Front Mission 3 Review by: janusOne of the Best Scenarios Ever
One of the Best Scenarios Ever
The end of the 1990s were the golden age of RPGs for me. Final Fantasy VII and VIII, Breath of Fire III and IV; so many memorable games that I still remember because of their great gameplay. Front Mission III is also part of this favorite list. And despite many shortcomings, it’s one of the most original games ever produced.
This is where most of the shortcomings are. Considering what Square had been capable of in FF VIII, this game had very disappointing graphics.
For starters, there can’t be more than 10 minutes of CGI film in this game, and they tend to repeat themselves. For example, you see Emma’s dramatic past CGI twice in her scenario. Second, not much effort was done to draw characters outside their wanzers. Their movement is very clumsy – even FF VII did it better – and they don’t even have a face. They look like overdone 16-bit characters. And just like FM I, you face static images wherever you are.
Fortunately, they are much more diversified than their SNES counterpart. Bars in China actually “look” Chinese with their colorful decoration. Military offices look proper, shops look like big hangars holding giant machinery, and you even get to places for a scenario (like a beach or the outskirts of a city) that and dark but relaxing.
When characters talks, you can actually see their faces and their lips move. And unlike FM 1 they actually show emotion. From joy to sarcasm, from anger to sorrow: I can’t think on many games (without voices; Grandia I did show emotions) that actually show how a character feels. While Ryogo’s emotions make him look butt-ugly – must be the weird teeth – others are fun to watch, and even scary at times when it comes to… special enemies.
Finally, battlefields and battles also show several problems. First of all, not much effort has been put to drawn natural elements like trees. They are so pixelated that they also look like cheap cardboard elements of a b-series movie – the same thing goes for the grass and water. Second, there is still very annoying lag – the larger the battlefield the worse. It seems to affect mostly melee attacks; the full movement can last over five seconds, whereas firearms and missiles usually shoot normally. It slows down to a crawl for special skills like Melee and Tackle. Also, the camera is constantly circling around fighters for most attacks, which gets annoying in the end. I can’t remember another RPG when the camera moved so much.
On the positive side, just like BOF III attacks don’t require a new screen, which is a relief. Otherwise a full attack would have taken well over a minute to happen – transition between cutscenes can sometimes take 30 seconds.
When I first played the game, I thought the soundtrack was good, that’s all. But after playing it again, I was able to fully appreciate the intricate soundtrack of this game.
Of course, like most games there are tracks that get really annoying like cities in Japan or bars in China. But since most of the action is in the battlefields, this is where the soundtrack shines. It’s able to perfectly capture the mood of the moment. Base Invasion, for example, has a very mysterious tone, as if not to alert the enemy of your presence. Jungle Battle has good drums to convey a more “exotic” feel to the battle. Escape is very dramatic and upbeat to show that you must go away ASAP! Music from cutscenes also carries the perfect feelings like Suspicion, which makes you learn about some of the many dark secrets the many characters have to confess.
Sound effects were done well too. Your guns sound very realistic – even machine guns for every bullet – and missiles whistle well, even for long distances. The numerous kinds of machines (tanks, helicopters, wanzers) all have distinctive and realistic sounds – you can hear the wanzers’ metallic structure making a lot of noise. And when a body part gets scrapped, it creates realistic sparks. Also, if you upgrade your legs with the dash option, the said dashing sounds like you are truly moving quicker.
Only down point: humans that suffer a hit on the battlefield sound very silly. Fortunately, there is a distinction between male and female.
NOW the game is a complete gem.
For me, the main storyline was enough to hook me up (more on that later). There are TWO distinctive story lines – that yes, converge to the same point eventually – that give you completely different points of views on the story. But what truly hooked me was the fact that I was reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for a philosophy class at the very same time I was playing the game. I even believe I was able to make a link between both during the classes’ final essay!
Also, I loved the modern theme that game had. It was released in 2000, and yet it made good use of the “Internet”, where you can receive emails and visit various websites – even catch viruses. The email feature seems quite secondary, but it was a fun way to know more about some characters. In Emma’s scenario for example, Marcus will receive mail from his family and his daughters will even send him a drawing showing that they miss him. You can also shop for wanzer parts and upgrades, which is nice since shops are much sparser than in FM 1.
