Armored Core is out and I have thoughts about it that probably aren't that different from most people's: it's fantastic, exhilarating, I love sitting in the main menu and tinkering with my mech for 45 minutes before touching a mission, I hope FromSoft just makes these for the rest of my life (I did say probably).

All that's fine and well, but one thing that's made my eyebrow twitch in annoyance is something I've come across frequently whilst reading reviews and comments about the game, which is that the story is sparse. Empty. Weak, even.

The nerve! The gall! I mean, you're allowed to think that, of course. But I'm going to tell you why it's wrong!

a mech cutting down another mech with a beam sword

Inference vs. Obfuscation

At first, I was surprised to see that people were turned off by Armored Core's storytelling. I mean it's like Dark Souls, a game everyone loves!

But then I thought about it, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Armored Core's plot isn't like Dark Souls at all. It doesn't obfuscate. You're not going to learn a new piece of the plot by reading the description of the Machine Gun MG-014 LUDLOW or anything like that. In fact, the game's plot is actually refreshingly transparent! You're a merc that works for whoever and whomever, leashed like a dog and offering your services to the highest bidder.

So no, Armored Core doesn't obfuscate. But it does require you to infer.

In Dark Souls, when you see a big tree, there's probably a sword description or dialogue piece that explains that it's Chuckleclown Harlick's Tree of Impetuous Thoughts, and how it was built before the era of the Dubious Grandma's reign in the third cycle of the Soul Jamborie. It's there, you just gotta find it.

In Armored Core you'll get combat data of an AC in the Arena piloted by a girl named June, who was smuggled into Rubicon by her parents. She's the only one that survived the travel as a baby, and was basically raised in the shell of her mech until she grew up.

a mech fighting a helicoptor

How old is June? What happened to her in the end? Is she dead? Alive? Did she retire from Rubicon? We don't know, and no amount of puzzling it out will ever give you an explanation. The game has you encounter characters and lets you decide who they might be based on the info they give you, and that's it.

I enjoy this! I never vibed with Dark Soul's story-telling because frankly, I didn't feel like putting in the extra work to learn the plot. And that's a personal thing, I know! The only time I came close was with Bloodborne, which gets so bonkers that I actually dug in. But otherwise, I just let Vaati serenade the tales to me with his dulcet tones and leave it at that. Why put the work in for a story when it could just be given to me? It's already there, just show me it.

With Armored Core, I'm engaged with the sparseness of this storytelling because I get to decide who these characters are, to an extent. I, for example, choose to believe that Cinder is an extremely hot pirate that could kill me. Shocking, I know. But for real, that's fun to me!

I can trace this enjoyment all the way back to a little game called Knytt Stories. It's a game about a character named Knytt who runs and jumps through a bunch of environments, doing puzzles and exploring. These environments, crafted by Nicklas Nygren, made my 13-year-old brain explode in wonder and delight.

a character standing in front of a house built into a tree

Like, I didn't know who lived in this house built into a tree, or what they were doing here. So I made up my own stories for them, even writing notes in a spiral-bound as I explored, until I was satisfied. Armored Core scratches this same itch for me, in a way.

All of them have ribbon insignias!

Armored Core has very little in the way of cutscenes, which actually is similar to Dark Souls. However, it also gives exposition via comms communication. Your Handler talks to you. Enemies talk to you. The hot pirate lady talks to you.

For some people, this is an irritation. "Why are you talking so much?" Just show me! And normally I might agree. But in the medium of games, words can actually hit in ways you don't normally expect when you least expect it.

Which brings me to Ace Combat! This aerial dogfighting game from Namco has very similar storytelling. And readers: it slaps. The header for this section is one such comm-delivered quote from Ace Combat 4. And I won't get into spoilers, but the impact it has is unbelievable in the game's final act - and it's a single-spoken line over comms!

an F22 Raptor piloted by Mobius 1

Sparse dialogue is actually pretty neat in my opinion. What a character says, doesn't say, how they say it - it all has to be carefully considered because you don't have visuals to guide you. It's like an audio drama. As such, every line feels important, whether it's during a mission or a briefing. When I shoot down a mech and hear its pilot yell in sadness as it gets destroyed, I know everything I need to know about them - no Vaati video required. When I stumble across a log of a member of the Rubiconian Liberation Front happy that their favorite member wasn't deployed in battle, I connect with them in that moment. It's different, but it really works.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The other major thing that Ace Combat and Armored Core have in common is how the story gets told through the actions of the character you're playing. In Ace Combat 4 your pilot, Mobius 1, goes from a new recruit to a living legend because of the missions you successfully complete. Your enemies go from taunting you to yelling at each other in fear when they realize that you've arrived. Something similar occurs in Armored Core, in ways that I won't spoiler.

But the point is that you make the story yourself through your actions, and get to hear the cast of characters respond to it. It's neat!

Anyways I hope people come around to how Armored Core 6's plot is delivered because it's exactly what I've come to expect from the series. I'm happy to have gotten more in this game 10 years in the making!

How do you feel about Armored Core, whether it's the gameplay or the plot? Let me know, here or on cohost!