|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Square Enix||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 23, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
The timeless theme of piloting giant killer robots into battle against other giant killer robots remains powerfully alluring to this very day. When you take that tried-and-true concept, throw in heaping payloads of mech customization, a riveting story across two lengthy campaigns, hardcore turn-based strategy, and pack it all down to portable size, you have most of the key ingredients for success. Square Enix takes micromanaging armies of metal behemoths to new levels of insanity with Front Mission, an addictive - if not slightly antiquated - DS update of the original classic.
The tactical robot RPG series made its Japanese debut on the SNES in 1995, and it was subsequently given some major upgrades with a remake for the PS1 in 2003. A few other titles were released in the U.S. further along in the popular series, yet this is the first time the original game the game has been officially been available in North America. Essentially an update of the PS1 remake, Front Mission on Nintendo DS makes great use of both screens to cram in as many stat menus as possible to better inform your decisions on the battlefield. The game showcases a strong mixture of play mechanics found in several of the more popular turn-based strategy titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars. Instead of swords and spells, or colorful cartoon tanks, Front Mission features armies of giant destructive mechs - called "wanzers" - fighting it out in an epic conflict spread across a cold, futuristic landscape.
The dark overtones of the military conflict give the story in Front Mission a dramatic flair. The formation of a new land mass in the Pacific Ocean garners the interest of two military factions, the Oceania Community Union and the Unified Continental States. By 2065, Huffman Island, a land rich with mineral resources and strategic advantages, is deemed large enough for inhabitation. Around this time each military power seeks to assert its control over the island, sparking off a two-year war which ends with the land being divided. Around 20 years after the first Huffman conflict, the shaky cease-fire falls apart when a U.C.S. military facility is destroyed by an O.C.U. unit in what becomes known as the Larcus Incident. The second Huffman conflict erupts in 2090. You'll have the option of playing the original O.C.U. campaign or a separate U.C.S. campaign in these desperate times.
On the battlefield, combat plays out over grid-based, isometric maps which are similar in design to those found in many other handheld tactical strategy games. Different types of landscape heights and terrain features factor in to combat, and they can be used to your advantage. Your mechs are pre-deployed for each mission, as are your enemies, and once the battle begins you'll take turns moving units and trading physical blows, sprays of gunfire, and missile volleys with the enemy. Players have the option to use the stylus or the regular buttons for controls. Neither method of control is particularly interesting, yet both get the job done just the same.
All of the tactical movement and planning occurs on the touch screen until you engage a foe in actual battle. By default, the top screen tracks your unit's stats and provides other crucial information in planning your attack. When you attack an opponent the top screen switches over to a close-up view of combat. Watching the slick mech animations as they pummel each another - much like in Advance Wars - is a real treat. In battle, mech units can take damage in four different areas: the left arm, right arm, main body, and the legs. This creates an interesting strategic gameplay twist. Destroying the main body of a mech will obliterate it completely, destroying its legs will half its movement rate, and destroying either limb will cripple whatever weaponry happens to be attached. Repair packs and other items can be used to fix damaged components. If any of your mechs are completely destroyed, they are simply taken out of the current battle. At the end of the mission you'll pay a salvage fee and they will be returned to your group. Aside from specific objects such as protecting an NPC unit or taking out a boss, cash points are awarded for causing as much damage and completely destroying as many enemy units as possible.