The Front Mission series has had an unusual number of composer changes throughout its 12 year history. All of those games’ soundtracks have been diverse, while still sharing common elements. These elements are exactly those that set Front Mission music apart from the vast majority of strategy RPG music. Most apparently, all of the games prominently feature electronic sounds and rhythms; this applies very obviously to the third game and the more obscure “Front Mission Alternative,” but the first and fourth games also feature some such influence. Apart from that, what connects the series musically? Some other constant, then, connects the techno rhythms of Riow Arai to the lighter movie score sound of Hidenori Iwasaki. Without such a connection, a compilation such as this would end up sounding needlessly inconsistent. Front Mission Online’s soundtrack features arrangements representing most (alas, no Gun Hazard music) of the Front Mission games, with Iwasaki handling the majority of the work involved. This results in a kind of encapsulated history of the Front Mission series’s music.
Easily the worst arrangements here are the ones which Iwasaki constructed from his own Front Mission 4 music. “Break Free” comes out fine, with the stereo mix more dynamic here than before, but it is exceedingly similar to the original. On the other hand, “Break Free II” combines bits of the original’s melody and rhythm with a techno beat that was used in isolation on the Front Mission 5 Soundtrack. The overall effect doesn’t work well in execution, and the track ends up feeling superfluous. Even worse is the new version of “Hostiles.” The extent of the arrangement here is limited to the addition of a new beat. Iwasaki forgot to make it interesting. Probably the most unfortunate, though, is the arrangement of “Destinations,” in which an electric guitar has been arbitrarily added into a previously much more enjoyable march piece.
Luckily, however, an electric guitar sound adds a nice touch to the arrangement of Shimomura’s “Manifold Irons,” taking up a harmony part. The flutes used in Iwasaki’s arrangement match the fast pace of the music, and the new techno beat, although very much by the book, still sounds nice in its context here. While “Advanced Guard” also has some electronic rhythms added, the extra sections that Iwasaki adds to his arrangement here are well done. The original feel, almost flamenco-like, is preserved very well by the trumpet synth that plays the melody. Of course, however, no Front Mission music compilation would be complete without “The Evils of War,” which Iwasaki arranges here yet another time. Instead of relying on electronic rhythms, the arrangement attempts a much more organic percussion sound, and it keeps every note of the original intact, adding a very nice bridge section before the end of the loop. It’s an exceptional version of the song.
Front Mission 3 gets a single track here; luckily, it’s one that Matsuo wrote. “Invasion” was a great track to begin with, as well as an excellent example of the game’s unique melodic style. Rhythmically, the arrangement here is very faithful to the original, from the echoing noises near the beginning to the sporadic bursts of percussion throughout. However, the main melody lines in this version lost the heavily electronic sound of the original, and the end result is less satisfying.
Front Mission Alternative also gets a single arrangement. Since I have not heard the original soundtrack, I cannot compare this version to the one from the game, but “Airport” is a pleasing techno track with some interesting stretches of melody mixed in, and the ambient sound of an echoing synthesizer is applied to good effect. The style used is similar to some of the music in Atlus’s Persona series.
The person who receives the most attention in this soundtrack is Noriko Matsueda, who co-scored Front Mission and wrote the entire score to Front Mission 2. “Force Stall,” from the first game, is arranged to sound different from its SFC counterpart. It opens much like the original, with a lone horn and some strings to back up, but before long moves into a much heavier, more percussive piece. It keeps the original’s melody, but manages to easily be a completely separate piece apart from its source. Iwasaki’s arrangement of “Player Fight (Normal),” slightly darker and heavier than the original PSX version, follows the rhythms and melodies of the original piece, but extends their length in a pleasingly organic way. The end result, with its constant percussion line, feels almost like Holst’s “Mars” from the planets suite in its militaristic nature. Front Mission 2’s “Tension,” with its varied instrumentation and much different constructions, stands out as well. While it differs greatly from the original, it manages to remain recognizable.
There is some original music for Front Mission Online as well, but several of these tracks are very short. The 5.5 minute opening, “Unsung Heroes,” features strains instantly recognizable as Iwasaki music. Completely in line with the feel established in Front Missions 4 and 5, Iwasaki’s composition here is very well done, even if his chord progression style is starting to feel a little bit stale. The Ryo Yamazaki composed track “All-Out War” is an interesting, and recognizably different, track which finishes with a fantastic suspenseful section before the loop. Probably my favorite original track here is “Shadow Weaving.” From its opening, near-identical to that of FM4’s “Harbor Town,” “Shadow Weaving” is a purely atmospheric piece throughout, utilizing several types of electronic rhythm, sound, and percussion to create a very dense, dark sound. There are string bits here and there, but the majority of the piece lies in creating a backdrop, which it succeeds at very well.
Hidenori Iwasaki is quickly becoming the new sound of the Front Mission series. With Front Mission 4, he was introduced as a composer, and it was a well conceived first effort. Here, he is given the chance to arrange the music of his predecessors, and the end result is a positive look at the entire series. This soundtrack was just released, so it’s available, it’s cheap, and if you’re a Front Mission fan, it’s likely a good purchase. It doesn’t have much variety in instrumentation, but it has plenty in style, and the majority of the material here is good. If, however, you are planning to base your purchase on the new music composed directly for the game, don’t bother. It’s probably not worth it.