Review #1 by Michael Motoda
Squaresoft definitely knows what presentation is all about. Delivering CG FMV which rivals most work seen in today's Hollywood films, they have consistently delivered titles on the PlayStation which are clean, polished and fun. Front Mission 2, whose official title in Japan is "Front Mission Second," is a follow-up to G-Craft's Super Famicom title, Front Mission, which from what I understand (I never had the opportunity to play it, unfortunately) was also a grid- and turn-based mech tactical simulation game. Squaresoft has taken the standard tactics formula and pumped it up with some incredible visual treats, but because the title strives to be so ambitious, the limitations of the PlayStation's RAM rears its ugly head. The result is an awesome and very deep game that is unfortunately marred by extremely long load times, resulting in an experience that becomes tedious over time.
First and foremost, I am not an impatient gamer. Load times generally do not bother me, unless they are excessive and happen often. Most companies have found ways around this sort of problem by either streaming data off of the CD during gameplay, compression techniques or by keeping a certain amount of global data in RAM, which prevalent areas of the game share. Before I get to this issue in detail, first a few comments about the game's features in general.
The game starts off with a stylish and long CG FMV sequence equaling the quality of those found in Final Fantasy VII. It's super-detailed, runs at a respectable 15fps in full-screen mode, and sets up the haunting and claustrophobic mood of the game beautifully.
Menus are set up in a 'Windows/Mac OS' fashion, are easily navigated and intuitive. There is a strange lack of options, as the only configuration you're allowed to alter is change the color scheme of your windows and pop-up message boxes. There is also a training mode, which is extremely detailed, and explains almost all the tactics and strategies you'll ever need to play this game successfully. There are a lot of them, and they walk you through each one step-by-step, and are easy to understand, even though all the text in this portion of the game is in Japanese.
The game is mainly played on a 3D polygonal landscape, shown in ¾-overhead view, and is rotatable in 45-degree increments, giving you a nice view of your surroundings. You can move your pointer all around the playfield to see where enemies are so that you can set up your own strategies while trying to anticipate theirs. Movement and menu options are intuitive and the game is quite smart in 'anticipating' what you're going to do next. If you're next to an enemy, it'll choose the Attack option; if an enemy is in the proper long-range distance, it will allow you to use a missile weapon. You can also use different items at your disposal, cancel moves and check your mech's status/vital statistics. Once you decide to attack an opponent, you are given a choice of weapons (assuming you're carrying more than one) to use against your opponent. Conversely, if you are the one being attacked, you are given the choice of countering, using a shield (again, assuming you're armed with one) or trying to run and evade enemy fire.
The biggest appeal and draw of this game since its announcement are the real-time polygonal battle scenes, reminiscent of the battle scenes in FF7. Whenever you attack or are being attacked, the game switches from its isometric 3D view to a dynamic and exciting full-blown 3D high-speed battle scene between you and your enemy. It is here where you get to see attacks taking place dramatically, seeing exactly what parts of your mech's structure are being hit, and whether or not you're successful in dodging or blocking enemy fire. These scenes are full of energy, beautiful light-sourcing and highly-detailed mechs, which run and hover around realistically and convincingly. When enemies attack, you're left almost speechless, as you wait to see how much damage you're potentially about to take. There's also a feeling of accomplishment when your final critical shot takes down an opponent and their mech bursts into flames.
However, this new feature is also Front Mission 2's biggest flaw. Because the game needs to load in 2 large, detailed mechs every time you become locked in battle, you're left waiting about 8-10 seconds before each offensive/defensive move. In the first mission alone, there are approximately 11 enemy targets that you can destroy, each taking at least 3-6 rounds. Animations during battle take anywhere from 5-20 seconds a piece for each party. Additionally, after a single round is over, you're left waiting another 3-5 seconds for the game to return back to the isometric view. As you can imagine, simply getting through the first mission takes an extremely long time. The problem doesn't lie in the actual battle animations themselves (they are truly beautiful); rather, it's in the load times. When you consider that a basic hand-to-hand punch takes around 35-40 seconds to complete (nearly half of which is load time), this repetitive process becomes quite tedious. The hard-core tactical/simulation players will probably have no problem ith this, but for those who want their game to progress smoothly and at a good pace (a la Vandal-Hearts or Final Fantasy Tactics, where combat takes place on the actual map), these battles lose their initial luster after the first couple missions. I think it might've been better to show these dramatic battle scenes for special attacks or final attacks, not every single one of them. There is no option to speed them up or skip them, so you are forced to watch them. Like I said, they are beautiful, but very time-consuming. If the PlayStation had more RAM and could store these models for retrieval on-the-fly, then it would've been a completely different story. As it stands, you need an incredible amount of patience to play through this game.
