General Critiques Review

Daemon X Machina

It’s Armored Core lite. In sticking with that succinct description, on the topic of do I recommend the game, the issue isn’t quite clear cut, primarily due to price-point and obscuring the issue more, the game is weighted down terrifically by the console it launched on.

So do I recommend it? At a 60$ price point, the game is a bit weak, so whether or not you’ll appreciate that purchase point is likely entirely dependent on your appreciation for the the mecha genre. If you liked the Armored Core series, and with From Software’s lukewarm last entries before abandoning it to jump ship to the Souls IP, Daemon X Machina could very well sate an itch you’ve probably had for a long time.

That said, I flat out don’t recommend it on the Switch, and if you’re up in the air on the genre or haven’t experienced one of these styles of games before, I can’t fully endorse it. It’s a decent game, but besides its console of choice, it’s also blatantly ‘inspired’ by ideas and concepts from other games, which in itself isn’t so much of a bad thing, but it is when these ideas and concepts aren’t congruent with the rest of the game.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:

A recurring concept that’s probably come up almost every time I’ve ever critically thought about a game series is the question of whether or not the game actually moves forward in comparison to what steps have been taken before it. Daemon X Machina itself might not truly be an Armored Core game, but between its producer and the overall story presented by the game along with the manner in which it’s done, in some respects, it truly does manage to be a step forward from the Playstation 2 games which hooked me into the series; specifically Armored Core 3 and its subsequent titles.

However, as it takes that step forward, it also stumbles and falls in areas which the previous Armored Core titles were stronger. It’s definitely not worse than Armored Core V, but it isn’t better than Armored Core 4 and Armored Core for Answer in terms of raw, minute-to-minute, second-to-second gameplay and intricacy. Likewise, even though there’s a presentation which is highly similar to Armored Core 3 in a few important areas, the story itself offering a heavy emphasis that some of these concepts matter, there is the problem that quite frankly, they don’t, which itself is a fairly low blow to Armored Core 3 in that, concepts like receiving sponsorship from a company in Armored Core 3 could actually happen.

It doesn’t happen in Daemon X Machina. You don’t get to vie for power with the varying factions: the experience is entirely linear. There is no taking jobs for specific companies you like, and while there are missions which do provide the player with equipment, these affairs are one-and-done, knocked out early on so that they could be laid to rest without the player thinking about them as more of a tutorial than a real element of the experience.

And it kind of hurts. It didn’t necessarily bother me entirely when I played through the game the first time, but having played the game now a little alongside someone else, it’s cutting to say the least when a friend of yours wants to ‘join [one] of the factions,’ but you have to tell them that unfortunately, they’ll never get the opportunity to actually do so.

Gameplay

While technically speaking, the above is relevant to gameplay, but here I want to focus on the raw experience of actually being in-mission and what specifically adds to, subtracts from, or is fairly superfluous to that entire experience. The best way to do that, of course, is not just with text. So let the gifs commence:

There is a huge amount that goes on in a given mission even if that mission can be completed under a minute (which, most certainly, not every mission is so simple), and among other things, it’s pretty impossible decipher without familiarity to the system. If you’ve played the Armored Core series, or more specifically, 3, 4, and V, one of the most readily apparent differences is that flight is easily accessible and comes with essentially no cost. In fact, typically speaking, your in-flight speed will be faster than your ground speed, which means that it’s generally rewarded – especially given the cluster of buildings which would be impossible to navigate at speeds of which the mech is capable.

Mission structure typically revolves around destroying a number of enemies in a level, but there’s also a number of typical objectives such as defense and escort. The mandatory escort missions are forgiven of the sin of being escort missions as the player can ride target they need to defend. A few missions end up playing out as reach the objective trigger (go from point A to point B) but all in all, the entire affair is pretty typical for an Armored Core experience. If anything, I’d say a little simplistic, but given that the game was launched on the Switch, it’s understandable.

I just think I’m also allowed not to like that fact.

The maps which the action take place on are pretty aesthetically varied and pleasing to the eye, but there’s only a few of them which are reused. This isn’t so much a problem throughout most of the game, but eventually you’ll see the same air base about three or four times consecutively which can easily take the player out of it. Worth mentioning, though, these maps are quite large in some cases it’s easily possible to not realize you’re essentially on the other side of a space you’ve already explored a little. More often than not, this scale is only present during certain missions which might have you travel a little distance.

