Instant Trilogy - Just add third installment.
Squaresoft has had a pretty good track record with sequels. Starting with the ever-popular Final Fantasy games, practically any series of games released by Square have been extremely popular. Sure, many haven't come out in the States, and yes, there were a few flubs, but for the most part their game series' are quite good.
Front Mission 3, the first of its series released in the U.S., has much less of the emotional storyline and graphics we have come to expect from Square, relying very heavily on it's gameplay.
You play an employee of Kirishima Industries, a huge producer of large battle mechs called 'wanzers.' During a delivery mission to the JDF (Japanese Defense Force), there's a bit of an accident concerning a large explosion on base. After a brief battle, you're suspiciously thrown off the base. Thus begins a story of weapons, intrigue, and lots of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).
As games go nowadays, the graphics in FM3 aren't all that great. The worst part is the textures. There is often a cut scene at the start of each battle showing the landscape in great detail. But the textures are horribly blocky, looking more like a weird type of chessboard than, say, grass. Most of the objects and characters themselves are fairly well done, but in this day of games like Metal Gear Solid and Syphon Filter 2, the basic graphics of FM3 look very dated.
While the story has it's interesting points, the actual presentation leaves a bit to be desired. In almost every Square game to date, characters spend a good amount of time walking around and talking to each other to move the plot along. But in FM3, they've cut out one important part: The walking. You never actually get to see your character or any of his buddies mulling about throughout the whole game, unless you jump out of your wanzer in the middle of a battle (not a smart thing). All you ever really get to see are pictures of faces with moving mouths. The story itself isn't the worst, but it's hard to really get into it this without actually seeing what's going on.
What's left that warrants a purchase of this game? Well, the gameplay, of course. Anyone who's ever played Final Fantasy Tactics already knows quite a bit about the basic gameplay. It's a series of turn-based strategic battles, each with it's own battlefield and layout. You move your characters around and attack the bad guys. Fairly simple at its core, though Square has added lots of specifics and complications to the system.
Your wanzers have Hit Points for the legs, arms, and body. Various bad things happen if one of your parts goes to zero, including losing a weapon, walking really slowly, or just blowing up. You can also get special random attacks and load them into your wanzer's computer, so it can do it again later. There are plenty of other little interesting tidbits, but far too many to go into here. Let's just say that Square knows how to make cool battle systems.
But Front Mission 3's greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness. Gamers with little patience need not apply, as you'll need to spend almost as much time customizing your wanzer as you do battling. Since there are now four parts of each character that can be switched around, upgraded, changed and re-equipped, there are tons of numbers to add and subtract. This is a horribly boring activity for some, a great thinking exercise for others. You decide for yourself.
It seems a bit like Square is selling out. They've taken a derivative of a well-worn battle engine, wrapped it in a fair but poorly presented storyline using slightly subpar graphics, to make a decent if unspectacular game. While certainly not the worst game Square's released (*cough* Chocobo's Dungeon *cough*), I just hope the trend stops before we get to Final Fantasy 20: Lara Croft Edition.
Nonetheless, Front Mission 3 is worth a try. Just make sure you bring some patience to the table, or else you'll be eating rockets from here on out.