Giant robots are a mainstay in both Japanese culture and video games, so it should be no surprise that Front Mission 4 comes from the Japanese masterminds at Square Enix. Front Mission is the sequel to the PlayStation One title, but the only thing the two games have in common are the wanzers, your robotic battling counterparts, as the cast of characters are entirely different. Unlike the similar Final Fantasy Tactics, Front Mission is for hardcore strategists as the difficulty increases dramatically with each successive stage. Needless to say if you enjoyed Front Mission 3 there is a whole lot more to love here and you won’t need convincing to buy this game.In Front Mission 4 you play the roles of two different groups simultaneously, as the mystery of a worldwide conspiracy to start another world war is slowly unveiled. One group is hired by the government to investigate the recent bombings of German bases. The other group is a combination of guerilla forces in Venezuela and U.C.S. soldiers who are deserting the army after finding a large cache of gold. Alternating between the two different teams keeps the story progressing, while slowly giving off small hints as to the motives and just how high up the government chain of command this global conspiracy goes.
Front Mission 4 has the trademark Square full motion videos to enjoy, and the rest of the game is equally good looking. The wanzers are very detailed and can be customized to your own liking with thousands of combinations, including arms, legs, weapons, and even armor color, and camouflage. They are also animated extremely well. They walk just like one would suppose giant robots might in real life. The graphics take a dip in the character animation department because they’re merely profile shots with a mouth that moves, but only because there’s really no need for three dimensional character models. Besides, the characters take a backseat to the wanzers since the real action occurs when you’re fighting. Other than that the landscapes are pretty though not exactly eye-popping, and the majority of the game takes place in menus, but Front Mission is all about the customization of your wanzer and not about your human pilot.
In the audio category, Front Mission 4 is flat out awesome. The music is good and has an eloquent war film atmosphere to it, but it’s the sound effects that really stick out. Bullets sound like they’re whizzing by you, explosions sound just like in the movies, and the wanzers movements are loud and bass heavy just like anything that moves the earth. The Foley mixing in Front Mission is superb and is one of the best efforts ever heard in a game. Playing this game in surround sound is a definite must. The only drawback is the voice acting. The translation is excellent, but real people just don’t talk the way they do in this game. The actor’s don’t come across with much emotion and the dialogue sounds a little forced. Plus, since the game takes place with an international cast of characters the accents seem over the top, and it almost seems like they wanted to see just how many different accents they could use for one game. The voice acting is decent and it could be better, but it doesn’t take away one bit from the quality of this game.
Front Mission 4 controls are just like virtually every other strategy game out. The combat takes place on a grid, and the action is all turn-based. A vast portion of time will be spent out of actual combat and in the menus customizing the various aspects of your pilots’ wanzers setting them up for the next battle. It’s easy to spend an hour simply customizing your wanzer to your liking. This leads to the actual combat, which can also take some time, as it is all turn-based, and defeating the enemy is a challenge. The enemy is strong and will always outnumber your pilots. Fortunately, you’ve spent time and effort into customizing your wanzers and can defeat them, though in some cases just barely. The turn-based nature of the game tends to slow down the pace of the game, but luckily Square compensated for this by adding a new linked battle feature. With the addition of linked battle you can now have other pilots attack your enemy in tandem with you, providing they have the necessary attack points (AP) available. As you progress through the game you will be able to purchase more link points to enable more of your teammates to participate in battle. The benefits also extend over to the defensive side of battle. If you link a pilot to your own, they will come to your defense when under fire; again, provided they have enough AP. Gameplay is solid, though navigating through various menus can be off-putting for some.
The ability to come back to a game over and over again is a determining factor in whether it becomes a classic. Front Mission 4, while having some replay value, doesn’t seem to have as much as one might like it to. There just aren’t enough secrets and unlockable items to make someone come back to this after playing through it the second time. There are a few weapons and items, but overall nowhere near the amount a game like this could have, and in the replay category that brings it down a bit. Overall, though because you can play through the game a second time with certain abilities intact the game is at the very least, good for another go.
The main complaint most people will have with Front Mission 4 is that it is too difficult. Accomplishing missions is a tough task and some of the stages themselves take upwards of an hour or more to complete. Secondly, the game is heavily menu driven; there are menus to buy wanzer parts, menus to set-up each pilot, and menus to set-up each wanzer if you’ve found new parts. Navigating through each menu isn’t difficult, but it can be a chore, when all you want to do is equip your wanzer with the best parts available and get to the next stage. Spending a half hour in the various set-up menus after a mission isn’t uncommon and will probably be the norm for most people. Also, the camera has some issues and has a slight tendency to get stuck behind buildings or trees leaving you a spectator to a gray wall, but it doesn’t happen that often thankfully. The good easily outweighs the bad here, though, and for fans of strategy RPG’s this is one of the best available, though keep in mind this is no cakewalk and requires a heavy attention to detail.
While you might expect a game featuring armed robots to be fast paced and full of twitch action, don’t let that stop you from picking up Front Mission 4 if you like strategy games and are willing to pick up something that takes more thought then it does button mashing. Front Mission 3 fans will undoubtedly find more to love here, since Front Mission 4 features more of the same gameplay with cool added features that make this more of a sequel, than more of the same.
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