It’s a nice nuance, but it beats home that mission boundaries are often entirely unnecessary and contain the player in a very small area. Mechs can move at incredible speeds, both in the air and on the ground. Which makes it a little surprising that at an Ace Combat like approach wasn’t taken: a concession towards a large amount of space that might sometimes be empty in certain places, but as a whole offers great freedom.

And a much, much higher height ceiling. Ugh.

Arsenals, the mechs you customize and pilot, and their movement are inspired straight from anime. From classical skating ala the MS-09B Dom, to blinking and flying about like modern anime mecha that can make Tracer envious – the green dashing you see above. Skating happens automatically, a contrast to Armored Core 4, but the boost button works something more like a combination of AC4’s two boost buttons: when held, you will continue boosting, but the amount of acceleration is extremely high. If we could see numbers like Armored Core 4, I would not be surprised if Arsenals are easily hitting Mach 1 or higher. Considering Armored Core 3 kept track of altitude, and the number of other visual effects in Daemon X Machina, I’m almost surprised there’s no visual effects for breaking the sound barrier.

Blinking has some issues, both in that it’s frustrating to fight against with the AI having a greater blink distance than the player can manage and better recovery as well as the consideration that the distance the player can blink is easily enough to travel from inside the mission boundary by the yellow barrier to outside the red barrier – instantly destroying your Arsenal. With blink on a double-tap of the control stick, it’s surprisingly easy trigger on accident.

With blink being the only major complaint, the flight itself can create scenarios where the player is too high, but, when you’re aware of this, it’s easy to rectify by simply flying better and staying closer to the ground. I still have preference for the complication and nuance of Armored Core 4’s system, but given that requires two buttons dedicated solely for boosting, I can see how that may not be conducive to making an approachable mech game.

Giant robots of course have hands. Now, you could choose to forsake these for gun arms and some people are some serious advocates of them in terms of raw damage output, but, using gun arms forsakes the ability to swap weapons as well as prevents the player from picking up certain objects in the environment. It’s kind of a nice little detail, and also worth mentioning, Arsenals eject their weapons by throwing them similar to the car above. The damage is pretty decent, and modified by your arm selection. Unfortunately, you can only eject arm weapons in this manner, unlike previous Armored Core games which by varying button inputs allowed you to eject virtually all of your equipment.

The whole throwing mechanic is used occasionally throughout the game, but not really enough to matter so much. The only real times it’s use is encouraged much is early on with the presence of mines during a defense mission – a definite convenience that is quickly forgotten – and at the last boss. It’s honestly not that bad and the only real issues with the idea is that it’s largely underutilized in the mission structure and that it can wonk out when you’re ‘locked on’ and throwing something, preventing you from tilting the camera in certain, or sometimes every, direction.

FEMTO Arms are a fairly interesting mechanic that the player is exposed to quite quickly over the course of the game. It essentially acts a mixture of variety of prior Armored Core mechanics, such as Primal Armor and Overboost. There are three formations the player can use: Assault, which buffs damage and I believe reload time in exchange for lowering defense; Wings, which acts quite similarly to Overboost but doesn’t use stamina and likewise lowers defense; Shield does as it says on the tin acting as a 360­º barrier.

Unfortunately, only Assault can be used while the player is attacking, the Wing and Shield shifts automatically disable when the player starts firing. But the Shield (or any) shift is something can be used while disembarked from the Arsenal, something I’ll cover later. As these different formations are used, they deplete the circular gauges which act also act as displays for their cooldowns. While pretty neat, I feel like the player should be put in a position of ‘pick two’ as these are chosen by the up and down keys on the D-Pad in a cycling, swap-through system. It’s in a place where if the player could shoot while using Wing or Shield shifts, and swap to those or Assault Shift specifically in a fight, I think the mechanic would feel more complete – but it’s still quite useful as it is.

Much simpler: Mirage is essentially a doppelganger of your mech. It has a limited amount of damage it can take and in PvP it actually obfuscates whether or not you or the Mirage is the real deal! As I mentioned, it is a doppelganger, and will attack autonomously. With the right weapon setup, this really powerful and it’s pretty crucial for PvP as well as taking the heat off in certain fights throughout the story. While it’s active, your FEMTO particle gauge depletes. At certain breakpoints, you lose chunks of your FEMTO Arms gauges, and at zero you’ll need to stop using it and recover your FEMTO, but it’s remarkably cool and useful, probably in more ways than you would initially expect from the first time you’re instructed to use it as you could probably beat the game without ever touching it.

