Front Mission 3 - Review

The Most Efficient Use of Disc Space I've Ever Seen!

By: Zohar Gilboa

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 8
   Plot 9
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Medium - Hard
   Time to Complete

40 - 120 hours


Title Screen
All things need to start somewhere

   Front Mission 3 is a strategy game by Square for the PlayStation, released in Japan in 1999. As the name implies, it's not the first in the series - the first appeared in 1995, on the SuperFamicom. However, FM3 is the first ever Front Mission translated to English, and what a welcome addition it is! The game is a strategy RPG and the battles are fought with mechs (this time they're called Wanzers).

   Strategy RPG means that the gameplay revolves mainly around battles. More important is the fact that the placement of your units matters. This also means that unlike many RPGs, you actually have to think here and some battles can be very tough. You basically move your wanzers around the battlefield, attack your foes with your melee weapons, missiles, shotguns, machineguns, rifles, grenade launches etc., while the enemy coutnerattacks, if it can. Then, the enemy units get to fight back and you're the one to defend. That's one turn. This goes on until the battle goal is achieved. On each turn, every character can move and perform an action. Too bad that in this game you can't move after doing something. The various actions from attacking with one of your wanzer's weapons, ejecting from the wanzer (you can also move to other wanzers like that), using items or just ending a turn. Moving and attacking (as well as counterattacking with either a shield or a weapon) cost a certain amount of Action Points, depending on how much you've travelled and what type of weapons you're using. Your characters regenerate 12 AP each turn. Their max AP rises as they gain experience from destroying enemy body parts. Also, the more you use a weapon, the more experience it gains and the more powerful it becomes. This means you should usually stick with the same type of weapon for each character throughout the game.

   While there are many strategy elements within battle, you also have to think outside of it. You have to keep your equipment up to date, right? However, that's not so simple. You can't just place a grenade launcher on one shoulder, a missile launcher on the other, put a shotgun in your right hand and a shield in your left. The main problem is weight. As you go through the game, you'll get new wanzer models available (either from shops or by capturing enemy wanzers). The wanzer parts consist of a body, a left and right arm as well as legs. By the way, when you destroy the wanzer's body in battle, the wanzer is destroyed completely. Anyway, the body determines how much weight each wanzer can bear. The other limbs also have weight, as do weapons. So usually, you end up with no more than one or two weapons. You can also put a backpack on your wanzer, either for items (these cost more weight), or to add more power to the wanzer, so you can place heavier things on it. I seriously can't think of a drawback to the battle system, apart from the fact that it's challenging.

Use battle skills in combat
Use battle skills in combat  

   You can upgrade your wanzers in various ways. All parts can be upgraded to have more HP. The body can get a defense against a type of damage (fire damage, impact damage or piercing damage). The arms get an accuracy bonus. The legs get an evade bonus and a movement bonus (able to jump higher, for example). The amount of HP added, the evade percent and so on, they all depend on the wanzer part. For example, wanzer models which are designed to fight with melee weapons will have lower accuracy (since most melee weapons have a pretty high accuracy percent already), but they'll have high HP values to sustain attacks from the front line. Also, each wanzer part has a particular battle skill. These skills you will discover randomly as you fight. Once you get one, you can set it into the pilot's computer and you'll get it more often. The skills allow you to cause more damage in an attack or to avoid it when defending.

   The battles are held in 3D polygonal stages. The wanzers appear as sprites and when the attack occurs the screen zooms in and they turn to polygonal models. While this may seem tedious, it doesn't take much time at all and it's an efficient way of showing the damage done without overloading the system. The models are pretty detailed, though still a bit grainy. The game should look better on a PS2, but I haven't tried that, since I don't have one. The game is very linear. You almost never get to choose where to go. The plot leads you around the world using 3D maps (which you can't control) and inside cities (where you usually choose to go to a bar, a shop or back to HQ). The city screens and where most of the conversation occurs are pre-rendered backgrounds. You use menus to speak with people (you don't actually see them on screen, only their portraits). While this isn't the most fun way to interact with characters, it does the job well, especially considering the various available expressions for each character. The game also has many FMVs (and even a few scenes of real footage), which are amazing. Incredibly detailed cities, machinary, forests, explosions... Truly breathtaking.

