Nineballs are able to be mass produced, and they actually aren't piloted by a human - instead, they're controlled by a highly advanced combat AI that thinks it can rebuild the world by manufacturing conflict, as long as they're the strongest Raven. Which is why it has to take you out. Which it does. Repeatedly. Quickly I realised that it's extremely important that you do well in the first fight against the single Nineball, because your health and ammo that remains is what you'll need to take on the two at once.

And after a ton of time consuming resets, I realised there was an upper level to the dual nineball fight, which could be used to potentially separate the two and help you fight one at a time. And finally..I was victorious. There's a certain kind of absurd, giddy dread that I've only ever experienced playing From Soft games. That feeling that even though you've pushed yourself to the limit, the challenge actually isn't over yet. This third phase is extremely tough. And it also takes a while to learn it, because you have to defeat one nineball, then the two nineballs before you even get a chance to practice this fight. And those were hard enough so you don't get that many chances to practice. But eventually I learned that Nineball Seraph

always begins the fight by running at you with his blade, which sends energy waves and requires a well timed boost-jump for you to evade it. After that, he'll transform into this little rocketship and zoom around the arena, shooting missiles and trying to get behind you before transforming back into an attack phase and just closing the distance with his blade and pulse rifle once again. Over, and over, I tried to fight and defeat him. And over, and over, I lost. But I had heard rumours of something. A controller technique, that might just be able to help me. Something called the "Legendary armored

core grip". Some said it was a meme. Others said that by holding your controller backwards, you could get full access to every button at once, which would allow for perfect control of your AC. So I gave it a try. After countless attempts at phase one and about 16 victories in phase 2, I managed to overcome phase 3. With a little bit of skill, and a lot of luck. And I was just joking about using the Armored Core grip. Or was I...? Anyway, nineball was dead. Thank god I don't

have to fight that guy again. Next up: Armored Core 2. I was excited for this, because this was a ps2 game, and I had been eyeing that PS2 controller off to my side for a while now - knowing it had what I wanted: dual analogue sticks. I couldn't wait to be able to aim properly..so I grabbed the controller, moved the sticks and..they didn't work. What? For some unfathomable reason, From Software had decided to stick with the back triggers for camera control in this game. Which I just don't understand. The solution was

right there! It's insane to me that this wasn't a design priority for them. Maybe there's a good reason for this but I don't know. Anyway - let's talk story: So Armored Core 2 takes place 67 years after the events of Master of Arena, when a cataclysmic event called the "Great Destruction" forced mankind underground. Eventually however, mankind discovered the

pre-war "Mars Immigration Project", and started to set up colonies on the red planet - where wars over resources would inevitably break out once more. It's a compelling story. But I wanted my story to begin in a unique way. So this time, I didn't start with a single mission. Instead, I committed for some reason to playing exclusively in the Arena, until I had defeated every single opponent, and become the top ranked raven. This ended up becoming an extremely memorable experience for me. While the Arena doesn't

incur repair and ammo costs, it doesn't exactly give you many credits at the start either, so there was a limit to which parts I could afford when attempting to outsmart my enemies. So for me, it was very important to read these character descriptions before each fight..and I loved how much story and insight each one revealed. Some characters were in the arena to pay off gambling debts...some were here to show off their new parts for sale..and I distinctly remember #45 - who was a girl piloting a mech in order to earn money to feed her starving family. Feels bad. But most importantly, some descriptions revealed the enemy AI's preferred strategies and weaknesses. For example, THIS guy was famously bad at energy management,

and then there was another who would panic if you pressured them. And some enemies were just pure comedy. At one point, I met Bullet Dragon: a man who was in the arena because he loved the sound of machine guns, and only fought so that he could afford more ammo. I couldn't outpace him with my own machine gun, so I outlasted him and he flat out just decided to leave the arena when he started to run out of machine gun ammo.

