Front Mission 3 - Retroview

Stand Tall and Shake the...Wait, That Motto's Taken?!"

By: Noj Airk

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 10
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 8
   Plot 10
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Varies
   Time to Complete

43-165 hours


Front Mission 3

   As his technology evolves, so does his civilization; and as his civilization increases, so should his humanity. However, it's man's misfortune to, time and time again, not realize that his ever so increasing craftiness is only making him more cold and unfeeling. His increasing intellect has still made him unable to grasp that his newer and better toys only inspire the next incarnation of evil to follow in its predecessor's footsteps. From there, I say to you: welcome to the philosophy of Front Mission 3, Square's massive cyberpunk RPG.

   The game starts you off normal. You play an everyday civilian; here, you are a test-pilot for the company of Kirishima Industries. The first things you will notice are two ways in which this game involves you immediately. First, is the way how you can not only rename your character's first name, but also his last name, resulting in various other characters to also have this new last name you've chosen. The other is immediately putting you in the first combat level: a test of a new Wanzer (Mech) for movement capabilities, weapons accuracy, and soon, durability against attack. As you go through the simple mechanics, the game teaches you step-by-step the battle mechanics in a wonderfully helpful and clear tutorial that flawlessly forces you to memorize how to play.

   The battle system is a lot like that of Vandal Hearts rather than Final Fantasy Tactics, but if Tactics is the only of the genre you've played, it'll still be familiar territory for you. There are three key differences between this and Final Fantasy Tactics. First off, the battle system is totally turn based, meaning that first all the good-guys make a move, then it's the bad-guys' turn. The second is that every time you are attacked, it asks you how you want to counter the attack, such as returning fire, or using a shield. And the third is the ability to reset your selected character's moves you've ordered them to execute. If you tell someone to move towards a switch to open a door, and then you realize you need them in combat, you can simply reset the action specifications.

Frighteningly Real, Frighteningly Cool, Totally Disastrous
Frighteningly Real, Frighteningly Cool, Totally Disastrous"  

   Being a near-future game, you don't fight with swords, but mostly with guns or long-ranged weapons, primarily meaning that your attacks are never limited to a single space. With that, you'll commonly have multiple targets in your range of attack, one in which you might be having your team concentrate their fire upon. With all these new features that are primarily unorthodox in the RPG world, there are still aspects to the battle system that remain true to the genre; mainly status ailments and experience points. Rather than conventional status affects such as slow or poison, you get ones like stun and forced ejection. These ailments, once taken effect, can quickly make or break the battle. One good thing is that if the enemy ejects, their ability to counterattack is completely gone, so you can attack their empty Wanzer, simply damaging it for next round.

   The game's interface is easily as big as those of Star Ocean: The Second Story or the Armored Core series. Each Wanzer unit is made up of in total, seven parts: Pilot, Computer, Backpack, Wanzer Legs, Left Arm, Right Arm and Body. The four Wanzer bits each have statistics; ones pertaining to that particular body part and HP count. In battle, when an arm reaches 0 HP, that arm cannot be used, and as such, if your body reaches 0 HP, you're out now. These parts can be strengthened by one of two ways. One is to switch the part with another Wanzer, or from a store (there are dozens of models of Wanzers), which can help you with whatever you need, be it ability, weight management or HP. The other way is to simply upgrade the part at a shop (or miraculously over the Internet). These upgrades keep your Wanzer's primary purposes in check.

   Like in the common games of the genre, you don't walk around at all outside of battle. In fact, you can only access a map in which you control where to go under two circumstances allowed by plot. One is when the mission can be taken one of a couple of ways, and the other is when you've found a safe place to hide, usually in the middle of a city. In the cities or villages, you generally have four locations: your current hideout, a bar, a shop, and sometimes another destination that one of your party members wishes to go and advance the plot. The bars are what really interest me with the human interaction level, because every time a significant event occurs, it'll be the gossip the people at the bar will talk about. If you go destroy a base near a village, the villagers in the bar will be talking about it, either pro or anti towards your actions. They are all given identities in the bar as well, from the normal like "Bartender" or "Drunk" to even "Tramp" or "Moron". Also, after talking to one once, each has a secondary line to say. Little things like that just make one happy about the game.

   That really just leaves the network/internet system. Here you can shop, activate a battle simulator, receive and send Email, and surf the net. The Email service is mainly for building character development, as people back home write to you, and you can write them back. Every nation that you visit will have a governmental site, some kind of military site, and possibly a company or a college or two. If you read all this material, you will find that the world of Front Mission 3 is truly as complex as the world will be in the early 22nd century.

Looks like a cross between Blade Runner
Looks like a cross between Blade Runner  

   The plot is also on the scale of the interface, as it is complex, detailed and massive. One good aspect of the plot is its speed. You start off a test-pilot testing a new model in hopes that the superiority will be noticed by the military and soon in demand. The military does indeed notice its superiority, and you are ordered to deliver a batch, with your friend Ryogo, to the local military base. However, when you arrive at a second base, an explosion goes off, and all the defenses go haywire and attack you; but upon destroying the ballistic guns, the heads of the base immediately kick you out, proving to you that there's something very wrong going on. Soon, while at a local bar investigating the case, you are approached by another person investigating the incident: a scientist/agent from the USN named Emma.

