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Front Mission 3 (PSOne)
MSRP: $39.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Squaresoft/EA

Rating:
****
out of
*****

I consider myself a strategy RPG fan, with games like Shining Force III and Vandal Hearts counted among my favorite games of all time. Front Mission 3 has been touted as a game that no strategy RPG fan should miss. With good strategy RPGs being as hard to find as they are, I couldn't possibly pass this game up. Problem is, I'm still not sure if that was a good thing.

The game itself is massive, involving two possible scenarios with about 60 hours of gameplay each. The main storyline centers around Kazuki, a wanzer (mech) test pilot, and his friend, Ryogo. While delivering a shipment of wanzers to an air force base, something goes wrong and an explosion rocks the base. While attempting to discover what happened, Kazuki and Ryogo stumble into a well-conceived plot of conspiracy, revenge, and general unpleasantness. A simple choice made by the gamer at a key point decides which of the two scenarios will play out to the end of the game.

The battles are fairly standard strategy RPG fare. Taking place on a 3D battlefield, a grid placed over the map shows where the player may move the characters. The amount of movement is determined by a number of factors involving the customization of each characters' wanzer. Each wanzer can be equipped with different wanzer parts, weapons, and armor. The player can also alter the wanzer's onboard computer, which affects weapon accuracy. The key to winning battles is making sure your wanzers are as tricked-out as they can be depending on what particular type they are. Some wanzer types excel at close combat, while others are better at long-range, missile-based attacks. Having the wrong equipment or armor on your wanzers is definitely a factor in the outcome of battles, especially in some of the later stages of the game. To its credit, Front Mission 3 provides many opportunities to test your wanzers' capabilities. Along with the game's plot-progressing battles, there is also a simulator that you can use to test new weapons and tactics before putting them to use on the battlefield.

The real fun of the battle sequences is found in the game's excellent way of conveying damage to the wanzers and their surroundings. When a wanzer is defeated, it doesn't simply blow up or disappear. It goes down in a hail of sparks and electricity, falling over like a toppled redwood tree accompanied by the sound of straining and crunching metal. It's very gratifying to see a valiant opponent go down in such a manner. It's also possible to hit an opponent's wanzer so hard that he/she will eject, making the pilot vulnerable without the protection of the wanzer's armor. Shots that miss their mark can be seen ricocheting of nearby buildings and other landmarks. It's also possible to shoot cars, trees, buildings and other items and doing so sometimes reveals power-ups, but this is rare.

Square has outdone itself in creating a world for the game's characters to live in. A pseudo-Internet has been created in which the player can surf various websites for clues, tools, and information needed to complete the game. Characters can communicate with each other via "e-mail" and the player can even customize his computer's wallpaper, download utilities, and hack into other websites. The amount of detail present is simply staggering and, considering the amount of translation required to release this game in the States, the amount of work that went into designing and implementing it deserves a round of applause. I found myself anticipating the game's characters receiving e-mail almost as much as I look forward to getting my own e-mail.

The game's graphics are superb for the most part, but there are a few nagging problems with polygon seams, breakup and the like. The animation of the wanzers is very good and does a great job of conveying the idea that these are large machines operated by human pilots. The explosions in this game are very well done and that's a good thing because there are a lot of them.

The control is great, but there's little in the way of pure action to control. Most of the game is played by navigating through menus or moving a cursor around on a grid system. If you're looking for an arcade-like or action RPG experience, this is definitely not your game at all. It's also very easy to get lost inside the game's virtual world. It's huge.

The sounds and music are both very good. Sometimes the music seems a little ham-fisted in its delivery, but overall it does its job well. The sounds, which consist mostly of mechanical clanking, weapons fire, and explosions, are all adequate and usually better than average. It might have actually livened things up a bit if there were some voice acting. (Well, in light of the way most games handle voice acting, maybe not.)

What's wrong with Front Mission 3? Not a lot, but what is flawed stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. The story progresses in the following manner: Characters speak about the situation at hand. An adversary is presented. The game switches to battle mode to combat said adversary. The dialogue continues. Repeat. While this is standard operating procedure for most strategy RPGs, the sheer amount of dialogue before each battle and the baby steps the game takes afterwards tends to make the game crawl at a snail's pace towards its conclusion. The characters, while interesting and somewhat unique, don't really necessitate the amount of jawing that takes place. I found myself itching to get to the battles and wanting to skip over the details more often than not. That's not a good sign when there are so many painstakingly placed details throughout the game.

Front Mission 3 is a game that's almost too big for its own good. It's definitely a great strategy RPG, but it will test even the most experienced gamer to get to everything it has to offer. I highly recommend the game to strategy RPG fanatics, but standard RPG fans may want to rent the game first to see if it suits them. If you are a gamer of little patience, you'll definitely want to work on that aspect of your personality before sitting down to play Front Mission 3. Those looking for an epic strategy RPG will definitely find it more palatable.

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