Turn-Based Strategy Role Playing Game: Turns by Team
Completion Level: Campaign Completed 55 Hours
Technology based SRPGs are not as common as those based in fantasy settings. So when one comes along, we want to enjoy it and wring out of it all the good gameplay we can. Some games feel as though they are thwarting you in this effort. Thankfully, Front Mission 3 was not one of them. Though you fight in big machines, within a vast vista of events, yet it does not veer too far from the personal stories of the participants.
Did we say “large machines”? While that is true, the correct Front Mission term would be “WANZERS”. That’s right, wanzers. That is what they call their large walking tanks. They come in a variety of configurations and pretty much take on the roles you might find in a fantasy-based SRPG. There are melee wanzers not unlike a heavily armored knight. There are ranged attack wanzers not unlike archers and mages. There are also repair wanzers similar in function to a healing cleric.
Front Mission 3 is a long game with a large cast. There are many environments on and off the battlefield, copious combat encounters, and a story whose scope is in the largest SRPG percentile. Made by Square, the quality experience will not leave you feeling gypped.
The game view puts you farther above the 3D, rotatable battlefield during combat than the average SRPG. Some reasons are the giant scale of the mechs- er, wanzers, and the number of grid squares some can traverse. The interface is smooth and understandable. Most anyone with fantasy SRPG experience should have no trouble picking this up.
- Storytelling Technique: The story was well told through a variety of devices. Considering it was so detailed and large, this was a good idea. The developers incorporated conversations during battle or when just hanging out in your wanzer. Also used were noncombat room choice/menu-based conversations, pre-rendered and game engine cut scenes.
- Theater Major or Major Theater? The game engine cut scenes featured more than just the wanzers. Some involved lower polygon human characters in interior settings. It was ambitious and largely successful, especially for PlayStation.
- No Experience Required: We played this game carefully, and spread our experience around well. with good tactical decisions and some wise upgrading we needed to take no trips to the experience yielding simulator. In our opinion that is the sign of a well-ramped game. The difficulty was just right.
- Pretty as a Portrait: The artwork used for the many, many characters you encounter was good and appealing. Much of the male artwork was interesting and the females easy to look at. Some appear to be homage to celebrity visages, but we will not ding them for that small percentage.
- Satisfying Impact: The special effects were decent, but when combined with good sound effects and cinematography they yielded a very satisfying combat experience. All game long, encounter after encounter, the sound effects didn’t grow tiresome. Take a quick listen.
- Ejection: Taking It down a Notch: If desperate, or when there was a less damaged available wanzer nearby, a pilot could eject. Such a person was extremely vulnerable to wanzer fire. This mechanic allowed for certain story conditions requiring someone on foot. It also gave occasional opportunity to commandeer an enemy wanzer. Overall, a good tactical addition.
- Colorful Squares: The colors and subtle grid outlining used to show move distances and weapons ranges were clear, helpful and easy on the eyes. One benefit of tech based SRPGs is the ability to use garish electronic color displays without them standing out of place.
Too Big for a Bullet Point: Humor and the Barilar Family
The overall tenor of Front Mission 3 was a little somber. And if they had not injected a little bit of humor we may have dinged this game for that. That humor came in the form of the unusual Barilar family. You encounter them fairly early on in the game during your Asian tour.
They are run by a kooky and eccentric patriarch. (He likes being called, “master”.) However he is quite the practical inventor. He builds a very earth friendly, easy to maintain, methane powered and a very uncool wanzer. Yes, it looked very much like a truck on legs.
You end up in a situation where you are forced to fight this family, including the patriarchs to rather fetching daughters. We did not want to defeat him and were a little saddened afterwards. He dropped his bravado and bemoaned about why people were not buying his “wonder wanzer.”
However his son joins your crew and the resulting fame spurs interest in the uncool machines. By the end of the game the Barilar is happy with orders pouring in. This whole storyline was spread out and also used the game’s internal internet to feature some wacky ads. In a game sometimes verging on being depressing, this was a welcome an enjoyable respite.
