Front Mission 3 - Review

Mecha are just plain fun.

By Jake Alley

Review Breakdown
   Battle System9
   Replay Value8
   Time to Complete45-150 hours 

Front Mission 3

   There's something about having big clunky robots stomping around blowing things up that makes people happy. Squaresoft has been gracing Japan with Tactical RPGs that let people experience this pleasure for years, and with Front Mission 3 they've finally let the U.S. in on the fun.

   The actual gameplay isn't vastly different from the average TRPG. You move and attack with all your characters, then sit back as your opponents do the same. A good deal more strategy is factored into the mix than average however due to some clever game mechanics. There are a number of types of weapons, which all function in subtle but different ways. Melee attacks, missiles, and rifles deliver a single strong blow, machine guns, flame throwers, and grenades scatter damage around in a fairly random manner, and shotguns divide their damage evenly over their target. Since nearly everything in the game has separate HP for each of various locations (body, left arm, right arm, and legs in most cases) these different distribution patterns can make a big impact on strategy. Not only does one have to consider damage distribution and the concept of blowing limbs off, but for each round of combat, each character has a certain amount of AP which are spent by moving, attacking, and also counterattacking. In other words, the less you exert yourself moving and attacking, the more you will be able to counterattack.

Oh just turn images on if you care what it is!
Point Blank  

   The real strength of FM3 is the customization factor. During a fight it is possible to capture an enemy wanzer (mech) through a number of different means, use it during that fight if you wish, then afterwards either sell it off, keep it as a spare, or break it down for spare parts. In fact, it's possible to capture other things in the same manner such as tanks, helicopters, trucks, cannons, heavily armored trains, gigantic war machines and so forth, but those you can't take with you afterwards. Between fights it isn't uncommon for most people to spend as much as an hour looking over parts they've acquired from enemies, what they have equipped, and what's available in stores to create the optimal wanzer for each of their characters. The balancing aspect of this is masterfully done. There are no "best" parts, only parts best suited for certain applications. This sort of customization could easily grow tedious for some, but preassembled Wanzers tend to represent a decent cross section of styles, so for those who would rather spend their time fighting. In the same vein, all plot points can be skipped with a push of the start button or two. Very handy for those times when you actually lose, or just suddenly realize you forgot to do something before the fight.

The City! My The City!
Nice scenery  

   The music consists of a large variety of techno tracks which fit the action quite well. More importantly, they have enough variety to ensure that one won't be forced to listen to the exact same track fight after fight. The sound effects add to the emersion level with motors grinding, exposed wires sparking, and other sounds associated with giant robots.

   One of the strangest aspects of Front Mission 3 is the Network. An extremely accurate simulation of the world wide web that can be accessed anytime between fights. You can send and receive e-mail, download images to use as desktop patterns, look at government and company owned sites to find backstory including a basic summation of the earlier games, and various other things which have no bearing on the game whatsoever. Still it's strangely addictive. Towards the end of the game playing with the Network can actually yield some things of value, but it's main purpose is just informative.

Just a scratch!  

   Like many TRPGs, Front Mission 3 features 2 main plot lines. However, unlike most games where you consciously choose one at the beginning of the game, the two branches fluidly split off early on, with other hidden choices down the road leading to some rather interesting variations. For example, if you let a certain unit escape in one battle, the next will have more enemies than it normally would. Similarly, the characters who join your party change depending on your actions.

   The graphics engine for this game operates at the very limits of the Playstation's memory and processor speed. In fact, while it's possible to save during a battle, doing so takes four memory card slots. The main reason for this is the way accuracy works. The path of each bullet is traced from the point it leaves the gun until it hits. If the target has partial cover behind the corner of a building or a clump of trees, usually a number of bullets will be blocked by these, leaving accurate holes in walls, or destroying less durable cover. Not only does this make for a very accurate simulation of firing from partial cover, but it makes for a very impressive site to look at the battlefield after the fight and see bullet ridden skyscrapers surrounding the scorch marks left by exploding wanzers.

It's transforming all right.  

   Front Mission 3 delivers a fair amount of challenge as the genre goes, there's various hidden side goals, creative level designs, and overwhelming numbers to satisfy those seeking challenge, but careful upgrading and the ability to character build between fights prevents it from being too hard for those who want an easier time of things.

   In conclusion, Front Mission 3 is a well rounded title that lives up to it's image. What few flaws it has (extreme pixellation when textures are seen close up, nearly imperceptible slowdown at some points) are honestly unavoidable with the Playstation's capabilities, and it's virtues are many. Plus, with two long main plotlines and various minor variations, it can easily maintain one's attention for well over 100 hours. All in all, a very pleasurable experience.

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