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Before releasing their PSX swansong Echo Night 2, From released this interesting little gem on the ill-fated Dreamcast. It follows the 'spiritual series' rule that King's Field did with Shadow Tower, and the Souls games would do in the future, in that Frame Gride is clearly derivative of Armored Core.
What we have here is Armored Core adapted into an arena fighting game in a medieval fantasy setting. The aesthetic is compelling, but unfortunately the game isn't as fleshed out as it should be. Opening and closing narration is pretty much all the story there is.
The single-player consists of a ten mandatory fights, with plenty of optional fights for grinding resources. The resource requirements for attaining new equipment are too stringent for the brief runtime, giving less room for experimentation than it should have; I started as a medium mech and ended the same, as the resource cost for switching to light or heavy never seemed worth the risk.
So there's not much here, but what's here is mostly enjoyable. A fighting game built around mech customisation rather than set characters is unique, and though the gameplay has its own problems there's a satisfaction to its methodological approach, with heavy energy management and plenty of options for zoning and arena control.
A cool little game that could have been great with more fleshing out. This world/aesthetic is something From should revisit if they ever want to truly go down that "Armored Souls" route many speculated Armored Core VI would, it would be a perfect fit.
After playing through eight From Software PSX titles prior to this, I think I've finally hit a dud. Spriggan: Lunar Verse very loosely translates Armored Core into a more fast-paced, melee-action context, and as one might imagine from the the inconsistent melee attacks in the PSX Armored Core titles it doesn't work at all.
1st Gen Armored Core was clunky and rough around the edges, but the broader context made that easier to swallow, as the player wasn't controlling a mech but rather controlling a person controlling a mech. This feeling fed into customisation, where the mech's turning speed, movement etc. could be drastically altered. Spriggan is comparably clunky, but without the narrative coherence to sell it (conversely, our protagonist is presented as quite slick) nor the customisation to make mitigating clunkiness an engaging gameplay experience. Using R2 and L2 is Armored Core is like "oooh, it's like I'm in a mech!", while in Spriggan it's more like "oooh, it's like I'm in hell!"
That said, most of my time with Spriggan wasn't too bad. It's got that crunchy PSX From Software vibe which I love so much, helped along by their typically engaging musical accompaniments. Although I found the core gameplay unenjoyable, From Software had long-since proven themselves to be great level designers, and looking back I find that each stands out in my mind as totally distinct from each other, with plenty of variety. An overreliance on platforming in this clunky tank-controlled game perhaps warrants severe criticism, but as a Croc: Legend of the Gobbos apologist I quickly got accustomed to it. Things also get really weird and interesting towards the end, just some out-there creativity that plays around with visual themes prominent in recent From classics, specifically Bloodborne and Elden Ring.
Where the game truly loses me is in its boss fights. For a studio that would eventually achieve acclaim for their melee attack animations, the larger bosses here are unplayably unfair. Powerful combos come out of nowhere with perfect tracking, and you simply do not have reliable methods for dodging them. Imagine Elden Ring's craziest enemies but you don't have any i-frames. I found the best way to avoid damage was to not bother dodging and just hit-hit-hit to get the fight over with as quickly as possible. The smaller humanoid bosses have the opposite problem, where a basic attack the player has access to from the beginning can quite easily stunlock almost all of them.
Spriggan is the weakest of the PSX From titles I've played and I'm willing to bet it will stay that way (I've only Echo Night 2 left to play), and even then I think it would be a mostly enjoyable experience if it weren't for the godawful bosses. It's a licensed work, based on a manga I know nothing about, so perhaps that lack of artistic control led to Lunar Verse feeling disconnected from its presentation and gameplay in a way that the other PSX From titles never did. Whatever the case, its status as a mere footnote in the studio's history is deserved.
A cool little photography game with an amateurish lo-fi vibe and musical accompaniment from the always wonderful ThorHighHeels. It feels personal, respectful, responsible. Experiencing the end of the world from the perspective of a Jet Set Radio character offers commentary that would not have been possible in a traditional action game from the perspective of a soldier.