1 Step to the Front, 4 Steps Back from the Mission
The narrative of Front Mission 4 stars two individuals once again, as seen in Front Mission 2. On the United Continental States (USN renamed) side, the game stars Sergeant Darril Traubel and his buddies find a stash of gold from a plane crash in Venezuela. Darril ends up on the run from USC and the Venezuelan State Army as they decide to take the gold stash. On the European Commonwealth (EC) side, the star is Durandal recruit Elsa Eliane. The EC side is much more serious as the Durandal are sent to investigate a series of attacks on German bases. Naturally, this investigation leads to more serious matters in the future.
While this situation looks familiar to the one in Front Mission 2, it differs in several aspects. First, Darril and Elsa never truly meet each other in the game and their stories are tied together only through several shared elements. Second, the two sides do not merge together at any time in the game. Darrilís narrative is more for comic relief while Elsaís narrative is more serious. The narrative for both sides isnít bad, but given how it is executed, it leaves much to be desired. Having it set up like in Front Mission 3 would have been better as the switching prevents either narrative from having a stronger impact.
As the first installment on the PS2, Front Mission 4 doesnít look as impressive as it should be. As a mid-generation product, Front Mission 4ís technical prowess does not resemble an appropriate jump. The visuals have definitely improved; some battlefields look impressive, and the wanzers, Front Mission-speak for mecha, are cleaner and more detailed. Still, one canít help but feel that more could have been done. Music by newcomer Hidenori Iwasaki is a good first try, successful in setting the atmosphere of both sides. Sound effects have become more realistic, though it could use a bigger bang. Overall, Front Mission 4 is a definite improvement but it feels lacking in some areas.
Seeing as how long-time fans disliked the radical changes seen in Front Mission 3, Toshiro Tsuchida and the developers went back to the foundation that made Front Mission a success. The larger missions are back and the more controversial elements such as the Pilot system have been removed. Several elements such as ammunition from the older games are back and improved. New additions such as positioning, weather, and time are designed to resemble the team effect seen in Front Mission 2ís Honor system. However, nothing resembles that feature as well as the new Links system.
Rather than bring back the Honor system, the developers have opted to implement the Links system. Featuring the ability for combatants to assist in offensive or defensive attacks, Links opens up new possibilities in terms of battle. With up to 4 Link combatants available, Links are the main means to destroying the enemy and is a good substitute to the Honor system. Setup of Links, however, is a cumbersome and not an easy task. Each combatant requires Link Points (LP) to enable Links, as well as being able to Link with another who can Link. Also, the player must designate weapons for offensive and defensive Links. This setup process is cumbersome and could have been streamlined instead.
Front Mission 4 also goes back into more simplistic progression mechanics. The Network feature in Front Mission 2 and 3 have been removed entirely, although the Simulators have returned. The coliseum from the older Front Missions has not returned, sadly. In effect, the town segments are pretty bland and dull without any unique features. While this makes it easier to focus on the main game, some side features would be nice. Wanzer customization is still present, although some nagging issues get in the way. Players must go through several menus to purchase and setup wanzers every time they wish to do so.
Pilot progression has also changed to resemble the older Front Mission installments. Pilot levels have returned, although their impact has been reduced to minor changes. The real meat comes from Enhancement Points (EP). Gained by destroying enemies and beating missions, EP is the monetary fund to purchase new upgrades and skills for pilots. Although each pilotís skill set designates them to a certain role, the player can re-train them in a different role once the Computer Shop is available. Some upgrades include additional AP or EMP resistances, while the rest are purely skills to equip. This is less cumbersome than wanzer setup, but it doesnít feel as natural and fluid as it should be.
Missions are the same variety as those found in Front Mission 3, although a number of missions have ally units to help the player. With the inclusion of specialized backpacks such as EMP, thereís more variety in play style than before. However, the enemy composition feels poorly planned and executed. Enemy placements are far and wide, Link distribution is lacking, and enemy AI has not really improved from the older Front Missions. There are also serious issues with part balancing as the player can access powerful equipment without difficulty.
In conclusion, Front Mission 4 is not quite a bad game per se, but leaves much to be desired. The improvements are noticeable, but several design flaws keep it from elevating the game to higher levels. The interface scheme needs to be streamlined and less cumbersome, while better part balance and enemy composition are necessary for difficulty balancing. For each step made forward, Front Mission 4 feels like it takes four steps backward.
After the arrival of Front Mission 3 to North America, the game was reasonably well received and deemed a ďcult hitĒ. With an audience visible and seemingly ready to receive Front Mission products, the newly formed Square Enix localized and released Front Mission 4 to North America. Unfortunately, the game was not well received and quickly fell off the gaming radar. Is that an indication of Front Mission 4ís quality or something else?
||"Although improvements are noticeable, Front Mission 4 leaves much to be desired in terms of a true improvement. Not a bad game per se, but there are noticeable flaws in its design."
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