For those reading one of my DS review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
The DS is one of the greatest consoles ever, and it had a massive games library. Despite playing a lot of DS games a huge number of great under-appreciated games flew under the radar. This series attempts to review those games and see if they should have had more time in the spotlight.
Without further ado, here is:
Genre: Tactical RPG.
Publisher: Square Enix.
Developer: Square Enix.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.
This game is an enhanced port of a unique SNES TRPG game that was made back when Squaresoft couldn't do any wrong move. Staying true to the anime genres that it was inspired by, Front Mission was an intrigue-heavy and gritty war story featuring grounded character and technology, even if that technology is a bunch of hulking mechs that look like WWII tanks crossing over with the Transformers.
On the DS, the game now features two campaigns (in line with a PS1 remaster) as well as all the benefits in the presentation that duel screens provide, making this the definitive version of a bonafide classic.
"This isn't just about you! The fate of our entire squad is at stake here!"
True to any story of the "Realistic Mech Warfare" genre, the story follows a squad of morally grey, but ultimately good-hearted, soldiers as they navigate the horrors of war. In this particular story, two mega-nation are fighting over control of the strategic Huffman island. Early in the story, a special ops mission goes wrong and the main character, Royd, may have caused a reignition of the Huffman conflict in an operation that also caused the disappearance or death of his girlfriend, Karen.
Later, Royd is enlisted with a group of mercenaries called the Canyon Crows as it tries to help push back one nation against the other. Both mega-nations are compromised of three initials, supporting the notion that for the soldiers and citizens in the ground, these are simply intangible realities that don't affect the central reality of the conflict.
In this bleak world, the game wants to focus on the camaraderie between squad-mates and the value of doing the right thing even in the face of orders. That is made more apparent as the truth of the conflict is slowly revealed. This works for the main part, but there is a glaring lack of squad interactions between missions that is a missed opportunity in building up your relationship with the characters.
And learning to hate Driscoll's guts
While the story works well in its main campaign, the addition of another campaign that shows the story from the other side of the conflict not only adds more context to the story but also reinforces its central themes as well.
In fact, I think the second campaign is even better than the first, especially since it wastes less time and actually allows you to talk more with your squad-mates.
Overall, Front Mission has two very good campaigns and interesting if a little bit low-key, characters to lead the story along. Sure, there could have been more interaction between the characters, but you can imagine much of that to happen during the several intense mech battles you face together.
Interesting Story and Setting: +3
Two Campaigns Showing the Two Sides: +5
Limited Character Interactions: -2
"Do you not realize that our technology has allowed us to transcend to the realm of gods?! We have nothing to fear from the pathetic fools that are trying to stop us!"
War in the world of Front Mission is beginning to be dominated by crane-sized mechs called Wanzers. Theoretically, these Wanzers provide more varied mobility options than tanks while being directly controlled by their operators, making them a more efficient killing machine.
In both campaigns, your squad consists exclusively of Wanzer pilots fighting in a turn-based square-grid map against a combination of enemy troops and Wanzers. Maps are varied in their terrain, and there are occasional strategic objectives that are more varied than eliminating all the opposition, but the gist remains the same.
The twist that Front Mission brings to the table is the fact that each Wanzer is made of four parts, each with their own individual statistics and HP bar. The two hands each carry weapons (including shoulder weapons) and the legs are responsible for the majority of movement points.
This division of parts leads to the game's most innovative structure and its most frustrating flaw. At first, this makes for some exciting possibilities of destroying an enemy's weapon-holding arms, leading for an easier and safer kill by weaker units that you want to level-up. However, the game's RNG system soon steps-up to mess things up for you.
It would suck for J. J. just to shoot the body and lose all those precious exp points
Like other TRPGs, experience points are gained by destroying enemy troops. Yet, in this game, destroying enemy body parts nets you even more experience, which is necessary to be in par at later stages of the game. As such, imagine the frustration of having both arms and leg being ripe for destruction with a limited amount of HP when your stupid character decided to unload ALL of their damage into the body part; destroying the enemy without getting any experience points from their body parts.
Equally frustrating are the times an enemy gangs up on a perfectly healthy unit and proceeds to target ALL their attacks on the body, destroying it without touching any of the other parts.
Later in the game, you unlock skills that can help you manage more efficiently farming your foes for experience, but this is a game where you can suddenly find your best plans laid to ruin at the simple generation of an unfavorable number. Still, despite that, the gameplay is fast and fun enough that you can easily power through the frustration of repeating a map.