And then there was Super Sonic, who was a character who spent ALL his money on the fastest parts. Like..he was here to build for speed, and nothing else. And then - poor guy - he went so fast that he accidentally flew out of bounds in the arena, and I won. 10/10. It's in Armored Core 2's arena that I experimented with basically every weapon type in the shop.

there were so many ways to express your creativity with the builds in this game, and constantly trying to exploit new enemy weaknesses taught me so much about the pros and cons of various weaponry. But the best lesson of all I learned from #19. AC name: mass. Pilot name: bulk. Guess what his build is? Yeah so his build was designed to just stay alive, while their opponents ran out of ammo. Which I did. Many times. So in trying to overcome him, I found it: My new best friend - the EWG-MGSAW: a machine gun with 1000 rounds of ammo, which allowed me to focus on one strategy: unrelenting offense. With this gun, I flew towards top rank. But on the way, I met Count One. Pilot name: No. 1111. Rank..11. "He's obsessed with the number I and has put a great deal of effort

into his current position. He'd rather be ranked 11th than 1st, as it has twice as many 1's. I realised even his weapon arms looked like double 1's. You gotta respect that commitment. But in retrospect, his weapon arms would end up being the key. Because my machine gun circling strategy ended up being useless against the top ranked AC, Ares: who had the firepower and turning ability to completely counter my strategy. So I built for power to overwhelm him instead. I took number 11's lead, and used weapon arms, and absolutely destroyed

Ares, to become #1. One one was enough for me. Now I could actually start playing the game. And when I finally started the missions, it didn't matter that my machine gun ammo was extremely expensive. I was an arena MILLIONAIRE.. And when I finally got to the last mission and there was a sequence where I needed to fight enemies that couldn't be locked onto, the arena had already taught me what to do. Instead of brute forcing the final fight with sheer stubbornness this time, I actually used my shop knowledge to come up with a better strategy. Equipped with rockets and grenade

cannon arms that benefit from being manually aimed, I made the final sequence WAY easier for myself. The final boss's name is Leos Klein, and interestingly, it's implied that he was the player character from Master of Arena. I love these little callbacks. There's a depth to the storytelling here..though I'll admit: 99% of it is going

over my head, as I'm so focused on the gameplay. But even though I'm not paying much attention to the story - yet anyway..even I can tell when it's missing. And nowhere did story feel more absent, than in Armored Core 2: Another Age.

The big selling point in this expansion seems to be the sheer amount of missions. I feel like most of these games had an average of between 20-30 missions before you hit an ending, but in Another Age, there are 100 missions in the game. And whereas in some other games you can skip certain missions, or have them go away if you fail - all 100 missions in Another Age are mandatory. Now, ima be honest: every Armored Core game has its fair share of badly designed missions. Missions where you get lost in endless corridors with unclear

objectives. Missions where you accidentally go out of bounds, or are forced to do platforming for some reason.. And Another Age had tons of missions I hated. But the worst in my opinion were missions that your AC could be fundamentally incompatible with. For example, there was a mission here

that required me to ascend a long corridor..and..I just couldn't with so many of my builds. Don't get me wrong, I love reworking my AC to solve combat puzzles, but having my build be fundamentally incompatible with some mandatory missions was frustrating, to say the least. I guess this is why Armored Core 6 might be adding jump pads, huh? But then there's a bright side to having mandatory missions, in that it at least forces you to get good. For example, perhaps the most memorable mission for me in Another Age was this one,

where you have to fight not one, not two - but THREE enemy ravens. All at the same time. And it's exactly as hard as it sounds. One of the enemies is a heavy tank build that can harass you if you leave it alive. Another is extremely mobile, and is equipped with

powerful weaponry that can take you down VERY fast. And the third AC luckily isn't much of a threat at all - though they still serve as a distraction, and require you to spend precious ammo taking them down. So once you have stock of your opponents, you have to come up with a strategy, and make sure your AC design accommodates that strategy. And then you have to make sure you have the skill to put strategy into practice.