Melee attack chains are one of those deciding cool factors which actually give specific melee weapons a brand new purpose: certain swords, katanas, are surprisingly decent at crowd control rather than just raw damage. It’s a functionality unique to two swords (each with three variations) that is slightly niche, further cemented by the various upgrade trees. While theoretically it could serve to very easily turn into a largely fair and interesting balancing point, attack chains require multiple targets. At least, most of the time. In certain situations, like those such as having multiple enemy targets nearby or sometimes just hitting at the right angle in the right spot on the right enemy can actually get these weapons to strike the same target repeatedly. Also, quite interestingly, the katana class of sword is affected by the attack chain body modifications, meaning that the Ohabari, a sword ‘without’ the ability to attack chain can receive it through character upgrades.

An honorable mention to another fairly niche gameplay mechanic that is still none-the-less friggin’ cool is the White Glint-esque spin and shoot that you can perform by shooting both weapons during the transition 360º spin between a skating strafe to the left or right and then going the opposite direction. Worth noting, pay attention to the ammo counter while the move’s being performed. This is no doubt in my mind that this is one of those aspects that is causing players to be saying the gameplay itself delivers on what Armored Core trailers show.

Looting is the primary source of both horizontal and vertical progression in the game. While you can develop and buy certain parts, you mostly get new stuff from looting it off dead enemy Arsenals, sometimes placed in the map already disabled and others you’ve recently turned to molten slag. It’s simply the best way to get new gear, largely for the fact it’s the only way you can get Attachments, an important customization feature for weapons and armor, and it’s one of the only ways to get gear slots to put said attachments in barring a few exceptions which themselves sort of prove the rule. That’s not all there is to looting equipment in the field, however. If your Arsenal isn’t using all its hardpoints, you can pick up weapons and equipment, adding them to your current load out.

Or, if things have gotten tasty and parts of your Arsenal have been critically damaged or even outright destroyed (Don’t worry, your precious looted gear can’t be permanently lost, even if it’s destroyed or ejected, it’s only gone if you choose to sell it!) you can replace it with a part looted from a disabled Arsenal. You can also repair your arsenal (the damage states of various parts are shown in the top part of the HUD) before parts are outright destroyed, but from the above you can see that part destruction has some interesting results! And of course, there are implications to your mech’s performance for this sectionalized damage: lose an arm, and the equipped weapon goes with it, lowering your damage until you replace it and removing your options. Your Arsenal’s head getting taken out drastically affects lock-on. Overall, it’s a nice detail that’s been missing for a long time from Armored Core – though it is something that FromSoft did take a swing at with one or two titles.

A particularly interesting, if admittedly under utilized part of Daemon X Machina in regards to the base game is exiting the Arsenal and engaging in activities on foot. It reinforces the aspect that the mech you’re piloting is a vehicle, which itself is a pretty huge step in this particular genre. What you can do on foot can be upgraded through surgery for cybernetic augmentation, similar to Human+ from the early Armored Core games. In contrast to Hardcore Mecha, a similar but 2D game, I found this aspect of Daemon X Machina surprisingly strong, but I think I would’ve preferred it more if you could use actual guns instead of the strange floating funnel system that hangs on your hip when not in use. Now, this is pretty huge, but if you’re playing co-op you can use your team mate’s Arsenal, by hopping out of yours and hopping in theirs. It’s a great way to see what someone else’s build actually feels like, so you can understand what you may want to build towards – or steer away from!

That’s not all you can do as an Outer, though. I’m not necessarily sure I’d qualify this as a positive, because in a few ways it’s one of those ideas that feels like the developers just copied blatantly from other games – in this case, Monster Hunter specifically. The “Trap” seen there, is essentially a Monster Hunter shock trap, and in a number of ways, feels pretty cheesy. It’s saved me a few times, and in some ways makes me appreciate the on foot layer, but I think I’d rather have had something else than something that just gets you free hits for the AI being stupid, even if it has a few applications towards easing the difficulty with Arsenal fights that I struggled with on my first-time playthrough on the Switch.

