['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers the announcement of Armored Core For Answer's Western release via Ubisoft and the trials that will face it.]

acfa_360_cover1.jpgI had planned on discussing the various design issues with making a viable Macross game but that will have to wait until the next column. The reason behind this is that the game that many thought wouldn't see a release outside of Japan has finally been picked up by Ubisoft.

The game is Armored Core For Answer and I played both versions extensively earlier this year. It's a remarkable functional achievement as it pits the player in a mecha travelling at 2000 km/h against huge mobile fortresses. Think Shadow of the Colossus meets guns and robots and you won't be far off.

It's also very much a standalone game, as you can't transfer money or parts from Armored Core 4. This is a first for the series, as From Software have normally rewarded long-time players with a distinct advantage over newcomers.

So, it seems only sensible to go into Roboto-chan overdrive and give a low-down on the new game.

This is the third instance in which the Armored Core series has been covered in this column. The reason behind the renewed coverage of this series is a simple one; it's a successful unique gaming IP that has lasted over a decade, releasing numerous varied iterations all evolving off one another. However, in this instance For Answer has crossed an event horizon of sorts making it particularly noteworthy.

Why all the fuss then, what makes effectively an expansion pack to Armored Core 4 something worth even mentioning?

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 customizable 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.

Shadow of the Arms Forts

somim_l.jpgIn 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, totaling ten in all. All of which require bespoke strategies to enact their demise. They are also absolutely huge.

coop7.jpgTo 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 it's entire length in order to reach it's 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 in regards to its creative background.

Mecha Design Magnates

kwm1.jpgPreviously, 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.

m_l1.jpgKobayashi 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.

kbys1.jpgEven 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.

Mechanical Darwinism

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.

VOB4.jpgTo 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.

ansim_l.jpgYet 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.

Unfortunate Futility

Yet all this amazing functional progression will ultimately amount to very little outside of Japan. Let me explain.

arms_1.jpgMadden is a series of American Football games that's very successful. Each iteration is keenly waited upon and devoured upon release. Well, in America this is very much the case. However, in the rest of the world Madden is pretty much ignored. This isn't because they are inherently bad games but the sport they are based upon isn't really prevalent anywhere else but America.

As such, reviewing Madden or even trying to play it without the nascent understanding of what it's based on would be a completely idiotic undertaking. It's not meant for an average gamer who isn't equipped with the necessary knowledge base and fascination with the sport.

jetim2.jpgConsequently, 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, it will most probably terrify and infuriate them in equal measure.

This isn't because it's a bad game but not one to played without some prior understanding of what it is trying to achieve. As such I should finish this column off with a gentle nudge to certain reviewers.

When Reviewing For Answer...

  • Finding the Right Reviewer: Having read multiple reviews for each Armored Core game with an increasing level of dread and despair, please try and get a reviewer that has at least an interest in what the games are trying to do. Almost all the reviewers given the task of reviewing mecha games would rather be playing Madden. My advice; let them play Madden and give the mecha gaming reviews to someone who would actually want to play them. Simple really.

  • Narrative Subtlety: Armored Core is a series that has often been given a less than brilliant localisation. This is down to the subtle and inferred narrative that is then portrayed literally in English. Unfortunately, most Americans prefer their narrative subtlety delivered from the barrel of a gun, that's shaped like a penis being fired by Michael Bay. Please bear in mind that the rest of the world does operate somewhat differently in this regard.

  • Learning Curves: For Answer has one and it's rather large. Understand that people who pay for games with their own money will inevitably invest more time and effort into cracking complex games open. The vast array of parts and functional scope is something that has to be learned, this doesn't make games bad but the motivation to play to this extent needs to be taken into consideration. If you feel stupid playing a complicated game, that's because you are (initially at least) very stupid within the context of the game. Take it on the chin and have some fun with the game instead.

[Kurokishi is a humble servant of the Drake forces and his interests include crushing inferior opponents, combing his mane of long silvery hair and dicking around with cheap voice synthesisers. When he's not raining down tyrannical firepower upon unsuspecting peasants in his Galava aura fighter he likes to take long moonlight walks and read books about cheese.]