After a few attempts, I realised I had the best success when I took out the tank AC first with machine gun fire, since they came at me first, and aren't fast enough to dodge any of my projectiles. But fighting the other two was the real challenge: because together they were difficult to split apart, and would grind me down over time. So I needed a secondary weapon that could take one of them out quickly with overwhelming power. I chose missiles as my secondary weapon, and I also equipped a "relation missile" extension part. Once this extension

was activated, it basically shot out more missiles as a bonus whenever I shot out my normal missiles, which essentially doubled my missile output for a short time, which was enough to deal severe damage to one AC and finally even the odds. But then the final piece of the puzzle was taking out the third AC. And since they were weak, this was simply an ammo issue. I had a few attempts where I absolutely destroyed

the first two, but simply did not have enough ammo to finish the job. So frustrating. But eventually I made a build with two sets of very ammo efficient missiles, and I grit my teeth as I took out the final AC on a sliver of health, one missile at a time. I genuinely felt like I achieved something here. It was very rewarding to have to discover the pieces of the puzzle on the battlefield, solve that puzzle in the garage, and then put my solution to the test with my reflexes. In my opinion, this is Armored Core at its best. And by the way, there's a part of Armored Core 6's trailer that shows the player fighting

three enemy ACs at once too. So..yeah. You should prepare for that. But then it was back to the mission grind. And credit where credit is due, the WAY you navigate all the missions in this game is cool, because there are multiple missions for each region, and there's a good sense of familiarity and progression in the world, as a result of that. And finally I made it to the end. I'll be honest, I don't even know who that guy is. More than in any other Armored Core game, I actually felt like an independent Raven in this one, just grinding away at mission after mission on behalf of faceless corporations for credits alone. So after spending so much time on this game,

I was actually kind of appreciative at this message Fromsoftware gives you at the end. "Thanks Raven. You've accomplished a great feat. Your achievement is recognized by us. And then they give you a well-deserved reward. MORE MISSIONS! Great... But to be fair, these missions were the best of all. You face off against who I can only

assume is Stinger from Project Phantasma, with his being all glitchy and corrupted. I kind of like the flavour of these ancient ACs just persisting throughout the ages, to eventually be fought as these corrupted remnants of another age, later on. And of coruse, the real final fight is against Nineball Seraph again. Because of course it is. And here, he fights the exact same way as he does in Master of Arena..though the

controls and visuals are a bit better here, which is a relief. As then, he's extremely tough - but here, I discover a strategy that will serve me well in future games. If you're ever facing an AC that tries to get behind you - just back up against a wall. If fought

in this manner, Nineball will chase you around the edge of the arena, slashing at you with energy waves and shooting projectiles - which you can dodge with another strategy I learned - which is to bunny hop boost tightly, left and right. But even with all this, this fight was still hard as hell, and at this point I'm amazed just how much From Software like toying with people's nineball PTSD by putting him in so many games. But..I eventually won: and surely I won't have to fight that guy again. And that's the second generation of Armored Core games: complete. In retrospect, this might be the hardest generation of Armored Core, if you take all of the missions together. Anyway,

next is Armored Core 3. A whole new generation! Wouldn't it be great if they finally added dual analogue controls? Yeah, nah..they still haven't made the right analogue stick useful which is..interesting - but at least there's a pretty good story this time. Armored Core 3 takes place during the period of history where mankind was forced underground because of the Great Destruction. Here, subterannean life is governed by "The

Controller", an AI which..quite predictably goes wild. The sequel, Silent Line, deals with the aftermath of you destroying the controller. Mankind returns to the surface, and corporations begin to fight over what lies beyond the "Silent Line". But mysterious technologies are already up here on the surface, repelling their intrusions.

These are compelling stories. This third generation of games is very compelling in general actually. Controls and movement get tighter with every gen, the way the shop and garage is integrated is really nice, menus are fast to navigate, and I could be wrong: but I felt like weight limits were more generous in these games, as I had less trouble fitting everything I wanted onto my AC. That said, I'm not sure I have too much else to say about Armored Core 3 or its sequel, Silent Line, that I haven't said already. As usual, there were good missions, and frustrating missions - and the final fights were great fun - but I was never truly challenged by anything in this game, which means I can't really point to any one thing that made these games particularly memorable for me. Overall though, I think Armored Core 3 and Silent Line are an excellent starting point for beginners, precisely because I don't think they're too difficult, and because From Software had just added a ton of great QOL changes to the series by this point.

A cool new addition in this generation were left arm parts that weren't just blades, or shields. So in this game you can equip your left arm with bazookas, rifles..tons of really fun weaponry - these weapons fire with a delay, but being able to fire two weapons at once can dramatically increase your damage input, and it gives a really fun depth to builds. Only problem is..firing two weapons means you have to mash two face buttons at once to fire them. And remember you're still boosting with the other face button so that's three face buttons you have to press at once. And that's just a huge stress to your finger inputs on top of everything else, so because the series STILL refused to accommodate the right analogue stick for aiming, dual firing was still uncomfortable with default controls, and I just opted for a passive shield on my left arm instead.

