The Front Mission series should be more popular than it is. It’s got giant mechs (wanzers in the in-game parlance), deep customization, and a history of solid titles. Front Mission DS is actually a port of the original Front Mission, a Japanese-only release, and while it’s obviously not as advanced as its sequels, it’s arrival in the U.S. is a welcome sight.
Front Mission shows its age a bit in its battle system. In today’s SRPG’s, activity points dictate how far you can move and whether you’ve got enough energy left to fire a weapon or use an item, but Front Mission is a product of a simpler time. Each unit, in sequence, gets a two-phase turn: movement followed by action. This makes the game simpler and places a focus on unit capabilities instead of tactics. This unit-oriented focus lets the wanzers and your customization thereof take center stage. As much fun as it can be to destroy enemy wanzers there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in Front Mission‘s customization system. Just make sure that you decide on each character’s specialty and stick with it; your pilots level alongside their wanzers and switching your shotgunner to a machine gunner means that your pilot won’t be as effective in battle.
It’s a good thing that FM’s customization is well-implemented because you’ll be spending a lot of time in the menu system trying out new arms, legs, missile pods, and guns. Wanzers have three key parts: body, legs, and arms. Each can be changed out so long as the end product is light enough to be moved with your power allotment. Weapons and shields (both handheld and shoulder-mounted) are factored into the weight/power equation as well.
Pacing is hard to get right in an SRPG, but Front Mission‘s alternating focus on grid-based battles and menu-driven cutomization makes for a game that is fun to play and doesn’t feel boring during an extended play session. Stylus controls are supported but not forced on the player, which is good, because they don’t add much. Buttons are small and it’s easier to just use the directional pad and face buttons. There’s also a multiplayer mode included, but 1-on-1 local play is the only mode supported.
Front Mission is a good game, but a bit dated. If you enjoyed FM3 and FM4, then seeing how everything got started should be a treat. For everybody else, take a chance on it. It’s got giant mechs, explosions, and two campaigns. There’s enough here to keep players busy, and Square knows how to put out a good product.