Which isn’t to say that all the blatantly inspired ideas are entirely out of place. There’s a mechanic where different singleplayer missions have the opportunity to be “invaded” at various stages by AI Arsenal pilots, and the overall invasion mechanic plays into getting loot as you’re actually looking to get invaded by specific characters and their mechs, and it most certainly adds some replayability and spice to the missions which these invasions can occur as if you’re unprepared for what you get, things can get a little dicey if you’re not experienced.

Shifting back to the Arsenal to emphasize the point of mechanics copied from other games, here’s another one from Monster Hunter: Optimal Range. I wrote about it earlier, but in short, the mechanic feels like it over-complicates an already complicated system by adding complexity to what should be basic and simple weapon systems. While it’s easy to demonstrate with a sniper rifle, other weapons suffer because of this mechanic: shotguns can’t do maximum damage point-blank, melee weapons have a strange sweet spot that doesn’t come from the acceleration of their closing dashes before the strike but instead come from being in an unlisted ideal range that the player has to get a feel for. It’s one of those things that probably subtracts from overall sum more than adds to it, which hurts more than one might realize since the value of this game I feel that gestalt is is probably the tipping point for a player’s enjoyment.

Another one of those superfluous ideas that doesn’t particularly add much to the experience is the ice cream shop. It’s, again, something that direct parallels can be found in Monster Hunter, but it’s nowhere near as important, and far more random. Oh, that ??? down at the bottom at the start of is a part of a fairly large secret. To unlock it, it your ice cream before missions, and after you’ve done it enough times and reached Rank C missions, you’ll get it. The secret is probably the closest the player can come towards a semi-complex method of unlocking special parts, but after it’s all said and done, there’s just better ways to go about the affair.

Now while it may fall under a criticism of the story, this is does relate to gameplay in regards to how story interweaves with gameplay. If you’ve played Armored Core 3, you probably remember receiving mail. Along with that mail, depending on your actions in game, you might actually have received items and equipment with it in ways that felt pertinent and appropriate for the content, or be told about new items which were added to the store’s stock. That sort of thing, which is a melding of story and gameplay in ways which establish the setting and concept of the game, is just way more absent than it should be, and it can be overlooked to a certain extent but when the writing of the game is beating those ideas home and it’s not there? It just leaves the feeling that there’s parts missing at the very least.

That said, the bosses are pretty cool. They almost all feel like proper fights even with a few scripted circumstances like the above. The only drawback is the last boss in the game: you can fight them but depending on your build you might very easily run of ammo. It’s absolutely possible to blade down the last boss, certainly, which is a classical fallback of these games, but it seems like the way the encounter is supposed to go is that the player uses throwable objects that explode from the bottom of the room on the big bad.

Some of the appearances of bosses and what they do is actually genuinely surprising. Others are a little basic, but in that regard they almost feel classic. The only real problem is that throughout the single player missions the various boss mechanics will typically be overwritten by the DPS race. If you start hitting the sweet optimal range sweet spot with an assault rifle, you can usually neglect the rest of the boss’s mechanics as well as their actual weak spots entirely, which usually would force the player to engage from specific angles and ranges.

Every boss features a unique weapon or item that can be developed after acquiring enough battle data from fighting them repeatedly. They’re all a little unique, but not all of them are that impressive nor are they that stylish. It’s a good call-back to the direction FromSoft has gone with the Souls series and bosses having weapons the player can typically obtain and emulate the boss with to a certain degree, and strikes me as one of the more interesting notes as it’s the ideas which seem rooted in FromSoft’s properties to be where Daemon X Machina takes an idea and really runs with it.

Before shifting gears to talk about customization, I need to mention the other way players can progress in terms of gaining new gear: when you start the game, the shop is essentially barren and empty. There is no new things which the player can buy that actually matter and certainly no new mech parts. The factory, unlocked when the player becomes a C rank mercenary, is how items are added to the shop.

With that said, I’d like to remind you of what I mentioned earlier regarding loot: looting gear is the only way to get items with slots, which at the end of the day, are the only items that actually matter in Daemon X Machina. It makes the whole shop entirely superfluous to the game apart from perhaps filling out a part of your build temporarily until you get the ideal version of the parts you want.

