Front Mission 4
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Square Enix
Developer
Square Enix
Genre
Strategy RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Mild Language, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Deep combat and character/wanzer customization
• Strong story
• Inclusion of linking attacks and backpacks gives a nice change to gameplay
• Unlockables

The Bad

• Graphics suffer from jaggies galore
• Slow gameplay and hearty story may turn off some people
• AI isn't all that special

 
Grade
B

The Front Mission series is of those franchises that has a set of hardcore fans that will always invest in new titles while everyone else completely overlooks it. The last title to come out was on the original Playstation and fans have waited a good time for this sequel to show up. When it comes to story, though, FM4 is more of a prequel as it happens years after the events of the original Front Mission. The world of Front Mission is a highly geopolitical affair where the various countries and international coalitions come to grips with the new world order only to find themselves thrown into a potential global as a German base is destroyed and the E.C. blames the U.C.S. for the attack. From this point, players play through two separate sides of the story: on one side we have Elsa, a member of the Durandal, an investigative team sent to look into the incident; on the other side we have Darril, a U.C.S. pilot who goes AWOL over a crate of gold worth $25 million. Of course, as the story moves along, things get more complicated and intense for the two main characters of the game.

Those familiar with the Front Mission series will be able to step into FM4 right away with only a minor learning curve for the few new elements. The game is set up in a pretty standard pattern of progression - you'll be treated to story portions, some of which can be pretty lengthy, which lead into the next battle. Often, you'll be given a chance to talk to other characters or set up your Wanzers or pilots before moving on to the next battlefield. Once in battle, you're given a turn to move your team, depending on the movement range of their Wanzer, and attack enemy units. All actions take up AP, which must be taken into consideration when moving, attacking or any other support action you may do while in combat. After a player's turn, the enemy takes it's turn. This is repeated until one force is defeated. If you are victorious, you progress on with the story.

When you defeat enemies, you gain experience, both in terms of giving the character more levels and gaining points that can be spent towards learning new skills. Each pilot has a skill set specific to them, giving each pilot a default role early on, whether it be long-range missiler or repair unit. These skills are broken down into Passive (which add bonuses to weapon proficiency), Battle (which perform special attacks randomly when equipped) and Command (which add new command actions, like Snipe and Aim). Those familiar with Front Mission 3 will find it interesting that these skills are not learned by using certain Wanzer parts, so you're not forced to put up with a Wanzer that doesn't work for you to learn a specific skill and you can even pick an choose what skills to purchase.

One of the new elements added to the combat is Linking - where multiple Wanzers can attack in groups if they're all in the same area. For those familiar with Front Mission 3, it's similar to the Gang Beating and Firing Line skills. In the menu, you'll need to set up links to other Wanzer pilots to either aid you with offensive or defensive links. When that pilot goes to attack, any nearby pilot in range with enough AP will join in on the battle. Where this is most effective is when you have pilots who end turns with excessive AP (like repair units and melee) that are just begging to have it used. When effectively implemented, the Link system can lead to quicker fights.

Also included is a stronger focus on backpacks. Rather than just being used for ammo and repair storage, a lot more types have been added to give more strategic elements to the combat. Included are Repair Backpacks that are used to repair and restore Wanzer parts, EMP packs that can inflict status effects on enemies, and Radar packs for recon units to increase attack range for your missile units.

Gone from FM4 is the ability to kill or eject pilots, meaning that you wont be swimming in excess Wanzer parts by a third of the way through the game. Also gone in the web browsing and email from FM3. For some this may be a godsend (I found it excessively tedious), while others will be disappointed with the lack of background to the world that the game is set in. Without the internet portion, players will find they get the opportunity to unlock weapons and even bonus stages by completing missions in certain time limits, which is actually a nice incentive to try missions over again.

Visually, Front Mission 4 will not wow any newcomers but it will please old fans. One of the best aspects of the visual package is the awesome CG opening, but outside that, your presented with a game that structurally looks all right, but could use some extra polish. The wanzers all have a good bit of detail, which makes each model stand apart from the others. While the color palette is pretty muted, you can customize the color schemes based on camouflage, accent and line colors. Once in battle, you'll be impressed with the areas, which have a good bit of detail and often are exceptionally large. Battlefield graphics tend to be your standard SRPG lot, losing some of the finer detail and polish for the sake of showing where all your units are. The engagement segments, along with most of the cutscenes, have some well-choreographed movements and sequences that give life to the slowly progressing game. While I love the character art by Yusuke Naora (Unlimited SaGa), I will say that overall the game needs a certain level of visual polish. Visual effects lack "punch" and the game is plagued with jaggies all over the place. Front Mission fans may be pleased with the improved visuals (over the last title) but anyone new to the series will wonder why the game looks like a first-gen PS2 title in terms of polish.

Audiowise, the game proves to do the job well enough without being much of a standout. Sound effects do a great job as each of the weapons has a distinct sound, even within certain types depending on the fire rate. This is no more obvious when dealing with two different machine guns: one sprays in a lower tone while the other screams as it tears into the opponent's metal hide. Mechs moving around and the sounds of explosions all have a solid effect during battle. Also, the inclusion of background noise during story sequences (outside of the mechs) helps to ground the story in the real world. Musically, the game runs along standard themes without being too spectacular. The voice acting does it's job, but unfortunately it proves to be stale as the voice work is clichéd with mediocre accents that only play up stereotypes.

It must be said that there are some elements that should have been addressed during development. While I didn't mind it much, the story gets pretty convoluted and deep. This won't be a turn-off for Front Mission fans and I expected as much, but for those new to the series, this may make a game that is essential slow-paced feel even longer. Outside of the story element, the only real issue I had was with the A.I., which seems to be "okay". By that I mean that a lot of the time, enemies will wait outside of your range for turns on end until you move towards them. Sometimes they may do attacks that seem smart to you until you realize that most levels are only challenging because of troop placement and the sheer number of enemies you're forced to fight. Once you get that you can fight two or three opponents at a time, even the biggest battle can be defeated with patience. Also, considering how long some battles take, the game only features a single linear path with around 30 battles, making it seem short by FM standards. For those spoiled by the two scenarios and multiple paths that absorbed 100 hours of your life in FM3, FM4's 35-40 hours may feel "short".

When it's all said and done, FM4 is what it is: a solid continuation of a series that has a die-hard following. If you're a Front Mission fan, you already have the game. If you're a fan of strategy RPGs, then you should check this one out. Anyone else may want to give it a rent to see if Front Mission 4 is something you may like.

- - Vane

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