, Squaresoft developed Front Mission
. As it was a unique title which coupled interesting story with remarkably fresh gameplay, Squaresoft concluded that we were not worthy and prohibited a North American release. Seven years later, the original was ported to the Playstation with an additional plotline which sought to connect the various installments of the series. Alas, the time had not yet come and we were denied access yet again. Prospects looked especially bleak when Front Mission 4
released in North America to poor sales, obliterating any hope of any more titles finding their way to these grand Yankee shores. Yet somehow it was that when Font Mission
was directed to the DS that our favorite port-meister and Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada
made the call and sent this oft-neglected classic hurtling across the Pacific, careening for our handhelds. And for turn-based strategy fans, the wait was worth it.
It is the future, combat takes place inside combat robots termed “Wanzers” for decidedly Germanic reasons. The original storyline of Front Mission follows the mercenary corps of the Canyon Crows, as led by Roid Clive (a most horrendous translation that was undoubtedly intended to be “Loyd”) in their work for the Oceanic Community Union (OCU). As their participation in the Second Huffman Conflict progresses, the usual stock of cataclysmic secrets begins to unfold as the machinations of the Nirvana Institute rise to the surface. Although the depth of the plot shows its age, its flow and thematic ideas carry a consistent direction throughout the narrative and lead to a satisfying and suitably grave conclusion. As a side note, the villain Driscoll bears special remembrance as one of the most cool, calculating and insidious gentlemen to grace any console, minding both his look on down to his monster of a Wanzer. Thanks be to Amano.
The second story scenario available, which I will describe as instant fan service, details a second squad of Wanzer pilots in their work for the opposing force in Front Mission, the United States of the New Continent (USN). Approached after concluding Roid’s scenario, this second plot fills in some interesting gaps and bridges plot points from various Front Mission titles together under a single umbrella of well-written and modernized style.
While both storylines grant lovely political intrigue, core gameplay, Wanzer combat, remains solid. Fans of the series will recall that Wanzers have HP partitioned into its body, left arm, right arm, and legs, where destroying any of the latter disables the apparatus attached and annihilating the body annihilates the entire damn thing. With this formula as the basis, Wanzers may be equipped with any number of missile launchers, tank treads, machine guns, grenade launchers, and various other weapons to deal damage to or disable its opponents in various ways. Skills come into use as pilots level up, allowing them to target specific body parts or let out that additional well-needed burst of ammunition. Coliseum matches are also available for money needed to purchase upgrade parts for Wanzers, permitting for an alternate battle style. Three difficulty settings round out the package for those with the patience to restart frequently—and the challenge does ramp up nicely.
The game looks about on par for a title of its time and contains sprites galor so there should be no surprise when booting the cartridge up for the first time. Yoshitaka Amano
’s original artwork remains, of course, and is as visually visceral as ever. In addition, Hidenori Iwasaki
, long-time Front Mission composer, had taken the time to remix and re-arrange Noriko Matsueda
’s original tracks for the release of Front Mission 1st
, and that soundtrack remains in tact for the DS port. Admittedly, though, the in-combat track began to grate on the ears after a few listens, and the sound was soon thereafter turned down; this is a shame, since some of the battle map selections are far above-par. Further, the localization job was executed very well sans the painful "Loyd" to "Roid" switch and Square Enix Co. has done a faithful job of warming up this strategy classic for our picky English palettes.
There is very little negative to say about Front Mission
, which has been polished and added to repeatedly for over a decade. With a solid thirty to forty hours of gameplay, a New Game+ feature to keep players coming back for more, and a fine-tuned but challenging battle system, North American players are in store for the best strategy-RPG title that has or will hit the Nintendo DS for a very long time.
Twelve years ago, when the Strategy RPG genre was still young and free of our bi-yearly installments of