Front Mission 3 seemed like the perfect game to kick off my sRPG-focused October with. After all, I remembered playing through part of it years ago and liking it, so why not? Picking up a copy on Amazon for 5 bucks (shipping included) seemed like fate telling me that it should be the first game on my list. What fate neglected to mention at the time was just how ridiculously long this game is; my playthrough of the game’s short path lasted well over 30 hours, and the other path is apparently so long that it could easily take 50 hours to finish. All together, there are something like 120-130 missions in the game.
This is an SRPG that actually has strategy
The problem with many turn-based sRPGs is that they focus so heavily on the RPG aspect that the strategy is completely removed from the equation. Front Mission 3 is all about strategy, though, despite stats playing a crucial role in things. While you’re able to set up your characters to be surprisingly powerful, you can’t send a single person against three or four enemies without risking losing that unit (which is really bad, since you can only use four characters at a time). It’s all about positioning and planning, trying to minimize the damage enemies do to you while doing as much as possible to them.
Many of the characters are awful, though
It’s important to get this out of the way early, especially since this game was developed by Squaresoft. After all, Square was responsible for many memorable RPG characters over the years, so the characters in Front Mission 3 not living up to that standard is very strange. That’s just the way it is, though. For example, Kazuki is the main character, and he’s so incredibly slow on the uptake that his character could have easily been replaced with a monkey and the story would have remained entirely unchanged. Ryogo is his friend who tags along constantly, and not only is he also incredibly slow, but he has an inappropriately relaxed demeanor throughout that could make even the most relaxed stoner want to stab him in the windpipe. Alisa, on the other hand, is smart enough to figure things out before everyone else, but she’s such a constant damsel in distress that it wouldn’t surprise me if she needed assistance tying her own shoelaces.
A large part of that is the writing
The characters may be awful in large part because of how they were (poorly) designed, but they could have nonetheless been interesting had the writing been a bit more creative. Instead, it’s as though all the character dialogue is phoned-in, which is strange because of how interesting the overall story is. The main story ties together politics and morality and betrayal and a million other things while remaining interesting throughout, but the character dialogue that drives much of this is completely unrealistic. Rather than each character possessing their own unique tone, many have the same perky personality that’s indicated by an abundance of exclamation points and weirdly cheery dialogue (even after killing a bunch of people). Later on when bad things happen, those exclamation marks turn into ellipses to indicate just how sad everyone is.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that if you removed the portraits and names from the dialogue, you’d rarely know who was speaking. This is a problem compounded by the fact that there’s a huge amount of dialogue in the game, and a lot of it is completely unnecessary. That’s to say that much of the dialogue consists of questions and phrases like “what’s going on” and “no way,” and most of it could be removed to the betterment of the game without negatively impacting anything.
That’s not all. There are some moments of such convenient timing that you’ll be blown away by the stupidity of it all. Don’t get me wrong—the overall story is gripping and touches on many topics that are rarely brought up in games, but the close calls and action movie-esque moments of escaping at the last possible second aren’t exactly the game’s shining moments. I don’t bring all of this up to hate on the game, because I really like Front Mission 3 as a whole, but it could have been so much better with more competent writers.
Combat is where this game shines
The way the game works is relatively simple—you get involved in some dialogue, something happens, and you eventually end up fighting with someone. Fighting is really the best part of the game, and tearing apart an enemy wanzer is such a worthwhile experience that it makes having to slog through all of the uninspired dialogue totally worth it. By the way, wanzers are giant robots and the game revolves around fighting in them. Probably should have mentioned that earlier.
Virtually everything is as you’d expect from a turn-based strategy game; your units are able to move around the map, then attack enemies (who can often counter-attack). When all of your characters have moved, enemies get a chance to move around and attack (which then allows you the opportunity to counter-attack). Wanzers, which make up the vast majority of what you’ll be fighting in and against, have a few different parts—legs, two arms, and a body—all of which have separate health and can be damaged separately. The destruction of the body destroys the machine altogether, while the loss of the feet or arms merely limits movement or removes your ability to attack with the weapon in the destroyed hand. There are several different types of weapons, and it’s actually pretty simple to wrap your head around: shotguns attack all parts at once equally, while machine guns hit randomly and can do a lot of damage to one part while ignoring the others. There are also one-shot weapons like missiles, rifles, and melee weapons that attack a single (random) part each shot. Varying your wanzers so that their abilities complement each other is the key to survival.
