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Capsule Review - Front Mission

Title Front Mission
Developer Square
Year 1995
Platform SNES
Capsule Rating
Capsule Review:

Front Mission was made in 1995, the same year as Chrono Trigger, but it was never released in the United States. Unfortunately, it's not a lost classic from the glory days of the SNES. Which is a pity, because it had a few original elements that could have really made for a great game.

For example, the game takes place, not in a fantasy setting, but rather in our world, in the near future. The objective is not to save the universe. You play as a guy named Lloyd who is working as a mercenary on a small island. The island is small, but it is strategically important for the machinations of various world superpowers. Lloyd is dragged into the conflict, gradually unearths a dark secret, and so on, and so forth.

This is a more realistic (or, at least, less common) premise than saving the universe. But unfortunately, all of the characters are blanks. Lloyd starts out with a fiancee named Karen, but she is apparently killed in the first scene of the game. After that, Lloyd runs around swearing revenge and trying to find out if she's still alive, but the game never took the time to set up and develop their love, so it's difficult to really feel immersed in Lloyd's struggle. There is very little dialogue in the game, so Lloyd has very few lines beyond these token threats and exhortations.

And the other characters have even less development. A girl named Natalie turns out to be related to one of the NPCs in the game, but they only have one conversation in which they exchange maybe two lines each. The others have no background beyond a one-line motivation (Keith likes money, Yang wants to find her brother, and so on), and they don't have any dialogue among each other or with anyone else. The main villain is equally bland, and it's not even clear why he's doing whatever it is he does other than some vague will-to-power thing.

The game plays similarly to Final Fantasy Tactics. There are no dungeons, no exploration -- all the gameplay is divided into "missions," each of which takes place on one isometric map. In between missions, you rest at towns, whose sole purpose is to provide new equipment that you can buy. During the missions, you have little robots running around on a screen and fighting other little robots. The robots can equip guns, clubs and long-range missiles. Each robot consists of a body, two arms, and one set of legs, and each body part has its own HP and can be targeted separately. On the plus side, you can use a lot of robots in combat -- for instance, in the very last mission, you can deploy up to 17 units. I never did like the more restrictive limit of five units in Final Fantasy Tactics.

Unfortunately, the gameplay quickly becomes repetitive, once you discover the right way to play it. Whenever you attack an enemy with a gun or a club, he gets a chance to counter-attack. However, when you use missiles, he can never counter, even if he's also carrying long-range weapons. Furthermore, even though you can pick one of four targets on each enemy robot, it's enough to deplete the body's HP to destroy the whole enemy, even if the other parts are at full energy. Therefore, every mission quickly reduces to beating down the enemies from a distance with your missiles, targeting their bodies specifically, then moving in and finishing off the remaining enemy forces once you run out of long-range ammo. In contrast, clubs are nearly useless, because an enemy armed with a gun will always be allowed to perform his counter-attack before you even hit him.

Thus, the huge variety of outfits at the stores is completely pointless. You just need to buy the frame with the most powerful engine, the legs that can move the farthest, and then load up on powerful long-range weapons, with a short-range rifle or bazooka for good measure. Although the different characters tend to be more skilled (i.e. they miss less often) with one type of weapon than another, the missiles are so powerful that you can largely ignore these innate differences.

The music is surprisingly decent, but you don't hear most of the tracks very often. Most frequently, you'll be hearing the music that plays when two robots are exchanging blows, which happens to be the weakest part of the soundtrack. In some sense, that's an apt metaphor for the game -- it has some decent ideas, but spends most of its time on something repetitive and pointless.