Front Mission 3


   Square's decision to bring the latest in their Front Mission series to the US came as somewhat as a surprise, as they had declined to port either of its two predecessors or the spinoffs Front: Mission Alternative and Gun Hazard. This was somewhat understandable, since Square used to be far more conservative in its localization policies, and investing money and resources in porting a quasi-strategy RPG in which the US often ended up on the side of the bad guys was somewhat questionable. But after seeing Front Mission 3, if it is at all indicative of the quality of the rest of the series, then the only question is "when can we get the rest of them?" What exactly makes Front Mission 3 so good? The quick answer is "everything." It features a politically driven story with depth comparable to Final Fantasy Tactics, strong, likable characters, and very well-done strategic gameplay.

E-mailing Square
Sending Square an e-mail via a descendent of PlayOnline.

   Being a Squaresoft product, the story comes first and foremost, of course. It revolves around a young Japanese Wanzer (mech) test pilot named Kazuki, who, along with his irresponsible friend Ryogo, unwittingly steps into an international incident that threatens his adopted sister Alisa. As he tries to discover what has happened, he finds himself being hunted by his own country as well as various international agents who have taken an interest in what he knows. As the game progresses, the plot only becomes more and more complex, and it becomes difficult to figure out who's really on your side. This is underscored by one of the game's most ingenious features, the unique dual story system. Based on an almost trivial decision you make very early in the game, the plot follows one of two very different paths which both need to be played to appreciate the full scope of the game. It's nothing short of shocking to see characters from one path show up in the other, only now they're not fighting on the side you'd expect. Old battlefields are also sometimes revisited on entirely different missions sometimes with opposite objectives. In fact, the two branches hold almost nothing in common except for a few basics and really provide two games in one, but result in an incredibly deeper and more fleshed-out plot than if only one path would have been provided.

Smokey will not be pleased

   That's not all there is to it, though. The plot is also furthered through Front Mission 3's innovative and incredibly well implemented internet. Square's vision of internet connectivity is a happy one, as you can get free broadband access to forums (websites), e-mail, online parts shops, and free online storage space at any of the ever-present network kiosks that you'll find everywhere you go (running PlayOnline, perhaps?). All this without an ad banner in sight. Although some forums are viewable from the outset of the game, others can only be found by learning their addresses from people you meet, through e-mail, and sometimes by defeating certain enemies in battle. These forums provide the game with a rich and almost unrivaled backstory. Some sites also require passwords to access confidential information, which you'll have to find through some clever guesswork. In one case you get tipped off to the location of an Australian spenders site (the term for hackers in the lingo of the 22nd century) after you rescue one of their buddies from OCU troops. After sifting through some BBS posts that provide a few more clues, you find a log of an online session belonging to some OCU bigwig. Unfortunately, it's corrupted, and remains useless until you find an online software company selling "Restrex", a handy file repair utility. After charging it to your electronic account and downloading it, you run it, and... success! It's now readable, and contains a full list of sites visited, files downloaded, and passwords entered. In other cases you'll need to use a little more thought, and try names of personnel, or perhaps swap out letters with corresponding numbers. E-mail is also handled cleverly; the game automatically creates a mailbox for each of your characters, and you can send prewritten responses to e-mail you receive from your address book, or decide to ignore them altogether. Once you figure out the system they use for assigning addresses, you can also manually type in ones that you think will work. In one of the coolest secrets in a long while, you can actually e-mail Square. Sadly, they don't have a website, and thus you can't download Final Fantasy CXVIII in one of the game's few disappointments. The whole online system is so well done, with a little polish it could almost be a game of its own. As it is, it adds a lot to the plot and makes it seem a lot more like a real world while providing some secrets that can't be accessed any other way.

 Bombs away!
FMV occasionally appears between missions

   All this impressive plot development creates an impressive canvas on which to develop the characters, and Front Mission 3 is no slouch in this department either. All the characters are interesting and lively, if a little strange, such as the USN's elite purple and orange Wanzer unit named Purple Haze, and the shady commando group known only as the Imaginary Numbers. Front Mission 3 also provides the unique opportunity to see most of the game's characters both fighting alongside you and looking down the barrel of their guns, which is an odd experience to say the least.

Cinematic camera angles

   All the action is also depicted on-screen in vivid 3D, complete with muzzle flashes, smoke trails, grinding metal, and sparking dismembered mechs. The only graphical disappointment is the tactical view in battle, which uses somewhat sparsely animated sprites on a 3D background. However, the transition from sprites to a close-in 3D model is seamless and almost unnoticeable. The graphics are also accompanied by a good musical score and excellent sound effects which always effectively compliment the on-screen action. While none of the tunes are quite as memorable as Uematsu's latest, they're more than adequate.

   The battles are handled through an interesting system that isn't quite as sophisticated as that of Final Fantasy Tactics, but comes close. The Wanzers piloted in battle consist of an interchangeable body, arms, legs, and backpack that can be swapped out and upgraded at various Wanzer shops and with parts from captured enemy units. Although progressively more powerful weapons become available as you find new shops as dictated by long-standing tradition, few Wanzer parts are better in all areas than others, so players are forced to balance weight, hit points, accuracy, and movement to find the best setup they want each of their units to play. In some cases you're forced to sacrifice hit points or movement in order to fit the latest in destructive weaponry. Your implements of destruction consist of meleé weapons, machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, missiles, grenade launchers, and flamethrowers, all of which have varying ranges, strengths, and damage patterns. While a nice fist weapon will dole out the most damage if you're willing to fight in close, if your opponent's only weapon arm is at the verge of being destroyed you might want to favor the distributed damage of a shotgun to ensure that you disable him instead of running the risk of merely hitting him in a non-vital area. Other weapons such as the flamethrower have such low accuracy that they don't become practical until better models become available and your pilots have become experienced with them through regular simulator practice. This leaves plenty of room for experimentation, allowing you to build a squad of close-in heavy hitters, long range attackers, or a team with a balance of fighting styles. The only major flaw is that you can only deploy up to four people into one battle, which is somewhat limiting.

   It's easy to ignore this, though, because there's simply so much else to like. Every bit of the game is innovative and original, and its few minor flaws are easily overlooked. Despite tough competition, Front Mission 3 is one of the best games to come down the pipe this year, and with its dual storylines and customizability it should be more than enough to tide anyone over until Square's "Summer of Adventure." Now, if only they'd release a Front Mission Anthology....

Review by Arpad Korossy, GIA.
Front Mission 3
Developer Square
Publisher Square
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  09.02.99
 Spring 2000
PSX IGN and Gigex release new Front Mission 3 trailer
Promotional English movie / 40 English screenshots
4 new character designs / 4 emblems / Area maps
U.S. box art