Does this imply the existence of a back mission?
I’m happy to see the Front Mission series finally getting some love over here in North America. It hasn’t been completely absent, but our coverage has been spotty. We missed a slew of them and only received three out of the five “numbered” titles. The fact that we’re getting not one but three remakes (one of them having never been localized) gives me hope that we’ll see more of the series over here. It worked for Yakuza, right?
This is actually my first chance to really delve into the series. My previous experience with it was watching my roommate fall in love with Front Mission 4. I don’t remember why I didn’t try it for myself because I recall it looking cool. Mechs are cool. Tactical strategy games are cool. It’s enough that I bookmarked the game in my brain and planned to one day circle around back to it. Today’s the day, and I can start at the beginning.
Front Mission 1st: Remake (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Forever Entertainment
Publisher: Forever Entertainment
Released: November 30, 2022
Front Mission 1st: Remake is a remake of the first Front Mission, Front Mission 1st. Technically, Front Mission 1st isn’t the first Front Mission; it’s a 2003 PS1 port of the 1995 Super Famicom game, Front Mission. So Front Mission 1st is technically a remake of a remake, but both said remakes are really remasters. Front Mission 1st: Remake is a remaster of a remaster, but unlike the first remaster, this remaster remakes the remaster’s graphics.
The biggest difference is that it’s been remade in 3D, but it includes all the content from the PS1 version. The gameplay is largely the same. If the tweaks to the gameplay are too much, you can even set them to be closer to the original. Which is definitely okay by me. Likewise, the soundtrack has been remastered, but this is less of a major change. I kept switching back and forth between classic and remastered. Some tracks were better, and others weren’t.
Beyond that, I don’t have enough experience with the original to really nitpick the differences.
War never changes
Front Mission tells the story of the OCU and the UCS, who have aggravatingly similar names. They’re fighting over a croissant-shaped island in the pacific called Huffman, and it’s clear off the hop that things aren’t quite right. On the OCU side, Royd Clive loses his Fiancee while investigating a weapons factory. He’s disavowed but finds himself fighting alongside his old employer through the mercenary group, the Canyon Crows.
It presents a rather gritty perspective on war. The whole “war is hell” vector is certainly not new for video games or even the mecha genre in general. Neither is the whole dead girlfriend thing. It’s a fine framework, but it’s hardly novel. That said, it has a good pace to it and serves as a good backdrop.
The anglophone ear
Aside from the routine story, Front Mission 1st manages to combine some of the best parts of the tactical and mech sub-genres. You have grid-based maps, and you have a toybox of parts to build robots from. In this case, they’re called “Wanzers” which comes from the German “Wanderpanzers” or “walking tanks.” That still sounds kind of dumb to the anglophone ear, but it’s supposed to be pronounced “Vanzers.” It still sounds kind of dumb, but it doesn’t matter; mechs are awesome.
You put them together from a variety of parts, then slap on some weapons or shields. You can also fall back on good ‘ol fisticuffs, which always looks funny to me. In battle, the legs, individual arms, or body can be damaged. While you can still move without legs, you can’t hold weapons without arms or live without a body. This means you’re constantly balancing armor, HP, and other stats.
This means two things: first, putting together robots is always fun. However, the second thing is that it creates a lot of prepwork. You put together a rather sizeable team, and some missions have you field as many as 11 wanzers, all of which need to be configured manually. New parts can get dropped every couple of missions, so if you want to keep everything at the tip-top, you’ll be making shopping trips each time. It can be a bit much, and I wish there was some sort of auto-optimization option.
Blood and rust
It’s also not a terribly balanced game. You have the option of fighting in the arena for cash and experience, and I quickly found out how to exploit this to the moon and back. I was never short on funds, and I had a few pilots that were exceedingly effective in combat. It made the OCU campaign a cake-walk. The UCS is a bit less flexible and there are difficulty options (most of which are locked off the hop), but going god-mode through more than 30 missions sucked some of the fun out of it.
Not all of it, though. Dashing across the battlefield and shooting robots in the dick is always an enjoyable spectacle, and there’s a decent variety to the missions. Even while I was walking through the game with little resistance, I stayed engaged.
The graphical upgrade to Front Mission 1st is pretty good, too. I especially loved the city maps when you can rotate the camera around buildings. Rain has a nice effect to it, as well, even though I kind of wished the game ran at a higher resolution so I could enjoy it more. I did come across some bugs and performance oddities, but the team has a day one patch coming out that should address much of it. Nothing I ran into was overly intrusive, even in its pre-release state.
Old metal with a new coat
I do wish more was done to address some UI issues. Some important information seems rather out of reach, and while you can buy parts and immediately equip them, if you want to reconfigure from there, it’s in an entirely different menu. They’re annoyances that seem to stem from the game’s origins, but they aren’t deal-breakers.
While Front Mission 1st didn’t set my world on fire, and I found it lacking in a lot of areas, I did enjoy it. It’s not the best tactical strategy game to come out this year, but it’s welcome nonetheless. It’s also a great and loving remaster of the Super Famicom title, and while there are places I wish it was tightened up, I’m overall happy about it. It leaves me excited to play the next two remasters as they work their way to release.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]