Part 2: Project Phantasma - Chapter 2: Exposition Dump (Arena Ranks #49 - 40)Today's part is gonna feature one mission, but it's a bit of a lengthy one, and a lot of things with story significance come up so it makes up for that. Let's take a look at the briefing.
We have located the area where the prisoner is being held. We request
that you plan on a rescue mission.
The prisoner we must rescue is being held in an enemy laboratory.
Destroy the power supply and then take advantage of the ensuing
confusion to rescue the prisoner.
After completing the rescue, heard for the upper section of the lab
and escape in the lightweight plane we have stashed there.
Despite the email from last update saying that Stinger took advantage of the fact these missions were given out anonymously, they still are not assigning anyone as the sender to avoid confusion. Guess we'll just have to go along with it for now. Not like there are any other options.
And here we start the first mission of the game that has a whole lot of ground to cover.
But first, we need to take two elevator trips down below the surface. Not the most exciting start to a mission, I suppose.
First one's done.
And here's the second. If you kept looking straight at the wall you'd almost think nothing happened because wall moves with the platform.
After that we proceed through this door where the first enemy is located.
And I blow it up right after it nicks some of my AP. These fuckers immediately fire upon you the moment you're spotted, and with how limited these corridors are it's almost guaranteed that they'll hit you. Luckily it doesn't take much to bring them down.
These next set of hallways have multiple doors, but most of them are locked. I still end up checking the locked ones out of habit, but if you're paying attention to radar, the doors that have enemies behind them is the way you're supposed to go.
After checking enough doors and going through long corridors, we pass through a door into a large room and we're greeted with a short cutscene.
It's Stinger, and this time we get to fight him!
This fight, I will admit, is not one of my stronger showings. I take way more hits than I should've, and I don't make use of the fact there's a second floor walkway in this room and use it to my advantage. None of the enemies throughout the level will be able to do me in unless I just sit there, so I finish the mission just fine. Just with not as much money.
We take him down anyway, and this won't be the last time we fight Stinger.
After that fight, we got more corridors with locked doors and enemies to deal with. But the next point of interest in this mission is near.
This right here is the power generator for the laboratory. It was our job to first destroy these so our target could escape and we could rescue them, so we'll do just that.
Boom! No more power. Well, there's still backup power, but that won't stop us.
Already our target has gone to work and making their way out of the base. Better catch up.
I don't remember if this split makes any difference in getting to the next destination, but I finally noticed the 3 on the wall and my mind immediately thought "third sector" according to the intercom. Makes enough sense.
We go through more narrow corridors with scattered enemies and finally reach another elevator that takes us back up closer to ground level. Pass through the door and a brief cutscene takes over.
Our rescue target's a women it seems, and she's under attack.
Interesting thing about the target and her Battle Rig. It can't actually be destroyed. You can sit there for as long as you want and the other rigs won't destroy her. But that would be boring otherwise, so we take care of the two enemies.
Well, time to get moving now.
You don't have to stay behind the battle rig if you're fast enough, the next place you need to reach is another elevator and you won't have to wait long for her to catch up.
Now we have a time limit to worry about. We're almost at the end of this long ass mission.
The last three enemies in this entire mission, waiting to fire upon you as you enter the hangar. But I get the jump on them and kill all three during a side hop, and not even a single scratch there.
Enter the back of the plane, and we'll finish the mission, and be treated to a massive plot dump. Well, as massive as can be in these games.
Our target and mission assigner finally has a name. Good to know.
That scene for some reason likes to hang on the side of the aircraft before it flies off and fades to black. Not sure what the reason for that is, maybe there was more dialogue that went on much longer in the original Japanese version? Can't really tell.
And now we're paid, albeit forfeiting over half of the reward due to repair costs. Could've been better, but it's nothing to worry about.
But now we know the plot of the game, why we're in Amber Crown, the name of our contact Sumika, who the antagonists are, and that this Stinger fellow is involved in all this somehow.
There's some more elaboration I can give regarding the two main characters, though, along with their significance to the Armored Core series in general.
For start, let's focus on Sumika.
Sumika Juutilainen uses an entirely custom AC build, based off of the GP-AC Ariake model, a mass produced type of AC without the customization ability. Its pink and white color palette easily differentiates itself from the base model. In Armored Core Nexus on the PS2, her AC appears on that game's Revolution disc which is comprised of remakes of missions from the PS1 Armored Core games.
