IGN Review of Front Mission
Over the last few years Nintendo DS has been getting a ton of support from the Japan-based company Square Enix. Known most for its RPG powerhouse Final Fantasy, the company has brought far more than just its primary franchise to the table, as games like Rocket Slime, Children of Mana, Dragon Quest Monsters, Mario Hoops, and Crystal Chronicles wow us time and time again with either impressive depth, graphical superiority, surprisingly deep story, or a combination of each.
As with GBA, however, Square is also using the DS as a chance to catch US gamers up on classic games that never made it out of Japan. With Final Fantasy III, we got an entirely remade product. With Front Mission, however, it's basically a port of the original Super NES version, now with dual screen presentation and a spot of multiplayer. The franchise never made too big of a splash here in the States, so while the series may have a few loyal fans here and there it isn't exactly getting a ton of support. For that reason alone, many strategy gamers may want to check this one out, as it's pure, classic Front Mission action that is hitting our shores for the very first time.
The original Front Mission set the tone for the rest of the series, so while it may lack some of the presentation and cinematic feel of later games (Front Mission 3 on PlayStation was a cult classic, despite relatively low sales) it's still an impressive core design. Even more than something like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, Front Mission is 100% strategy and very little RPG at all, filling the genre of tactical/strategy more than strategy/RPG. You'll navigate a main home base via menus, trick out your Wanzer units (Front Mission lingo for "Mech"), and enter battle. Once you return, simply repeat the process by upgrading, repairing, and setting up for the next battle. The overall experience is entirely linear, with a main story unfolding with short in-game scripted sequences before and after each bout. The only real gameplay outside of the overall story arch rests in the arena mode, where players can select one of their Wanzers and battle them against AI opponents in order to gain more cash and experience.
The majority of the game takes place on the battlefield though, so that's where the value (or lack of, for some gamers) will be found. In general it's a mix of Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Neo Pocket's Faselei, combining grid-based battlefield with close, medium, and long ranged attacks. Your group of Wanzers hit the field, you command and move them to any available highlighted box based on their movement speed and mech weight, and do battle with enemy units until one team is entirely wiped out. Attacking players can make use of left and right handed weaponry, as well as shoulder-mounted cannons. When doing battle you'll automatically target the enemy mech's legs, body, or left/right arm depending on the attack and position, so it's a battle to not only wipe out the other team, but tactically disable them in the process. All in-game actions can be pulled off with either stylus control or d-pad/button play. Stylus works, but we'll take the classic configuration any day, as the on-screen units, squares, and commands are really, really small.
Without a doubt hardcore tactics fans will dive into Front Mission with little resistance, but at the same time the game doesn't do much to explain the interface, battle strategy, or nuances of the game, so unless you're a seasoned player - or don't mind reading the instruction booklet cover to cover - you may feel pretty overwhelmed at first. Battles end up playing out in similar fashion to literally any strategy game on the market now (they had to get their inspiration from somewhere), but the customization is just insane, as every mech in your party can be fully upgraded piece by piece, with each decision changing their movement speed, section-specific armor and attack power, overall weight, and even physical appearance. Diehard strategists will be in heaven, while casuals are completely overwhelmed.
There's no denying its appeal though, as Front Mission remains to be one of the best pure strategy games on the market. Battles begin at a half hour to 45 mins, with that nearly tripling as you continue on throughout the game. Added to the DS version is a quicksave function, so no matter where you are you can bring up the pause menu and suspend your game; an absolute necessity. The music and graphical presentation has been virtually untouched, but still has a retro appeal, with classic Super NES tones and blips accompanied by some pretty decent pixel pushing. It won't blow you away visually, but it translates well to the smaller DS screen, and we can't fault it for retaining the classic look. It is, after all, the original game. What will be surprising to many players, however, is the fact that Front Mission has a pretty engaging story too, and it's one that sets the stage for the rest of the franchise. Characters have actual depth to them, the writing isn't corny and thrown together, but actually cohesive and entertaining to read though, and the game - while very simplistic in presentation - still sets a decent mood. If you can stomach the intense tactical battles, Front Mission will reward you with a pretty intelligently written plot.
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