The Front Mission series has been around since 1995 when it originated on the SNES and became a huge hit in Japan. The U.S. didn’t get to see the franchise until Front Mission 3 came out in 2000 on the original Playstation, which became an instant favorite. The Front Mission series main theme centers around huge walking tanks called Wanzers, and generally appeals to the turn-based battle style of play. Front Mission 4 continues this series and adds a few more elements to improve on the gameplay.
This being a Square-Enix game, one would expect a high degree of graphical quality. Strangely enough, Front Mission 4 falters a bit in this area. The battle graphics are a little grainy, and the weapon effects are fairly basic and anti-climatic. The explosions are well done and impressive, however, and the terrain and Wanzers are very detailed. I was very impressed with the terrain, building, and environment modeling, but the camera zoom is a little limiting so you don’t get to scan around as much as you’d like. As a battle sequence is initiated, the camera zooms in and does an excellent job of tracking the action. This is especially neat if more than two Wanzers are engaged in battle.
Each of the Wanzers looks different depending on what parts and weapons are selected. Animation for units and weapons is very detailed and smooth. Each of your units can be further customized with a slew of different paint jobs and color schemes. Although the colors in the game seem a bit washed out, plenty of options are available for you to choose from.
There are a few full motion video sequences and they are very well done. An extreme amount of work and detail was put into them and they are very entertaining.
Sounds for Front Mission 4 fall into the slightly above average category. There is plenty of room for improvement for the machinegun fire, shotgun blasts, and melee impacts. Machine guns do a decent ratta-tatta-tatta, but it sounds weak and small compared to the supposed size of the weapon. A resounding CHUGGA-CHUGGA with some power behind it would have been more appropriate. Shotgun blasts are a little better but could still use a little more oomph. Melee combat sounds are satisfactory but could have been so much more. The rest of the weapon sounds were good, especially the rifle shot hitting its target with a loud CLANG of heavy lead on metal. Destruction sounds, like exploding limbs, were very satisfying. Voice-overs, although uncommon, are well done. Front Mission 4 could have used more of them.
The music for the game is well written but is very repetitive. The general feel of the music is a symphonic futuristic war theme. Except for a few of the boss fights, you’ll hear the same battle music over and over and over again. Some of the out-of-battle themes get repeated as well. The music isn’t annoying, but it would have been nice to hear more variety.
The entire game is controlled by selecting menu commands, with the occasional shortcut button combo thrown in. Camera control in battles is handled by the analog stick and R/L buttons. It’s pretty hard to screw up menu-driven games. The added button shortcuts help save a little time, especially the function of the start button when watching the story sequences allowing the player to skip them. ‘Nuff said.
Front Mission 4 is basically a turn-based tactical mech combat game with a bunch of upgrading/build-up elements and a dash of story. The setting for the game is not too far into the future, where the latest technology in warfare has born Wanzers onto the battlefield. A Wanzer is a large bipedal hunk of metal and weaponry specialized for combat each containing a skilled human pilot. There are two protagonist Wanzer pilots fighting for different governments on opposite sides of the world with their team as they uncover a secret enemy plot. The story is played out in a series of between mission cut-scenes. These cut-scenes consist of text bubbles and mug shots with a few voice-overs. However, there isn’t much in the way of story or plot. All-in-all the plot ideas and twists are good if you don’t mind sitting around reading everything in a text bubble that’s hard to read.
The lack of an in-depth story is made up for in the form of deep tactical combat and lots and lots of upgradeable weapons, equipment and pilot skills. When you first start out, only some basic equipment is available to you. As you progress further, not only does more equipment become available, but you also eventually unlock special skill upgrades, links (explained later), battle simulations that give you items/weapons, and other special equipment. Upgrading and outfitting your Wanzers is just as fun as taking them into battle. I easily spent half of my time playing the game in the outfitting screens. The game does a good job of easing you into customizing Wanzers. The tutorials are very helpful and always available. By the middle of the game you will be a master at cutting off a few extra tons of weight just to fit that brand new rocket launcher on one of your team’s Wanzer’s shoulder mounts. I won’t go into much detail except to say that there are so many upgradeable skills, new weapons, and parts that you’ll never become bored with upgrading your pilots and Wanzers.
Battle sequences are fairly straightforward at first but become more and more complex as new weapons and gear become available and the addition of linked battles. At its core, Front Mission 4 battle sequences are turn-based tactical Wanzer squad battles. Each side takes has a turn where each unit has a chance to move, attack, or perform support actions. Each unit has a set amount of AP, or action points, they can spend in a turn. Different actions cost different amounts of AP. For example, it normally costs 4 AP to attack with a machine gun and 1 AP to move on normal terrain. If a sufficient amount of AP is left over, a Wanzer will be able to counterattack if it is attacked when the enemy takes its turn, depending on the weapons carried by the attacked Wanzer. If you’ve progressed a little bit into the game, your pilots will have link points available to them. These link points can be used to link two or more Wanzers to perform group attacks or group defense. Mastering links on the battlefield can dramatically affect the outcome of the battle. So setting them up efficiently is crucial to the degree of success (or failure!).
There are eight different weapon types. Each weapon type has very different attack properties, damage levels, and damage types. All of this requires sound strategic and tactical planning. Depending on what parts it is comprised of, a Wanzer may be very speedy or limited in movement. All of these things come into play when it comes to being successful on the battlefield, so customizing your Wanzers thoughtfully is important.
There are a few things to unlock in the game, like secret items/weapons and battle simulations. Battle simulations are battle scenarios that you can initiate to test out your new Wanzers, earn more money, and earn more EP. EP is experience points that your pilots can use to purchase skills. Most battle simulations are unlocked just by progressing through the game. Some simulations can only be accessed by unlocking them by defeating a certain battle in a set number of rounds or fulfilling other conditions. Successfully completing unlocked battle simulations usually rewards you with a very nice item or weapon. Other secret items can be unlocked by talking to people in the game. If you talk to the right people on certain stages at the right time you can set up events that will get you items later on in the game. There really isn’t any skill involved in this, it’s more luck than anything (unless you have the strategy guide).
There really isn’t a whole lot of replay value as far as getting a different experience is concerned. All of the maps and battles are static. The massive amount of possible customization makes for a slight increase in replay value, especially if you missed some secret items along the way the first time through. The game is more than fun enough to warrant another play through after shelving it after a playthrough.
Front Mission 4 is a premium cost title and provides over 40+ hours of play for the average gamer, especially if you like to customize your Wanzers. For the Turn-Based Tactical fan, this one is well worth the money.