Front Mission has been an extremely popular strategy RPG series in Japanese since its
debute with Front Mission
in 1995. Front Mission 4, the first title of the series for the Playstation 2, is heading for U.S.
shores in June, and it definitely deserves a closer look.
The game opens with a stunning introduction FMV followed by a second intro using the
gameplay engine and a battle tutorial. The story, which involves a global military conflict,
centers around two major protagonists:
Elsa, a French Wanzer pilot working for the military group Durandal
sent to investigate the attack of a German military base, and Darril, a member of the
United States of the New Continent (U.S.N.) army stationed in Venezuela. The intertwined story
swaps back and forth between these two characters, until their paths
eventually cross. This is also the first Front Mission title to have voice-acting,
which should add a touch of realism to the story.
Front Mission 4 is a strategy RPG, along the lines of
Tactics. Battles take place inside giant mechas called Wanzers on
a large tactical grid. Actions are performed by spending AP points on movement and commands
like Attack, Items, Air Support, and Repair. The actions available to a particle
Wanzer depend on the type of backpack the mech wears. Repair backpacks, for example,
enable a Wanzer to repair broken parts and weapons of an ally. When attacking an enemy,
the player chooses what they want to target, resulting in the gradual damage and
eventual destruction of an enemy Wanzer's component parts (body, legs, left arm, and right arm).
Damage to specific parts will have
particular effects on the abilities of a Wanzer, such as decreased movement range when
legs are damaged and the inability to use a weapon if an arm is lost.
Special abilities called Links enable allies to perform combo attacks as well as
provide defensive support for each other. Links are established between two characters
outside of battle via Link Points, and can be set up as attack or defense links. Attack
links will let one Wanzer support another via combo attacks if they are within range. Links can
be made between multiple characters simultaneously, resulting in impressive multi-Wanzer combos
and huge damage as damage multipliers increase for consecutive attacks. Defensive
links can also be made which lead to actions such as counterattacks and breaking missile locks.
Characters and their Wanzers can be upgraded outside of battle by spending EP points. These
points can be used to learn new abilities or enhance the statistics of a character. EP points are
also used to increase a character's rank, which unlocks new abilities when raised. Each Wanzer is highly
customizable, with a wide array of parts, weapons, and abilities available.
Visually, Front Mission 4 looks up to par with typical Square Enix fare. Customization of
a Wanzer's parts and equipment will change its appearance and detail during battle. Camera work during
combat is also very dynamic; the camera will zoom in on two Wanzers when they are in close proximity
combat and show the resulting battle in extreme detail. FMV seems to be a bit sparse throughout the
game. Most of the story unfolds in the main game engine, in stark contrast to titles like
The score for Front Mission 4 was composed, arranged, and produced by Hidenori Iwasaki,
who also worked on
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.
Much of the
game, however, opts for atmospheric noise instead of heavy background music. Much of the Japanese
version of the game is already voiced over in English. Because of the diversity in nationality of the
games' characters, many have thick foreign accents, some being a little too over-the-top. Whether or
not these voice-overs will be redone for the U.S. version is not certain.
Front Mission 4 is set for a June 1 release date in
the U.S. after a warm Japanese reception back in December of 2003, when it sold
over 125,000 copies in its first week. With highly customizable and deep tactical combat, impressive
graphics, and a deep storyline built
on the backdrop of an international conflict, Front Mission 4 looks to be a very promising
title. With the recent rise in popularity of tactical RPGs, expect the Front Mission series
to have a long and prosperous future in the U.S.