Customization

While it’s a huge part of the subgenre and niche that Armored Core created, Daemon X Machina falters in the area of customization on a number of different fronts, but most particularly in the area of cosmetics and the appearance of your machine; there’s ideas that come out strong, but in their execution stop short of being really useful. One might think this is a slightly low blow, but, some of the issues which I’ll mention here shortly weren’t faults with Armored Core 3, 4, or V, and as a whole I’d say those games created the standard by which this should be judged, even if there is at least one area where Daemon X Machina has expanded out.

There’s one thing I’d also like to make note of before carrying on. It’s that the game’s mechanical designer has been carried over from Armored Core titles, Shoji Kawamori. He’s the mechanical designer for Macross and has also done some other stuff of note like Mobile Suit Gundam: Stardust Memory and more, and certainly shows with the general appeal of most of the parts the player can equip to their Arsenal.

Starting with the aesthetics of the customization system, color customization is weaker than it should be in a few areas. Specifically, there’s purple sections of a number of the core parts that we can’t color, which fairly immediately take away from a number of color combinations the player might go with, unless you’ve got a thing for lilac, I guess. Besides that, those red and orange lights on the Arsenal, as well as the lights which show up during gameplay extending from the body of the mech, are set to those colors with no options for the player to change them. There are things that a number of players have complained about, as well as the FEMTO particle colors being locked to red when there’s yellow, blue, and purple FEMTO blades as weapons in-game – your Mirage can even change color in certain circumstances to yellow (specifically, I believe the circumstance here is low VP)! As well, you’d think we could control whether or not a surface is metallic, glossy, or even worn, instead at least one of those things is handled in an entirely different fashion. That is, metallic colors through the pattern system.

Which those patterns themselves are another area which are fairly weak, primarily for three reasons. The first is that these patterns are set to specific colors, which creates the necessity for the few duplicates we see there. The second is that there’s simply not a very large amount of them. The third is that we have no control over their placement and we can’t choose to set patterns for specific parts, or different subsections of parts as per the color system: it’s all or nothing. The ways this could be improved are no doubt immediately obvious, leaving the system feeling more like an afterthought that the player might use, until they play around with it long enough to see how limited it is.

Decals are decent; there’s a wide variety to be unlocked, but Armored Core 4 and for Answer had a very robust emblem creator/editor. Armored Core 3 had its own emblem editor where the player could draw their own emblem, too. In Daemon X Machina, the player has light control over the colors of the decals they select. Depending the decal they select, certain elements of it, or the majority, can be colored by player selection. All in all here, while I’m fairly satisfied with the different decals, the lack of an editor for them again leaves the player wanting – which doesn’t even cover the actual placement system which is, simply put, fairly limited.

Edit Arsenal is the final part of the cosmetic appearance of the player’s mech customization options. It essentially is a system that lets the player change their Arsenal into one of several DLC variants, but there’s a number of issues a player can take with this. There is absolutely the nature of the DLC, which I won’t argue for or against, but instead, I will acknowledge in that your mileage may vary. While entirely cosmetic, it’s a system that can help enhance your appreciation of the game by making your mech look good, which is pretty important. But it’s again underutilized in that the system is all or nothing. You can’t apply it on a part by part basis, and furthermore, you can’t do anything like use actual parts you own to change the look of your mech on a pure cosmetic level. Also, most of the cosmetic DLC here, the crossover content, is only available on Switch. Quite unfortunate for Marvelous and XSEED, in my opinion, given that the game has certainly found its both success and its niche on Steam.

Moving on towards the actual customization of the mech on the stat-affecting side, there’s a number of things going on. Head parts affect lock-on distance and the size as well as type of your lock-on. Body pieces contribute to your overall memory – something of a weight limit but affects lock-on time – and your flight speed. Arms primarily affect firing rate and precision, as well as other factors regarding melee combat damage and throwing various objects. Legs contribute to land speed and jump height. It goes without saying as per the genre that the overall weight of your parts typically reflects how armored they are, the different armor pieces provide different levels of protection and total HP, contributing to overall performance of your Arsenal. As far as internal parts go, the only option is a processor, which is essentially a free boost to any one stat the player desires.

