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Front Mission 3 - Review

The Square Rogue...

By: Red Raven


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 4
   Plot 2
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Moderate
   Time to Complete

60-80 hours, x2

 
Overall
5
Criteria

Front Mission 3
 

    Outside of Japan, the market for giant robot games has been painfully limited to either guest appearances (as in FF6) or exclusively to the action games on computers. Square finally decided to change that on March 22, 2000, with the release of Front Mission 3. While certainly a pioneer in the mecha field in the United States, it still suffers from a complete linear storyline and many graphical problems. These handicaps would normally be no problem for an action mecha game; they however all but sabotage a mecha RPG.

   We'll first start out with the battles themselves, which are the main focus of any tactical game. Battles are fixed, turn-based encounters between a number of enemies and four characters of your choice. The strict 4-person limit is participating frustrating as it keeps the battles from actually becoming "epic" in nature. Goals are given at the start of each battle but they rarely change from simply destroying all the enemy units. The isometric maps however, are thankfully varied and very interactive with trees and other obstacles completely destructible. On the map the battle participants are small icons that change into three-dimensional polygon wanzers (FM3 mecha) as they fire. There are a number of weapons to use and each type takes a certain amount of AP. The amount of AP decreases each square you move and when you attack but regenerates by 12 every turn, leftover AP may be used to counterattack if possible. As you destroy wanzer parts and enemies you gain experience, which grants more AP, and weapon proficiency, which causes your guns to do more damage.


Up close, the wanzers don't look half bad...
Up close, the wanzers don't look half bad...  

   Equipping your wanzer is always a good idea but is hindered by the fact that money is hard to come by with no random encounters. You may use an in-game simulator to take the place of random battles but it is much more suited to increase your number of battle skills instead of gaining some much-needed cash. Thus your only option is to force enemy units during real battles to surrender, which not only requires great luck but great skill as well. Not only must you disable the enemy wanzer, you must waste valuable turns surrounding the weakened enemy until it surrenders. But getting back to equipping your wanzer, it should be noted that there is a rather diverse amount of components (arms, legs, bodies, backpacks). And it is not simply about equipping the "one with the most HP" as each different brand will let you learn a certain battle skill.

   One of the innovations FM3 brings to US shores is an in-game version of the Internet, which just so happens to be both boring and pointless. The Internet has no real purpose in the game except to provide background to an otherwise dull story. To this effect it fails, not only because it shows background in an indirect fashion, but also because most sites have nothing else to offer but useless information. A curious gamer will search through every new website that pops up due to plot purposes enthusiastically, but as the game drags on and no tangible benefits are realized, he or she will no doubt cease looking. The only good thing about the Internet function is that it isn't required to finish the game.

   Plot. People tend to mistakenly put plot *details*. That doesn't belong in a review. This is to describe how well the plot progressed, how it brought the characters as well as the player in, and how well it flowed, as well as realism. If it's a low tech world and you suddenly get blown away with a Nuke with NO explanation ever, that's a bad thing.


...Until you get blown up!
...Until you get blown up!  

   People have often claimed that such games like FF7 have turned RPGs into "interactive movies" with little or no involvement from the player needed to complete the game. Those people have obviously never played Front Mission 3. This game is the visual definition of the term linear. It makes me sick. The rare town that you might happen across during the course of the game will have only three locations: a bar, a shop, and a plot point. Shops are obsolete as you can access one via the Internet at any time; the bars exist to give the simple illusion of some player participation in the plot. Towns cannot be revisited. Towns cannot be targeted. The plot tells you where you want to go, when you're going, and will then take you there automatically. Since you don't choose your battles either, they seem much more like tasks to be completed than interactive experiences around the plot. Battles are just little playable events in-between the automated story segments.

The insult to this injury is the fact that the story isn't even that great. It revolves around an ill-tempered youth, Kazuki, and his adventures of naïveté and cheesy morality in the real world. It's almost painful to watch. Credit does have to be given to the fact that there are two completely different storylines, with different locations, wanzers, and enemies. But both fail to feel epic due to the lack of player choice regarding simple town visiting and other such "normal" RPG devices. There are some moments, as in all RPGs, but since the player cannot develop emotional attachment to the characters those moments are lost. It also doesn't help that the main character acts smug and irritable throughout the entire game, which leads one to question whether he would actually act like he did in those "moments". Not good in an RPG.


In FM3, even the submarines turn into walking mecha.
In FM3, even the submarines turn into walking mecha.  

Just about the only section that was okay was the music/sound effects area. The music is a mixture of industrial/techno and is more or less ambient in nature. The sound effects are really where this game shines; the diversity of sounds is amazing. From the satisfying crunch of a battleaxe on steel, to the gentle hiss of a flame-thrower, you're sure to be delighted.

The graphical problems I was mentioning in the first paragraph would have to be game's incredible inability to draw straight lines at close range. Wanzers walking along roads in cut-scenes will be walking on warped lanes that have yellow lines zigzagging all over the place. Even rifle barrels bend as the camera zooms in. I found mistakes like these surprising; I thought such problems were fixed after the 1st-generation Playstation games came out. That aside, the cut-scenes themselves were good especially since they used the game's own engine. The wanzers were the exact color and had the same weapons that you had them equipped with, which was a nice effect. The wanzers themselves looked a bit gritty but in the end it looked "right" since they were in the futuristic war setting. As always, the FMV is spectacular.

Despite the numerous flaws, I have a soft spot for all mecha games, no matter how bad. If you're a fan of otaku and mecha as well, it is certainly possible to have a blast playing FM3 and enjoying the battle system for the full 60-80 hours needed for each storyline. But if you are not such a fan, I'd advise to steer clear of this Square game. It has none of the qualities that make their other RPGs fantastic and will lead only to disappointment if one was expecting the same traits. Square took a risk in porting Front Mission 3 over to the States, and whether or not that paid off in the end will just have to be left to future retrospects. Till then.







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