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Front Mission

Platform:
ws
Developer:
Square
Genre:
Strategy
Series:
Front Mission
  • 07/12/02
A- 36 total ratings
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Strategy Mech Battle: Front Mission

A Front Mission review Author: Jeriaska Published: May 11, 2006
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Before English-speaking gamers were indoctrinated into grid-based simulation RPG's with Final Fantasy Tactics, 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. The titles we missed were Front Mission and Bahamut Lagoon, a hit and a miss, denied stateside localization back in those distant days of perpetual RPG drought.
Character design inspired by Yoshitaka Amano


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. Number 4 in the series has compensated by embracing voice acting and a return to its roots, but poor sales may well deny Front Mission 5: Scars of War an overseas release.

So, about those roots: In a nutshell, Front Mission plays much like Final Fantasy Tactics, but with lumbering mechs duking it out on the battlefield. The strength of the game lies in its plot and characterization, as robots alone do not an RPG make (note Xenogears). Had Square the wherewithal to produce a coherent series of direct sequels, the protagonists of Front Mission I and their Vanzer mechs could span a trilogy. The Front Mission drama shares much intigue with its polymorphism-bound Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Somber broodiness in a decaying near-future set the scene. As the immoral Shinra Corporation dominates Cloud Strife's world, here Roid Clive is pursued by the Sakata Corporation. The CEO and his underlings play a prominent role in the game, ala Rufus and company.
Roid Clive is the protagonist of the story


Roid, haunted by memories of a lover who dies early on in the game, 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 is blessed with design by Yoshitaka Amano. Heroic SNES era game translator Ted Woolsey could have made of Front Mission an epic to stand beside Secret of Mana, if given a chance. Square anticipates Ayanami Rei with Yang Meihua, a withdrawn Chinese lass who lets loose her suppressed rage on the battlefield. Rowdy Australian Keith Carabell fights alongside his African partner 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. 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 some of the tediousness symptomatic of all strategy RPGs, 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 local dives, where you can catch some gossip and occasionally recruit a new character. Players also take in the spectacle of the coliseum, where they can test out their Vanzers 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.
The view switches between overhead map and battle scene


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 and Yoko Shimomura. Shimomura's manic battle themes balance out Matsueda's depressive elegies, providing one of the most memorable multi-composer scores around. More recently the game was ported to the Playstation as "Front Mission 1st" and given a remixed score by Front Mission 4's Hidenori Iwasaki. Whoever had the idea of boning up Iwasaki on the original's tunes gets this reviewer's props, as does Iwasaki himself. The update is far more successful than any Final Fantasy remixes composed by Tsuyoshi Sekito. The handful of original tracks Iwasaki throws into the mix are as alluring a reason as any to hope for the localization of Front Mission 1st DS. Let's hope Square does not leave us high and dry with the third go around for this old school gem.

Originally published 8/12/04
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Editor's Grade
B+
dotted line "A tactical strategy RPG encased in a remarkable epic drama"
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Author
Jeriaska
Endoplasmic Reticulum
Square Haven Editor
Member since October 03, 2003
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