Weapons are the meat of your Arsenal’s loadout, of course, and Daemon X Machina provides a fairly decent approach in regards to the overall affair. There may be balance issues, as mentioned in gameplay, which of course affect one’s considerations tremendously when it comes to customization, but overall the weapon setup isn’t too awful: you can equip up to four hand-fired weapons and swap between them freely, with your typical arrangement of Armored Core weapons: melee choices in more variety than AC, your standard assault rifles & machine guns, bazookas, sniper rifles, shotguns, laser guns, flamethrowers, handguns, and shields. Missing from the usual suspects are grenade launchers; that, and howitzers are essentially bazookas anyway. A new weapon type is the acid gun, with a special variant acting something like a rifle, but the typical performance being that of a bazooka which deals damage over time after the initial green explosion. There are typically three variants to most hand-fired and shoulder weapons which have differing stats, which is significantly improved over systems like Armored Core V’s weapon tuning, but isn’t nearly as granular or specific as Armored Core 4 or for Answer’s tuning system.

Shoulder weapons handle both the role of Armored Core’s shoulder weapons as well as back cannons. There’s missile systems, cannons in the classical and railgun varieties, laser cannons, blitzes (Gundam’s funnels, essentially remote weapons), and support devices which launch bubbles to clear statuses or repair an Arsenal. There aren’t any chain guns and in a few cases, I feel like shoulder weapons typically end up feeling more like dead weight even if they can be quite powerful in the right situation. Auxiliary equipment adds things like hand grenades, dive boosters (downward or forward directional boosters), radar jammers, FEMTO tanks for laser weapons and Blitzes, cooling devices for stamina, extra ammo, mines, or chaff and flares for shaking missiles. Grenades come in a few flavors including flashbangs and regular explosive grenades. I’d say that auxiliary equipment can usually be more useful than shoulder weapons, but it depends on what sort of builds you want to play with at the end of the day. The biggest issue is that if any of these weapons run out of usefulness, you just can’t eject them, a serious drawback considering they tend to add significant weight and use a large portion of memory – weight that if you could shirk, would reveal your Arsenal’s speed when it’s closer to a clean load out and make the difference when you’re down to your last bits of VP.

The last major part of Arsenal customization is the attachment system. Every weapon and part can have up to three slots with it. For weapons this can affect things like rate of fire, precision, damage, and a number of other nuances including special melee attachments. For armor pieces, they affect typically the same factors that the armor types do: head-specific attachments affect lock-on in varying ways, body attachments offer memory expansions and flight speed attachments, arms have rate of fire and precision support upgrades, legs have jump upgrades alongside terrestrial movement and knockdown recovery. There’s also generic mods that lower memory use, increase protection, and so forth which can be applied to any piece of armor, and the overall affects of any attachment are pretty major, making it a huge part of getting your build just right.

Player character customization has its own set of details, but I’m going to focus primarily on the Body Modification layer as it’s both quite huge and unfortunately, poorly described. Effectively, it’s a combination of concepts like Human+ parts as well as OP-INTENSIFY from older Armored Core games, and it can have some pretty huge affects on your character visually. Unfortunately, it’s not really clear what the different parts of the body modifications skill tree will do to your character until they’re already done. You can pretty easily guess what part of your character’s body will be affected, but how isn’t clear in the slightest.

Some of these are definitely better than others in the grand scheme of how the game’s balanced currently, and it’s hard to do without some of the functionality these modifications provide such as Blink at the end of the leg tree or the targeting support provided by just upgrading your head once. Besides that, the performance upgrades they provide to your Arsenal are major. But for all this, the fact the player doesn’t have control over the way these body modifications affect their character visually apart from their enhancement of gameplay performance is definitely a flaw and it’s, again, one of those things that I’ve seen players complain about. To make matters worse, in the grand scheme of things, a major portion of the cosmetic effects are unnecessary as the ending of the story reveals. To this end, there’s a cheat table floating around that’s primarily orientated towards giving the player some control over these physical modifications, and it sticks, as per the above, so long as the player doesn’t do any more body modifications, and hey, I won’t judge, as long as you’re not acting maliciously with it.

Story

Shifting gears to talk about the game’s story, I’m gonna move into a little bit less ‘show’ and more ‘tell,’ as I don’t want to entirely spoil the story nor does the entire structure of it really need shown. That said, the primary issues I have with the story result from the ideas that are talked about and presented and how they come together with the actual gameplay elements.

