Front Mission 4
(For this review I'm going to try something a little different. As I write I'm going to get comments from my girlfriend as she's playing the game. So periodically you'll see breaks in the writing to get her thoughts and comments on the game. That way we'll get an indication of how well the game caters to the type of girl that's in love with Hello Kitty and Animal Crossing.)
When your portfolio includes names like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts it’s easy to forget a name like Front Mission. But before Square Enix fully dedicated itself to next generation role playing games it had a wide variety of genres under its belt, good ones at that. Now with the development of games such as Full Metal Alchemist, the reintroduction of the Brave Fencer franchise and the next installment of the Front Mission franchise hitting store shelves, Square Enix just might prove once again that it’s more than a one trick pony. If Front Mission 4 is any indication of what the company has in store for the future, the gaming world will be a much better place.
This is when Jennifer says: "Huh? Oh sorry, there were explody things all over the place. I can't pay attention to you right now, Front Mission 4 is talking!"
Although this is the fourth entry in the series, gamers won’t need to have any experience with the previous entries in order to get into the action. The story, characters, world and mechanics are entirely self-contained, and although it’ll help to have some experience, it’s not required in order to be proficient. If you’re new to the game it’s essentially a turn-based strategic game in the same mold as Final Fantasy Tactics. Action takes place on landscapes which are then overlaid with tiles that act as moving and action spaces. The real strategy doesn’t come in the form of who hits who the most or the fastest, it’s all about properly assessing the situation and performing the best possible action. This means that you’ll have to survey the terrain to determine the best point of attack while bringing in the best weapons for each encounter.
Jen says: "Damn straight, because I've never played the other ones. It's got tutorials and everything. And come on! Things explode! It's good!"
For a game of this type Front Mission 4 sure is heavy on the story. To put it into perspective I had only been in two battles within the first hour of gameplay. Of that hour I was probably fighting for about 15 minutes while the rest of the time was spent reading dialogue and going through tutorials. If you’re not one to give things a chance to develop you’d be hard pressed to sit through FM4’s endless amounts of dialogue and plot development. Then again my supremely Asian girlfriend (read: loves Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! And Animal Crossing) was able to pour over 10 hours into the game within the first four days. In fact, I couldn't even pry her away from this game, not even to play James Bond: Everything or Nothing)
Jennifer says: "I can't play Bond because Front Mission will get mad at me. Animal Crossing's already mad at me for playing Front Mission. I can't have two games mad at me!"
Front Mission 4 tells the story of two completely unrelated individuals whose paths unexpectedly cross in the midst of war. At the onset you’ll play as Elsa, a research engineer for Durandal, the E.C.’s branch dedicated to Armored Tactics Research. As you progress you’ll shift back and forth between her and Darril, a member of the U.C.S. Army. Conspiracies are abound as Elsa learns that the German army is attacking its own bases while Darril does combat with the corrupt governor of Venezuela. As stated before, the storyline is insanely deep for this kind of game, especially since we’re used to seeing paper-thin plots that are essentially used to setup battles.
She looks at me and as an enemy goes down she shouts, "Die biatch!" Jesus Square, what have you done to my girlfriend?
Combat is done exclusively through giant mech-like vehicles called Wanzers. If you’re a MechWarrior fan, Wanzers are essentially Mechs which can be outfitted with a wide assortment of weapons and objects. As you complete each mission you’ll gain points which can be used to upgrade pilots and purchase new and better parts for the Wanzers. How you decide to upgrade your pilot determines what type of arsenal you want to use. So if you place a bunch of points into the machinegun proficiency you’ll most likely want to equip the Wanzer with a machinegun as opposed to a shotgun, etc. There are boatloads of skills that you can pick up to help accommodate each pilot, most of which will come in handy during combat.
Jen says, "The proficiencies thingie, it totally reflects on the game. When you hit the triangle button it shows you what the upgrades do. It makes it easy!"Your movements and actions are governed by Action Points which are spent for each turn. This helps to limit both the distance you can travel and how much you can attack. These also play a crucial role in the link system and the counterattack systems that the game has in place. The link system allows for you to partner up pilots so that they attack and support each other in combat. If one of the linked partners gets attacked the other partner can jump in and help defend them. Of course this all depends on how much AP you have left. Attacks generally take up 4AP so determining how to use your points is crucial to your success. It all sounds very confusing here, and to be honest it is, but play the game for a few hours and you really get a feel for it. After that it essentially becomes second nature.
Jen says, "It's really neato keen! I really like it, it's fun. That way you can really put more thought into how to attack instead of just attacking. I like the explosions."
Square Enix decided to give the franchise a new facelift, and while the game looks far better than its predecessors, it does very little to take advantage of the PlayStation 2’s hardware. You’ll never actually see a rendered version of the game’s characters. Instead, the game opts to go for an Anime-style approach where each character is represented by a hand-drawn head that appears next to a text box. The artist’s budget apparently ran short as they were forced to settle with the 16 color box of crayons instead of going for the 100 color mega pleasure pack. Everything in the game is very drab and dreary, seeming as it if were comprised of varying shades of gray. Sure you can change the colors on your Wanzer, but when all of the colors blend into the chassis, what’s the point?
Jen says, "Oh! Oh! The heads change depending on what they're talking about. It's really cool! It's really really cool!"
As is the case with most Square titles the audio is superb. The composers over there are great at coming up with soundtracks to match the theme and tone set by the games, and this title is no exception. Keeping in tune with the game’s futuristic feel is a techno soundtrack that features upbeat synthesized rhythms that really get your heart pumping. Some of the sequences feature spoken dialogue while most feature written text. Most of the voice acting is great as the developers brought in actors from different countries to match the accents. I wish that all of the dialogue had been spoken because the text in the game is a real pain in the ass to read. Not only is it uncharacteristically small, but it’s also a similar shade to the text boxes. While it makes for a clean looking presentation it really begins to strain on the eyes within the first hour.
Many people I’ve run into have said, “Chances are, the only people Front Mission 4 will appeal to are already fans of the franchise.” This isn’t necessarily so, Square Enix has done an excellent job of making this title self-contained as to not alienate newcomers. It’s an excellent tactics-based game that has an excellent storyline to go with it. Sure, it’s not for everyone, indeed, but it’s top-notch choice for turn-based strategy fans.
An excellent turn-based strategy game for the PS2. It's not quite up to the shine and polish of a Final Fantasy, but if it's good enough for my girlfriend, it's good enough for me.
Rating: 8 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile