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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (478)

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Eiyuden Chronicle: Hund... 2/5
Pikmin 4 4/5
No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
Assassin's Creed IV: Bl... 2.5/5
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5

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Front Mission 1st Remake   Nintendo Switch 

Oh, So That’s Why it Was Never Localized…    1.5/5 stars

In the Squaresoft Golden Age of the ‘90s, many of us in the RPG-loving community felt slighted after the rise of the Internet, when we discovered that Square actually developed and published a LOT more games than we ever knew about in the West. Many of these games have subsequently received fanslations via the ROM-hacking community, and in most cases, after experiencing the games in English via emulation, I have understood why they weren’t localized outside of Japan in their initial run. Squaresoft’s unlocalized back catalog typically runs the gamut from ‘weird’ to ‘just plain terrible,’ in spite of the fact that subsequent entries in some of these franchises have been marked improvements upon their predecessors.

When “Front Mission 3” was released for the PlayStation in 1999, I played it and enjoyed it, but like so many of the games I experienced during my time in college, looking back, I can’t really remember anything significant about it or why I enjoyed it: No it wasn’t drugs, it was homework and classes that I diligently completed and attended, unlike so many of my peers. I primarily remember my resentment that “Front Mission 3” was the first – and in my sphere of awareness, only – mech-based TRPG released stateside, and I wondered where “Front Mission” and “Front Mission 2” were.

Ultimately, the ‘Front Mission’ IP did not fare well, either under Square’s solo stewardship or the joint efforts of the two-headed gaming Ettin, Square-Enix, as “Front Mission 4” hit the PlayStation 2 stateside with NO fanfare, while “Front Mission 5” and a handful of other sidestories remained unlocalized – again, and the most recent entries in the franchise have been terrible Action games in the form of “Front Mission: Evolved” and “Left Alive,” both of which proved to be flops, though not unprecedented flops, as the IP had been dallying with Action ever since the release of “Front Mission: Gun Hazard” on the Super Famicom.

When I learned that Square-Enix was releasing a remake of the first ‘Front Mission’ game, creatively titled “Front Mission 1st Remake,” I was overjoyed. I was less-joyed when, upon my attempts to learn more about the game’s release and platforms, I was greeted with a stonewall of Internet information that stated it was going to be a Nintendo Switch exclusive and the physical cartridge would only be a Limited Edition. With no pre-order page up on Steam, I foolishly pre-ordered the Switch Limited Edition for too much money ($45 for those who care) and waited for it to arrive in the mail.

When it did arrive, I immediately popped it into my Switch and started playing, only to come to a dreadful conclusion: I HATE “Front Mission,” the remake does NOTHING to address the game’s original flaws, and the game does indeed have a release on Steam. I wasted both my time and my money on this turd of a product, and I want to encourage everyone else not to do so.

Presentation
While the original version of “Front Mission” is usually praised for its high-quality pixel art and animated mech battles, the remake looks like a budget mobile game made with Unity Store assets. Environments and mechs alike are bland and lifeless, and those are really all the player will ever see. The rest of the game takes place, like nearly every other TRPG of the era, via a series of lifeless, generic menus, while dialog is text-based and accompanied by character portraits. These portraits, done by legendary Squaresoft artist, Yoshitaka Amano, are really the only thing about the game that looks good, even though in the remake, it looks like the digitized versions of Amano’s original art have been run through an AI-powered upscaler to smooth out the chunky pixels and rough edges. Regardless, I can’t say enough good things about Amano’s character designs here, ranging from the ethnically vague main character to the gorgeous Natalie to the Chris-like Peewee. There’s a lot of visual variety among the cast of characters… but not so much among their mechs. While each and every mech part does have a different appearance, due to the game’s simplistic RPG systems, there’s no reason to build a custom mech tailored to each specific character. Instead, building a stable of identical mechs out of identical parts and maybe tailoring weapon loads to specific characters (and it’s a big maybe) is the order of the day, with the paint job applied to each mech being the main/only way to tell them apart during battle.

