I've been a pretty big fan of the Front Mission series ever since Square released the third game in the US back in the PlayStation days. Sadly, it was the first game in the franchise to get a localized release. So when Square Enix announced that it was bringing an enhanced version of the first game in the series to the DS, I kept my fingers crossed on a North American release -- it'd be great to see how the saga of epic, futuristic mech warfare got its start. And sure enough, the company decided to reward me (yes, just me!) this year at E3. And after helping to conduct our interview with Square Enix over the game, I was pretty eager to rush downstairs and give it a try.
The game opens with a look at Huffman Island, which is split between the superstates of the OCU and USN. We soon meet a squad of OCU soldiers investigating a suspicious factory. Things take a turn for the worse when they're ambushed by USN forces; the protagonist's girlfriend, who is a member of the squad, is killed, the factory is destroyed, and the USN blames the OCU for initiating hostilities. It's clear right from the start that we're in for a deep, complex political story full of interesting characters. The glimpse I got at the localization conveyed this very well with quality writing. It definitely whetted my appetite for more.
The gameplay should be pretty familiar to any Front Mission player. It's an isometric SRPG where you move Wanzer (mechanized soldiers) units around a grid. You can equip your mechs with a variety of weapons which give them different attack styles, from rifles to basic punches. Each unit is divided into four regions that govern whether and how much they can continue to function: right arm, left arm, legs, and torso. Take out the legs to restrict movement; take out the arms to eliminate whatever weapon is equipped on each. If the torso goes, the unit's removed completely. A lot of the fun in Front Mission comes from mixing and matching different body parts and weapons to create better soldiers, and I didn't really get a chance to play around with a lot of that. All the core gameplay of the battle system certainly seemed to come across just fine, though.
The developers also added support of the requisite DS features -- the top screen and the touch screen. The touch screen controls are a bit flaky. The original Front Mission just wasn't designed for them, and this isn't a real remake, it's a port. The units are small, some of the font choices you'd need to tap on with the stylus are small, and the way menu options are laid out, it just didn't seem at all intuitive to use the touch controls. Maybe it'd be better if they were building the game from the ground up to use that, but they didn't. Thankfully it was all optional, though, so it doesn't really hurt the game. The top screen, however, came across as a godsend. Just moving the cursor onto a square caused the top screen to display the terrain features and how it would impact my units. And at all times the screen was displaying information on my wanzers, their weapons, their health, and so on. Even in early battles it came across as a really useful feature and I can only imagine how much more helpful it'll be later on as this sort of statistical information becomes much more necessary in making good, strategic decisions.
As long as the full game shapes out to be as strong as the demo, it's hard to imagine any Front Mission fan being disappointed in the experience of Front Mission DS.