They Will Kneel Before The Power of My Mighty… Wanzer.
Back when I was in about fifth grade, I didn’t have a whole lot going for me. I was small for my age, mediocre at school, and terrible at sports. I didn’t even talk to myself about girls. But I didn’t mind. Nope, not one bit. Because I had a plan. I knew that my life would turn around. I’d beat up all the bullies, impress all the teachers, and get all the girls. All I needed was one simple thing: a giant robotic suit of armor to terrorize all who dared to oppose me.
[image1]Would Jason McLaughlin dare to push me in front of Jennifer Wong when I had my massive Mach III TE-Tek Rapid Assault “Rain of Death” missile launcher pointed right into his smug little face? I doubt it. Would Mrs. Doyle still insist on giving me a C- on my four-page report on George Washington Carver while suspended over the heads of the entire classroom at the business end of my Viper 3000 fully automated spring-loaded robotic arm? I think not. Ooooh, it was going to be great.
Sadly, for some reason, my parents never agreed to buy me a battle mech. I still don’t understand why. Fortunately, I have now discovered Front Mission, where I can relive my yet unfulfilled dream to crush my foes with my mighty hydraulic limbs.
Front Mission is a turn-based tactical game where you control a crack team of mercenaries for the Oceania Cooperative Union (OCU) in a series of missions against the powerful forces of the United Continental States (UCS). The interesting plot involves a juicy amount of revenge and backstabbing. In a twist, once you’re done with the main storyline, you can play a second, more challenging story line, in which you play as a member of the UCS. The game doesn’t change much, but it’s intriguing to see both sides of a conflict like this, instead of the traditional “good vs. bad” mentality.
On the battlefield, you pilot your team of… I’m sorry. I know Square Enix was trying to come up with a name that sounded tough and potent in battle, like “Panzer”. But I think they missed the mark a little, and my inner fifth grader can't stop snickering at “Wanzer”. I know that sounds less like an elite military unit and more like something else, but I can’t help it. Whenever my teammates offer to upgrade my Wanzer, I can’t suppress the Butthead-worthy chuckle that always escapes me: “Uh-huh-huh. She said Wanzer.”
[image2]At any rate, Front Mission encourages strategy both on and off the battlefield. During each fight, you have to be smart about where to move your Wanzer (heh heh), so you surround your enemies and pick off the weakest first. Throw in terrain cover, cumulative damage effects, and character specialization, and there is a lot to think about before deciding how to position each member of your team.
Between battles, you can stock up on parts and weapon upgrades from the deadhead-looking arms dealer in a shady part of town. There are helpful signs labeled “LSD” and “XTC” to give you an idea of what kinds of illicit items could be purchased in the hood. Seriously. Choosing your gear, though, is as much a strategic process as the battle itself. You can have a “Hit and Run” Wanzer built to move fast and shoot long-range weapons from a safe distance (snicker), or you can create a “Close Quarters” Wanzer designed to withstand heavy hits and deal close-range damage.
If you find yourself short of cash, you can test your mettle in any city arena, betting on your ability to beat local opponents. It’s a good way to build experience and test new formations without endangering your team on the battlefield. It would have been nice if this mercenary battle mode was taken online, but sadly, it wasn’t.
Front Mission is designed so that you can use either the stylus or the buttons. Ordinarily, I’m a big fan of touchscreen controls, but they’re hard to use here, particularly when selecting options from tiny menu screens without an ‘undo’ button. After I inadvertently ended my turn for the third or fourth time, I switched over to the button interface and never looked back.
[image3]Many of you may already know that Front Mission is a Japanese title that originally debuted on the SNES in 1995. Sadly, the sound and graphics have not aged well, and the game looks and sounds like a throwback to a less polished, more pixilated time. The dark and limited color palette, muddy sound effects, and static talking heads reminded me of games I played when I actually was in fifth grade. With handheld Square Enix titles like Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions on the market, there’s little excuse for that anymore.
If you loved Front Mission in the past, or are just a big fan of the tactical RPG genre, or can’t get enough of stomping badguys with your giant titanium feet, then this is the right game for you. Otherwise, you might want to give this one a pass, and leave your Wanzer alone.