Thursday, January 22, 2009

Armored Core For Answer: Hard Mode

While trying to reach 100% completion of the Normal Mode missions in For Answer, I have completely hit a wall in my attempts to actually complete mission 42, what I think is the final mission of the last plot branch of the game. There are so many things I could say about how poorly this mission is designed, how this last plot branch is itself horrible, and how basically unfun it is to get stuck in a game designed to be played through multiple times without any choice but to proceed forward through an impossible challenge, even if there are still things undone on other plot branches, but doing so would probably only make me more angry, so I won't. Instead, I have devoted myself to playing through the game's missions on Hard Mode using the Free Play option (which is a nice option they made available), and I have been pretty happy with the experience.

I will start off by echoing the sentiments my brother expressed in his recent article: it is much better for the higher difficulty levels of a game to provide new challenges, rather than to be a rehash of the normal difficulty level. This is especially true for any game in which you have to unlock higher difficulty levels and the player is expected to play through the game multiple times, such as the Devil May Cry series or Armored Core For Answer. Trying to change the difficulty by altering the math that controls damage values and similar properties is often a bad idea, simply because it can easily imbalance some of the game, often making things more frustrating for the player rather than adding to the feelings of excitement and sense of overcoming impossible odds that are incredibly important for higher difficulty settings. However, adding new challenges to overcome on top of the old ones does add to that sense, and also keeps things fresh. The Hard Mode missions of Armored Core For Answer take the approach of adding new challenges rather than altering the old ones, and it has rekindled my interest in playing through the many missions I have cleared several times already.

One thing I particularly like about the alterations made to the For Answer Hard Mode missions is that they are unpredictable and logical at the same time. In some missions the enemy is reinforced with additional troops, and in others you simply don't get the reinforcements that you typically do. In some missions they add new hazardous environmental conditions, and in others you have to deal with new, severe technical issues with equipment vital to the given mission. The game actually tries to create a sense that the Normal mission is the version in which things go off without a hitch, and the Hard mission is where unforeseeable problems interfere with the mission parameters (listening to your operator get much more angry with the people hiring you to do these missions and even explode into short tirades about poor intel really changes the mood of the missions, and can be pretty funny, too). The fact that Hard Mode makes you fight even more Arm Forts and NEXTs than Normal Mode is another nice touch, since those kinds of enemies are the most imposing and fun to fight type of enemy in the game.

Still, I wish there was a bit more consistency in how big of a change was made in the jump in difficulty. For some missions, the change is hardly noticeable, such as the addition of a few Normals to a NEXT battle or the removal of some reinforcements that didn't help much anyways. This goes as far as few missions in which I am not even sure what they changed (they probably just added some additional enemies). In other cases, the change completely alters the nature of the mission, such as the inclusion of a pair of NEXTs into a mission that was just a straight-up battle against MTs and Normals. The last example is practically the equivalent of adding a totally new mission into the game, that happens to occur when you are already depleted from a protracted battle. I would be a bit happier if more of the missions took the middle road and avoided either extreme. Adding on a complication that matches the existing challenge, like the sudden arrival of a third NEXT into what is normally a battle against two NEXTs, works much better in my opinion.

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