   The battle scenes are accompanied with great sound effects, ranging from explosions to static noises during radio transmissions. The menu actions are various computer bleeps. All these really add to the game experience. The music in the game is mostly militaristic (trumpets, drum beats), though there are some other genres as well. The sampling quality is pretty good (meaning that the music sounds fairly 'real', not synthesized unless meant to sound that way). The music quality is a different matter. Apart for some very good pieces, the soundtrack is mostly pretty bland. Background music, nothing more. It's not bad, but this certainly isn't the game's strong point.

   While I haven't played any other Front Mission games (you'll need to know Japanese for that), I can compare the game to other strategy games I've played. The approach of using a chessboard-like battle arena is not a new one, it's been around here since the Genesis, maybe even earlier. However, in no other game have I had to think of factors such as the weight of my equipment, the abilities I'll learn from it or just how cool I want my wanzer to look like! Front Mission 3, while being very similar to other strategy RPGs within battle, is the first game, for me, to have really made me think outside of battle, to strategize and think about possible outcoms and combinations of equipment. I think, though, that the most original part in the game is the network.

Where would you like to go today?
Where would you like to go today?  

   Since the game is very linear, you don't get that much character interaction with other people in the game, and you're not always in a city, so you might not be able to buy equipment (though you only get new things when you actually reach a shop). For that, the designers of FM3 created the network. The network is built of two basic areas. The first is the web browser. You can go through web pages created by the game to learn about the politics in the world, find out new information about characters and plot elements, you can even vote in a contest for "Miss Teihoku University". The second part is the desktop. The desktop contains the online shop, a simulator (where you can fight and gain experience), you can configure the desktop (change the background with images you download through the browser, for example) and there's the e-mail system. The e-mail system is just a way to talk with other people and find out more about your party members (each has their own mailbox). You can even send a message to Square, but you need to find out their address, first. With government websites come passwords, correct? You get to hack into confidential information by decoding images online, getting e-mails from hackers etc. The web browser isn't important to the game, it's just a lot of fun.

   As you might have noticed, the game is set in a futaristic world. The year 2112, to be exact. The hero is Kazuki. Along with his friend Ryogo they witness an explosion in a military base in Japan, where they live. From then on, they get pulled into a world filled with double agents, rebel factions, conspiracies of genetic manipulation and a new weapon of mass destruction. You run away from Japan and move all over the far east in Taiwan, China, the Philippines and other countries. There's one last twist to the story, though. Right at the begining of the game you will get to make a seemingly unimporant decision. Depending on it, you will get into one of two scenarioes. While both scenarios have the same general story, you will encoutner different characters (apart for Kazuki and Ryogo), go to different countries, battle in different areas, get a different ending. Where in one scenario someone is your enemy, in the other you will be their ally. This adds a lot to the replay value. The game is a bit tedious at times, and it does require much thinking. I've played both scenarios once already and I doubt I'll play it again soon. However, the second time was as entertaining as the first.

   One of the theories on why Square hasn't released any of the Front Mission games in the US before is that they didn't want to upset people there. Simply put, the game doesn't display the USA in the most positive manner... Still, when they finally did translate one of the games, they did it very well. Especially considering the huge amounts of text on the network. The characters speak freely, they don't sound restrained, there are jokes and slang. There are still a couple of spelling mistakes, but those are rare and you need to look well for them.

Incredibly detailed FMVs
Incredibly detailed FMVs  

The game's difficulty varies. It all depends on how much time you want to spend on building up your characters and their skills, how much time you want to spend trying to capture enemy wanzers to get new parts etc. This also determines the game's speed. The first time I played the game it took me sixty hours. The second time, on the second scenario, it took me another forty. With enough work, you really could get to the 150 hours written on the back of the game. This is also due to the game's biggest flaw - loading times. It takes a while to load maps, the arenas and so on. Luckily, once you're at some place, you usually stay there for a while.

In conclusion, Front Mission 3 is an excellent game. The story draws you into the world of the game, the characters are charming, the battle is interesting and challenging, yet not tedious. The sound effects are excellent, as well. It's worth playing the game at least twice, if not more - you can always find out new secrets on the web or new strategies to use in battle. While the music could use some more work, it does a good enough job. The game manages to make a stand regarding war and the human nature. It succeeds in making you love characters, hate them, call them idiots or appreciate their genius. If you like to think, this is the game for you. Otherwise, stay away from it. I can't believe how much data Square managed to cram into one CD...

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