Front Mission 3 is Square's latest Tactical RPG, and although it doesn't quite beat FFT, it can easily hold its own. FM3 is actually quite an old series, but for any U.S. gamer who considers Japan to be a mysterious cybernetic land of... well... mystery (like me), it is quite original.
The game tells the tale of a heroic and levelheaded military pilot turned fugitive/secret agent. Based in futuristic Earth, your character searches the globe in giant metal war suits called Wanzers for a horrible experimental device in such areas as the USN (apparently we took over Canada, Mexico, and South America. Oh well...), Japan (currently the defenders of the free world and the most noble country ever. It's their game, so I guess they can make themselves whatever they want.), and scenic Singapore (technological capital of the world!).
The game's storyline is the game's best point. Although it is mainly a save-the-world type RPG, it is definitely not unoriginal. Not only is there an impressive cast of characters to meet and a decent collection to use in battle, but the translators at Square managed to capture quite a bit of emotion in the script (a must, due to how much of it there is) and made a rather small list of grammatical errors for me to complain about.
The characters have personality and aren't 100% dedicated to your cause, allowing for plot twists from every side. Game decisions will appear often, resulting in easier or harder fights, new allies, and various changes in the story. It even has two completely different plots within the game to choose from, although they do have some similarities. All in all, storyline gets a 92%.
Music is always a large factor in any video game. From Final Fantasy 6's memorable Mog theme song to the famous Zelda theme song from the old NES, music can make or break a game. Fortunately, FM3 is not broken by the music, but it is also not helped by it much.
Some sections of the game lack music completely while most of the others have tunes that are nearly drowned out by gunfire and metal clangy stuff. Occasionally, you'll find a song that's interesting, but not worth remembering for long. However, the sound effects are decent. From flaming pieces of metal being fired at point blank into the fleshy body of an enemy pilot who was just forced out of his Wanzer, to the long, low hum of a freshly fired missile traversing the battle field to devastate your foe who can do naught but watch nuclear death approach (war sentences are funny), the sound effects will satisfy you for most of the game. Sound and Music gets a respectable 74%
Due to the fact that this is a Square game, Graphics will logically not be a problem. Although the FMVs are rare, they surpass Parasite Eve's in quality and they are usually quite long and entertaining. Instead of movies every five minutes, Square used FM3's impressive battle graphics to show most of the game's non-battle action.
When you enter your first battle, you will first wish you hadn't bought the game. Do not go get a refund! Instead, ignore the inch tall character you see plodding around in turn-based wonder and follow the instructions you are given so that you can fight your first enemy. The moment you turn his arm into shrapnel and sparks with a well-placed 40-ton punch, you'll understand why I said impressive battle graphics. The game zooms in to you and your opponent to allow a close up view of the mechanical violence.
As you move around outside of battle (I shouldn't use the word "move", but I can't think of a better one) you enter well-drawn 2D rooms, which are not only pleasant to the eye but add to the background and mood, too. The pixilated polygons in this game are something Square should be proud of. Graphics get a nice little 85%. Not too shabby at all.
Gameplay in every section of this game is efficient, responsive, well thought out and basically worthy of praise. However there is a reason I'm giving FM3 a bad rating here. I'll explain.
In battle, each side gets a turn to have each unit move and attack, and occasionally something will explode or a door will open or new recruits will appear between turns. You can have up to four human controlled characters and occasionally AI characters will help you. Enemy units usually outnumber you almost two-to-one and are usually at least as well equipped as you are, so help is always welcome. Each character has an amount of AP, which increases every time you break enough enemy robots. AP is used to move, attack, and counter, and although you can use as much as you want in any turn, you only regenerate 12 AP per turn.
By using a certain weapon type long enough, your skill with that weapon will increase. Skill level makes the difference between a deathblow and a superficial (crappy) attack. Status ailments are limited, but include Stunned (the pilot is unable to control the robot for a turn or two), Confusion (your AP is used up much faster), and Ejected (The mother of status ailments. You've been kicked out of you protective suit and several angry robots want to target you and only you), and any attack can cause any status ailment.
The controls are simple enough to not be a problem, but the choices will keep even the best RPG fan satisfied. Then there's the Internet. You can send e-mail to people in the game at points, surf around to the many sites, or even have a brand new machine gun delivered to you between battles, even if you're hiding from the law in an abandoned Korean sweat shop.
You can spend hours in the customization menus, searching for that perfect body part that will let you carry a missile launcher on your shoulder and a 20 foot long police nightstick while holding a carbonic alloy shield in your other hand to help stop those nicks and bruises we all hate. You can select from a large variety of arms, legs, bodies, backpacks, and weapons that only grows as the game progresses, and each part or weapon greatly alters the appearance of your Wanzer.
Do you have money problems? Just go to the on-line simulator and fight some cyber-enemies. Although you can't steal an enemy Wanzer here like you can in the real world, you do get a wad of cash and whatever experience you pick up. Maybe you'd like to search through that long list of special moves you've discovered so that you can successfully splatter the enemy pilot against the walls of the cockpit without denting that pretty little monster machine he's driving.
Special moves are randomly activated in battle. Switching body parts can teach you new moves, and any move you've learned can be programmed into your computer to be used randomly in battle. Not only are the special moves free, as long as you have at least two moves programmed, they can link up allowing you up to seven consecutive attacks against one enemy!
However, except for the battle system (fun for about 30-40 battles), the Internet (annoying after 30-40 hours of trying to hack into a government web site), and the configuration menu (interesting, but I doubt it'll have you on the edge of your seat) this very long game has absolutely NOTHING ELSE IN IT!!! There is one secret weapon that isn't that good, no overworld map, no unnecessary places, and the most linear plot I have ever seen. Throw in a few mini games and I'll raise my rating, but for now, gameplay gets a 68%.
Overall, Square created a game that was meant to satisfy all the strategy hungry FFT fans out there who wanted a sequel. With an excellent plot, well made characters, more explosions than you could shake a stick at, and auditory wonders that beat a pointy thing in your eye by far, FM3 is a game that is well worth buying, in spite of its flaws. It is a strategy game that requires planning, thought, and patience however, so unless you have all three, you might not appreciate this one. I give it an 84%.
Storyline-Definitely not cookie-cutter material. 92%
Sound/Music-Warfare doesn't need music, but it helps. 74%
Graphics-This game brings new meaning to overkilling customized characters. 85%
Gameplay-Variety is what truly separated 8 bit systems from 16 bit. 68%
Overall-Addictive and suspense filled, a modern Square classic. 84%