Review by CNeff

"Master of the Arena, excellent gameplay..BUT"

Master of the Arena, third in the AC series with excellent gameplay BUT..(edited revision)

As the title suggests, Armored Core: Master of Arena isn't the perfect end all be all a gamer might want (but truly though, how many games ever fit that bill?). However, before I do the criticizing, let's do the general overview thing. Armored Core: Master of the Arena, created by From Software, is third in the series of Armored Core games in which you play a Raven, a mech-owning mercenary for hire. For fun and profit, you, the player takes on a variety of missions and battles in order to buy new mech parts from which you create new and more powerful mechs to use on progressively harder missions and arena opponents. The eventual goal is, of course, to become Master of the Arena.
Actually, I'm lying. The game ''supposedly'' revolves around the story of a Raven who's family is killed by a mysterious mech and his/her quest of investigation into who and why. The plot in Master of the Arena follows this fairly simplistic model and you do just that, hunt down and kill the bad mech. Overall, this really an excuse for the real gameplay which lies in the variety of missions objectives you must complete and the 3d mech battles Master of Arena has to offer. Battle in the air, take on a mission to cleanse an area of hostiles, take out a moving fortress single-handedly, battle on top of ships at sea, the game mixes things up nicely, no mission is entirely the same as another. Also, there are of course the 1-1 challenge arena, where you fight a mech of comparable power in wide open colleausem type areas or moonscapes that sometimes contain buildings and other such tactical terrain to use.
As well, Master of the Aena gives you the ability to acquire parts and fully customize your personal mech, which besides the mech fighting, is game unto itself. On parts, there are over 180 parts for head, body, generator, legs, weapons, tracking systems etc; or simply put, alot of combinations you can play with. This includes the all-important act of painting your mech whatever color giving it a cool enblem and then naming the bad-boy (or girl). The feature makes for excellent replay value too.
Take on a mission to clear a factory area of hostiles as fast light mech or a heavy mech, or any in between. Having trouble with a one on one battle with an especially tough missle-toting mech, maybe a setup that includes some 4-way missles of your own along with a missle-jammer might be in order? Or maybe different and more powerful boosters are in order? As the game also supports a two player arena-fighting mode, the varying mech setups ensure continued fun with a friend.
The game controls are tight and simple enough enough to understand. No complex button combos or joy stick rolls etc. One button does one thing and another does another thing. But complete ability to play the game lies somewhere down a fairly difficult learning curve because Master of Arena is one of the few Playstation games that requires use of all buttons on the controller. This is at once a detriment and a boon depending on what type of challenge you like when playing a game, since the latter levels and enemies in the game will continually test your profficiency at piloting your mech.
Next, graphics and sound are fair to good at best. While the game features wonderful 3d environments for the missions and arena battles that run incredibly smooth regardless of how many things are going on at once, the graphics tend to be grainy and a little on the darkish side. Plus, when playing the game you have to get used to textures on other mechs and walls suddenly changing sometimes, as well some clipping problems with the 3d models. Oh well, What can you expect from a game that is set in a post-apocalyptic world? On the other hand, the sound fits the game perfectly (whizzing missals, explosions, flak blowing off your mech, the metal stomping of other mechs in the distance, it has it all) but the musical score has something to be desired. While it fits in with the giant mech feel with a techno-electronic beat, the musical score is extremely repetitious and quickly tiring.
Taken overall though, Master of the Arena is probably the best mech fighting game ever to come out for the Playstation, a classic in it own right that if it hasn[t been played, needs to be played by anyone who is even remotely interested in mech fighting or action gaming.
Oh wait, I'm lying again. The above is how isn't so much how my general recommendation of Armored Core: Master of Arena reads, but more exactly how my opinion of the Armored Core series of games runs. There is more that needs to be said.
First, as said, Master of Arena, is the third in the series of Armored Core games. However, as the third son, Master of the Arena hardly makes any improvements over the first game, Armored Core, which was released 2 years before Master of Arena. Don't get me wrong, Armored Core was a good game, everything I just described in the above paragraphs, but Master of Arena is really nothing more than an add-on pack to the original Armored Core game. Graphics, control, gameplay, even the the other robots you destroy in the missions are almost all the same. The only real differences between the generations of Armored Core games is that Master of Arena's game play is tweaked slightly better and it has a couple minor goodies which the other games don't have.
One, it has a better balance of missions vs. 1 on 1 battles than its predecessors (though less single player missions than the first game actually, but more 1 on 1 battle arenas than the second Armored Core: Project Phantasma and more than the original (which had none other than in two player mode). Also, it has more 2-player battle arenas, but the increase in the number of 2 player battle locations from the orginal game numbers on one hand. Next, while the AI in the game hasn`t changed at all, there is included a simple editor which lets players make computer mechs and AI`s with which to fight. This is less fun than it sounds because the computer AI is never as remotely as tough to play againist as simply recruiting a friend for an arena battle. Moving on, Master of the Arena supports analog play, but as far as I can work it, this means it uses the rumble function on dual shock controllers, not real analog control. And next to last, it supports the Pocketstation, which is even more disappointing since the Pocketstation game consists of nothing more than a challenge to push your Pocketstation`s buttons really fast. Largely, the main draw of the latest addition of the Armored Core family is that a player can make a newer more bad-ass mech, since there are quite a few more parts than in the previous games (including those parts from that were found in previous games).
So saying, one might ask, ''With theses extras, even if they aren't that great over the first, Master of Arena is the game to get, right? And while were at it, what's with that bad grammatical title, Master of the Arena?''
Well, while hands down Master of Arena IS the (slightly)better game, you must remember that it is a Japanese import (thus the bad English titling) which is unlikely to get an nice ported English translation. While this isn't a problem for hard-core Armored Core fans (it has more than enough English for those who have played Armored Core before), for the beginner I`d imagine it to be somewhat un-user friendly. Also, since the Japanese in the game uses hard technical Japanese for the most part (know how to say missle silo in Japanese?), the not existent plot will be even more non-existent to those without the proper language abilities. However, the number one accessbility problem from Master of Arena being a Japan only game so far is money though.
You see, it's impossible for this reviewer to recommend Master of the Arena, at a $60 and up price tag, over a $2-4 rent of the original (and essentially same) Armored Core from a local video rental store. As the game stands now, interest in Master of the Arena is only worthwhile for the dedicated Armored Core player who will shell out money for the various small extras the game has over its predecessors. If you aren't one of these people, then I say stick with the American versions of Armored Core and Armored Core: Project Phantasma, they are classics in their own right . If you are one of those people though, take into consideration what I (as a self-proclaimed Armored Core fan) have said, the game is worthwhile a purchase but not that worthwhile.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/01/00, Updated 03/01/00


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