Front Mission 1st DS - Reader Review  

Robots, tanks and bazookas, oh my!
by GooseAss

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Excellent battle system
+ Lots of tinkering
- Repetitive at times
- Uninspired plot and dialog
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   Front Mission 1st DS is a port of the pioneering Super Famicom game (technically it's a port of the PS1 remake), and while it is certainly not as fresh as it was when first released in 1995, it's still an enjoyable SRPG romp. I remember seeing screenshots of this in EGM back when I was in high school, and dying to play it. Fast forward 12 years, and I finally get my chance. What's not to like the idea of leading a group of giant robots into battle, tweaking hundreds of pieces of equipment in pursuit of building the ultimate war machine? It's basically every adolescent fantasy rolled into one, combined with the chocolatey goodness of an SRPG.

   Most RPGamer readers are probably familiar with the Front Mission series, but for those that aren't, it can be loosely summed up as "Final Fantasy Tactics with giant robots." Front Mission 1st adheres to most SRPG conventions: a grid based map that changes perspective to show an animated battle whenever two units clash. In between stages, the player can equip units, watch cutscenes, move around the map, and all the other usual SRPG fare.

   Front Mission's battle system is unique, though. It divides damage to each body part of the robots (called "wanzers") individually, which adds an element of complexity that sets it apart. For example, blowing the arm off of an enemy wanzer will disable whatever weapon they have equipped on that limb, and destroying the body will instantly kill the enemy.

   For those who have played Front Mission 3 or 4, this battle system will seem like a step backward in some ways: although Front Mission 1st is a recent release, being a port of a SFC game, it doesn't incorporate some of the enhancements that came later in the series. For example, pilots can't eject, rifles only have a range of 1 square, and there aren't shotguns. It would have been nice to add those elements in, but the battle system is still very solid.

You\ You'll be seeing a lot of this.

   A good portion of the game is spent buying new parts for your wanzers, and Front Mission 1st handles quite a bit of complexity very nicely. With hundreds of arms, legs, bodies, computers, backpacks, weapons, items and more to choose from, there's quite a bit of detail to manage, yet it's always relatively easy to outfit your wanzers. The rest of the game's menus and other interface elements follow SRPG conventions that RPGamer readers are likely quite familiar with, and as such disappear into the background as they should.

   Story isn't a particularly important element to me in an SRPG, which is fortunate, because Front Mission 1st has a pretty flimsy story about a near-future war, a damsel in distress, and other pieces that you would expect from a 16-bit RPG. There are a few dark twists that make it a bit more interesting, but for the most part I paid little attention to the forgettable story, which is mostly told through talking head cutscenes.

   I care more about sound than I do story, and the Super Famicom brought us some wonderful soundtracks that are true classics. Front Mission 1st is not one of them. The main battle theme gets quite old, and the sound effects are acceptable but unremarkable. I played a large portion of the game with the sound off, if that tells you anything.

   I personally enjoy Front Mission 1st's graphics, but it's safe to say that some will not be so pleased. It's a very straightforward port of a late Super Famicom game, and it looks like it. For me, that's not a problem: I love the detailed sprites and isometric, tiled levels, but for those who need 3D, it will probably be pretty underwhelming.

Pew pew! My robot shoots the other robot. Pew pew! My robot shoots the other robot.

   By today's standards, Front Mission 1st is hardly an original game. After all, we've seen two other Front Mission games in the US, and Japan has seen at least six entries in the series. That said, it was quite innovative for its day, and even now has some details that set it apart (like the location-specific damage system). Ultimately, if you're looking for something you've never seen before, you won't find it in Front Mission 1st.

   The game shows other signs of its age as well. For example, Front Mission 1st's difficulty curve is a bit unbalanced. The game is far more challenging in the beginning than in later parts where certain skills become available that make the game exceedingly easy in most cases. This is disappointing, because the level design is quite good, and more challenge would have been welcome. The final boss in particular was one of the easiest stages in the entire game for me. For those who love lengthy games, though, there are two complete story lines in Front Mission 1st, one told from each side of the war. Each storyline takes about 20-25 hours to complete with an average amount of grinding.

   While I've said a lot of negative things about Front Mission 1st DS, the game is somehow more than the sum of its parts to me. Warts and all, I enjoyed it a lot and would certainly recommend it to SRPG fans that enjoy 2D graphics. SRPG fans tend to be a nerdy, obsessive lot (myself included), and they'll probably love exploring the nearly endless range of equipment and skill combinations in battle. It's a solid addition to the DS' SRPG library, and more than worth playing if you're a fan of the genre.

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