Front Mission is one series that isn’t really ever on the radar of gamers, Front Mission 3 and 4 sold moderately well at best. So it’s puzzling to see Square-Enix take the original Front Mission from the SNES days and port it over to the DS. But after putting a number of hours in to the title I can see why they would do it, even if they are saturating the poor DS with yet another tactical RPG. With Heroes of Mana, Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings, and the forthcoming Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Front Mission has quite a lot of contenders to put up with, and it does a fairly good job in keeping up with the Jones’ despite being about twelve years old.
Front Mission follows two different story lines but sticks to one character; Royd Clive, who goes from military man to mercenary for hire after his fiancé is killed in the battlefield. From there, like most other strategy RPG titles it’s all about building up your ragtag group of mercenaries to take down an oppressive regime that killed Royd’s fiancé and to make the world a better place. This is getting really tired to me since Heroes of Mana has a story that isn’t all that much different from Front Mission, just a few names and places changing.
One place where Front Mission will always be unique is in its customization aspects and unique Wanzers that the user can build. In Front Mission you can load up your wanzer with tons of weapons and customize the parts down to the paint job. For something from the SNES era this is impressive and that it remains one of the deeper customization systems is impressive even still. You can change the arms, the legs, the body, computer, and accessories that are put on your wanzer. Provided it has the power to carry everything you attached to it. It won’t do you much good to throw missile launchers on the thing if it can’t walk around to get within range.
Once your wanzers are ready to go out in to battle then it’s time to select your units and go to war. Battles are a fairly straightforward affair. Get your unit within range to attack and provided how you’ve got your wanzer set up, attack or get set for the long haul. Once you are ready to attack then the game switches to a one on one battle screen, here the wanzers will play out their attacks. Provided you’ve set up your wanzer correctly you can attack individual arms or the legs or even the body of the wanzer. Attacks at the arms will render the weapons useless. Taking out the legs will prevent the wanzer from moving, and destroying the body takes out the unit as a whole. Like I said before, you can target specific parts provided you’ve got your wanzer configured correctly. And as the game progresses you’ll unlock abilities and weapons that will help you out there in the heat of battle.
Controls for the DS work out really well here with or without the stylus, like Advance Wars and a few other tactical RPGs you can move your character with the stylus and select menu options. It’s very typical stuff but it works out very well and really there is not much to complain about. If there is one thing that is a negative it’s that some of the menus are a little small and their selection window is even smaller, increase the hit boxes in the future, please Square.
Square-Enix has done an admirable job in trying to milk their past products by bringing them to a portable medium. However Front Mission has a learning curve that is not nearly as forgiving as one would expect. Even on the easier story line the game punishes the user for not keeping up with the latest in wanzer upgrades. And to stay on top you need money, which is mostly earned from beefing up one wanzer and having that be a work horse in the arena where you take on wanzers and bet against the odds. This game also doesn’t allow for easy gaming on the go as saving can only occur on the outside of battles. It is also an incredibly linear experience, battle, plot, intermission, plot, battle, plot, rinse and repeat.
Front Mission is available in stores now and carries a higher price tag than most titles, which for this series is a bitter pill to swallow since the game uses dated graphics and has not really done anything to improve upon the twelve year old experience. I suppose if you think about it, if this did come back in 1995 then the game would have been a seventy five dollar entry kind of along the lines of the original Street Fighter. Still if you can get past the old school gameplay and graphics you’ll find a strategy RPG with a deep battle system, even if everything else is less than spectacular.
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