Taking place just over a century from now, I was at first confused as to how much the world has changed apart from technologically, and soon I began to discover it has changed quite significantly. The world that takes an active part in the game is in three groups: the USN (United-States Nations), the DHZ (Da Han Zhong, the future Chinese Red Army), and the OCU (Based in the Philippines, in charge of the east; also in charge of the JDF: the Japanese Defensive Forces). All three of these have skirmishes with one another, but haven't engaged in any major conflicts for decades. Having no large-scale disputes, the common man sees these political powers as being stable and peace-loving, when in all actuality, they thrive on dirt they collect on each other. The explosion at the base is the catalyst to set tension in motion. What this Emma tells you is that the explosion at the base wasn't just some freak accident, but a new device the JDF had and attempted to copy. This device, created by Emma in the USN, is a device, or more like physical procedure, to create nuclear energy that is gentle to the environment. While the design was of peaceful purpose in intention, this device, is a perfect bomb to launch full-scale nuclear war with without the risk of radioactive residue.

But here's the clever part: while the plot thickens to another 40-50 solid hours, you said yes to Ryogo; you made the choice to say yes. In the game, before the explosion, Ryogo asks you to accompany a first shipment. If you turn him down, Emma's appearance no longer exists, and immediately the entire 50 hour plot is literally 100% different; you will even fight those people of the USN you worked with. I am a believer in causality (that small events can trigger large-scale events), and this game with this feature makes me feel better in this insecure reality. And what nobody else will tell you, is that this isn't the only split point in the game that totally alters the game from that point on. Sometimes if you fail to recover some transports that are escaping, you will be thrown into yet another storyline.

Many official reviewers really loved this game because it's as believable as the near future as anything we've seen anywhere else. However, it's not the plot that actually made me convinced this game is the future, but rather the writing itself contained within it. Within the first two hours, Kazuki and Ryogo are very complete, real people, with exceptional writing based entirely on personality to the situation. One thing that I found interesting is that in games such as The Bouncer and Vandal Hearts, there are three main male characters (one with two secondary), and they always hold the personality triad of this: one eager yet selfless, one tough and serious, and one comedic. The eager and the comedic are indeed here as Kazuki and Ryogo; and without the third and serious male shutting them up, they often run amok. Even better, is that usually, the females, Emma or Alissa, are the ones to speak the most besides them, so it in a way adds a "woman's touch," adding to the stereotype that girls are indeed, in practical senses, smarter than their male counterparts.

Players, about that request to say smug remark, permission granted!
Players, about that request to say smug remark, permission granted!  

Out of one hundred percent, about sixty percent of the dialogue is based on plot development of things such as gathering information or scheming. Another thirty percent is missionary based material, where you talk about objectives, changes in plan, and how hard some characters think it will be. The last ten percent is really comic relief for character. One great aspect is that all characters take their turn being funny, but only Ryogo comes across as a clown. In these scenes, characters do everything from trying to get a grip of reality, to whispering secrets or talking behind each other's backs. Of all countless examples, my more favorite one to immediately think of would be: "Ryogo's so sweet, acting like he's stupid to make her feel better."

Altogether, this game has about twice as much dialogue as Xenogears, and it's on a single disc. So, that means that even if this disc were the one that'll replace the DVD, I doubt they would still have sufficient room to store all the voices if all of it was voice acted; voice acting for the dialogue is simply out of the question. However, luckily, this prevents risk of that bad voice acting we sometimes find in games more serious (ever played Silent Hill?). This leaves the music and sound effects free to be as colorful as they want, and I am a big fan of playing this game loudly myself. The sound effects come in a huge variety, probably of nearly a thousand different sound effects, all of them very solid, and some of them even intertwining. During a talking scene, if someone enters or leaves a room the door sounds very real, and hearing a missile soar through the air is simply incredible.

The music is rather good, but overall is sort of a mixed bag. There really wasn't a single track I didn't like, and some of the music is quite grand. The music style is also quite unique, phenomenally suiting for the scene, and often somewhat charming. The soundtrack is full of energy, and while low on emotional tracks and character themes, this captures the emotions of the characters perfectly. However, there do seem to be as many energetic combat themes as there are proper, marching or "uh-oh, here they come" type. As such, listening to the soundtrack, it's just as easy to imagine this as being the soundtrack to a cyber-punk kung fu movie.

The visuals in this game are a nice treat also. While sometimes a bit ugly, they are extremely detailed and polygon-complex; probably the most polygon complex game on the system by that point. Graphics like these were perfect for a March 2000 release, for that's nine months before the PlayStation 2 came out in the US, so this game seems almost a tribute to the great system we call the PlayStation, showing a graphical side we haven't seen much of, yet that will soon be obsolete. Many have complained about the graphics, but that is in many ways rightfully so. The textures are really colors or patterns made more solid by making them dirtier, the movement of the actual humans is weak, and the Wanzers blowing up make smoke puffs, not explosions. There're parts with slowdown, and like all in the genre, there are levels where a particular space is always obscured no matter how you look at it.

However, there are many positive sides as well. First off, the firing cinematography is superb, where missiles are followed at close range around the level, headed towards their targets, and when shooting a gun, the camera takes a western movie shoot-off style of look. Also, the movement of the Wanzers is much more graceful than that of Xenogears and Armored Core, with realistic human. Also, when you destroy either a part or an entire unit, it begins to spark, with an "I'm going to explode…any second…!" feel. When you talk, you're either in a 3-D area, with gorgeous backgrounds outside the polygons, or on pre-rendered backdrops. And lastly, the FMV is easily the best in the entire PlayStation library, and better than those of early PS2 games. It's crystal clear with phenomenal detail. The one I remember best is a bumblebee on a flower, looking frighteningly real.

Overall, Front Mission 3 is quite a marvelous game in every way. This game is worthy of much praise, and a must play for everyone into the genre, even if just a bit. Just remember, don't expect an epic story, expect one that's awesome for awesome.

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