Front Mission was released in 1995, and developed by Square. The game was released for Super Famicom (SNES) but was never released outside of Japan (Update: you can find it on the Nintendo DS now).
And that’s a shame, because it’s actually a pretty cool game. It’s basically a turn-based strategy game with role-playing elements. Your characters pilot wanzers, essentially large robots armed for combat. Your wanzers are highly customizable, and as you progress through the storyline, better parts become available.
The story begins where Royd’s fiancée, Karen is killed by captain Driscoll (who later uses Karen’s brain as the processing unit for his wanzer). Royd and his team were merely examining the premises, but this hostile action provokes Royd and his team to action, and sets the stage for the first mission.
While the storyline is pretty good, the main protagonist, Royd, is a rather stoic and colorless character. When Olson, the colonel of the mercenary unit Canyon Crows comes to recruit him, he readily agrees to lead the unit (without much persuasion). In this way, rarely does he make judgment calls of his own.
With that said, the game itself is a lot of fun. One of the best features about Front Mission is the ability to customize your wanzers. Everything from shoulder missile units to leg parts are fully configurable, and while it’s usually a good idea to stick to the “best” parts, there is still a lot of choice. Through trial and error you may occasionally find unusual setups that work well.
The turn-based gameplay does require some thought, and the wrong move may find you surrounded by enemy wanzers. Rarely is it a smart idea to go charging in to the middle of battle, especially with Royd. If Royd is defeated in combat, you will see the “game over” screen. Fortunately, that never happens if any of your other team members are crushed.
Most of the time you are far outnumbered by enemy machines, but typically their gear isn’t as good as yours (as long as you continually upgrade), and because your characters level up as they gain experience, they tend to be ahead of where your enemies are. As long as you make wise tactical decisions, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble. The early missions tend to be a little challenging, however, until you get used to the system.
The music is pretty cool, though it’s certainly not as memorable as the music from Final Fantasy VI. If anything, the shop music is the theme you remember the most, because of its laid-back, bouncy Jazzy vibe.
The menu system and the overall esthetics are unique to this game, and it’s obvious that they put a lot of time into every detail. A slight departure from other Square games, Front Mission is a classic in its own right, spawning many sequels and spinoffs.
In another post I mentioned that this game wasn’t so much fun as it was addicting. I don’t retract that statement. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s addicting more so because once you’re past a certain point, you just want to keep going so you can upgrade your equipment and test it out on the battlefield. I recommend this game to anyone who can read Japanese, or somehow get by with all the English that’s in the game.