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Front Mission

Front Mission
  • 24 February, 1995
B 10 total ratings
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A strategy RPG to rival Final Fantasy Tactics never released stateside

A Front Mission review Author: Jeriaska Published: August 12, 2004
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Before the US was introduced to grid-based simulation RPG's with Ogre Battle, Japan had been messing around with the genre for years. Square had tried its hand several times before it gave Tactics Ogre the chocobo treatment, a move that would drastically alter the trajectory of the Final Fantasy series, ushering Sakamoto and Nomura into the flagship series, producing FF Tactics, Tactics Advance, and the presently looming monolith that is FF XII. The titles we missed were Front Mission and Bahamut Lagoon, a hit and a miss, which were denied stateside localization back in those distant days of perpetual RPG drought. Square continued to balk on the overseas exportation of the Front Mission series (which now, seven titles later, Square appears to be promoting as a potential "pillar" next to FF, DQ and KH) and so we missed out on Front Mission 2nd and the genre experiments Gun Hazard and FM: Alternative. Sadly, by the time the US had got with the RPG program, the inspiration behind the Front Mission series had dwindled to a low flame, begetting the lackluster Front Mission 3, for which the recent addition of 4 has only partially compensating by adding voice acting and a return to its roots.
So, about those roots: In a nutshell, Front Mission is a 16-bit version of Final Fantasy Tactics, with mechs. The strength of the game, however, lies in its plot and characterization, as robots alone do not an RPG make (testified by the epic waste of time Xenogears). If Square had the wherewithal it could produce a successful series of games based on the characters from Front Mission the first and their Vanzer mechs, much as the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is energetically trying to achieve with that alluring cast of characters. In fact, Front Mission and FFVII share much in the way of mood and setting, somber broodiness in a decaying near-future. As the amoral Shinra Corporation dominates Cloud's world, Roid, the central character of FM, is pursued by the Sakata Corporation, whose CEO, family and underlings play a prominent role in the game, ala Rufus and company. Roid is haunted by memories of a lover who dies early on in the game and pursues an ambivalent romantic relationship with a fellow citizen of the multi-continental nation-state, the Oceanic Community Union, named Natalie F. Blakewood. The two are embroiled in an espionage scandal perpetrated by the United States of the New Continent. As another impediment to stateside localization, the game operates subtly on the post-Hiroshima fear of Western militarization that seems to permeate the collective Japanese anxiety, rendering the game's psychological underpinnings obscure for a Westerner, but instantly palpable for the Japanese consumer raised on Godzilla, Akira, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Returning to the dramatis personae, Front Mission's cast has almost as much character as FFVII's, and retains more dignity having been spared the unconscionable travesty that was Sony's translation job of the Playstation's first Final Fantasy. Perhaps Ted Woolsey could have made of Front Mission an epic to stand beside Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and FF3, if not for the game's inescapable gameplay flaws. Again, the characters alone make up much of the game's appeal. Square anticipates Ayanami Rei of Evangelion with FM's Yang Meihua, a soft-spoken Chinese lass who lets loose her suppressed rage on the battlefield. Her Asuka equivalent is the rowdy Australian Keith Carabell, whose African partner just happens to be named Joynas Jeriaska. Roid's team is called Canyon Crow, and their opposition, Hell's Wall, is made up of black-clad, androgynous ne'er do wells, led by General Driscoll and President Sakata. They are all Yoshitaka Amano creations, later given distinct identities much in the way of FF VI and IX. The original Amano sketches depicting giant robots lumbering through the impossibly lush jungles of Huffman Island are a sight to behold.
As for the gameplay, Front Mission suffers the tediousness of any strategy RPG, especially in between chapters when one is forced to add and subtract machine parts from Canyon Crow's increasingly crowded Vanzer squadron. More rewarding than the shopping routine is the exploration of the bars, where you can catch some gossip and occasionally recruit a new character, and so is the spectacle of the coliseum where you can test your Vanzers out against local talent. The stages themselves can be exciting, especially once you have specialized your ranks into missilers, short-range artillery, and hand-to-hand kickboxers. Unfortunately, there is no option to save the game midway through a mission, and the latter ones tend to last upwards of an hour.
All in all, Front Mission is something of a mixed bag, though its magnificent story and characters make it more memorable than most other RPGs. The score boasts the combined talents of Noriko Matsueda (Front Mission 2, Bahamut Lagoon, The Bouncer, Final Fantasy X-2) and Yoko Shimomura (Parasite Eve, Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts). Shimomura's manic battle themes balance out Matsueda's depressive elegies, providing one of the most memorable multi-composer scores next to Chrono Trigger and FFX. Just recently the game was ported to the Playstation as "Front Mission 1st" and given a remixed score by Front Mission 4's Hidenori Iwasaki in the same fashion as Brave Fencer Musashi's Tsuyoshi Sekito updated Uematsu's FF I&II score for the PSX. Whoever had the idea of boning up Iwasaki on the original's tunes gets my props, as does Iwasaki himself, whose update is far more successful than Sekito's and likely influenced the music for the PS2 title. Some new plot points were incorporated into the PS incarnation that supposedly figure into Front Mission 4, but I cannot comment on them since I haven't played it. However, the handful of original tracks Iwasaki throws into the Matsueda and Shimomura mix are as alluring a reason as any to import Front Mission 1st. I was hoping that Square might localize a Front Mission equivalent to Final Fantasy Origins when FM History was released on the Playstation in Japan, but sadly, it seems that even today worthy RPGs slip through the cracks. (Working Designs, if you can hear me, forget Langrisser and get on Front Mission 1 & 2.) Again we must set our hopes on the PSP and Nintendo DS to one day offer this classic a stateside release. But for those who can't wait, it is available on emulator with an English patch.
Editor's Grade
dotted line "A classic Square RPG, though not without its flaws"
B dotted line Average Reader Score (Based on 10 ratings) | Rate it Now
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Endoplasmic Reticulum
Square Haven Editor
Member since October 03, 2003
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