Review #1 by Kevin Cheung
Players have a number of choices in terms of game style. There is the story mode called "Battling World" in which players enter are immersed into a virtual world, travelling between towns, conversing with different people, gaining commission from the bloodthirsty, and earning money from them by killing other people. The main alternative is a battle mode in which players select an AT and do battle with the Blue Sabre Knights one at a time. The other feature of this game is a versus mode for two player action.
From beginning to end, this game exudes qualities of the vintage anime. Players will excite to the opening FMV sequence with its faithful reproduction of real AT action, complete with detachable arms that become missiles, accompanied by music and sound effects that any anime fan should recognise.
Graphically, the game can only be described as solid - but not particularly special in any way. The ATs all animate quite smoothly and cleanly. The polygons used in the game, for both the ATs and the backgrounds, are kept simple and untextured to retain the simpler flavor - after all, this is not meant to be realistic, but a translation of an anime. The overall effect is a look that bears more similarity to Sega's Virtual On than what Armored Core does.
The sounds of the game are perfect as a translation of the anime, and quite appropriate for AT battles. The music is all PCM, but thankfully, it is all well done. The best way to describe it would be say that it creates that whole sense of "mission", "duty", "valor", and so on that one would find in the anime itself. The sound effects are also quite sufficient, with all the requisite explosions, weapons discharges, crashes, and so on.
Like Armored Core, this game provides depth of gameplay through the ability to customise one's AT. Once saved into the memory card, a player can use their custom AT in the battle mode and the versus mode. This game finds additional depth through its story-line in the Battling World. The Battling World allows the player to travel from place to place, and depending on how they converse with others in that world, they will encounter different battles. This kind of variety is important in breaking up the mundanity of fighting one relentless battle or mission after another, supplemented only with cash earnings for upgrades. This was the flaw, albeit a minor one, of Armored Core.
Control of the ATs take one of two forms. The first, being digital control, uses the thumb-buttons as the weapons triggers with the shoulder buttons for sliding, rotating to face the enemy, and switching between primary, secondary and "up-close-and-personal" weapons. The directional thumb-pad is used for moving forwards, backwards, and rotating. The second form of control is a little more interesting, utilising both analogue thumb-pads for directional control that is similar to Sega's Virtual On - that is, pushing both forward will result in forward motion, and pushing one forward and the other backwards will result in a rotation. Weapons are fired by pushing the analogue thumb-pads into the pad itself - a feature I've seen in very few games. The shoulder buttons serve the same function as in digital control.
With these controls, the player can manoeuvre through a three-dimensional arena, laying waste to their opponent with a combination of weapons fire and then closing in for a good punch-up. You can even kick them when they are down - but while this might sound like good attention to detail, it's actually quite hilarious because it looks like Akane kicking the daylights out of Ranma. The ability to slide in any direction provides the ability to adopt many attack patterns, such as heavy bombardments or dashing in and taking off a little piece at a time. And speaking of pieces, the ATs can actually lose some limbs - hence some weapons - in the process of the battle. In contrast, this feature is not that funny: it's actually quite annoying.
So what's wrong with the game? Plenty. The main complaint is that the overall execution of the controls is not as solid as what as top notch game should be. The ATs move relatively slowly, even with the use of the slide buttons. This becomes painfully evident when trying to rotate (slowly) mid-battle, as understandably, the opponent will often fall completely out of your line of sight. By the time you have rotated to where you want, the opponent is already in your face and is about 2 micro seconds from hacking your arms off. Now, people will start asking me, "why don't you press the button that points you in their immediate direction?" Simple: employing such a tactic makes for extremely two dimensional strategy. Sure, you could do that, but the game would become too simplistic. Nevertheless, it is still a workable play-mechanic that is bound to produce some unorthodox strategy.
Compounded with this problem is the absence of any torso-twisting abilities. This means that any winning strategy would be a case of "stop, shoot", and then "run straight at them with guns blazing and hope they aren't smart enough to jump around to face you". This doesn't make for very intelligent gaming by any standard.
The next problem is with the analogue control. Now, don't get me wrong: I thought it was a great idea to use both thumb-pads for movement and attack. It is unfortunate that the overall execution of this control is extremely loose and too open to error. Action games of this type are largely reactionary, meaning that players would typically resort to button smashing and strong jerky movements. However, AT control requires precision movement, and a slight mis-push can result in your AT spinning wildly out of control. Here's proof that extreme precision and wild action do not mix very well. Players might do better by just sticking to digital controls.
There are also problems with the presentation of the game itself. Firstly, the battle arenas are tiny! When added to the lack of any jumping or torso-twisting, one cannot help but feel a little claustrophobic while playing this game. The lack of any options to the camera angle does not help either, being locked in the one static position behind the AT. The one exception to the latter is an odd one: when your AT punches or kicks the opponent, the camera will rotate to take a side-on view of the fight, and then rotate back to the rear view once that is over. It takes a little getting used to. Finally, there are the weapons themselves. There are quite a few to choose from - it's just that when you fire them, no matter what damage it may cause, they all take the form of the same white speck that flies across the screen. The reality of it is that there is no real visual variety in the weapons - the only variety is in the damage that is dealt out.
In the grand scheme of things, it is sad that this game should come off second best to the game that it tried to improve on, being Armored Core. The concept was all there - to have both a story mode and a battle mode to provide the finer elements of both Virtual On and Armored Core. Even the analogue control method was a good idea. Unfortunately, this all came at the price of poorer control execution and smaller playing fields. This game could have been better had one of either the battle mode or the story mode been excluded. It still remains a fairly solid game, but without the flare, tight controls, or open space that Armored Core provides.