Fun and Fast TRPG Gameplay: +4
Random Elements Can Ruin Your Match: -2
"I decided to do everything I could to redeem myself of my sins... But look at all the good that did"
Half of the fun in any mech-battle game is the customization options and the preparation element before going into combat, and the game doesn't disappoint here. There are several styles of mechs that are suitable for your different pilots and several ways to mix and match.
There are three types of weapons: Melee, Short Range, and Long Range. While the late game unquestionably showcases the superiority of short weapons, it is more fun to build your characters with different specialization in mind, and your mech design and battle tactics will change accordingly.
Half of the fun is preparing your mechs
Typically, you will start upgrading your mechs every three battles, and you will always have money for that in the main game by participating in the Arena. However, the second campaign is more stingy with money, and I ended up not upgrading any character to the most expensive mechs and instead installed one or two expensive parts on each pilot's mech.
Generally, the game hits a difficulty spike in the middle since you don't have many skills or experience at that stage. However, the game becomes easier once you unlock more skills and you become able to efficiently farm for experience.
Theoretically, you can manage the difficulty level by not upgrading your mechs as often. However, that can actually be suicidal, as the mech specs are much more important to your overall power than skills or pilot experience level.
A Lot of Mech Customization Options: +3
"Oooh!! The army boys are too afraid to get some mud and guts on their shiny Wanzers?"
Originally an SNES game, Front Mission was designed with the full constraints of 16-bit graphics and sound in mind. Obviously, that's not a bad thing considering how revered the graphics and sounds of the 16-bit era are today.
Indeed, the sprite work is nothing fancy but it looks great, suitably reflecting the different mech designs and realistic battle maps. This is aided by the mech menu screens which showcases each part and design with more detail.
Outside your Wanzers, pilots are single portraits that are wonderfully designed by the famous Final Fantasy character designer, Yoshitaka Amano. Admittedly, the characters have little presence outside of these single portraits, but they do the job well-enough in conveying both character and the general style of the world.
Admittedly, Royd looks like a sad puppy all of the time
That style is probably most evident in the soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura and Noriko Matsueda which is different from anything that they composed since. It has a lot of industrial overtones merged with low-key and jazzy tunes that evoke both the grand and seedy parts of the war.
Tracks like "Driscoll's Theme" and the "Canyon Crows" still ring in my ears, especially since the soundtrack was actually rearranged for the DS version (the DS version is very difficult to listen to online).
Good Graphics: +3
Very Good Music: +4
As a TRPG designed for the SNES, Front Mission is a game in a genre that still didn't see its best days yet. As such, it is expected that the gameplay is a little bit lacking in variety, complexity, and/or polish.
However, the game's core concepts are strong enough that it shines through its aged design and still delivers a great experience. That is especially the case because two campaigns are available to flesh out the interesting story and world.
Looking Back at Destructoid's Review:
This was pre-Dtoid DS release.
I am generally not interested in the sales of the games I like, and I don't measure my penis size through the success of games I like. However, sales data is interesting in studying market trends, people's general interest, marketing strategy, genre effect, and other factors. Which is why I am going to check the sales data of every modern game I review (Gen 4 and beyond).
It doesn't look like this game was a financial success for Square Enix, which is surprising since it fits the DS very well. In fact, it only sold about 40K units which is actually much less successful than the original SNES game which sold around 600K Units. I think that the game released at a time where the DS was thoroughly hacked, and as such many games at that time lost some potential sales.
Who is this guy?
1-To get the largest amount of possible experience points, try and destroy all other parts in an enemy mech before you destroy the body parts.
2-Skills such as guide and duel can help target specific parts.
3-Skills are randomly unlocked once experience in a specific category goes above 2000.
4-The short weapons category is usually the best (and is even overpowered).
5-Once you have good-enough Short weapon experience, then it is better to have weapons with a high number of rounds than it is to have weapons with higher damage-per-round.
6-Make sure that all of your mechs level-up more or less equally.
7-Performance is more controlled by you mech specs than by your pilot's level, so any difficulty spike means you probably need to upgrade your mechs.
8-Generally, enemy Wanzers always counter with their right-hand weapon, so target that first unless both hands carry different kinds of weapons.
For Previous DS game Reviews: