In a lot of ways this was one of my most anticipated games of 2022. It wasn’t nearly as far up there as Triangle Strategy or Live a Live, partially because I was fairly certain I’d played it before (Front Mission was released on the Nintendo DS), and partially because it was being promoted as one of those semi-budget titles that Square-Enix likes to throw out there; those ones that are “only” $40 or $30.
For the no doubt many who do not know, the Front Mission series is a moderately successful Strategy Role Play Game (SRPG) series that saw its beginning on the Super Nintendo with the original version of this very game. We RPG hating Americans didn’t receive a version of it until the Playstation, with Front Mission 3 (also promised to be released, and due I think sometime this year). I played that game repeatedly as a teen, and it’s still one I remember quite fondly.
Front Mission 1st Remake has added a bit of polish to the DS version, but it’s essentially the same game. You’re offered two different storylines that feature completely different narratives, characters, and battles, which does mean you’re getting a lot of game for your buck (particularly since the game now seems to be on constant sale, though that only leaves it at $30, which is about how much it’s worth). It took me over 30 hours to play through both storylines.
I started with the one highlighted above, the O.C.U. Side. That sees you taking command of Royd, a mercenary with a poorly translated name. He lost his love during the start of this big conflict known as the Huffman war, and as a result, he left the army proper to join a mercenary group (with at least one of his fellow soldiers following him out of loyalty).
The story focuses about as much on this strange politic situation as it does the characters themselves. The O.C.U is sort of Australia and a lot of the various countries in the same general ocean area as that (I think) while the U.C.S is the United States and its closest neighbors, along with some allies (I think). Since both groups are mostly based on island nations and the like, they only share a border on Huffman Island, an island recently formed by volcanic movement (nice way to avoid any potential squick about natives). The Huffman Incident involves one side blowing up a factory/plant owned by the other, and Royd’s crew just happens to be there when it happens.
The plot gets very anime after a bit, with human minds being put into machines due to crazy scientists that are not really tied with either side. It’s ridiculous, but in that kind of fun way that a lot of older anime are.
The U.C.S side follows Kevin, who’s apparently the son of a high ranked official in the army. Despite that, he was a desk jockey for a while, and most think he’s not worthy of even the small command he gets. The story follows Kevin’s squad, which has about a third of the amount of members that Royd’s squad does, as they fight for the U.C.S. and essentially fight in places where Royd’s not, though there are a few missions where you see either the other side directly or indirectly.
The smaller unit combined with a more thought out story make Kevin’s the more interesting story as a whole, so it’s kind of unfortunate that the game nudges you toward playing it after Royd’s, though it does make some sense.
The active gameplay has you taking control of your mech squad in fairly standard grid based combat. The mechs, here called wanzers, are made of various parts: two arms, a set of legs, and a torso. Each part has its own separate stats, including health, armor, and in some cases, attack power. The idea is to sort of build a makeshift wanzer that utilizes the best parts that are available to you at the time. It’s an idea that the later games will actually make use of (by assigning skills to each piece of equipment).
Unfortunately, the parts in this game are presented in such a way that there’s almost always one or two parts that are just better than the others overall. This means that your “customization” basically comes down to picking from the two that best fit either a front line wanzer or a ranged fighter, and going from there.
The weaponry is about the same. There are way too many types of weapons available: rifles, machine guns, flamethrowers, shotguns, clubs, missiles, bazookas, and just punching with robotic hands. They made the poor mistake of grouping most of those into either single shot hits or weapons that do several hits at once (machine guns). Most guides will tell you to stick primarily with machine guns on pretty much everyone, and it’s honestly not a bad strategy. I did find having a few units with the other weapons moderately useful, but having more shots is just always the best.
Now, those shots are going to fire at random when you get into a fight, which is part of the frustration some feel. Until you unlock a particular skill, your unit just gets into combat (seen above) and fires randomly. If you hit (and you’ll miss more than you think you should), you’ll hit randomly. I actually sort of like this setup, as it adds a bit of luck and requires you to think a bit more about how you’re approaching combat, but I also admit that it can be annoying and frustrating. Disabling the arms can mean stopping that limb from attacking, while legs prevent the unit from moving quickly. On the other hand, destroying the torso kills the unit completely.
You do gain experience based on what you destroy, so there’s something to torturing your victims by slowly disabling them. This exp goes to whatever style of combat your pilot uses: short, melee, or long. Unfortunately the game only sort of hints at who is best at what. You can take a guess based on their starting equipment (which is what I mostly did), but it still feels like something that the player should be told. Most games with different types of skills/classes like this give the player a hint at the various characters’ strengths and weaknesses. This is one area where it feels like they really didn’t bring the game up to more modern standards.
Between missions you’re given the chance to move around to various still images, where you can talk to various characters, go to shops, or enter the arena to sharpen skills and earn money (more on that in a bit). It’s very streamlined, but a lot of tactical RPGs use similar structures. On one hand, there’s not a whole lot to see if you explore, as most of the conversations are banal. On the other, they often hide secret missions or even characters in this.
It’s another of those bits that feels like it wasn’t quite fully upgraded. Some, including me, would consider this as something of a feature. Hidden characters and secrets are a long-standing RPG thing. But these are sometimes so obscure that you’re likely to miss them without a guide (one involves fighting just the right person in the arena, while some side-missions, which have incredible rewards, involve talking to the right person multiple times, entering a specific location and doing or not doing something, and then going to another menu). That’s another place where the Kevin storyline’s better: his hidden content mostly involves you pestering your commanding officer between missions, and it often has great rewards, usually in the form of powerful wanzers (this did mean that by Kevin’s endgame you’re probably rocking a few ultra-powerful wanzers, but it feels earned).
The arena is something of a problem, and it’s easy to see why it’s gone in Front Mission 3 (at least I think it is). You can challenge opponents to fights multiple times, and the only real repercussion if you lose is that you lost the amount of money you bet. At one point in the game, I got frustrated by not having enough money to upgrade everyone’s wanzer. I took my two most powerful pilots, both of whom were melee attackers, and sent them in against a target that would give back three times what I bet if I won. There’s a melee skill that will let you attack first, and another that stuns the opponent. Mix that with the fact that melee hits are usually strong enough to destroy a part in one hit, and it was pretty easy to grind at the arena.
After about an hour I had two pilots that were stronger than most of the rest of my group combined, and I was so ridiculously rich that I could upgrade everyone’s wanzer every time such things were available for the entire game. Needless to say, this didn’t feel very balanced or thought out (it’s often the issue with arenas in SRPGs).
All this being said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Front Mission 1st Remake, and could see myself going back to the game. The unique wanzer based combat, with its sort of randomness, is unique in the world of games like this. The stories are moderately interesting, and at least Kevin’s cast of characters is moderately enjoyable. The gameplay is solid, tactical fun, and the game is worth the $30 Square-Enix is asking, if only just.
7 an above average game that really didn’t age well, but is a fun play, particularly if you’re used to a few of its quirks