Sumika's character herself, however, serves as a precedence for an important character type in all future Armored Core games: the player's operator. In the first Armored Core, the player tended to receive orders on missions from the clients themselves. In Master of Arena onward, the player is assigned a liaison that handles the missions assigned to them. She also has the benefit in this game as doubling as an AC pilot and will participate in certain missions alongside us. Regardless, all the operators in future games are all women, and most of them are given names. The exceptions to this rule are the operators in Another Age, Nexus, and Nine Breaker.
Stinger meanwhile, is an "irregular," a Raven who has no affiliation with the Raven's Nest although the term is retroactively applied to him as it originates from the AC3 series. Like Sumika, is AC is an entirely custom model, specifically based off of two Mass Production AC models from the first game, Swifts and Spitefuls. Some of this AC's design can be seen in future games such as 03-AALIYAH from Armored Core 4, and it's parts are available in Armored Core Nexus. Not only does Stinger appear in AC Nexus' Revolution Disc, but he also makes a cameo appearance in Another Age on the PS2, alongside another well known adversary from the PS1 Armored Core games.
Stinger's presentation is clearly meant to convey a character that's enigmatic and has some ulterior motive. In the Japanese version, Stinger has the luxury of being voiced by Sho Hayami, a voice actor known for his role as bad ass VF pilot supreme Max Jenius in Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Macross was created by Shoji Kawamori, the mechanical designer for most of the Armored Core series, so it's interesting to see these two involved in both products. Sho does a great job as Stinger, though because this is the English version and I've spent more time with it than the Japanese version, I have an appreciation for this English VA's overacting in making Stinger come off really evil. He puts slightly more effort into the thing than Sumika's voice actor does, I'll give him that.
With that, these are the two characters we're going to get to know quite well throughout the rest of this game. Get used to it, voice acting and all. But now let's move on to the last part of this update; the Arena.
This is where it all began for the series. Replacing the original top 10 rankings in Armored Core 1, the Arena provides players an optional venue to fight against different AC opponents in multiple stages for credits and extra parts. This first iteration provides a ranking ladder of 50 ACs, the 50th rank being operated by the player AC, and 13 battle arenas to choose from. At any point in the game, you can go here and fight against the next opponent above you and move up the ladder. There's nothing to stop you from continuing, so you could potentially blow through the entire ranking ladder before ever touching the campaign if you wanted (and had the skills too).
This mode, while being a personal favorite of mine in the series, is probably the main factor in this game's imbalances. From a money standpoint, the credit payouts on each Arena match start to increase exponentially and you can earn more credits than you could have obtained in the first game (not counting replaying missions). Difficulty wise, the AI for each ranked AC has its own nuances, but picking the right weapon load out and/or stage can trivialize almost every encounter. Specifically, equipping weapon arms due to their high attack power combined with the low ceiling cavern stage to limit vertical mobility helps deal with most of the difficulty that comes with fighting later AC opponents. Although there are some spikes in the challenge that the same strategy will still work but just barely. Being able to keep your opponent in sight and on the move constantly is important, but those two factors I mentioned make the majority of this mode a cakewalk.
However, for the sake of showing everything in this game in a non boring manner, I will try to challenge myself by cycling through all the stages and mixing up AC builds as we ascend the rankings. But when it gets to the top half or so, don't be surprised to see me resorting to some of the above mentioned methods. Even now this shit can still give me some trouble. In the meantime, here are the first ten ranked battles in the Arena, all taken down with relative ease after finishing the last mission. I'll only provide brief summaries of what each ranking AC is like because there's only so much commentary I can extrapolate out of the same thing being repeated for about a minute each. Click each icon of the AC's emblem to see the recorded match.
Arena Ranks #49 - 40
One thing to note as we increase in rank in the Arena is that our AC is given a description based on where we're placed on the ladder. During the first ten ranks that we climb it changes multiple times, but after rank 40 you only need to check it every 5 ranks to see us being described more favorably compared to the competition
Reward: 6000 C
This guy's a chump, even in the widest possible space given that I fought him in. It says he uses the starting AC build, but an interesting detail is that it does not include a back mounted missile launcher. Only damage he can really deal is from his basic rifle.
Our description is changed slightly after beating the the first guy above us. It says "weaker pilots" despite us only kicking the shit out of one dude who could only afford to recolor the damn AC.
Reward: 7000 C
Special Part: GBX-TL
This guy doesn't really fight back much, and his primary weapon are missile launchers, weapons that can be easily dodged if you know the trajectory.
This fight also nets us are first special part, the GBX-TL generator. However, as an energy user, this is not worth it for us for two reasons. 1, it is the heaviest of all the generators in the PS1 Armored Core games. 2, the Redzone on the energy meter becomes absurdly huge, like nearly half of the entire meter will recharge slower than the rest, and even with our energy consumption cut in half, the rate at which I like to rapid fire my weapons it's not a good choice.
Reward: 8000 C
This is the first ranked AC that uses energy weapon arms, and they are one of the most devastating weapons an AC can use. Fortunately, this Raven being so low in rank means dodging his shots is easy enough to do. Also this stage I fight him on is the stage that I was talking about when it comes to limiting the vertical movement of some ACs. Because while Roach doesn't take advantage of it, some ACs later on are some jumpy motherfuckers.
Our description changes yet again, but there's still a way to go before public opinion looks at us more favorably.
Reward: 9000 C
Thorn uses a machine gun and keeps a pretty good track on your AC if you let it. By this point, an important thing to keep in mind with the Arena matches is to keep your opponent in sight and to be sure you're dealing more damage than they are. It all boils down to a DPS race.
Reward: 10000 C
Despite being a reverse jointed AC, Snake doesn't abuse the fact that he can hop around all over the goddamn place. And while he also uses a machine gun, he doesn't abuse it quite as hard as the previous AC. Things are still pretty easy as it is.
Reward: 12000 C
Special Part: WC-SPGUN
Killer Rabbit fights with a machine gun similarly to Thorn, but he does not boost around as much compared to him. Keeping him in sight, especially on the level that I fought him, isn't much of an issue.
Beating Killer Rabbit also nets a second special part, the WC-SPGUN. It's a back mounted slug gun that shoots in a spread, and is not really to my style. Just another piece for the collection.
Reward: 14000 C
Salamander not only likes to fire his weapon arm machine guns when he has the opportunity, but also boost all over the place. By this point, you should know not to stay still unless you can take the damage while dishing out more of your own (like I do at the end).
Reward: 15000 C
Our first tank type AC in the Arena, and is super easy compared to the last few opponents. All he does is move around slowly and occasionally fire his missile launchers, which are not especially threatening this early on.
Also, even though I'm rank 42 at the moment, the description changes to this text the moment you reach 43. I had momentarily forgotten when it was supposed to happen, but I still remembered to check before reaching ranking 40.
Reward: 18000 C
After that reprieve, we're back to fighting against a machine gun user who likes to circle around the player. Also this particularly map isn't very fun due to the size mixed with low visibility, though it didn't have as much of an impact to the overall fight.
Reward: 19000 C
The description for this AC is as you'd expect. It's slow moving, and the sniper rifle becomes almost useless upon closing the distance. Very easy victory with a few good laser blade hits.
And now we've cleared the first fifth of the Arena, and our future apparently looks promising. But there's something kind of missing from this. Something all the other Ravens have that we don't...
...oh yeah, an Emblem.
There's gonna be a little bit of time in between this update and the next, and during that time I'll be further modifying the ARC II for both missions and Arena battles, the most important being an updated paint job and emblem. The color palette will still consist of the same blues and whites I've grown accustomed to, but I'm interested in creating an emblem to represent our AC in the rankings for this game and the one after. This also includes any suggestions from you guys. Anything I can fit into a 64 x 64 sprite image made with this game's editor I will give a shot. Otherwise, touching up one of the sample emblems would be better than nothing. It's something I've never bothered with at all in any of the AC games, but I guess now would be a good time as any to start.
Any and all suggestions are welcome. Pictures for reference will also help. And I trust you all to suggest something that won't be the dumbest thing ever...ah, whatever, I still expect that to happen anyway.
We'll be continuing to do the Arena matches alongside the campaign missions, about ten ranks every two missions. It helps to keep things interesting and not save 49 matches of the same thing for the end.