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Mecha are just plain fun.
By Jake Alley
There's something about having big clunky robots stomping around blowing things up that makes people happy. Squaresoft has been gracing Japan with Tactical RPGs that let people experience this pleasure for years, and with Front Mission 3 they've finally let the U.S. in on the fun.
The actual gameplay isn't vastly different from the average TRPG. You move and attack with all your characters, then sit back as your opponents do the same. A good deal more strategy is factored into the mix than average however due to some clever game mechanics. There are a number of types of weapons, which all function in subtle but different ways. Melee attacks, missiles, and rifles deliver a single strong blow, machine guns, flame throwers, and grenades scatter damage around in a fairly random manner, and shotguns divide their damage evenly over their target. Since nearly everything in the game has separate HP for each of various locations (body, left arm, right arm, and legs in most cases) these different distribution patterns can make a big impact on strategy. Not only does one have to consider damage distribution and the concept of blowing limbs off, but for each round of combat, each character has a certain amount of AP which are spent by moving, attacking, and also counterattacking. In other words, the less you exert yourself moving and attacking, the more you will be able to counterattack.
Like many TRPGs, Front Mission 3 features 2 main plot lines. However, unlike most games where you consciously choose one at the beginning of the game, the two branches fluidly split off early on, with other hidden choices down the road leading to some rather interesting variations. For example, if you let a certain unit escape in one battle, the next will have more enemies than it normally would. Similarly, the characters who join your party change depending on your actions.
The graphics engine for this game operates at the very limits of the Playstation's memory and processor speed. In fact, while it's possible to save during a battle, doing so takes four memory card slots. The main reason for this is the way accuracy works. The path of each bullet is traced from the point it leaves the gun until it hits. If the target has partial cover behind the corner of a building or a clump of trees, usually a number of bullets will be blocked by these, leaving accurate holes in walls, or destroying less durable cover. Not only does this make for a very accurate simulation of firing from partial cover, but it makes for a very impressive site to look at the battlefield after the fight and see bullet ridden skyscrapers surrounding the scorch marks left by exploding wanzers.
Front Mission 3 delivers a fair amount of challenge as the genre goes, there's various
hidden side goals, creative level designs, and overwhelming numbers to satisfy those seeking challenge,
but careful upgrading and the ability to character build between fights prevents it from being too hard
for those who want an easier time of things.
In conclusion, Front Mission 3 is a well rounded title that lives up to it's image. What few flaws it has (extreme pixellation when textures are seen close up, nearly imperceptible slowdown at some points) are honestly unavoidable with the Playstation's capabilities, and it's virtues are many. Plus, with two long main plotlines and various minor variations, it can easily maintain one's attention for well over 100 hours. All in all, a very pleasurable experience.
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