But FINALLY, the control scheme would be brought into the modern ps2 era - with generation 3.5 of Armored Core..which consisted of three games: Nexus, Ninebreaker, and best of all: Last Raven. With the ability to aim with the right stick added in Nexus, the L2 and R2 bumpers were finally released from their torment as camera operators, and were able to be used for intuitive things like boosting and switching weapons, instead. Which meant L1 and R1, instead of strafing, could be used for firing left and right arm weaponry respectively. Which meant dual wielding wasn't just viable, it was incredible. Dual firing added a new offensive depth to the customisation that I was SO ready for. So I dived into the first mission equipped with a new generator, and some fast boosters..and..immediately

began to overheat. Temperature management had always been a thing in the previous games. But back then, I only really overheated when I was hit by too much enemy weaponry all at once, and it only did a damage over time effect if I got too hot. In Armored Core Nexus: that all went out the window. NOW I noticed my boosters contributing

a LOT more to my heat meter, and if I overheated in THIS game then my radiator would activate and suck up immense amounts of my own energy in order to cool down my AC. And that is a LOT more impactful than just taking damage over time. So all of a sudden, heat management had become a huge new consideration when considering weaponry, generator, boosters and radiators. It's almost as if From Software realised their game had just become easier with the new controls, and thought "we can't have that", and added this insane overheat mechanic in revenge. Regardless: eventually I had my head around this new heat system, so I started to experiment with new dual wielding setups. I tried double chainguns..double sniper rifles.. handguns..

laser rifles.. - but what I really fell in love with was wielding two different weapons, rather than wielding two of the same. I ended up settling on a bazooka and rifle combo. These two had similar range, but the rifle was good for smaller, faster, or flying enemies, and the bazooka was great for the larger, slower, or grounded enemies. That said, I ended Nexus with double bazookas..in a fight against..a very familiar piece of ancient technology. But at this point, they'd wheeled poor old nineball out so many times, that he's just not the same any more. Rest in peace old friend.

I guess it does make some sense that Nineball would be here in this game though, as as far as I can tell, the story of Nexus is about corporations fighting to control ancient technologies they don't understand. And it all backfires at the end: Swarms of unmanned suicide drones spew out of a factory, and out onto the earth, where they blanket the world in another sort of great destruction. It's awful, but it's also one of the most memorable endings these games have ever had, just because of the phenomenal way it's presented: You stand on the rooftop in the pouring rain, actually able to control your character as this indomitable barrage of suicide drones ram into the earth's surface, with you making your doomed last stand. There's

no hope of you taking them all out, so you simply fight on as the screen fades to black, and Nexus comes to an end. So I enjoyed Nexus. But I..cannot say the same for the next expansion, which is Armored Core: Ninebreaker. Get this: this game has no missions. It doesn't even have a shop. At its core is is a training mode filled with 150 training exercises that test you on things like movement, evasion, accuracy..stuff like that. Fun. That's..not really Armored Core to me so I didn't really bother. So when I played, I figured the real point of the game was the uniquely designed arena mode, which requires you to earn points and climb that way, rather than just beating the next AC in your path. But I made a terrible mistake with this game.

I imported my save from nexus, which removed almost all of the default parts from the garage, and replaced them with what I had in Nexus instead. And I didn't have many parts unlocked in Nexus, so I was essentially forced to do the entire arena..with one build: A heavy bipedal with two bazookas. Luckily my build was strong enough to take out 90% of my opponents, but there were some that were borderline impossible with my build. To get to top rank by defeating the last guy, I had to wait until he challenged me on a map where I could stand at the arenas edge so he couldn't fly behind me, and I JUST took him out, after countless attempts. Maybe I'll do the training missions to prepare for Armored Core 6..and maybe they'd be great if you're a beginner to the series, but I wanted to move on because I

was SO excited for the next game. I had heard a lot about it. Because it was the last Armored Core game that had this old-gen style, and I had heard it was perhaps the hardest game From Software had ever created. Next was Armored Core: Last Raven..and it did not disappoint. When we left off in Nexus, unmanned suicide weapons had ravaged the world. The corporations lost everything. But instead of trying to rebuild individually, they joined forces to form a new corporation named "alliance". But a rebel group known as "Vertex" vowed to overthrow them. And war quickly escalated into chaos.

