This week in Retro or Remake? we’re exploring the other side of RPGs. Tactical RPGs to be exact, and so it is for this purpose that we have chosen a criminally underrated series like Square Enix’s Front Mission to explore what made it great and to answer the real burning question, does it deserve to be remade?
Let’s start with a bit of background. The Front Mission series spans a total of twelve releases since its inception, five of which were technically ‘spin offs’ from the mainline series (you may remember one of them from recent memory, Square Enix’s Left Alive). Of the mainline series, five were console games and the final two were mobile games. We won’t be considering either the mobile outings or the ‘spin off’ additions to the series for the purpose of this feature.
The first Front Mission saw release on the Super Nintendo way back in 1995. It wouldn’t see release outside of Japan until 2007 on the Nintendo DS, but it was restricted to North America. The game opened to pretty reasonable review scores and was quite well received.
Front Mission 2 released for the Playstation One in 1997, again limited to Japan and didn’t even see release outside of that territory. The title charted well and had very favourable reviews.
Where this pattern changes, is with Front Mission 3. I remember getting my hands on it in 2000 (it had released a year earlier in Japan) and was pretty excited to cut my teeth on it having already fallen in love with what was then Squaresoft from my days playing Final Fantasy 7 & 8. At the time I knew nothing about Front Mission at all. So imagine my surprise when I found out how completely different it was from the usual stuff that Squaresoft released.
Front Mission 3 was the first and last release of the series outside of Japan and North America. Front Mission 4 & 5 would go on to release in 2003 and 2005 respectively, but not in European territory. For this reason, and because it was likely the most widely accepted and loved of the series, we’ll be making Front Mission 3 our focus.
The title was in every aspect of the word a Tactical RPG. It took a largely different approach from its predecessors. In the earlier games, the gameplay was heavily focused on the strategic aspect. This was stripped somewhat in Front Mission 3, with less options to choose from strategically and included smaller scale battles, so as to focus on the role playing elements. The game was fairly linear, but had a mission branching system (the same found in Front Mission 2) in that it gave the player the option to choose what mission to play next.
In Front Mission 2, there were three separate stories, where periodically through the game you switch characters, eventually converging each scenario together at games end. Where Front Mission 3 differs, is that it had two separate unique stories that could be played out depending on an early game choice. Whilst each scenario crossed paths occasionally, they were largely their own stories and offered two unique experiences.
The gameplay of Front Mission 3 revolved around using Wanzers, essentially large mechs that you could customise to rain an ungodly storm of bullets and explosions on your enemies. In the games intermissions (between missions and cutscenes) you had the option to name, colour, change base parts, and add weapons to your Wanzers. This also came with weight limits too, so it was a healthy level of depth and management to an otherwise simplistic system. Different parts would affect different stats (HP, Aim %, Speed etc…) and it was a pretty refreshing change to the norm I’d come to expect from Squaresoft at the time.
You also had access to something called the Network, which was showcased in the previous game, but this time around was considerably more advanced. It was, essentially, a web browser. You could type in addresses (if I remember correctly), send mail, shop and could visit different parts of the network dependent on where you were in the game, or the organisation you were looking at. It was a cool feature at the time to say the least, and really added to the modern future setting in the game.
The story was pretty great too as you’d expect. The game centres around Kazuki Takemura, a Wanzer test pilot at Kirishima Heavy Industries. Along with his friend Ryogo, the initial part of the game is a couple of conversations, a mock battle (so you can learn the battle system) and then a pretty heavy choice. That’s right, the choice branch for which story you get literally happens at the start when your asked to help or decline Ryogo when he wants you to join him in delivering some experimental Wanzers to a local Japanese Defence Force base. I won’t go into too much detail, because it’s a great story despite what branch you take, and I’d be surprised that anyone wouldn’t want to go through it twice after playing.
Battles were fought overhead, with yours and the enemies Wanzers and various other additions like helicopters and turrets. Units moved on a grid system. When units initiated combat, the view would pull into a close up and focus on the firing unit. What made this pretty exciting was that as you reduced the HP of Wanzer arms, they’d explode and you’d be left with armless mechs that couldn’t use weapons. It was simple, but it sure was fun back then. Other parts could also be targeted (legs destroyed to reduce movement and so on).
If enough damage was done to a Wanzer, both friendly or enemy, you could literally force the pilots to eject. It was even an option to jump out of your Wanzer at any time. Now this may sound crazy, but if you’d already taken out an enemy pilot and left the Wanzer intact, whenever you took a licking you could jump out and steal that Wanzer. It’s like the Tactical RPG version of Grand Theft Auto. Minus the baseball bats.
Battles were an AP (Action Point) based system. Dependent on the different parts you were using, you could dictate how far a Wanzer could move and carry out attacks. There were also mech skills available for each pilot, which you could learn from equipping certain Wanzer parts and using them in battle. At the end of each mission you were graded with a rank, though it wasn’t that important realistically to the overall game.
The game followed a pattern of cutscenes and story, missions, intermissions for shopping and equipping Wanzers and was pretty much rinse repeat. Now I know this sounds fairly linear, and it is, but it was effectively executed and that is what sets it apart.
You see, the thing is, Front Mission 3 probably wasn’t ground breaking when you consider each individual aspect of the game. But when you put together all it’s parts, it made for a truly great experience.
Unfortunately, despite the reasonable success of Front Mission 3 worldwide, Front Mission 4 only released in Japan and North America, and Front Mission 5 didn’t get released outside of Japan (though there was a fan made english patch released for it).
Perhaps I’m being nostalgic, but its a shame that the series didn’t get anywhere near the recognition it deserved. It had a strong story, an effective battle system and for its time was a hell of a lot of fun. And it had all the quality of a Squaresoft title.
That said, should we answer the question now?
The problem we have with expecting a remake of Front Mission 3 is two fold;
- It’s capacity to sell
- Whether it can be remade into something great
We know that capacity for sale is the biggest barrier here if we’re being real. It just doesn’t have the same star quality that other Square Enix titles have. Perhaps in Japan? But certainly not outside of that. When it’s contending with some amazing strategic games already on the market, does it have the strength to go the distance? I’m not so sure. It was always a little bit niche, at least Final Fantasy Tactics had the Final Fantasy name attached to it.
What kind of quality could the remake have? We already know the capability of Square Enix to deliver an exceptional reimagining of its back catalogue, but is the original good enough to warrant that. Again, it doesn’t fill me with a lot of hope.
Getting down to it, Front Mission 3 is a classic in my eyes, and will always remain so. But I think this one, if i’m being honest, should stay as exactly that; a classic.