Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Front Mission

Genre: Role Playing Game / Tactics
Platform: Nintendo DS, Playstation
Credits: 2003 Square Enix Co. Ltd. Screenshots and images courtesy of Amazon.Com and Squaresoft

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Cover Description:
Front Mission focuses on the conflict over Huffman Island, located in the neutral zone between two superpowers known as the Oceania Cooperative Union (O.C.U.) and the Unified Continental States (U.C.S.). Tensions between the O.C.U. and the U.C.S. spark the First Huffman Conflict in 2070, a two-year war ending with a ceasefire agreement that divides the island into two territories. After many years of relative peace, the sudden destruction of a U.C.S. military factory triggers the Second Huffman Conflict in 2090. Experience the war from the perspective of Royd Clive, the leader of the O.C.U. mercenary outfit "Canyon Crows", or Kevin Greenfield, the commanding officer of the U.C.S. Special Forces squad "Black Hounds." Battle through missions against wanzers, tanks, attack helicopters, and giant mobile weapon platforms, and unravel the true motives behind the war over Huffman Island.

As engaging as Front Mission can be... >>> by skysenshi (01.01.2008)
I could not remember a recent time that I had enjoyed a game this much. I thought I had become too old for video games, but as it turns out, I just love old school games more than the soul-less ones available in the market today. Front Mission for the Nintendo DS, alternatively titled Front Mission: The First, is actually a port from the PSX game, which also happens to be a remake of the very first Front Mission released for the SNES. It wasn't as if the game was remade from scratch. Square, at that time, took a decade-old game, revived, repackaged and added a whole new wing to it. While Front Mission retained most of its original gameplay, artwork and animation, it offered a different side to the original story.

The very first release solely consisted of Royd's campaign. Royd is a mercenary working to expand the O.C.U. territory. Kevin's campaign, which focuses on the U.C.S.'s viewpoint, is an add-on. As of this writing, I had already finished Royd's path and I am halfway through Kevin's.

Now that I have explained its origins, I suppose I have already painted an opening towards expectations. FM1, looks-wise, is no way near the sophistication of later installations. This is a twelve-year-old game we're talking about, so you'd see slow animations, isometric 3D, and highly simplistic terrains. The cover artwork is vintage Yoshitaka Amano but the insides are as regular as 2D avatars can get.

And yet I've become addicted.

While the plot tends to get absurd sometimes (I ended up laughing about what happened to the Royd's girlfriend instead of sympathizing), one can't really say that it lacks originality. The characters are relatable, even if the two protagonists are total sweethearts. They're tough fighters, but they're made of absolute mush. There's not much characterization to delve into, but that's typical of an early 90s video game. You'll actually see a huge difference when you play Kevin's storyline, though. His team mates are much more...talkative. And supportive. This is because there are additional options to your menu when you play Kevin. Instead of just hanging out at bars, like in Royd's path, you also get to hang out with your team in the barracks. I was also surprised to see 3DCG FMVs in Kevin's story. You don't see that in Royd's. Probably because Kevin's didn't come out until the 2003 remake and newer technology had been used.

The gameplay may not be as complex as Front Mission 3's, since this is older, but it was riveting. I could not put it down. Despite my qualms about rifles being wrongly categorized as short-ranged weapons, I didn't really care. Shotguns were my favorite in FM3 but rifles and machine guns in FM1 rock! To give you an idea as to how simple Front Mission battle system goes, I'd like to ask: Have you ever played Final Fantasy Tactics? Well, it's nearly the same thing, except this one's sci-fi and that one's fantasy. There are no linking systems ala Front Mission 4. This is a simple turn-based tactics game where you gang up on your enemies till they all blow up. Your strategies would, however, depend on how well you customize your wanzers, how you balance your team, and how well your individual pilots specialize in much needed skills.

The difficulty settings between the two campaigns are as stark as night and day. Royd's is manageable enough, with equal parts easy, equal parts normal, and equal parts difficult. Kevin's, on the other hand, is really for more veteran players. I was already on the 9th mission when I realized that my Christmas/New Year vacation will be over soon and that I won't be able to see the end of Kevin's journey if I didn't restart on Easy Mode (0.5x). That 9th mission was taking too long to accomplish as the enemy wanzers were twice as strong, twice as buff, outnumbered my team, and can shoot my limbs off in one round. If I were to go on a slowly-but-surely pace, my break would be up before I knew it. Switching to Easy Mode cut my time in half. My only complaint is that it's so ridiculously easy, I could cry. (I wanted "Easy", not "God" mode!) Nevertheless, I find this to be a very minor problem, since I had officially finished the game anyway and just wanted to see what the other side had to say.

Another minor complaint is the New Game+. It takes you back to the campaign you originally chose, without asking you if you want to try the other one. It would've been nicer to have some of the newer wanzer parts on Kevin's game instead of having to select 0.5x Mode. New Game+ on Royd, even using the hardest difficulty level, is just plain cheesy.

Would I recommend it? If you're Asian, I'd give you a resounding YES. I noticed that Front Mission titles don't appeal to people outside of Japan or of Asia. Americans and Europeans are more into Advanced Wars. I'd say that I don't want to compare. I love Front Mission. 'Nuff said.

DIFFICULTY: Extremely Easy - Extremely Difficult
COMPLETION TIME: 34:59 hours (Royd Campaign) 10:05 (Kevin Campaign)
HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: 34 Royd Campaign, 24 Kevin Campaign
RATINGS: Gameplay 9; Battle 9; Story 8; Visuals 8; Characters 9; Sounds 7; Replay Value 10

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