While I normally would abstain from making such a suggestion, I recommend you unmute the above for a taste of the voice acting with the English localization (that said if you’re a weirdo who likes sound effects, audio’s intact for every other webm in this article). It’s pretty decent, and worth noting is that the Japanese localization actually has Char and Amuro as Crimson Lord (how appropriate!) and Diablo respectively, so in that aspect, there’s some more than decent qualities to it.

But then there’s also a good chunk of cringe associated with some of the earlier briefings, and no doubt some confusion will arise from a certain character’s mental condition (I seriously thought it was a bug at first, and even then, I’m not actually sure if it’s a mental condition or if they’re sisters or what). But, for that being said, in this particular genre and just in general with a number of vehicle-based games, the player doesn’t really get to experience who the pilot (driver, operator, or what-have-you) is beneath their hulking metal shells besides voice lines. So even if things can be pretty stiff, it’s undeniable that with Daemon X Machina, you’re getting some material that’s pushing the mech genre from a B game to an A game. That deserves some respect, even if it has definite flaws. It’s definitely a place to start getting to that level.

It’s definitely not the stiffness of certain animations like of the mechs or their human pilots, nor the quality of the voice acting at certain times that weighs down Daemon X Machina on the story front. Where the game is weak here is in the ideas that are constantly fed to the player throughout the early part of the experience versus how the rest of the game plays out.

Through dialogue a huge number of concepts that pretty directly relate to being a mercenary, working with other mercenaries, and working for different companies comes up. You’re told to be careful about who you choose to work with, and there’s of course the implication of being careful who you work for. You’re told to carefully measure your performance so you’re not costing money and you’re told by characters about their struggles to manage that balancing act.

So unfortunately this is all fairly immediately tossed by the wayside with the fact that the story is essentially linear besides very specific points and there’s little consequence to a lack of performance. Without spoiling things, there are different endings to a few missions depending on your actions; for example, choosing to shoot down a non-aggressive target or taking weapons to a meet-up (Completely unequip all weapons if you want to go to it unarmed), but the only choice the player makes of consequence is at the end of the game, and it honestly doesn’t entirely seem that consequential.

You can find the aforementioned reddit post here, though, keep in mind, it is spoilers.

So while the only real choice of consequence ends up being admittedly a slightly hefty one, it’s only at the end and itself slightly muddled. The player has no opportunity to support Horizon or Sky Union actively, what happens to these corporations is set in stone. The player can’t join various mercenary factions, even if the offer is extended through dialogue.

More importantly, when a faction in-game has a fairly large secret, that secret gets ousted to everyone, it doesn’t feel earned which takes away significantly from whether or not it’s any special. It creates a hollow, tinny experience when the player is confronted with the vast majority of the game.

Different characters are also written to have different special abilities, but only a few of these abilities really come out or are of any plot importance. Some character’s plot-relevant skills are entirely irrelevant to their descriptions like Guns Empress’s hacking versus her flavor text’s ‘high synchronicity,’ which is even mentioned in dialogue.

And in this vein of characters who have special abilities, the main villain, and a number of other pilots, have special abilities as per the Body Modifications – but without the visual aesthetic of it making it readily apparent to the player that these dudes have some special abilities. It’s only the player character that really ends up heavily modified, which is interesting because of the player character’s relation to the main villain, as well as other less important characters who also are modified, to the point flavor text illustrates that things like their legs have been outright replaced, but those characters just don’t display any physical traits related to the body modification system.

In fact, while to the villain you are literally a titular daemon – that is, very specifically not a demon but a daemon like of the Ars Groetia – you don’t abide by the same rules as the villain, and he gets to “break” them. This isn’t so bad if you’ve gotten these body modifications for your character, but if you haven’t, the first time you fight the actual villain, they’re probably going to feel like they’re outright cheating, which in effect is because by comparison to you without body modifications, they pretty much are.

While said villain is telling you that the difference between them and you is not due to equipment but due to skill, while at a certain point, enough hours of gameplay illustrate that much like Armored Core of old, the AI is having to cheat pretty heavily to be a challenge to the player.

There are a handful of exceedingly interesting moments that pop up in gameplay, but they’re usually over quite quickly after they began. One mission has you stealing an Arsenal and involves an insertion on foot, and others might have you chasing down an armed cargo train. The large boss fights are pretty interesting, but they don’t quite match the scale of Armored Core 4’s Arms Forts. There is one scenario where you’re acting as a human-mecha CIWS system, which while tedious at times strikes me as an appropriate-to-the-genre interesting mix-up of gameplay. There’s even a mission where you pilot a large immortal! It’s not too amazing in terms of gameplay, but it’s still… Neat, to say the least, to play a boss character.

