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Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Product Development Division 6
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 06/15/04



Scorecard
Graphics: 70%
Sound: 91%
Gameplay: 90%
Control: N/A
Story: 65%
Overall: 85%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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A massive mecha missile salvo.
 
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Dropship preparing touchdown.
 
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The *only* way to travel.
 
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Urban mechanized combat.
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Varun Chandrasekaran
Front Mission 4
01/12/05
Varun Chandrasekaran

With games like Disagea and Final Fantasy Tactics setting the standard for strategy RPGs for the Playstation, it has become a tall task for developers to create a strategy RPG that can hold its own under the shadows of these two great games. Enter Front Mission 4, the latest installment in a series that began on the Super Famicom. The American market got its first taste of the series on the original Playstation in the form of Front Mission 3. While the game slipped under the radar because of the multitude of RPGs out for the Playstation, Front Mission 4 arrives on the scene in a far less saturated market. As a result, the challenge for Front Mission 4 is not to merely attract gamers' attention, but to find its place in a genre so precisely defined by its most successful predecessors, Disagea and Final Fantasy Tactics.

While Disagea featured dark, mythical creatures as the main characters and FFT championed sword wielding knights and hooded magicians as the mainstay of the hero's army, Front Mission 4 reintroduces a familiar sight to gamers: mechs, or as the game refers to them, 'wanzers.' These giant gun- toting robots comprise the forces of the two main protagonists in the game, Darril and Elsa. While FFT offered gamers the opportunity to develop their characters' skills through battle, and supplement them with weapons, armor and other accessories, FM4 features a two-part system to character and wanzer development. Each character in the game pilots a wanzer, and between missions, players can outfit their wanzers with a multitude of different types of weapons such as rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers and so on. In addition, each wanzer is made up of separate parts including body, arms, and legs. This level of customization allows players to outfit their wanzers in a variety of ways, perhaps sacrificing the movement rate of a wanzer for a heavier weapon or creating a lighter, less fortified wanzer with two guns and an increased ability to dodge and maneuver. Unlike many other RPGs, FM4 goes the length by detailing each wanzer, changing its appearance depending on the weapons equipped or parts being used. In addition, players can detail their wanzers' colors to customize their look and tailor a coordinated team.

At the same time, FM4 allows gamers to develop their individual pilots as well, so that they can be more effective in utilizing their wanzers for specific tasks. Points known as 'EP', gained after each battle, can be used to raise a pilot's proficiency in a variety of skills or weapons. In addition, pilots can buy battle skills that are randomly activated when a pilot attacks another unit or is attacked by an enemy. For example, a skill such as 'Blk 50 Dmg' will negate all damage to a wanzer from attacks that deal less than fifty damage. The level of customization is FM4's shining point, allowing gamers to tailor their various pilots and wanzers to specific needs for the series of battles that lay ahead.

As with any strategy RPG, battles are where the majority of the action takes place. Battle is normally fought across large expanses of area, say across a city or valley, over a grid environment. So if a wanzer's movement ability is five, it can move five spaces in any direction, barring obstacles such as enemy wanzers, trees, buildings, or the like. FM4 separates itself from most strategy RPGs by having wars fought on these large environments. So while FFT might have a fight take place in a single room in a library, FM4 has players move units across expansive areas. The only problem here is the subsequent lack of details graphically, as a valley may appear a very monotone green throughout, or the buildings will all look very similar in the urban stages. The wanzers, when being moved across the map, are usually small and lack details, forcing the player to recognize each unit by the pilot's portrait. Yet this is a small price to pay in the end, when battle actually begins between units. When one unit engages another, the screen shifts to a close-up between both wanzers, illustrating all the weapons each is equipped with, and depicting the exact colors and body parts that the player is using for the wanzers.

FM4's battle system is turn based, with the player receiving the first opportunity to move all of his or her units, and then the enemy doing the same afterward. Different weapons have specific range parameters, and it becomes vital for a player to keep a well-balanced group of wanzers, with some units proficient in close range combat and others skilled from afar. The most prominent feature of combat in FM4 is the Link system, where pilots can link their wanzers to their allies.' For example, when an enemy attacks Darril's wanzer, Darril's ally, if in the appropriate range (depending on the wanzer's weapon) will attack the enemy. This is known as a defense link. Offensive links work in the same fashion, making the placement of units across the battlefield an integral part of combat. In the end, the gameplay in FM4 is punctuated through a very animated turn based system of combat.

One would imagine that the movement of giant robots is no silent endeavor. The sound effects in FM4 reflect that effectively, with the clanking of each step made by wanzers clear to a player's ear. The rapid tatter of gunshots or the impact of missiles and other weapons is also tailored quite closely to what each weapon would probably sound like in real combat. The accuracy of the sound effects adds to the intensity of battle, along with the soundtrack, which usually features horns and strings playing along with the drama of war. Between battles, players receive the chance to customize their units and watch as the story line develops. The music between battles is usually much less dramatic, often made to be suspenseful or eerie to build up the emotion before combat. Voice overs are done quite well, reflecting the accents used by the Spanish speaking allies of Darril in his story and the French and German allies of Elsa in her story. Still, they do not stand out or do make the story more dramatic or realistic, but rather complement the game's settings, based in Europe and South America.

Of course, the lifeline of the RPG is always the storyline, and it seems that this is where FM4, like many other strategy RPGs, does not revert the old trend. Strategy RPGs are often plagued by trying to do too much, attempting to involve many characters and events to make the overall story seem truly epic or grand. FM4 features plenty of the backstabbing, mutable characters prominent in games centered on large-scale wars. Yet because there are two main characters, each character's plot develops separately, lessening the suspense and build up towards major events. For example, a few battles will take place in Elsa's story, then the game will shift to Darril's situation, and players will utilize his units for a few battles. After that, the story will switch back to Elsa. This trend continues throughout most of the game, until the plot connects both characters. The contrast between both characters and their situations often downplays the suspense that should be built up for the big battles and major events present throughout the game.

Ultimately, Front Mission 4 comes out of the woodwork as a game that did little to model itself after its genre defining counterparts, Disagea and FFT. Its futuristic environment and focus on large scale battles set the game apart from the sword wielding magic using knights of the fantasy realm. With noisy, heavy wanzers blasting machine guns and destroying body parts, FM4 places its emphasis more on the 'strategy' and less on the 'RPG' part of this genre. Anyone looking for a game based on its colorful characters and uptempo battles has an open invitation to Front Mission 4. And of course, if you like giant gun wielding robots bent on destruction, you might be interested too.



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©2003-2004 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.
CHARACTER DESIGN: YUSUKE NAORA



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