Welcome to the fold, Raven.

It’s been a while since my last post, but school has been rather hectic; nonetheless I apologize. For those who have taken a good look at my backlog, they’ll notice quite a few Armored Core games. In fact, they’ll notice every single Armored Core game released in the US is in the backlog! Why is this being brought up? Well, naturally, the subject of today’s post is Armored Core 3 Portable. AC3P was released to Japanese audiences in late June 2009, and was very popular among the AC fans over there, being one of the premier titles of the series. Many were expecting no US release (including myself) and were surprised to find it available in the US, albeit exclusively as a downloadable game via the PlayStation Network, at the pretty low price of 14.99 USD (the Japanese release on UMD retails for the equivalent of $45).

Armored Core 3 was originally released in 1998, so one might consider this release pretty terrible if you went off that alone, but the game was and is still quite amazing. The basic premise of Armored Core games is to custom build your own giant mecha (the titular “Armored Core”) and to pilot it in a variety of single player missions following a usually bare-bones story, engaging in AC vs. AC Arena matches, and going head to head with other players. AC3 stands out as one of the better plotted games in the series, but if one compared it to virtually any story-driven game, AC3 looks like crap; these games are not really meant for story, but it can certainly be compelling. I myself have written much on the stories of the AC games, and there is much room for fanfiction considering the variety of characters and complete lack of actual people in the game (literally, no human ever appears).

The gameplay of every AC tends to vary slightly, but AC3 unlike a lot of the other games is pretty balanced, allowing for many different part combinations to be used in your AC: there’s no shortage of parts, considering ACs are composed of as many as fourteen separate parts and there’s minimum half a dozen parts in any given category (there are some parts, like the CGP-ROZ generator, that are simply the best, but these tend to be rare and often are the internals, which nobody likes worrying about as much as they have no visual effect on your death robot). Not much has changed in terms of gameplay from the original release of AC3: there are new parts, eleven in total, some of which are new such as the CHD-GLITCH head, and others which are remakes of parts from previous AC games, such as the MLR-ZMX hover legs (from AC2 and its immediate sequel, Another Age). There is also additionally a new Arena opponent from the Dengeki Hobby Magazine novelization of Armored Core, but unfortunately he is laughably easy to defeat (he does net you quite a bit of money, though!).

Controls and graphics are some of the biggest gripes people might potentially have with the game, but surprisingly, they work wonderfully. There is some mild input lag, but nothing serious (I was able to easily complete the entire game in less than a week, only ever being annoyed at the controls once), and initially the placement of buttons is a little suspect (triangle and circle serve to raise/lower view, when it was originally the L2/R2, and the D-pad received weapon switch, core functions, extension functions, and left arm functions/item activation). The button combo eventually makes total sense and one can use it quite easily, although it can sometimes be awkward to use a laser blade with D-pad down when your thumb normally is on the analog stick to control your AC, but it does work.

As for graphics, I was expecting some good stuff since the previous Armored Core PSP game, Formula Front (which, by the way, did get a US release on UMD) used the Nexus era graphical engine, which is in turn an enhanced version of the AC3 engine. AC3 does not disappoint and has staggeringly well detailed environments, at the sacrifice of resolution and antialiasing (things aren’t too bad, but occasionally things will be jaggy, perhaps about as often as it happens in Crisis Core). Texture resolution is additionally toned down, but considering those can be toned down without any real change in gameplay except for one mission where the resolution is a bit clearer, it’s no big deal. There is slowdown occasionally, but it takes a good bit happening onscreen; I only encountered slowdown in two missions, one featuring a total of 3 ACs and an MT with heavy particle effects, and the second featuring 2 ACs and a handful of smaller enemies, but extremely detailed water processing plants. I expected to see slowdown elsewhere but was pleasantly surprised I did not.

The AC games have always had great sound, but AC3 and Silent Line (the immediate sequel) are by far my favorites of the series in terms of music, featuring a very organic set of synthetic sounds, giving the regular rhythms of what would alone seem mechanical a more lifelike and pleasing sound, perfectly tuned for lighthearted or thematically dark moments. Sound effects are of course well done. The game also has a staggering amount of voice acting (all mission briefings and all dialogue in-mission is voiced, mail and Arena information are the only narrative elements not voiced), and incidentally it is identical to the PS2 release. FROM Software, the company behind the AC series, bought the old translation and voice work from Agetec, the original AC localization company.

Overall, AC3P is a great port of a great game, and at the current price it’s an excellent buy. Additionally, Silent Line Portable (JP: November 2009) and Last Raven Portable (JP: March 2010) have been announced for some time, and FROM bought the translations to those as well, so one can expect to see them stateside as well. I’ll be sure to buy and review them when the time comes. Till then, Raven.

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~ by Vaikyuko on November 4, 2009.

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