Saturday, 30 March 2013

Front Mission 3 Review

Front Mission 3 Review

DISCLAIMER: This is my favourite game of all time, so please excuse any outrageous favouritism!

Front Mission 3 is a strategy role-playing game released by Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) on the Playstation 1.

Originally released in Japan in 1999, it was the first of the series to receive official North American and European translations, both released in 2000. The game also in places bears a resemblance to a visual novel, where the story is progressed and explained through verbal interactions between characters.

Set in the year 2112, the Front Mission takes place in the real world, albeit one where nations have formed large power blocs, such as the Oceania Cooperative Union (OCU) in the pacific and the United States of the New Continent (USN) in the Americas and the Da Han Zhong Republic (DHZ) which represents a Chinese superpower.

The story revolves around two test pilots, Kazuki Takemura and Ryogo Kusama, who find themselves reluctantly embroiled in intrigue and conflict between the OCU, the USN and the DHZ when Kazuki's sister Alisha becomes involved in a plot to steal a newly developed weapon of mass destruction. Like many Square adventure titles of the time, there are many different characters to find and unlock and unusually two separate story-lines to play through, each from the opposing viewpoint of the other. Because of this, the game has good replay value.

The story itself isn't particularly gripping in terms of the direction it takes, being a fairly typical “War is bad and evil but we must BATTLE!” anti-war message, but the script varies wildly from the functional to the truly humorous and the personalities of the characters are nicely drawn out. In one cut-scene for example several enemy soldiers are discussing the imminent attack from the player's party; “I don't wanna die!” cries one. “Silence! We will stand here and fight!” orders the senior officer in his command mecha, “You're only brave because you have that,” says a third, pointing to the officer's huge machine “and you have that because your dad is the General!”.

The main part of the game is a turn based strategy where the player controls a team of up to four combat mecha known as Wanzers (a contraction of “Wanderung Panzer” or walking tank). Each character pilots their own Wanzer, but the choice of machine and how it is fitted with weapons is entirely up to the player. Arm, torso, leg and backpack components can be switched between Wanzers, and fitting particular parts allows different combinations of speed, power, capacity to mount weapons as well as granting the pilot the chance to learn special “Battle Skills”, which are signature special moves that increase the lethality or survival chances of the Wanzers in combat. The play style, which uses Action Points to determine how far a unit can move, how strong its attacks can be and if it can counter attack when threatened will be very familiar to players of games such as Advance Wars and the Tactics series of games, albeit without any unit creation during the scenario.

Missions are fairly standard for the genre including defending a friendly target from enemies or defeating all the enemies on the map. However, for its age and considering the limitations of the Playstation, the graphics of the battle scenes are fairly impressive. When selecting your units to move and attack, they are presented on a rotatable 3D map with animated sprites (a lot like the sprites from the original Front Mission on the SNES) but once you choose an Attack action, the camera zooms in and a fully 3D animated attack sequence is shown. Though the textures of the terrain and sometimes the Wanzers themselves can look quite pixellated and blocky, the animation of the robots is very smooth and the frame-rate rarely suffers. Each pilot even has their own victory pose animation when they destroy an enemy tank, helicopter or Wanzer. Infantry also play a small role, and very unusually for this type of game pilots can eject from their machines and take control of other abandoned units during the battle.

In regards to sound, which is often a key part of any Squaresoft game from the 1990s, the music itself varies from the well-written and enjoyable to the quite frankly mediocre. Though no track is so short as to be irritating, few of the tunes really stand out, though a standard “Squarism” is present in the music played at the successful completion of a mission which is upbeat and quite memorable.

This said, the sound effects in battle are very very well chosen, the Wanzer's actuators whirring as they move, the snap-snap-snap of a mecha-sized machine gun unloading into an enemy and the metallic crunch as one Wanzer fights in melee with another using a gigantic knuckle duster or military-grade pile-driver, even down to the smash as a limb breaks off or a mecha collapses to the ground defeated The sound effects in my opinion really add to the fun of the game, and are some of the best in any Playstation 1 game.

The game does have a lot of hidden depths beyond the story and strategy elements, including a psuedo-internet where the player can browse websites belonging to nations and corporations in the game, and cunning searching and hacking are rewarded with bonus parts for your Wanzers as well as many easter eggs. There's even an email system where the characters can send and receive information to and from non-player characters.
In summary, Front Mission 3 is a game which can reward perseverance and is recommended to fans of strategy games and mecha in general. Though the dialogue can be dry and long-winded at times, this isn't unusual in the genre, and the personalities of the characters shine through, if not particularly deeply.

The original PS1 disk is still available through Ebay and Amazon, though it can be pricey as it was not produced in large numbers in English, but for owners of the PS3 it was made available in the PSN store in 2010 and I recommend picking it up if turn-based strategy and giant robots are your thing.

GamesYouloved would like to thank, Bort_Malice. Our Guest Blogger for his RETRO gaming memories. 

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