Now Vertex has issued a declaration: their final attack will launch in 24 hours. So it is that Last Raven starts with a clear story, and a foreboding timer that counts down after every mission, building the tension. Last Raven also perfects the mission structure, in my opinion, offering a set of missions that, if done in the right order, push you towards different missions and endings. I really liked being able to take a more active role in the story based on which path I chose. And since so many of my best memories with

Armored Core so far had been born from my challenges, in this playthrough I opted to go down a story path that I had heard was the hardest of them all. It's called the "Zinaida" path, named after your rival, who challenges you in a ton of missions. So I knew it would GET hard. I was prepared for that. What I wasn't prepared for, was for the first mission

to literally be harder than anything I'd faced in the previous two games. Like..to put this into context..I had just imported my build from Nine Breaker and this AC design with its dual bazookas had taken me through the entirety of that game. It had taken me through the entirety of Nexus as well. And yet I was struggling with the first

mission with this build. Eventually I took a step back, and realised I had to perfect my AC further if I was going to take on these missions. So I took a few step backs actually, all the way back to the first disc of Nexus, where I farmed credits for a few hours so that I could buy every part in the shop. Then I went into the second disc of nexus, which had some optional parts that I had missed..and in these missions I found an insanely powerful "Ananda" radiator to stop me from overheating, and something called a "Linear Rifle", which was kind of like a halfway point between a bazooka and a rifle. It had good stun capabilities, which helped my offhand weapon to hit more reliably, and it would be at my side for the entirety of Last Raven. I also discovered a type of missile called

"Micro Missiles", which send a barrage of smaller missiles out, making them great for overwhelming any enemies with anti-missile systems built into their core, or extensions. With this setup, I was eventually able to kite Bolt around the arena, staying just out of range of his cannons, while unloading everything I had. Every circuit around the battlefield I would take time to hide and recover some energy behind these buildings, and then I would start the circuit again. It was close, but I had completed the first mission.

Or at least, I thought I had. I didn't know what was going on. I thought I had broken some crucial part of my AC here, and that the audio was glitching out as a result. Because Last Raven DID add a new feature where you can break certain body parts on your build during battle. So for a minute there, I thought this experience was VERY immersive. I was like - wow, my head part is broken and the audio is glitched, that's amazing. But my disk was actually scratched. That will

teach me to buy off of ebay. My mission flat out refused to end, so I reset my PS2, managed to beat the mission again, and the same glitch happened - but this time, at least, it let me finish the mission this time. Surely this won't be an issue later, right? As was tradition whenever I knew I needed to get stronger, I took on the arena, and to my surprise, I flew through almost all of it with no issue. I even eventually added some heavy bipedal legs that I chose for their excellent boost speed despite how heavy they were, which helped to offset the issues with my slow movement - since I was just bunny hopping most of the time anyway. I would activate my EO core and get these little floating turrets, then I'd unload all my micro missiles and my relation missiles..then I'd purge all my missiles and drop them

to lighten my load and increase my speed a bit, before transitioning to linear rifle and bazooka and kiting my enemy around for the win. Few stood a chance against this build, and so my enemies actually weren't too memorable as a result - although - one of the funniest builds I faced in this arena was some guy with the hover extension part who had built an infinite flight build. His build was pretty useless, and very easy to shoot at in the sky..but it was interesting. And I didn't know that was possible. But then everything became incredibly difficult, when I met the guy at the top of the Arena: Daemon. And I think this guy might take the title for being the best pilot I'd yet faced in

these games. Just look at his technique! He's a god. By combining a close range machine gun with some sort of bazooka, Daemon is able to essentially stunlock you to death in no time at all. And because he's so adept at flying at close range, it's an absolute nightmare trying to keep him in your sights - even with the new analogue controls. I died to him over, and over, and over - and felt true despair. Because this wasn't like previous games - I couldn't choose the arena in Last Raven. I couldn't just put him in the garage and call it a day. No - this arena was perfectly suited to his aerial strengths.

I tried a few new things against Daemon. I tried equipping an overboost core to help me get some distance, but my energy would run out, and he would close in. I even tried a vertical FCS part for the first time, which gave me this tall lock box that was a bit better suited to Daemon's movement trajectory..but nope. Not enough. I was about to give up and come back later...but then I had an idea. I thought

back to that hover AC that I had laughed at a few hours ago..and wondered - what if he was the key? What if I built something like that? If I could get up to the roof, and stay there - then I'd be able to completely negate Daemon's aerial supremacy. I thought there was at least a chance this would work, so I went into the garage with all my parts, and got to work. Luckily, Last Raven includes the ability for you to tune most parts to be better in line with your specific build requirements - but even so, this infinite flight build turned out to be an extremely tricky one to make, but it taught me a lot. First, I needed the build to be able to get me high into the air.

So I chose reverse bipedal legs for their superior jumping. Then I needed a generator with enough capacity, and boosters with enough power to get me to the roof. Then I needed my build to be energy efficient enough to keep my hover extension active, so I could STAY hovering. This meant I needed to choose parts with low energy drain, as every part takes away from your generator's maximum output. Eventually, I had a build that was so energy

efficient it could float in the air AND recover energy slowly as well. But THEN the final problem was to cram weaponry onto this thing..without it weighing or draining me down. I needed weapons that were light, ammo efficient, and with a lot of range. I eventually settled

on micro missiles, and a sniper rifle. And then, after so much trial and failure - I had it. I called this AC "Vulture", after the way it sort of circles around its foes out of range..and it eventually took me to victory against Daemon, with literally zero

ammo to spare. I guess you could argue I cheesed this fight, but it didn't feel like it. Armored Core's gameplay begins in the garage, and I felt super proud of this win..because it felt like I had solved a really complex puzzle. But for now, I put Vulture away..and pulled out my Blast Raven build instead..and got back to the missions.

By the way, that's another cool thing about Last Raven: you're able to save and load different builds quickly. It's as if you have different mechs just sitting in your hangar, just waiting to be taken out when it's their time to shine. Being able to load specific builds is an amazing feature for these games to have, as it stops you having to tinker with your build in the menus for ages. Instead, you can build solutions. Name them. Get attached to them, and then be ready to switch up your gameplay style whenever those builds are perfect for the situation at hand.

Armored Core 6 had better have a system like this, I swear. Even Elden Ring should have a system like this. Another thing Armored Core 6 should take from Last Raven is its in-game lore repository, which is just a great way for players to recap the story in-game. You know, this way they don't have to rely on over-dramatic youtubers for all their lore. Wait maybe don't put that in the ga- Last Raven's missions were a delight. Actually the best I'd experienced so far. Almost every one was peppered with familiar enemy ACs that would show up or betray you, and missions were just these great tests of your combat efficiency, rather than having you run around the map for obscure objectives. That said, there was one bad mission which plunged me

into pure blackness after a maze of corridors, making it borderline impossible to escape without a headpiece that had night vision. Which I didn't have. So that was pretty lame. But throughout all of these missions, I had been putting up with something very painful. Remember that glitch that showed up in my first mission, where audio would bug out and the mission wouldn't end? Well that had been happening this whole time. And eventually, it became so bad

that I found one mission that just wouldn't end. Again, and again, and again, and again I completed the mission and it refused to move on..until I gave up. I couldn't progress. I had to suck it up, put away the PS2..and use an emulator to finish Last Raven, instead. Okay, so...you might be noticing a difference in the quality of the visuals. Looking back, I kind of regret not trying emulators sooner. This was amazing. With the right settings,

Last Raven runs at a higher framerate, plays at a sharper resolution, and I was even able to use save states to help me get back to where I was in the missions faster. It hurt having to do ALL these missions again, but I was enjoying the gameplay even more than before. Listen. I love old hardware. And if I had just used emulators, then I might have been tempted to use save states to overcome crucial moments of difficulty and tedium. And If I had run these games at a silky smooth 60fps and high resolutions, the games would have been a lot easier and looked a lot better than they really are. I wouldn't

have experienced them the same way everyone else did all those years ago. But all that said, I'd still recommend emulating these games over buying scratched, overpriced discs on Ebay. Ebay has atrocious buyer support, and they won't let me get a refund for this scratched disc..so yeah, don't do that. Anyway, eventually I made it to the final

mission. A final gauntlet that first requires you dodge through these long hallways filled with suicide drones. Then eventually, I actually got a checkpoint for the first time - so I didn't have to restart from the start anymore - then I had to take out some lasers on the walls. Then, it was the final fight with Zinaida. Here, she is widely regarded to be the most difficult fight in the game. I'll let you watch, and figure out why: She fights a lot like Daemon - except I think she's even faster, fighting at more of a midrange - with energy weapons that overheat you and somehow don't slow down her down at all. Like all the best enemy ACs, I'm pretty sure she's flat out cheating, because there's no way you can build an AC that could match her movement and firepower, right? Not to mention, you have to start this fight at low health because of the suicide drones - unless you make it past the suicide drones without taking damage.

Which is what I did - I spent ages learning the drone patterns, and managed to somehow get to the checkpoint with full health. THEN I just had to solve the Zinaida fight somehow. I knew I couldn't outrun her with my heavy AC, so I came up with a new strategy: I realised that if I moved forwards and backwards like this, then she would fly into my sights in a predictable manner..just long enough for me to get off a salvo of missiles each. For the first time, I was actually dealing consistent damage to her. But would it be enough? It required precise inputs, perfect aim, and by the end I was gripping my controller so hard that my hands hurt. But then, at 500

AP..I got it. The final shot. The sun sets on you, as the Last Raven. Finally, I'd completed every game in the old generation of games. Next was fourth gen, and it was was here, that the series would change forever. For a new game director had entered the scene. That's right. Armored Core 4, and Armored Core For Answer are directed by none other than Hidetaka Miyazaki himself. And in his new, VERY different fourth generation of Armored Core, Raven pilots are no more.

They've been superceded by LYNX, who pilot NEXTS - new and improved Armored Cores that can move and fly and fight on a whole other level. I mean..just look at how they fast they are! The reason this combat is so much more intense is because a) it's now MUCH easier to attain infinite flight and keep your boosters on all the time, and b) side boosts now have a dedicated button, rather than being a niche extension part that only moved you in one direction. What's more, cancelling your boosters and tapping side boost can allow you to perform a quick-turn maneuver, giving skilled players the means to keep enemies in their sights during frantic combat. Having these boosts built into the default controls was, in my opinion, a huge step forward for the franchise - and of all the games, these are the ones that I've replayed the most, having 6 full playthroughs under my belt, to date. And while Armored Core 4 is great, and I really

enjoyed putting together this energy weapon build that dual wields pulse guns, only to throw them away when they're out of ammo to reveal a backup set of two more pulse guns - most of my playthroughs are in actually in 4's sequel, which is Armored Core: For Answer. Because I feel like it's here, in this game, that the true potential of this generation was fully realised. Not just in gameplay..but in storytelling, and tone as well. So for the first time, I want to REALLY shout out the music in this game. To be fair, the music in Armored Core has always been great. You've been hearing it all throughout this video, after all. And

a lot of credit for that seems to have to go to a man named Kota Hoshino, who composed on almost all of these soundtracks. He even runs a band called "FreQuency" whose music releases overlap almost entirely with the Armored Core franchise and its distinct sound. And that's so cool. That Armored Core has its own in-house band that plays for it! It also seems like Kota Hoshino has been working with From Software ever since, so I hope his band creates some music for Armored Core 6. Because the music was always good, but something specifically changed with Generation 4's music - especially with For Answer, where many songs played that added this melancholy, nostalgic, almost haunting sound to them.

And it added such a good vibe to the franchise. I mean just listen to this! These sort of reflective tracks play in a lot of key missions. And I feel like they want you to ask the question: why? Why are we fighting? Are we really doomed to have all of this destruction play out over and over again? And the answer is inevitably...yes. Despite their promise, humanity is doomed. And in fact, Armored Core: For Answer has one of the darkest, most disturbing endings that From Software has ever directed. And I want to show it to you. Thing is, you

2023-06-11 19:25

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