Front Mission: Gun Hazard - Reader Retroview  

The Naked Gun
by JuMeSyn

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ High customization level
+ Great length for an action-RPG
+ Varied and interesting missions
- Braindead AI
- Leveling vital
- Control issues
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   Front Mission is known for highly customizable piloted robots in the future of Earth, battling in tactical action. Front Mission: Gun Hazard is the only game in the series to deviate from the tactical action and instead is a side-scrolling action-RPG. The customization aspects, while much smaller than in other Front Mission titles, are much greater than the typical action-RPG. The story is also much more involved than action-RPGs usually feature, particularly when one remembers the game was made in 1996.

   In the late 21st century, Albert Grabner is just a regular guy piloting a Wanzer when the base he is stationed at receives President Orwen as a refugee. Orwen has just been overthrown in a coup d'etat and the unpleasant people behind this coup attack the base, leaving Albert and Orwen as the only survivors. Initially guided by thoughts of vengeance for his fallen comrades, Albert finds himself allying with others along the way in an effort to stop the madness of the Society responsible for widespread bloodshed around the globe. The story is quite involved and this actually poses a mild problem of pacing, because in an action-RPG the breaks between action are not usually the length of Gun Hazard's. Almost as if this potential complaint was envisioned by Squaresoft, pressing Start will skip through text.

   Albert navigates the Earth in his Wanzer most of the time, going through side-scrolling combat. Navigation between missions is accomplished via a map system that resembles Super Mario World's, with several paths being available and many missions being replayable. The Wanzer jumps and can hover for a length of time that increases as it upgrades. It also dashes. For the main armament there are four choices: a pistol-like gun, a shotgun, a laser gun that emits a continuous stream of fire, and a napalm shot that shoots big projectiles. The Wanzer can be equipped with a shield that is used on the ground by pressing R. The initial model of Wanzer has one slot for an additional weapon, but as the game progresses and more Wanzer bodies are purchased the slots available for additional weapons will increase to a maximum of six that are switched between with X and used with A. The armaments available on the side slots are quite varied; a simple arm for close-range attacks, a module that does not attack but increases HP, homing missiles, a homing laser beam (very useful), a mine-layer, a weapon for firing straight up, a healing matrix, and more. There are also occasions when Albert can exit his Wanzer and wander around by himself to explore small passages, and on these occasions he will be armed with a pistol and grenade launcher.

Nothing like some fiery snow to get into the holiday season. Nothing like some fiery snow to get into the holiday season.

   Albert's allies must also be mentioned. At the beginning President Orwen is the only ally Albert has, and the President can't do much. Not long into the game Brenda will become Albert's first real ally, in that she can actually be helpful. Brenda pilots the transport ship that shuttles Albert & co. around the globe, and as such she does not appear onscreen but will shoot down at enemies when instructed by the player. Soon Albert will gain other allies, but they all appear onscreen instead of being high overhead. They are minimally helpful save for a few occasions on which a certain ally is mandatory to progress, and the allies have an irritating tendency to move aimlessly into enemy fire and require use of healing items to keep alive. Some allies (Ruben in particular) also use ordinance that can damage Albert in addition to the enemy, and use it so prodigiously as to make friendly fire ubiquitous.

   Aside from the stupidity of allies, there are several other flaws to the combat that need mentioning. Albert's Wanzer controls have a few issues; when hovering in the air it is far too time-consuming to cease the hover, which leads to unavoidable hits (though these can be helpful). Also, while dashing, the Wanzer faces in one direction until it stops dashing. Dashing does not cease when the player ceases movement but often requires the player to jump, which can be irritating if the player is facing the wrong way to shoot an enemy. Repositioning the gun's aim is a bit sticky - it likes to stay in the previous position until the player moves it again. The final issue is not with controls per se, but rather an odd quirk of Gun Hazard. When almost every enemy is destroyed in this game it leaves an explosive residue for a second, and this explosive residue will damage Albert. Coupled with the tendency of enemies to get up close and personal, this means a great deal of damage is going to be inflicted by enemies that just died.

   While the vast majority of the game is spent with Albert piloting his Wanzer, there are times when it must be exited. Any time Albert leaves his Wanzer to wander around on foot, the controls become quite inadequate. Albert moves very slowly and cannot fire his gun in any direction other than straight forward, while the grenades that are meant to get around this limitation have a bad habit of blowing up in Albert's face and causing massive damage. Avoiding combat by using the infinite fuel for Albert's jet pack is far better than trying to fight enemies that are easily crushed in his Wanzer but can murder Albert solo, as well.

Destroy 30 of these Wanzers in a row and the stage becomes a cinch. Destroy 30 of these Wanzers in a row and the stage becomes a cinch.

   The experience earned at the end of missions is granted to Albert and whatever ally he currently has in an active role, along with money. The experience allows for leveling-up to occur, and while statistic bonuses do accrue from leveling-up the equipment is far more vital. In order to use a certain level of weapon, Albert must have reached the level at which that weapon or equipment can be purchased. Almost every weapon and piece of equipment, including the Wanzer body, has five total levels that can be purchased, but only if Albert has reached the necessary level. Albert's allies are also only able to upgrade their mechs if at the necessary level. Experience does not only accrue to the pilots, but also to their mechs (and in Albert's case to the weapons as well). Every mech model starts at 0%, with that percentage increasing as enemy hits land. As the percentage of the mech body increases so too does its HP. This does not transfer to a new mech model, however, which can mean that for a brief time the latest model is actually less effective. Albert's weapons operate on the same principle, with the caveat that damage and magazine size increase as the weapons are used. Magazine size matters; for the main weapon using up all ammunition necessitates either a moment to reload or a greatly reduced rate of fire, and for the side weapon(s) using up all ammunition means a resupply once the mission is completed.

   Gun Hazard's visuals are pretty good, but not at the top-of-the-line for a late SNES title. There is a lack of color in many missions and quite a few enemies are difficult to distinguish at a glance. Humans are incredibly indistinct, but that is an understandable visual style when the Wanzers need to appear much larger. The sounds of Gun Hazard are top-notch however, as should be expected when among the four composers can be found Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda. Certain compositions do bring to mind other projects Uematsu in particular had worked on, and that should be construed as a positive.

   Certain parts of Front Mission: Gun Hazard are reasonably challenging, but most levels fall prey to an easy glitch of the programming. There is a green bar on the top-right of the screen that indicates an Enemy level, and until that bar is emptied opponents will keep popping onscreen one or two at a time. Once that bar is empty, the player can conduct reconaissance with only the few stationary enemies to worry about. Healing supplies are cheap enough to be purchased between missions should that be necessary. The fair amount of missions that can be taken in any order allows for a bit of replay, and there are a few secrets, but not much. The game is quite long for an action-RPG and may take around 25 hours to complete, though skilled players can probably cut that total down.

   Front Mission: Gun Hazard's release on the Virtual Console seems to indicate Square-Enix will have nothing further to do with the property, leaving it to only importers or emulators from the English-speaking nations. The game has many merits to speak of, but its control issues make playing the game too frustrating too frequently. It is an easy import thanks to the menus incorporating quite a bit of English however, so any RPGamers intereated in it need not fear a lengthy learning curve.

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