But then there’s missions that take place in maps which are specifically built around some things – for example, I’ve mentioned a cargo train. On one of the maps that has said cargo train, there’s a modification to the map which has a large barrier wall along the route. You’d think that this might be an excellent place for an ambush to arise and some complicated mission objectives might appear involving a train and said barrier.

It’s just one of those things where the idea of the game – the fantasy of it – serves to entertain a lot more than the game itself. Which is a unfair to the game as of course any fantasy can easily be superior to reality, but for that being said, the entire experience is pretty enjoyable on the story front, and after the whole thing was said and done, my biggest complaint besides the presentation of ideas which never meshed with gameplay, is the length.

So for those complaints above, my takeaway at the end was that I wanted more. Maybe a little better, sure, but for the most part, Marvelous did their job: I want seconds.

Co-Op/Multiplayer

While story might be an execution low point, the presence of co-op in this game definitely adds to it. There’s also a player-versus-player layer, which in some respects feels pretty good, but in others it feels weighted down by balance issues and netcode. Kind of a typical thing, so I won’t criticize the game sharply in that specific respect.

The co-op missions that are available to the player offer a pretty good chunk of different experiences. There’s some boss fights from the base game, some extra difficult ones including brand new enemies, missions where you can fight a good number of enemy Arsenals, and there’s also now a randomly generated ‘dungeon’ experience called Exploration Missions, which as of this writing really only has two permutations, a short and long version which overall offers some of the best gear a player can get from the game.

When combined with the loot aspect of the game, there’s definitely an area of replayability here, even if I think the loot aspect of the game is partly what compromises some of the other ideas and their execution.

But it’s still fun, which is the important part, and playing the game with friends alleviates and distracts from a big portion of the flaws which it might have. If anything, the co-op aspect of the game, as well as things like the Exploration Missions, are where I’d like to see further post-launch support directed as it would definitely extend the duration of the game, and I feel like it can elevate the title up to the point at which its $60 price point is actually decently reasonable for most folks and not just those who are interested in the genre and subgenre.

Soundtrack

Before I close, something that needs mentioned is the soundtrack. Featuring Rio Hanamoto, the guy behind the Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (bad game, great OST!), there’s some pretty heavy shredding here. If you’re interested in pretty metal game soundtracks, this is one I’d recommend to pick up. It’s a little repetitive and could use some more variety, especially when compared to the aforementioned Assault Horizon soundtrack. You can purchase the soundtrack from various places such as Amazon or if you use Spotify you can also listen to it there. So, if you dig some shredding, it’s definitely up there, and is absolutely a part of my Rip & Tear playlist.

Closing

The game is weighted down mostly by the incomplete embrace of its subgenre. It returns to some of the concepts like the mail system of Armored Core 3, but it doesn’t capitalize on them. The core gameplay is solid, but in terms of the sandbox there’s nowhere near the complications and intricacy of Armored Core 4’s boost system which needed a full two analog triggers in order to fully be taken advantage of.

But it does blend a good portion of what could’ve been good ideas from Armored Core V in with Armored Core 4, so even if I have a distinct preference there it’s hard not to admit that at least it’s better in a number of ways, and as a sandbox, it most certainly is a step far ahead of the Armored Core series for embracing the mech as a vehicle instead of simply the player character’s only real avatar in the world.

Couple that with the primary issues I find regarding gameplay to be things which in today’s age could quite possibly be patched out, and the faults that are left really just involve the fact that I know certain parts of the customization system, especially for the actual player character and not their mech, couldn’t really be ‘solved’ without an entirely new user interface and a willingness to eschew some of the opinions that definitely drove the conception of the body modifications.

It really just boils down to a matter of, I recommend this game. I just find trouble doing so at its price point and I certainly don’t recommend it on the Switch. In fact, as a whole, it’s the type of game that makes me think a lot less of the Switch, since this game could’ve likely been much more on PC, ran better, and had a better reception due to the thirsty nature of those who grew up playing Armored Core but now game in the true hobbyist fashion at their computer.

Also, I guess I wish I’d bought Astral Chain on Switch instead. D’oh.

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