Front Mission 3
One day the military-industrial complexes of the USA, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East are going to stop wasting money on dumb ”son of Star Wars” missile defence shields, better nuclear weapons and spy planes that get lost all the time. They will all get together and look hard at the state of modern warfare in the 21st century. They will see that it is made up of small scale civil wars, skirmishes in far off lands, where fighting takes place in towns, villages and even the city streets. The will ponder on how best to adapt to these new guerilla wars.
Then at one particularly heated meeting the Japanese delegation says ”I know, why don’t we develop giant walking mech suits. These can be fitted with close quarter combat weapons, they can be deployed across a variety of terrain and instead of destroying innocent civilians in air strikes or risking ground troops, we send in the armoured mech suits to calm the situation, problem solved!”
So off all the military leaders go and they think about it for a bit and they they create the first human controlled walking, armed mech fighting suit. It is at this point I leave home, give up my reviewing on Thunderbolt and sign up to pilot one of the things.
At least this is my dream….Until then I have to make do with the wonderful Mech Strategy RPG, Front Mission 3. Now you’ll have to forgive my lengthy intro, but I am obsessed with mechs, any mech game I can play, I do. But Front Mission 3 is the first game to let me live out my Mech fantasy in such a detailed and enjoyable way.
Front Mission 3 is another game from Square. It tells the story of a future earth split into several economic blocs. The United States is now combined into North and South America; Japan, Philippines, Singapore and Australia are part of OCU; China is now the Da Han Zong. Tension between these various countries form the background to the game.
You take control of Kazuki Takemura, a hot headed Wanzer pilot. He drives the walking mechs (Wanzers) that are the primary weapons of peace keeping in this world. You are soon joined by your laid back friend Ryogo who is your constant companion in both scenarios.
Both scenarios? Yes FM3 has a very clever twist to it. A simple decision made right at the beginning of the game will result in you travelling down one of two story paths. This is a stroke of gameplay genius as essentially the characters you make friends with, battle alongside and become fond of in one scenario, become your deadly enemies who you often have to kill in the other scenario. This I found to be an incredibly thought provoking idea. Your fate being so drastically different because of one throwaway line.
It’s that aspect that really pulled me in to the game. I don’ want to give to many plot spoilers here, but one decision sees you aligning with rebels to sabotage the big bad government of the Dan Han Zhong, you feel righteous! Now when you play the other scenario, you have to fight against the rebels alongside the Dan Han Zhong and suddenly you find they ain’t quite the good guys you thought they were. These wonderful ”what if” moments give the game a huge lifespan as playing both scenarios can take well over 50 hours.
The story itself is the usual twisty-turny Square RPG style. Huge political blocs fight it out over the possession of a special kind of nuclear bomb and the creation of genetically engineered super-soldiers. I was engrossed and the superior dialogue localisation helped tremendously as well.
Of course all the fancy storylines in the world won’t help if the game looks and plays like a dog. But again I am happy to report this game has one of the most enjoyable battle systems I have ever used. The game is constructed so that in the plot sections, your characters talk as heads super-imposed over a static background. When movement from place to place is required, a map appears and shows your progress. This then leads you into the battle sequences.
First off you choose which characters and their wanzers you want to fight with. Up to four can be picked per battle. Each part of the wanzers body has HP (Hit Points), so legs, arms and body can be targeted independently. Wanzers can be armed in various ways. Machine Guns and Shotguns, Rocket and Grenade Launchers, Fists and Spikes, Flame Throwers and Rifles. You must prepare your wanzers for various forms of combat. For example if a wanzer is carrying a Rocket Launcher, it will have to sacrifice tough arms, legs and body to be able to handle the weapons weight. So you keep it at the back. Up front you deploy your fast and heavily armed melee wanzers and your machine and shotgunners. Roaming around the outside, a highly mobile, rifle armed wanzer to pick off arms and legs and force weakened enemies into surrender.
The battles are turn based, each wanzer can move a certain amount depending on its legs and the AP (Action Points) it has left (these are gained by destroying enemy wanzers). At this point the battle area is panned out, showing all the wanzers and scenery. Once you engage an enemy the scene shifts to a close up of the pair of you. You can then target an enemy wanzer and attack. Melee wanzers strike with huge fists and knuckles up close, vulnerable to counter-attacks. Lighter wanzers let rip with machine guns,and rifles from the back and on high ground rockets and grenades are unleashed.
If you get lucky you may knock off your opponents arms, rendering them helpless, you may cripple their legs, destruction occurs when you reduce the body’s HP to zero and they crash in a sparking heap to the ground. Best of all you may disable the pilot or make him surrender to you. At the end of the battle his wanzer in now in your inventory and the real meat of the game begins here – building the perfect wanzer!
As you progress though the game you become obsessed with catching as many as you can. In your set -up screen you can swap legs around, try different arms, paint the wanzers nice colours and learn special attacks. Each part of every wanzer can learn a special attack. This will trigger randomly in battle and then can be stored in the wanzers battle computer. Depending on what weapons you have, you can programme ones you have already learnt into your battle computer before each battle. As your proficiency with your weapons grows, so does the frequency of your special attacks.
This encourages specialisation in the characters, but as you have eight by the end of each storyline this does not matter to much. You are almost always free in choosing who makes up your battle parties. So having one character devoted to the rifle is worth it when in later missions he can take out wanzers with a one shot ”body smash”, or the satisfaction of seeing your best melee fighter chain a 6 combo of ”Shield Attacks”. The scope for customisation and tactics ensures great replayability as does the medal awards at the end of each mission. You are graded on your battle performance and given either a bronze, silver, gold or platinum medal. The urge to get all the platinum ones is a strong replay option.
As well as its sublime gameplay and storyline, FM3 also has pretty good graphics. Its amazing what Square have squeezed out of the old grey box. The battle sequences are pure eye candy, the smash of metal on metal, the explosions and the mighty wanzers are all animated in great detail. The only time it looks dodgy is when it goes into pixellated close ups of the animated people. Then it looks rough, but happily they spend most of their time in the wanzers, so it’s not to big an issue.
The big plus of using the in-game graphics to do the cut scenes is the fact that however you have tooled up your wanzer, that’s how it looks in the cut scenes. It may be only a minor thing, but it enhances the sense of involvement for me. The music is nothing special, it’s easy on the ear and atmospheric in places. But the sound effects are great! The sounds of pitched battles between huge walking machines are superbly done.
Another stroke of genius is the games ”Internet”. Between missions you can ”go online” and surf websites to gather more info on the history of the game world, hack into secure computers, buy new bits for your wanzer, email other characters and download software and simulations for you to play around with. You can mess with your ”computers” desktop wallpaper and use it to run virtual battle simulations. Here you can practice tactics, gain money and experience points and try triggering useful battle skills.
You can spend ages just reading the information on the ”websites”. It speaks volumes about Squares commitment to the quality of its games that someone took the time and trouble to write a world history, create photographs, invent various companies, mock-up ‘hacker’ sites and more to give an authentic feel to what could have just been a throwaway part of the game. Of course not everyone is like me and enjoys reading huge blocks of text, and the extended converstations, may for others slow the game down somewhat. However, the epic battles and unlimited Wanzer customisation should more that make up for any deficencies pacing wise.
Front Mission 3 is a game I wholeheartedly recommend. It’s deep, involving, hugely replayable and its almost contemporary content makes it a refreshing change from games set in the far distant past, or on strange alien worlds. It certainly had some interesting views on international relationships and how they might change in the future. Personally I don’t care about the political stuff, but dammit I hope the future contains Wanzers while I still live to see it!