Gameplay, Story and Value:
In the not-so-distant future mankind has… Well I guess the state of the world is more or less like it is today, only with giant mechs, known in Front Mission 3 as “Wanzers”. A powerful new energy source has been stolen from a UN agency, and is in the process of becoming weaponized and replicated. You take control of Kazuki Takemura who, through sheer circumstance, lands himself and his best friend in the middle of this worldwide conspiracy. Now it’s up to these two kids and a handful of highly trained agents to take hold of their wanzers and save the planet from annihilation!
Problem is, Kazuki is a hyperactive whiny dipshit, his friend’s a pervy moron, and the first two characters you team up with are a racist soldier and a woman with the personality of bread. The cast in Front Mission 3 are this side of terrible, and the shaky translation and localization do it absolutely no favors. Every line in the game felt like it was delivered by Tommy Wiseau from The Room.
Gameplay in Front Mission 3 is fairly straight forward as far as tactical RPGs go. You begin each round with your units on the map, tasked with a victory objective. While this objective is occasionally interesting, you’ll almost always be required to simply destroy all the enemies on the board. Your wanzers can be customized with various parts, weapons, skills and consumable items, and there’s an underlying rock, paper, scissors system in place that dictates which weapons are effective against which armor types.
At its core, the gameplay is all well and good, however there are two major issues that went a long way in turning me off of this one. Firstly, this is a game where you really don’t come in to various unit types like you would in something like Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea. Instead, you have your wanzer, with which you can customize its body, legs, left and right arms, backpack, weapon loadout and more. This should be an endless well of tweaking options, but the game offers you almost nothing to this end. Parts, weapons and upgrades appear in the shop at extremely rare intervals, meaning you’re left to steal and salvage enemy wanzers, which is its own problem. Once an enemy has received enough damage, they’ll begin considering surrender, and once they’ve taken another hit in this state they will surrender and their wanzer will be added to your fleet after the battle. Problem is, they won’t consider surrender until they’ve sustained A LOT of damage, meaning your next hit will almost definitely destroy them! It doesn’t help that even if you actually succeed in taking an enemy wanzer, the parts you get from it are almost never an upgrade over anything you already have. Basically, tiny carrot at the end of a very long stick.
Secondly, while the basic tactical system is easy to grasp, the underlying skill mechanics are practically arcane, and no amount of research was able to clarify things for me. Throughout the game you’ll inexplicably trigger an ability, such as a double attack or tackle or defensive maneuver, which you can then add to your wanzer’s ability list. You’ll not be able to access this list at any point again until you’ve learned another ability, which could very well be the same ability a second or third time! So how do you use your newly acquired technique? Who the hell knows! Every time you initiate an attack you need to go find a nickel, and flip it. If it’s Heads that means you need to roll 1d20, 18 or higher and you roll a d6 and use the corresponding ability (if applicable) from your ability list. Pretty easy! How I would have loved to have some level of tactical information in my tactical RPG…
Front Mission 3 spans around seventy missions across two story lines, and you’re mercifully only presented with the game’s primary story arc between missions. If you’re interested in the state of the world and its various players and organizations, there’s an online network that acts as sort of a compendium for all the additional lore in the game.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The visuals in Front Mission 3 are pretty decent, and benefit from the fact that the majority of its onscreen characters are giant robots and that the environments aren’t particularly large. Quality wise, both in game and the CGI cutscenes, the game’s about what you’d expect on the PS1. The action plays out pretty well for teh most part, but the framerates seemed somewhat inconsistent at times and some animates felt really jumpy or laggy. Then there’s the character portraits which, I don’t know why, made me hate the cast almost as much as the dialogue did. It’s not that they’re particularly poorly drawn, just that they seem to emphasize how douchy everyone in the game is.
The game’s sound and music are both appropriate to the game, if not pretty average. Gunshots from the wanzers giant weapons have a satisfying weight and impact to them, and the constant sounds of clashing metal go a long way in adding to the atmosphere. Music is what I’d call Generic Military Action Game and while I’d never call it bad, I can’t say there was really anything special about it either.
Fun and Afterthoughts:
Knowing I have difficulty following these kinds of stories I made sure I went into Front Mission 3 with both an open mind and an intent to pay extra attention to the game’s story and characters. What I found I was a decent tactical RPG buried under a bland story and a thoroughly unlikable cast. I remember, years ago, whenever I’d go to Gamestop I’d see a copy or two of Front Mission 4 on the PS2, and it always looked interesting especially since I was deep into both my Armored Core and Disgaea kick at the time. I never did buy a copy, but I was pretty excited to finally play a game in the series for this project. Despite all the issues I had with this particular game, I see a lot of potential in the series and would be genuinely interested in checking out future entries, such as Front Mission 4, to see what kind of improvements and changes have been made. I still love Tactical RPGs and, hey, giant robots, so it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t get past the issues I had with this one.