Front Mission 3 has tons of customization, content and, of course, giant freaking robots. So how does this PS1 classic still fall short?
Front Mission 3 should have been a no-brainer for me. A tactical RPG? Check. A PS1 game made by Squaresoft? Check. Giant robots shooting and beating the living hell out of each other? Oh sweet mother of Thor, check. When I was first reading up on it, it didn’t just sound like a game I would enjoy, it sounded like one that was straight-up made for me. That being said, as I chugged along through it, I found myself feeling sadly underwhelmed by the game and, ultimately, disappointed.
Taking place about 100 years in the future, the game’s plot centers around the MIDAS; a secret weapons project that spawns an arms race as the world’s factions scramble to claim and duplicate it. One thing worth noting is that the story actually splits in two at its start based on a relatively arbitrary decision that you make in the game’s opening moments. Depending on which path you choose, the story branches off in a completely different direction. Each campaign, in turn, is a solid 75 hours long, making this a game that definitely succeeds when it come to delivering oodles upon oodles of content.
The problem is that a lot of the content struck me as being kind of dull. The story especially suffers at times from excessive padding. There are a ton of points where the characters will be informed of some potential lead and then spend the next hour or two forcing you to chase it down just to discover that it was a wild goose chase all along. Now, to be fair, not all of these tangents are boring. One particularly amusing story vein leads you into a battle with a mad scientist and his family, all of whom are piloting mechs made out of farm equipment and that run on manure. Unfortunately, these humorous moments are relatively rare and are barely memorable when compared to the more numerous boring plot points they exist alongside
It doesn’t help that the game’s protagonist, Kazuki Takemura, is probably one of the most annoyingly written game protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. Endlessly angry and impulsive, his general response to anyone doing anything that rubs him even slightly the wrong way is to start shouting. It happens so often that the other characters actually start calling him out on it. In fact, take your pick of famously whiny and brash mech pilots and I’d be willing to wager that they’ll frustrate you less than Kazuki. Amuro Ray? He matured after awhile. Shinji Ikari? He at least had the excuse of being thoroughly wonked in the noggin. Kazuki just comes across as a guy with anger problems and a borderline creepy fixation on his adopted sister Alisa.
The game has other narrative problems as well. Perhaps most notably, it has a tendency to overuse acronyms (JDF, USN, OCU, DHZ) that it just tosses out casually and leaves the player to figure out for themselves via the game’s built-in mock internet. Maybe this won’t bother some, but I’m a firm believer that you can include factional complexity like this without making the player do extra work to understand the who, why and what of it all. Forcing you to dig through extra text files just to get a proper handle on what’s going on feels like a substantial misstep to me.
This might not have been as much of an issue though if the game had wowed me with its combat. Unfortunately, while I didn’t hate it by any means, I was left feeling very mixed about it. On the surface it’s actually a solid strategy RPG with a lot of good ideas and some sincerely impressive customization options. The latter in particular was a highlight for me. There’s just something about the process of piecing together my own giant walking war machine that I find addictive.
The problem is that once I more thoroughly figured out how mech building worked, I was able to construct Wanzers that effectively destroyed any sort of real challenge. I’d enter these scenarios where the odds were obviously supposed to be against me and I’d be able to plow through them with my army of shoulder rocket wearing, shotgun wielding, shielded death machines. I entered one battle, for instance, and found myself easily outnumbered two-to-one by enemy Wanzers. Most of them never even made it within striking distance of my units. It was simply too easy to create overpowered robots that could dominate most every situation.
This isn’t to say that every single fight in the game was a pushover. Even when things got a bit tough, however, the difficulty was further lessened by the fact that there’s no real punishment for doing poorly. When one of your party members is destroyed, for example, they immediately regenerate into perfect shape after the level ends. Granted, you do get a worse performance score, but if you’re like me and that doesn’t concern you overly much, then you might find yourself less stressed than the game wants you to be in some of it trickier engagements.
Granted, in my case, this could be a result of my own personal preferences. My favorite SRPG series, after all, is Fire Emblem, a franchise whose defining characteristic is arguably extreme mortality of your units. Keeping that in mind, however, barely punishing me at all for my tactical mistakes made it too easy for me to fall into a “who gives a shit about casualties” mind set that, on more than a few occasions, led to my claiming victory by simply tossing my men into the proverbial meat grinder and hoping I’d get happy results on the other side.
None of this is to say that you won’t enjoy Front Mission 3. After all, you don’t earn the high praise some give this game without some sort of redeeming quality. That being the case, it just didn’t do it for me. I liked watching the giant robots beat each other around, but if that’s all I wanted I’d go watch Gundam Wing again. Actually, I might go do that anyway.
Next week I continue my exploration of mecha games with a nostalgia-laden look at one of the worst games I ever adored. Once that’s done, I’ll be taking things in a spookier direction for Halloween with a review of Resident Evil 2.