For many Front Mission fans, the newly-released Front Mission for the DS will be a treat. This is, after all, the first time that the first title in the franchise—which has spannedsystems from the SNES to the PS2—has been translated for a North American audience. While scripts and fan translations were previously available, experiencing the complex and war-torn story could only be properly done with an official release.
Front Mission is a turn-based strategy RPG with a significant amount of character customization. Each of your characters pilots a customizable walking battle-tank called a Wanzer, which you get to tweak with everything from weapons to new paintjobs.
The difficulty is unforgiving, and getting the perfect team together with all the right customizations can literally take hours. As far as strategy RPGs go, this is no Advance Wars; prepare to die, learn, and die some more before you manage to conquer even the game's normal difficulty.
One of the big draws of the game is the story. Traditionally, the series has hosted some very complex and well-told stories about war, sabotage, military-politics, ethics, and more, and Front Mission demonstrates where that legacy came from: the script has been buffed up a bit with a meticulous translation, but even for an SNES game, this was a startlingly complex narrative.
Adding to that is the fact that, not unlike other entries in the series, the difficulty levels of Front Mission actually present different stories. On normal, you'll play as Royd Clive, a former Wanzer pilot for the Oceania Cooperative Union, who has just joined a team of mercenaries looking to even the tides of the on-going war between the O.C.U. and the United Continental States. Playing through the game will give you one perspective on the war and the various events surrounding it, and then playing through it again on hard will give you the opposite perspective—in this case, the war from the view of the U.C.S. This makes for a compelling story that will keep you playing just to find out the next bit of the plot.
As far as the gameplay goes, very little has been done with the DS' features to complicate what was originally a praise-worthy game. The dual screens are used to give you a view of the play field and some stats about whatever unit you may be using, while the top screen will also detail the series' signature close-ups of the action when two units are fighting. Stylus and button control can both be used—like most older ports to the system, buttons tend to work more naturally. Menu navigation is a breeze and battles will play out very smoothly. If I have one complaint with the control, it's that the isometric angle and restricted camera manipulation (there's no free rotate) can make it hard to see what's going on, but this has more to do with the original game than the port itself.
While this remake may be true to the original, it doesn't do very much to improve upon the original experience. Graphically and aurally, the port is passable. The sprites have been cleaned up a bit and the color enhanced, but otherwise the game looks pretty similar to the original. Also, given how far the series has come, the action is obviously more simplistic than its successors and may even seem a bit dry to those who have played the series since—ejecting pilots, for example, is something I quickly grew to miss. But, again, the main draw of this remake is the translated story, which thankfully proves to be stellar.
Front Mission is probably one of the most mature and complex games to hit the DS yet. The strategy-based action and customization require hours of dedication and perseverance, and even on normal difficulty you'll likely be pushed hard in order to succeed; some players may even be frustrated to the point of quitting. Much like other games in the series, Front Mission is a game that only few will like and even fewer will be able to fully complete.
ESRB Ratings: Everyone
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