I’ve always found the Front Mission series interesting. At a glance, I see gigantic bipedaling robots called Wanzers wielding massive firearms or melee weapons. It’s easy to picture epic battles as these metallic monstrosities zoom and dash around a battlefield. But, when you sit down to play, you’re usually treated to a tactical RPG where every Wanzer pilot patiently waits their turn before moving a certain set of squares on a grid, taking an action, and resting. Front Mission 4 is no different.
In the year 2096, five German military bases are attacked simultaneously. The European Community enlists the help of the research corp Durandal to investigate. The newest recruit to the team is former Wanzer pilot of the French Army, Elsa Eliane. Elsa is eager to impress her new coworkers as she gets closer to the truth behind the attack. On the other side of the globe, Venezuela declares independence from the United Continental States. Sargent Darril Traubel and his company are in the war torn country performing recon. As their shift ends, they witness a plane crash with a cargo filled with caches of gold. Darril sees an opportunity to get rich quick and leave the military. What was the cause behind the attack in Germany? Does it relate to the gold in Venezuela? What possible connection could there be between Elsa and Darril?
On paper, Front Mission 4’s story sounds interesting. In practice, the story is a mixed bag since the jumping between Elsa’s side and Darril’s side can be hit or miss. It’s not as compelling compared to Front Mission 3, but there’s still an interesting story dealing with the threats of a world war and how it impacts the cast of characters. Really, their involvement is what will keep you interested in the overarching narrative. Every hero is easy to cheer for, and every villain is easy to despise. Things would have come across better if the jump between continents/protagonists had more of a natural flow.
Front Mission 4 is a linear campaign where you’ll watch a story scene that ends with you in Event Mode. This is where you can chat with your teammates, shop for new parts for your Wanzers, participate in battle simulators, buy computer programs, and set up your pilots. It’s easy to spend hours in Event Mode because outfitting Wanzers and setting up the pilots with various skills takes time. Customization is not lacking in Front Mission 4. Everyone’s Wanzer can have their left arms, right arms, body and legs mixed and matched. These can be equipped with melee weapons (including clubs and batons), firearms (including rifles and shotguns), and backpacks (for repair items or missile launchers). To top it off, you can name your Wanzer and give it various coats of paint. To add more to the customization, each pilot can equip various passive and active skills. New skills can be purchased at the cost of Enhancement Points earned from battle.
After you’ve outfitted your Wanzers and pilots, it’s time to put them to use in battle. You’ll begin your turn after deploying your squad. After all of your units are finished acting, then the enemy turn begins. This continues until the objective is fulfilled or you get a game over. At first, combat is straightforward. Each Wanzer pilot has Action Points (AP) that increase as they gain levels. These dictate how many actions they can perform and how far they can move in one turn. Before or after moving, you can take a variety of actions as long as there’s enough AP. Attacking requires a certain amount of AP, as well as being in the proper range with your weapons. When one of your Wanzer pilots attacks, there’s a chance that a pre-equipped skill might activate.
As you get further in the game, more combat options get unlocked that make combat more than standard tactical battles. Along with being able to call in for air strikes and supply drops, you can utilize sensors that provide your missile launchers with guidance outside of their normal range or utilize EMP backpacks that disable the computers of other Wanzers. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of combat is the Link System. Before combat, you can set up links with your teammates that activate when one of your pilots is attacking or under attack. As long as they’re in range and have enough AP, then the link will activate. With proper usage of links, your squad can potentially take out an enemy Wanzer with one pilot action. It’s satisfying watching all of the time put into Wanzer and pilot customization pay off as enemy troops explode one by one.
Combat does have a few drawbacks. Some battles can feel unfair, even after you spend a good while preparing. Difficulty spikes can pop up unexpectedly. Some battles can outstay their welcome. You can save mid-battle at any time, but there’s nothing more frustrating than watching your team go up in smoke and having to start over again. My biggest problem is that it’s easy to run out of ammunition. Going overboard with your bullets and missiles can leave your team significantly hindered. Once you get the ability to call for supply drops, this problem isn’t as big of an issue.
Front Mission 4 looks and sound great. Seeing your customized Wanzer up close or in battle is an impressive sight. Stunning character art and some impressive movie events help supplement the graphical presentation. The soundtrack is forgettable, but the voice acting makes up for it. Every voiced character has an accent that sounds authentic. Usually, I skip over voice acting in games. But, Front Mission 4’s was an exception.
With a few mission restarts and extra leveling, Front Mission 4 can be finished in about 60 hours. When starting a new game plus, you’ll be treated to any leftover funds and EP from the previous run. Sadly, unlike Front Mission 3’s branching story, Front Mission 4 is always a one-way ticket. It’d be tough to go through the game’s motions again even if you decide to completely revamp your squad. But, while it lasts, Front Mission 4 is an enjoyable experience and a worthy entry in the franchise. This may not be Square’s most famous game on the PlayStation 2, but it’s still a solid one. Fans of tactical RPGs that enjoy spending hours on customization will enjoy Front Mission 4.
Overall, 8/10: Prevent world war with a new batch of Wanzer pilots. Front Mission 4 continues to deliver tactical and explosive fun.