I had some time on Saturday to play a bunch of Front Mission 4. If you take a look at IGN you will see their reviewer gave it a 6.8 while the reader review is a more respectable 8.6. You guys know that we are not in the business of assigning numbers to experiences here at Penny Arcade but if you held a gun to my head I’d have to side with the readers of IGN on this one. I think it’s fair to say that Front Mission deserves about a B+.
For me the worst part of the game in the bullshit you have to sit through between trips to the Wanzer shop and the battles. The story is so needlessly complicated and boring that I found myself skipping through the conversations as fast as I could. I watch the occasional cinema in order to get the gist of what’s going on in the game, but honestly I just want to get to the fighting. If it wasn’t for the convoluted dialogue you have to wade through in order to get to the meat of the game I’d say it was nearly perfect.
While I played Front Mission on Saturday Kara sat next to me on the couch and played solitaire on the laptop. At one point she commented that every time she looked up I was in the Wanzer customization screen or the pilot upgrade screen. She was honestly curious if I had purchased a new war game or some kind of robot shopping sim. I have to admit that the interface for upgrading and customizing your units is ponderous at best but it’s still probably my favorite part of the game. I can spend thirty minutes just trying to pick the right set of arms for one of my Wanzers and love every second of it. You can spend an hour messing with the various components of your Wanzer and never even get to the fucking weapons. From sniper rifles to giant metal spikes there is no shortage of armaments to choose from. The payoff to all this setup is watching a Mech you’ve lovingly customized from the ground up perform exactly as you hoped he would. When the new quicker legs you purchased combine with your pilots upgraded evade skill and your Wanzer ducks a shotgun blast it all feels worth it.
I’m also a big fan of the actual combat in Front Mission. You can unlock bonus missions and other extras by completing certain missions in 15 turns or less but I honestly don’t know who that’s for. I may just be stupid but I find many of the missions I’m at now taking upwards of 100 turns. I won’t try and tell you it isn’t frustrating to die on turn 97 but so far I’ve never been discouraged to the point of wanting to quit the game entirely. Each time I’ve felt like I understood what I did wrong and I had an idea of how I could refit my Wanzers in order to make better use of them. The IGN review claims that this sort of trial and error is frustrating and that more information about a given level before it started would be helpful. I agree 100%, and that’s why I got a copy of the strategy guide. For most of the games I play I just don’t think they are necessary, but once I started getting into RPG’s and turn based tactical games I found them to be unbelievably helpful. I’m not going to buy a guide for Onimusha 3 that tells me how to get the secret Panda suit, but in a game like Front Mission it’s really nice to have a huge chart that shows me all the parts for my Wanzer along with their stats all divided into easy to navigate categories. Throw in tons of great tips, briefings for each level and a completely useless instruction manual and I feel like the strategy guide is a legitimate companion to this sort of game.
Does the fact that the strategy guide solves some of the problems with Front Mission mean the game isn’t any good? I guess it might point towards some poor design decisions. Does that mean you should avoid this title? Well I guess that depends on why you play video games. Personally I play games in order to have fun, not to pick apart their flaws. With a strategy guide I find Front Mission to be extremely fun. The only thing standing between you and hours of tactical bliss is a thin book full of beautiful art. The decision seems easy to me. You’re welcome to send me mail and complain that you shouldn’t have to buy a guide in order to enjoy a game. I might not reply right away though, since I’ll probably be having a good time playing Front Mission.