The Good & Bad
Conveniently Together in One Point:
- International Perspective: The translation felt quite literal, and much of the Japanese supporting cultural aspects remained intact. However the game moved past any single nation’s perspective, and you embark upon a tour of Asia as a traveler. It worked for Front Mission, but that international flavor may not satisfy solely domestic tastes.
- So Cliché: We are not sure of the original’s tenor, but much of the dialogue translated into English was rather colloquial (often said by the lead goober). The translators also included the very classic cliché, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.” we think this was done by choice and so will not ding them for it. It is up to you and your tolerance for clichés.
- “Imaginary Numbers:” No, that’s not some witty bullet point title. That is the name of a group of enemy wanzer pilots. It struck us as funny at first, and we are not sure that is what the developers were going for. However it did make more sense later.
- The Interwebs- is Dull? Between battles within the menus of the game you had access to their world’s Internet. A good idea that fleshed out story and side story detail. However we found it rather uninteresting, and after perusing a number of dull pages gave up the practice altogether. Zzzzzz…
- Lead Character is a Goober: It is one thing to have a nonstandard lead character. (The lead in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was very reluctant and just wanted the game to end.) However it can be taken too far. This guy was unlikable, hotheaded and childish. Even after 41 hours of playing, he had still not really grown on us.
- Overzealous Non-Translation: There is a time and place to leave in specific cultural flavor. However certain terms or place names that are too difficult pronounced and don’t serve any specific purpose need to be localized. Case in point was an unpronounceable city name, “HONMOKUFUTO.”
- Too Much of a Good Thing: Story events, various room conversations, going to the shop to buy parts and modifying your wanzers all takes time. Sometimes what was required really piled up and it seemed too long in between combat.
- Stalled Progression: While the game was fun, the execution took too long to introduce new story and gameplay elements. You can only string most players along for so much time.
- Forcibly Ejected: While we like the ability to get out of a wanzer, it also comes with great responsibility. Certain weapons could randomly eject a pilot even though their wanzer was hardly damaged. The quick and sometimes inevitable result was pilot death and loss of the mission. These kinds of random acts were not fun.
Too Big for a Bullet Point: Multiple Paths and Morose Endings
This is a pet peeve of ours and we have talked about before, for example in games such as Riviera: The Promised Land. It can be done wrong in two major ways.
First there is branching content. We can tell you it is difficult to make a videogame, and that every development hour is precious. So it is one thing to offer conversation trees, and optional paths within a necessary environment. However it is another when cut scene and combat content is missed because you picked Debbie instead of Sally at the beginning of the game as was the case here.
There is room for experience customization. However it should not come at the expense of development hours on critical systems, needlessly shortchanging players of fun content, or in any way diluting the main story arc. Additionally, particular to this game, we nor another player we talked to even perceived the fork point at the beginning of the game.
The second major way is multiple endings. Barf. Once again, if you did not talk to the flower girl on level 3 and paid her 57 shekels for a daisy and then take that flower… You get the idea. Multiple endings are a really good thing if they add player choice character content. If you work hard to get to particular game characters into a optional romantic relationship, that is the kind of thing you want added to the ending.
What you don’t want is six different endings, and only one good. If a player works hard and completes the game, they are owed a good ending and satisfying resolution of the main story arc. Period.
There is no doubt that Front Mission is a successful SRPG franchise, and not just a successful tech-based one. After all multiple entry SRPG series are few. While one could argue that the genre is generally more popular in Japan, the tech aspect can garner additional interest on American shores.
We were pleasantly surprised in the incorporation of so much melee. In a world of ranged weapons, this aspect was too powerful to be ignored. It brought a final pleasing dimension to Front Mission combat. The clanking sound of metal hitting metal made the game experience more real.
There are a lot of reasons to try Front Mission 3. Its strengths and unique personality will leave more of an impression on you than any drawback. There are definitely depths to be plumbed for those interested in such pursuits. However the game can still be one with a more shallow but still customized path.
Maybe you call them “mechs”. Maybe you call them “giant robots” or even “metal gears”. Surely after you play this game there will be another word you will recognize for these giant battle machines: WANZERS. It still cracks us up to say it.
The Front Mission Series: