As is the case with most of my pieces on this site, I decided to write about Front Mission 3 because I never hear anyone talk about it. And because I’ve been playing it lately. A lot.
Frankly, I’m surprised people don’t talk about this game, and the series it belongs to, more. It’s a strategy-RPG produced by Square (back when they were Squaresoft), and lord knows that people can’t get enough of those. Walk in a Gamestop and mention Final Fantasy Tactics, and you could probably count the number of people who don’t have an immediate nerd-gasm on one hand. And most of those people are probably 12 and like Angry Birds just a bit too much.
It’s also a game about giant robots! And who doesn’t like those! Even those annoying little iPhone-toting kids can’t deny their sheer, glorious, missile-launching glory.
All that’s awesome, really. The robots and the explosions are what brings you to the table with this game, but there’s a good deal more to it that keeps you popping in that disc time and time again, even when things can (and do) get a little frustrating.
To start, the damage system Front Mission utilizes is absolutely brilliant, and manages to keep each mission fresh without ignoring the all-important metagame Square is so famous for cultivating. Each character pilots a giant robot, called a wanzer, which is made up of four parts: a body, two arms, and a pair of legs. Take out either of the arms and you’ll render them useless, which is key when you encounter an enemy with a big gun in one hand and nothing in the other. Take out the legs and you’ll severely cripple that wanzer’s mobility. Take out the body, and you’ll destroy the wanzer altogether.
Aside from the traditional SRPG roles of sniper, assault, etc, this also makes you take into account which weapons work best for disabling certain body parts, and which body parts you should choose to avoid having the same happen to you. The setup phase can get a bit heady, but once you’re done poring over numbers and statistics (which, let’s be honest, is probably why you’d be playing this in the first place), getting into the game itself becomes a blast.
Another feature unique to Front Mission is its special abilities. Unlike, say, Final Fantasy Tactics, where you simply gain abilities through experience and assign them accordingly, in Front Mission you get them somewhat at random. When you gain an ability it happens without warning during one of your attacks, provided you’ve fulfilled the right requirements (which you won’t know about until the ability activates), and happens again just as randomly. The idea of not being able to control your abilities might sound a little annoying at first, until you walk up to a tank and watch three of them stack up in a row, essentially letting you fire off three volleys of machine gun fire at once. Is it incredibly cheap? Yes. Is it unbelievably satisfying? You’re damn right it is.
Of course, this is an SRPG from 13 years ago, and it shows. As fun as it is when that cheapness can work in your favor, there’s plenty of times where it works against you instead, mostly before a level even starts. You’re given absolutely no way to look at the layout of the level or its enemies, meaning that any setup you do is a guessing game unless you’ve played that level before. And since you’re setting yourself up blind, you’ll likely have to replay a lot of levels due to missiles you didn’t know existed hitting you in the damn face. It’s a terrible oversight for a strategy game, especially when Square’s made plenty of games that didn’t have that problem.
As much as I like the slot machine nature of the abilities, those can be a little annoying as well. In particular, it makes it a pain to take out a specific limb on an enemy wanzer, which is crucial to beating a level successfully. Even if you have an ability that targets specific limbs, which the sniper characters gain laterin the game, you’re still forced to cross your fingers and hope it’ll activate at the right time. It’s trading strategy for unpredictability, which has an equal chance of being fun or irritating, depending on the mission.
But, at the end of the day…it’s a bold trade. And it works. It might not satisfy the hardcore strategy nuts as much as a game like Disgaea, or something Western like Europa Universalis, but it’s still got enough numbers and head-games in it to make SRPG fans happy, especially the Square fanboys. And, again…giant robots. Do you really need a better reason to pick up this game? I didn’t think so.