And unlike FM I, FM 3 covers nearly all of the Western Pacific Rim – down to Australia. I loved this “world traveling”, which allowed to see the state of the world in this futuristic world. Shanghai, just like today, looks very polluted… Too bad there is no action in the U.S.; I would have loved to see how Trump influenced ‘Murica!
Furthermore, I loved the game’s sarcastic humor. In Emma’s scenario, Ryogo the womanizer is trying to sweet talk with “butch” Cindy from the USN. At one point, he tries (seriously?) to ask her on a date and she replies, “Is that supposed to be a motivation?”
Finally, the medal system will make you think about your strategy. It’s basically an honor system; the better your fighting style, the higher your percentage. If you finish your battles quickly, if you can destroy enemies with low-level weapons or if you manage to avoid too much damage, you will get a platinum medal. Sometimes, not destroying enemies will give you a higher percentage, so watch out.
You play Kazuki Takemura, a young Japanese man (is he 18?) who is testing the latest wanzer in Okinawa. After a successful test, his friend Ryogo offers you to join him to deliver some wanzers in the city. Accepting or not will split the story in two.
If you go with him, your second wanzer delivery will lead you to a Japanese Defense Forces base where a terrible explosion happens. There you will meet Emma, a scientist from the United States of the New America that tells you that Japan has tried to copy MIDAS, a kind of h-bomb with a very strong destruction potential – had the explosion in the base been MIDAS, nothing would have been left. So your goal is to find that bomb and your (adoptive) sister Alissa, who was at the base at the time of the explosion.
If you choose not to go with him, you still end up at the base but you are able to find Alissa right away. And in this scenario, the USN is quite hostile to you. However, you do befriend a Chinese man, Liu. Your mission will still be to find MIDAS, but using a completely different route.
As shows in the story part, the fact that there are two distinctive scenario gives the game ample depth.
Because unlike games like Breath of Fire, both ending are completely different and they barely touch each other. They will eventually focus only on a few characters in the main plot, but if you use the “Internet” you will get to learn about other characters too. For example, Dennis gets correspondence from his wife in Emma’s scenario and what you reply to her influences her later messages.
Even with savestates, the game can be very difficult.
For starters, shops re much sparser than in FM I and the merchandise doesn’t upgrade as much. So even if you can shop online you won’t be able to upgrade your part as often. Plus, weight seems to be much more restrictive; a missiler will very unlikely be able to yield a gun since the launchers are so heavy. Fortunately, the lack of new parts can be compensated with “upgrades”, which allows you to increase your wanzers’ hit points and also its defense – for legs, you can even boost how far you jump and how far you can dash (i.e. move further than your normal range).
In addition, like FM 1 your goal is to destroy the enemy’s body wanzer. But unavoidably you will hit other body parts, delaying their destruction and increase the damage you receive. If your goal is to get only platinum medals, this will prove to be difficult, especially when you consider that shields completely monopolize an arm rather than just being on your shoulder. Fortunately, you can have the enemy wanzer surrender – usually when it cannot move/attack – and get the machine at the end of the fight. This was most welcomed, considering how little cash you receive at the end of battles.
Furthermore, getting only platinum medals will challenge any “completionists” out there. In fact, I think it’s impossible. In Alissa’s scenario, you have no control over her in the first fight, so it’s nearly impossible to have a platinum medal since she attacks enemy wanzers. Otherwise, level grinding (on the Internet simulator) will play against you since weapons with “too high” a level will penalize you.
Finally, obstacles seem to be much more numerous in FM 3. Trees, walls and various objects can stand in your way and make hitting your opponent much harder. And even when your hit percentage is relatively high (over 85 percent), you will often miss without savestates. It gets worse when you have a shotgun or a machine gun. Hell, sometimes you have to eliminate tiny humans, and trying to hit them with your wanzer will prove to be very difficult.
But these difficulties do not make the game impossible to play. That’s why Front Mission 3 should be played by any tactical RPG fan out there. Finish both scenarios can easily take 60 hours even with savestates, the medal system will make you strategize quite a bit in order to be the best and its themes will have you think twice about modern science.