Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Front Mission is one of the lesser known series of games that Square has published, due mostly to the fact that none of the games were ever released in the US. That’s a real shame, because Front Mission happens to be one of the best series that Square has ever released. Front Mission 2nd continues the excellent standards of the sterling strategy RPG series; as a matter of fact, it’s the best Front Mission game so far.
It’s 2102, and there are 5 major political coalitions in the world. The USN (United States of the New Continent) consists of North and South America and many of the peripheral countries just outside of those 2 continents. The EC (Euro Community) consists of Europe and Greenland. The OAC (African Community) consists of the African nations. The People’s Republic of Zaftra is made up of what was formerly known as the USSR. Finally, the OCU (Oceanic Community Union) consists of China, Japan, Australia, and several other countries on the continent of Asia. Tensions between the OCU and Alordesh (formerly Bangladesh), one of its members, are mounting. The leaders of Alordesh feel that the OCU is exploiting the country for its resources, and want Alordesh to be independent of the coalition.
Ash Faruk, the main character of Front Mission 2nd, is a soldier stationed at the OCU Rimian Base, located deep inside Alordesh territory. On the night of June 12, 2102, Ash and 3 of his fellow soldiers are patrolling the base in their Wanzer (short for Wandrung Panzer) mechs. 4 trucks from Alordesh pull up to the main gate, and request access to the base so they can fix some equipment. The guards at the base allow them to enter.
Once inside the base, the 4 trucks open up and reveal Wanzers of their own, which promptly proceed to attack the base and everything in it. Ash and company try to stop the attack, but are forced to retreat when Alordesh reinforcements show up. Thus begins the Alordesh coup d’etat…
FM2 is a turn-based strategy RPG played from a 3/4 overhead view perspective. Although your characters are pretty much always piloting the Wanzers during battles, the actual battles play pretty similarly to more medieval strategy RPGs such as the Shining Force games and Vandal Hearts. Like those of Vandal Hearts, the turns in FM2 are divided into discrete player and enemy phases. Defeating enemies gives your characters experience points. Leveling up your characters increases their ability to attack enemies and yields new skills for them to use in combat.
From there, however, FM2 stands out from the rest of the pack with some relatively unique features. Before each mission, the player can customize each of the mechs in the party. The scope of customization is quite detailed; players can choose weapons, armor, auxiliary equipment, and even the names and paint jobs of each of the player characters’ Wanzers.
Once in battle, Wanzers can attack enemies with one of 3 types of weapons: “fight”, “short,” or “long.” “Fight” weapons allow your mech to engage in hand-to-hand combat with an adjacent enemy unit. An example of a “fight” weapon is a rod. “Short” weapons also allow the Wanzer to attack enemies they are next to. Machine guns are good examples of “short” weapons. “Long” weapons allow long-range combat. Examples of “long” weapons include missiles and bazookas.
Battles revolve around action points (AP), which determine the extent of the actions your Wanzers can perform per round. The number of AP that a particular Wanzer has determines how far it can move, whether it can attack, and how many times it can counterattack within a given turn. Hostile units adjacent to your Wanzer will decrease its AP, while friendly units next to it increase its AP. So, as you can see, the strategy in FM2 revolves around surrounding your enemies (even more so than in other strategy RPGs).
The aforementioned skills are also an important part of combat, as they give your Wanzers certain bonuses or allow them to perform unique attacks. Proper skill management and setup is a crucial key to success in FM2. Each Wanzer even has a computer that you can customize, so you can decided how fast your Wanzer’s skill in certain types of weapons levels up (at the cost of its speed in leveling up other types of weapons). This computer can also be upgraded, if you’re willing to pay for it.
An interesting note to gamers looking to import FM2 is that all of the menus are in English (though the text isn’t), making FM2 about as import-friendly as strategy RPGs come. In addition, during the game, Ash can network his computer to a world-wide mainframe that displays news and correspondence in English. Sure, the English is even more broken than that in the Final Fantasy Tactics translation, but gamers who don’t know any Japanese will at least have a clue what is going on in the background story of FM2.
The strategy in FM2 is deep, but never gets bogged down in its complexity, and FM2 is a challenging and enjoyable game throughout. It does carry some flaws, however. Whenever two units battle in FM2, the 3/4 overhead map shifts to a 3D battle scene showing the 2 units duking it out. This in itself is great, but the execution of these battle scenes could have used a lot of improvement. The load times to enter these battle scenes is annoyingly long, and there’s no option for impatient gamers to turn off the battle scenes, either. Also, the actual content of the 3D battle scenes is uninteresting; instead of an efficient battle sequence or even a spectacular time-consuming one, you get a boring, lengthy one-on-one battle that consists mostly of posturing by the 2 opposing units. The AI of the NPCs and enemies in battle is sometimes atrocious as well.
FM2’s control is excellent, and aids the gameplay very well. Like most other strategy RPGs, control consists mainly of cursor movement and menu navigation. The cursor controls quickly and precisely, moving in a nice smooth motion rather than in steps. The menus are well organized, especially considering the complexity of customization in the game. The camera can also be manually rotated in 45 degree increments, which is something I consider to be crucial in 3/4-view games.
FM2 is also impressive graphically. The graphics are polygonal, but sport a high level of detail and many appropriately chosen colors. On the 3/4 overhead maps, the animation, while not exactly fluid, is serviceable.
The 3D battle scenes look great, too. Despite the blockiness of the polygonal characters and backgrounds, the Wanzers look nice and intimidating, and the explosions are impressive as well. The Wanzers do tend to animate a bit clumsily, but the animation isn’t choppy at all.
The only graphical aspect that I’m not particularly fond of in FM2 is the character art. With the exception of a few characters, I didn’t really like the character designs, either. The animation of their mouths when they talk is also laughably poor. Some of them (Saribash, for example) look like a Christmas nutcracker when you move the jaw up and down.
FM2’s plot is a tale of military revolt, and while it isn’t the most spectacular storyline I’ve ever seen, it’s interesting and holds a few plot twists. Despite some lulls, it moves pretty well, and remains enjoyable from beginning to end. The characters are developed pretty well, which will also help draw gamers in.
FM2 also excels in the sound department. The sound effects are robust, from the clanking of Wanzers walking around to the boom of the explosions in combat. There is, however, no voice acting of any kind in FM2.
The soundtrack is excellent, and, in my opinion, is one of the better soundtracks that I’ve heard from a strategy RPG. Composed by Noriko Matsueda, the score is mostly atmospheric, but manages to incorporate a plethora of compelling melodies into the often airy-sounding themes. The individual tracks all match their settings extremely well, too.
Front Mission 2nd is an excellent strategy RPG, and a must buy for fans of the genre. Although it unfortunately will never hit the US, it’s as import friendly as strategy RPGs get. Don’t pass this one up.