For years, I thought the only available Front Mission titles for American gamers was limited to Front Mission 3 and Front Mission 4. I had no clue that the original Front Mission, originally on the Super Famicom, got a remake (and official release) for the Nintendo DS until a friend mentioned it to me. The thought of controlling massive robots on a tiny scale didn’t seem appealing. Still, I figured I would enjoy it since I enjoyed both Front Missions 3 and 4. I’m glad I played Front Mission for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is that I appreciate how far the series has come. Front Mission on the DS might be a remake, but it still shows its age.
In the year 2090, the United Continental States (UCS) accuses the Oceania Cooperative Union (OCU) of sending war machines called Wanzers to attack the military forces in the Larcus District, located on Huffman Island. This claim became known as the Larcus Incident. Now, the two superpowers have geared up for what will eventually turn into the Second Huffman Conflict. The story can be viewed from two perspectives. The first is from the OCU side. Players take control of Royd Clive, an ace Wanzer pilot. After the Larcus Incident, Royd quit the military and made a living fighting in Wanzer arenas. His reputation gains the attention of a mercenary group called the Canyon Crows. New to the DS version is the option to see the story from the UCS side. Here, players take control of Kevin Greenfield. Kevin was a squad leader of a special forces unit, but he was sent to Huffman Island after making a poor judgment call during combat. Front Mission’s story provides an interesting narrative no matter which campaign you select. Most of the game focuses on the war and how it impacts the folks of Huffman. Near the end, there are major science fiction twists that take center stage. I appreciated these, but they felt a bit contrived since there was close to zero build up for them during the campaign.
Front Mission is a linear game. You’ll move from towns and bases to story battlefields via connected routes on the Huffman Island map. Towns have bars where you can chat with locals, an arena where you can earn extra war funds and most importantly, shops for you to outfit and customize your Wanzers. When your Wanzer pilots arrive in a new town the first stop should always be the shop or hangar to upgrade your Wanzers with new parts, weapons and supplies. This is a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. At the start of the game, you’ll be low on funds and must be selective about who gets an upgrade and who doesn’t. As the story continues, you’ll have plenty of money and a decently sized squad of Wanzer pilots. Most missions allow the deployment of anywhere between eight to ten Wanzers. Still, going through the antiquated menus for your favorites and making sure that they’re properly equipped takes a long time. I ended end up spending more time in menus preparing for combat than in combat.
But, combat is still an important part of Front Mission. It’s also where most of the game’s frustrations lie. Front Mission is a tactical RPG. You’ll move your Wanzers across large, isometrically displayed battlefields while trying to take down enemy Wanzers with melee weaponry, rifles, machines guns, missiles, bazookas and more. Aspects such as terrain and height need to be considered as you send your squad towards your enemies. It’s typical stuff. The minor frustrations are expected for the genre: enemy troops outnumbering your own, enemy reinforcements, enemies having better equipment. Things like this are expected and can be overcome with the right tools. Flashes are especially handy. The biggest frustration is with accuracy. Melee attacks and long-range attacks tend to miss the target. Whether you’re in an early battle or nearing the end of the game, launching a melee attack or a missile attack (the latter without the assistance of a skill) is a crapshoot. I made the mistake of making a versatile squad filled with rifle slingers, machine gunners, missile shooters, and front line fisticuff fighters. The ones that pulled most of the weight were the ones that had machine guns. In fact, my machine gun users could instantly destroy an enemy Wanzer. This was due to the skill and experience system; using a certain type of weapon over and over gives the pilot experience. With enough experience, pilots will level up and skills with an associated type of weapon can be learned. A machine gun with the right skills is usually a one-hit kill. Melee attacks and missiles weren’t useless; just unreliable. Seeing the enemy receive no damage from a whiff and unleashing a counterattack was frustrating. When a battle ends, you’ll acquire new items and war funds for every destroyed enemy. If one of your Wanzers is destroyed, then your reward money will get reduced due to repair costs.
As infuriating as it was to watch one of my teammates get blown up, it always looked good. Front Mission’s graphics are great. Character art by Yoshitaka Amano merges with detailed robots that wield all sorts of fun weaponry. The Wanzers are micro sized on the different battlefield, but they work. You can see them in all their glory when launching an attack or a counterattack. There isn’t any voice acting (aside from the shopkeeper’s “thank you” after you make a purchase) but Front Mission has a respectable amount of music and I enjoyed what I heard.
Going through both campaigns in Front Mission will take between 30 to 40 hours. For me, going through the OCU side was plenty. The UCS side has a harder difficulty which doesn’t sound enjoyable. It’s worth playing Front Mission if you garnered any enjoyment from Front Missions 3 or 4, but it’s important to keep in mind that this DS remake doesn’t run as smoothly as either. I enjoyed learning about the origins of Huffman Island, The Republic of Zaftra, and the Wanzers but in doing so I had to navigate through clunky menus and tolerate some frustrating combat. After a few hours and some experience combat did become smoother, but there is still a level of antiquity in Front Mission that lasts until the end. I recommend it only if you’re a fan of the series.
Overall, 6/10: Front Mission is a reminder of how far this underrated series has come. Check it out only if you’re a fan of other games in the series.