It’s all about the action points
Making all of this possible are action points, which are required for moving and attacking. These points regenerate a fair amount each turn, and destroying enemy parts grants you medals that eventually raise the maximum number of AP that you can accumulate during a battle. To put it simply, you get rewarded for overkill. Once you’ve upgraded your wanzers, action points can also be used to activate passive bonuses before battle, and these bonuses are totally worth it despite the fact that they lower your maximum AP somewhat.
Putting wanzers together is a lot of fun
Wanzers being made up of several different pieces means that the pieces are interchangeable. This gives you the freedom to swap out parts, and this is actually one of the most important parts of the entire game. Not only do you have to stay within a weight limit (the less-useful stuff tends to be lighter, which forces you to focus on what that specific wanzer’s purpose is), but the pieces you choose determine the HP of each part, the distance you can travel per turn (only applicable to the legs), accuracy (only applicable to the arms), and a few other things. Best of all, however, is the fact that the parts all come with special skills.
Killing them with kindness… and special skills
Special skills are kind of like critical attacks in Fire Emblem—you’re often balancing your overall strategy on their random (but generally common) appearance. Unlike FE, there are a huge number of different special skills with various effects. Zoom, for example, increases your accuracy, while Rate of Fire Up (ROFUP) increases the amount of ammo you fire in that attack. The special attacks that you can get are based on your equipment and whether or not your meet the prerequisites, some being as simple as “do melee attacks,” while others have more complex requirements such as having multiple allies nearby.
Once you trigger a skill, it can be saved, allowing you to have it randomly trigger even after you switch out the part that unlocks it. You only have so many “slots” for these special skills to be saved in, and skills come in varying degrees of strength, with the tradeoff being that the most helpful ones eat up multiple slots. The large amount of personalization that combinations of parts and skills offer ensures that combat is consistently rewarding; while I may elect to equip a skill that fires all my rockets at a single target and whittle down an enemy from afar while hoping it triggers, others might decide to create a wanzer with high HP and charge in guns (or melee weapons) blazing. There’s really no right or wrong way to play, and that’s really what makes the combat so much fun.
There’s a lot of back story to be found
If you’re the type to play through games while ignoring the back story, then you can definitely do so in this game. If, however, you’re the type who loves to pore over every detail and immerse yourself in the world, you’ll find a lot to love in the game’s representation of the internet. It’s crude, difficult to navigate, and you can only visit sites that you’re given the address to, but you can discover a huge amount of back story that fleshes out important people and places a bit. While the character dialogue is generally pretty bad, the completely emotionless histories that detail the creation of the USN, OCU, DHZ, and other political entities are fitting and greatly add to the game. It can be a lot to absorb, but all of it is optional.
FM3’s graphics are dated, but they have charm
The graphics were the subject of much criticism when Front Mission 3 was first released. While it’s true that they can’t stand up to other Playstation 1 games such as Final Fantasy 8 or The Legend of Dragoon, the PS1’s capabilities are so far outmatched by current hardware that most people won’t even notice the difference anymore. That being said, there’s a certain charm to Front Mission 3’s graphics. A large part of that is being able to customize the color of your wanzers, because blowing off enemy robot limbs in a pink wanzer is undeniably awesome.
The music is a big letdown, honestly
I occasionally glance at the Squaresoft logo on the Front Mission 3 disc and sigh, wondering what happened with the music. It’s kind of like a mix between Snatcher’s music and an army march that never really fits the game. Aside from a few memorable tracks (two of which only coming at the very end), there’s really not a lot to like about the music. As strange as it is, there you go—a Squaresoft game with forgettable music. Who would have thought?
Here’s what you should do: