[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/frontmission4/cover.jpg[/floatleft]I have made it no secret that I don’t care for turn based games in the slightest. I would even go so far as to say that I loathe them. Turn based games remind me of board games and I don’t really see the point in electronic board games. Obviously there are at least a few people that don’t agree with my opinion and a tiny company called Squaresoft made quite a few games that did pretty well that happened to be turn based. Before you get all up in arms about someone who hates the genre reviewing this game, know that I didn’t realize this was a turn based game. I rented it without knowing a single thing about it. I didn’t even know it was made by Square Enix up until I turned it on. You can understand my level of dismay when I started playing and realized what type of game it was, but I didn’t let that stop me and I think my take on the game will surprise everyone.
Before I realized what type of game I was about to play, the intro came on and boy was it gorgeous. The graphics were so realistic I had to look closely to make sure they were rendered. It was at this point that I really knew that I was playing a Square game.
As you can probably tell, I am not familiar with the Front Mission series so I won’t pretend to know what is true to the series and what isn’t. In this particular game you are playing the role of a mech pilot. The mechs are aptly named “wanzers” and the story takes place in the future in what is called the European Community or EC for short. Wanzers have basically replaced standard infantry as the staple of military action. You work for a non military research team in the EC called the EC Armored Tactics Research Corps or Durandal as they are referred to. Immediately after joining the Durandal a mysterious attack is launched on several German military bases by a group of wanzers. The military bases were obliterated and it is up to Durandal to aid in the investigation. Much like a movie, a second parallel plot begins with some rogue soldiers in South America. The plot is interesting enough to keep even me glued to the game so I will let you see how it unfolds on your own.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/frontmission4/ss02_thumb.jpg[/floatright]The actual gameplay mechanics are very new to me and I never realized the level of strategy that goes into a turn based game. Real time games are a race to hack and slash as quick as possible and don’t require strategy in most cases. I had to do quite a bit of thinking and really focus in order to play this game. Turn based strategy fans should feel right at home though. Like most RPG style games, everything is based upon experience points or EP in this game. As you successfully complete a battle by completing the objectives your pilots are awarded points based on their performance in the battle. You can use these points to purchase upgrades for your wanzer of upgrade the abilities of your pilot. There are 3 types of abilites you can purchase: Attirbute Enhancements, Weapon Proficiency Level Enhancements, and Battle Skills. Attribute and Weapon Proficiency enhancements are effective immediately and enhance your pilot’s abilities and their proficiency with a myriad of different weapons. There are 3 levels of attribute enhancements 0, 50, and 100 and they are available as you level up your pilot. Weapon proficiency is done on 4 levels 0-3. In addition to the actual leveling up due to EP you can upgrade the rank of the pilot’s computer. Each upgrade you purchase opens up more abilities and battle skills for you to purchase. These computer upgrades are costly but often give you access to much better abilities. Battle skills are a little bit different from the rest of the abilities in that they need to be equipped. Each pilot has a certain number of battle skill slots they can fill and additional slots may be purchased as an ability. Prior to the battle you simple equip the different skills you wish to use for this battle and you are set to go.
In addition to abilities and skills you are also able to do major upgrades to your wanzer. Battles will also net you cash that you can spend in the wanzer store. You use this cash to buy new weapons, new legs, new arms, etc. I highly suggest you do some reading in this department before you try to upgrade as it was very confusing. In the end I bought a whole new wanzer since I wasn’t sure how to upgrade individual parts. Factors such as weight come into plan and I figured a prebuilt wanzer would suit me just fine.
The graphics for the aspect of the game that advance the plot were pretty weak. They reminded me of playing Bionic Commando back on my NES which wasn’t bad since I loved that game. I figured that Square just decided the effort would have been for not had they made super cool looking graphics for an aspect of the game that many people might skip.
[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/frontmission4/ss04_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]The actual battles themselves are quite intense and caught me off guard. At the beginning of each battle you are given an objective to carry out. Sometimes it is to defend a certain unit or structure and other times you are out to wipe out the enemy. Regardless of the objective you need to have a well thought out battle plan. The main factor you need to be concerned with in each turn is your AP. AP determines how many shots you can get off or how far you can walk and still shoot. It all sounds rather confusing but you will get the hang of it after you play a few battles. Since it is turn based, you will take a turn with each of your wanzers either getting into position, firing, or both. Then each enemy mech will take a turn and so on. The cut scenes where you or an enemy actually attack the other is quite cool and the machines have very human like movements. I would say realistic but I am not sure what a 500 ton robot punching another 500 ton robot really looks like.
One major addition to the game is in the form of link support. Each pilot has a set number of links they can form with other pilots. These links can be offensive or defensive and allow other wanzers to assist you during battle. It makes the game a lot more team based if you setup your links properly. Offensive links allow other pilots to use their AP to assist in attacking the enemies and defensive ones may let a fellow pilot repair your wanzer. The links you setup are fully customizable and are a nice addition to the game.
I know everyone is waiting for the part where I continue with my turn based hating, but it isn’t coming. I really enjoyed Front Mission 4 and have every intention of making this part of my PS2 library at some point. Had I known this was turn based I probably would have passed over it and never realized how enjoyable it really is. So here is an official endorsement from the man who hates turn based games. Rent it, buy it, or borrow it from a friend but do whatever you have to in order to give this one a chance.