Front Mission 4

Who doesn't love giant robots?


The Lowdown

Pros: Lots of tactical options, nice graphics, good story

Cons: Requires time to get into the game, battles progress very slowly

Purchase at Play-Asia
If you've never heard of Front Mission before you're not alone. Before Final Fantasy Tactics, Square's first strategy RPG series was Front Mission. The giant robot strategy RPG series has been overshadowed time and time again by other square classics. The first US release of any Front Mission game was Front Mission 3 for Playstation, but more people were too busy anticipating Chrono Cross to care. Even though Front Mission 3 wasn't a success in America, it was enough of a success in Japan that it warranted another sequel.

Front Mission 4 has a lot of obvious similarities to its predecessors. Instead of combating dragons and mythical beasts with magical powers you'll be fighting giant robots armed with the latest firearms. The other hallmark of the Front Mission series is that your character is placed in the middle of "aggressive negotiations" (read: war) between different nations. In Front Mission 4 you'll be controlling characters from two different nations the E.C., which is mainly Europe and the U.S.N., which is an amalgamation of North and South America. You start the game with Elsa who is a pilot of a giant mech called a "wanzer" for the a military group called Durandal that operates out of the E.C. Elsa is teamed up with Hermes and Zead. Soon the story switches to Daril who stumbles upon a fortune in gold. Upon this discovery Daril chooses to desert the U.S.N. and find freedom. While the story switches between Daril and Elsa, you'll soon find the two characters are intertwined as the story unfolds.

When you pop the game into your PS2 you'll be treated to a nice CG movie and then forced into a tutorial battle. The tutorial helps ease the learning curve if you've never played a strategy RPG before. At the start of each turn all characters are given their maximum amount of ability points (AP). Attacks take different amounts of AP depending on what weapon is equipped. You can do up to two attacks per round providing you have enough AP to do so. Moving your wanzer around also costs AP, which means you'll have to think before you move. Also if you have any remaining AP your wanzer will automatically counterattack. When you attack your wanzer fires a volley of shots targeting each of the different hot spots on the enemy wanzer. These include the head, body, right arm, left arm and the legs. Each part has its own HP and if that part loses all of its HP you're wanzer will be incapable of using that part. For instance if the legs don't have anymore HP you won't be able to walk and if an arm is missing HP you won't be able to attack with this weapon. Of course you'll have the ability to repair damaged parts,  but you'll need to think about which part should be repaired first. Besides the standard moving and attacking you can set up "links" with other members of your party. These links will allow you to perform impressive and powerful combos. You can link with as many wanzers as you command, but you'll have to plan which links you want pre-combat.

While the majority of the game is played out on the battlefield the other portion of the game is played in a menu interface. The menu will allow you to choose options like talking to your comrades to upgrading your wanzers. You can upgrade your wanzer in two ways. Each time an opponent is taken down you'll receive experience points, that will boost your level. You'll also get EP that you can use to learn new abilities or enhance your statistics. EP can also be placed in increasing your rank, which in turn unlocks more abilities. These options allow some customization for your wanzer, but not any more than any other strategy RPG. Once you're done fooling around in the menu it's back to the battles. You'll be moving back and forth between battles and the menu.

Front Mission 4 is presented well, visually. While the colors may look a bit washed out and drab, the mechs... er.. wanzers look great. Each of the wanzers look and feel gigantic. The wanzers can also be customized to look different depending on what equipment they have on them. Another visual treat is when you attack during battles. The camera pans forward capturing the combat between the two pilots to show incredible movie like detail. One thing that seems a little lacking, is the amount of cut scenes in the game. Usually Square is known for peppering a product with as many cut scenes as they can cram in. Instead Front Mission 4 has few cut scenes, which makes the majority of the story played out in text boxes. Thankfully, their is voice acting to go along with it.

The voice acting, for the most part, is done in English. Every character has a strong accent, which will make some people cringe. Elsa has a French accent, which sounds like a fake accent from early 50's movies. Hermes' accent is a little more tolerable and Zead is the least accent influenced. Sometimes the dialogue and story fall flat do to unemotional voice acting and the poor accents. While some people will disagree with this, it's purely a matter of personal preference. Without the voice acting the game would feel silent. Instead of having background music there is atmospheric noise. While this allows you to hear the sound of your wanzer moving loud and clear, it's boring for the most part.

While Front Mission 4 is a solid strategy RPG it's flaws are more of a problem with the genre, than the game itself. Like most strategy RPGs, Front Mission 4 demands your attention. Time is required for you to get into the story, learn different strategies and even to play the battles. As you progress further and further in the game, battles get longer and longer. Losing a battle and having to start it over feels like a punishment. There is the option to save during a battle, so you can take breaks. Another problem with the battle system is the game is based entirely on fighting. So if you're not into planning out tactics or don't enjoy epic battles this game isn't for you.

While the Front Mission series may not be Square Enix's most popular series it has its own installed fan base. With the popularity of strategy RPGs on the rise due to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and the recent Fire Emblem a lot of people will enjoy the sci fi twist that Front Mission presents. However, Front Mission 4 is for die hard strategy RPG gamers, if its not your cup of tea Front Mission 4 isn't for you.

Import Friendly?

This game is surprisingly import friendly. All of the key scenes have voice overs in English. Also the majority of the menus and important text is also in English. So if you have no knowledge of Japanese you can not only enjoy the game, but understand about 75% of it.

US Bound?

Update: Front Mission 4 is slated for a release in North America in June of this year!

Overall

If you've finished playing through FFTA and Fire Emblem, Front Mission 4 is right up your ally. If you're new to the genre Front Mission 4 does a good job teaching you the basics and gets rid of all the fantasy junk. However, if you don't like strategy RPGs don't bother with this game.