These types of demands on the PlayStation's limited RAM are also seen in the actual map screens. Instead of seeing your mechs actually walking from square to square (like in Sega/Red's Sakura Taisen), they instead -hop- from square to square. It looks ridiculous, and I think the only reason Square/G-Craft decided to do this as to save on loading them into memory. Otherwise, the map screen graphics are beautiful, with clean textures, nice 3D constructions and generous lighting effects.
Another problem I had with this game was the character designs. This is just personal preference, of course, but most of the characters (such as Joyce, who looks like a cross between Ellen Degeneres and Luke Skywalker (no joke)) look horrible. The character art in the upcoming Front Mission Alternative and Xenogears look quite a bit better than these. Additionally, their mouths just kind of flap in the wind when they're 'talking' (why doesn't Square hire voice actors/actresses for their RPG/strategy games?). This looks somewhat embarrassing, since old games like Sega's Magic Knight Rayearth had well-synched mouth movements accompanied by crisp, spoken dialogue. Odd.
In terms of customization of your mechs, the options and combinations are extensive. You have a wide array of different weapons and defenses, and you can color your mech with a vast selection of color schemes, all of which look gorgeous when layed over your mech. Your characters also gain valuable experience points in battle, learning new skills that will aid them later. This encourages you to use all of your party for taking out the enemy to evenly spread experience points among them.
In terms of the game's sonic qualities, the music is a pretty good mixture of pumping rock/driving-style tunes mixed in with some good ambient and military-style tracks. The music is reminiscent of the battle tunes in FF7. However, they tend to get a little repetitive since scenarios take so long to complete, but that's just the nature of the game. Sound effects are what you'd expect from Square. Lots of booming sound effects and white noise. Rounds spark and ring as they hit armor, missiles bellow through the air, and explosions rock your stereo system's low-end.
Even though this review sounds mostly negative, don't let that stop you from checking this game out. It's definitely not a rush-job. It's built with heart. If you're a fan of strategy games like this, and have played and enjoyed titles like Military Madness (PCEngine/TG-16), Sakura Taisen (Saturn), Vandal-Hearts (PSX), etc., then you'll most likely have a good time with this one as well.
+ Awesome 3D battle scenes, running at approximately 60fps. + Immaculate attention to detail (smoke, sparks, etc.). + Inspiring CG FMV sequences and real-time story segments. + 8-way rotatable camera view of the playfield. + Nice textures, lighting effects, and transparencies. +/- Character designs are a departure. - Map animations are clunky (1 frame of animation for your mechs).
+ Above-average PCM soundtrack. + Awesome music in opening CG FMV movie. + Wide range of weapon and ambient sound effects. + You can hear each hydraulic movement of your mech. Nice touch. - Music is slightly repetitive - Menu confirmation/cancel sounds become annoying.
+ Deep gameplay with virtually limitless mech options/combinations. Tactics/simulation fans will love it. + Intuitive interface and menu design. + Extremely helpful Tutorial feature. - Battle load times become grating during long scenarios, taking out a lot of the pace of the title. - No options.
Limited by the PlayStation's on-board RAM, Front Mission 2 fails to reach its full potential and artistic vision as I'm sure Square/G-Craft intended. However, the game is polished, challenging and moderately addictive, making it a worthwhile purchase for those who live for games like this. Patience and perseverance are definitely required.
Review Copyright © 1997 by Michael Motoda ( firstname.lastname@example.org). Please feel free to email me with your comments, questions or criticisms. Thank you for taking the time to read this review.