The future game from the past reviewed in the present
A kid with a sled and a new Front Mission 4 player have noticeable similarities upon comparison. Those similarities being that they’re both in for quite a climb at the start but end up having a very satisfying ride thanks to all that effort that was put in. A difference being while the sled kid typically only gets several seconds to half a minute of a payoff, the Front Mission 4 player gets a payoff of hours upon hours of tactical, mechanized, customizable game-play topped with a unique and interesting story. The downside is, it’s hard not to be immediately turned off with the amount of effort it takes to get up that first hill.
The first thing you notice in FM4 is that they call their mechs, “Wanzers,” and also that you’re in for a lot of reading as you’re gently placed into a tutorial of how to use the games combat system. Your eyes might swell up slightly after you grasp the amount of time involved in getting through the rest of the tutorials the game casually mentions it has at your disposal, but thankfully doesn’t force you to go through. Not even everything in the game is thrown at you at once though. Large tutorial lists aside; the game does truly do a good job of steadily and easily introducing you to all of its features. You’ll be 10 hours into the game and still be getting something new shown to you, which will leave you thinking that the game paces itself very well just before you realize your last waking thought was about Front Mission before you fall asleep in your warm bed. Is that just me? Oh.
That, 'new stuff', which I was referencing, was new game-play elements. Just when you start thinking you’re sitting pretty with your rocket, melee, healer, and gun dudes you’ll be like “holy crap! I got a grenade launcher dude!” Don’t get me wrong though, Wanzers with a weapons isn’t all there is to the game (you can buy them backpacks too!) There is this whole ‘game within a game’ feel. You can customize your Wanzer’s parts to maximize what you want to do with it and at the same time buy new abilities for your pilot. You could spend almost as much time doing these customizations as you would be spending in actual combat. This area is also where one of my first major gripes of the game comes into play.
You’re never really given a clean slate of pilot abilities to work with. You’re given a box of legos as far as Wanzer machine parts go but you’re pigeon holed by what your Wanzer pilot is good at doing. I changed my melee character to a long range rifle person and really lost the edge in the battle, coming to the point where a mission became impossible to win with what I had and the amount of effort it would take to change my pilots abilities would have been nearly the same as if I just restarted the game and played it the way I was sort of forced to do in the first place. Customizing your actual Wanzer never feels tedious though because there is a certain level of pleasure in upgrading weapons or figuring out that you can just barely meet the weight restriction when you place that old missile launcher on the shoulder of your upgraded melee guy.
One of the most appealing aspects of Front Mission 4 is its story, or should I say stories? You're in the not too distant future on a fictional planet earth where most of the countries are the same with a few slight alterations. There are dual plot lines going, one sending your U.K. based Wanzer research team of diverse European members to investigate a mysterious assault on some German military bases. The other plot line puts you in the shoes of some soon to be U.C.S. military deserters after the discovery of a lost shipment of enemy gold in the jungle of Venezuela. Both stories are intriguing and SEEM to have nothing to do with each other… Right? This actually works out well for you (the player) in more than one way. The two teams give you different types of Wanzer pilot groups to mess around with and you get to tinker with different team dynamics due to the different groupings you have.
Here is the make or break part of what I have to say about Front Mission 4, it may not be right for you. Front Mission 4 is a slow paced game that asks you to sit down with it for no less than an hour to get anywhere, and truly if you want to get a good feel for the game you’ll have to dedicate more than that at first so you won’t end up feeling lost when you come back to it the next day or in a few days. The graphics are good for when it came out in 2004, but upon viewing it in 2009 on a widescreen digital TV, the standard definition that it was built for leaves you wishing you had something more modern to look at. If you’re played games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Front Mission 3 then you’ll like this game. If you didn’t like those games, you won’t like this game. If you don’t mind steep learning curves and enjoy picking up games that you might have missed then this game might be up your alley! I’m still getting enjoyment out of it after all.