The soundtrack was handled by a number of different people at Squaresoft, including Yasunori Mitsuda, who was behind amazing OSTs for numerous other Squaresoft titles. But in this case, I feel like too many cooks spoiled the broth, as the “Front Mission” soundtrack is bland, lifeless, and entirely forgettable. The remake offers the player the choice between the remade soundtrack or the SNES original, and I can’t say that there’s a whole lot of difference, though I did switch to the SNES version almost immediately.

Technically, I’ve seen reports that the game has some stability issues, and Square-Enix has released some patches. These are of no concern to me, with my offline-only Switch, and I never encountered any outright bugs or glitches. No, all of my problems with the game are intentionally-designed.

Story
“Front Mission” was probably not localized earlier due to the ‘dark, gritty, and mature’ nature of the story, which ultimately, feels fairly weak and tame by today’s standards. It’s the very beginning of a long, winding, interconnected Alt-History future in which globalization has united the Earth into a handful of large Republics, all of which are at least a little bit raw against each other.

The story of “Front Mission 1st Remake,” itself, though, does a very poor job of early world building, and instead introduces us to the game world through the perspective of our hero, Royd Clive (who is probably supposed to be named ‘Lloyd,’ but thanks to Engrish, he sounds like a steroid abuser), who is a member of the non-Chinese Asian Republic’s – the O.C.U.’s – army, where he pilots a multi-story humanoid weapons platform known as a Wanzer (walking panzer). Royd’s life it turned upside down when a routine mission to investigate and surveil a weapon plant operated – somehow – on Asian soil by the conglomerate North and South American Republic, the U.C.S., results in the apparent death of his fiancé and his entire squad’s dishonorable discharge.

We pick up a few years later, with Royd now the leader of a mercenary squad known as the Canyon Crows, operated by a very non-Asian man named Olson. Through a series of events, Royd learns that his fiancé might still be alive and that a super-secret organization is behind the terrible secrets involving human experimentation on POWs that Royd’s life was ruined to cover-up.

Yeah, I don’t really think the ‘grimness, darkness, and maturity’ of the story is why the game wasn’t localized. Yeah, maybe the talk about the speculative future of international relations may have been politically touchy in the ‘90s, and a game marketed toward teens with such content probably wouldn’t be well accepted, but I don’t see anything about the overarching plot of the entire ‘Front Mission’ IP that would warrant not localizing it.

Further, the remake includes an entirely new second story scenario involving a completely different hero and his squad from the U.C.S. perspective, allowing the player to see both sides of the issues at hand.

Allegedly, according to word of mouth from fans who have played the fanslation and the remake, the harsh realities of the world have been toned-down and Bowdlerized a bit. Of course, I can’t really say, because the gameplay is so aggravating, poorly designed, and frustrating that I stopped playing partway through the original O.S.U. scenario with Royd and have no plans of going back to it or playing the other scenario. Allegedly, this game takes 80 hours to get through both scenarios, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think at least 60% of that runtime is dedicated to mindless grinding.

Gameplay
The original “Front Mission” was released in 1995, making it a very early entry into the then-new Tactical RPG subgenre, in which players moved their character units on a grid and engaged in typical turn-based RPG gameplay in which positioning and facing actually mattered, instead of just lining up rows of hero stats against rows of enemy stats and comparing numbers until one side won.

Unfortunately, “Front Mission” being so early in the TRPG game didn’t really implement any of the good things about TRPGs, like the just-mentioned facing, but it DID implement a LOT of the grinding aspects that Squaresoft was seemingly in love with at the time. Unlike most TRPGs, the player is allowed to deploy an absolute butt-load of units in each battle, capping out at 18. As a result, enemy deployments are also quite bloated, leading to an abundance of scenarios where the player’s team is sorely outnumbered.

However flawed the balance of each combat mission may be, though, in an RPG, grinding a few levels will typically level the playing field… except in “Front Mission,” the only way to gain experience points, and thus levels, outside of the fixed and static campaign missions is to grind in the mech battle arena… one character at a time. To make matters worse, “Front Mission” employs the horribly archaic TRPG tope of discrete character XP gains, so instead of the entire team gaining a blob of experience points at the end of a mission, each character receives a trickle of experience points by doing things in battle, with typical attacks and counter attacks granting paltry amounts of XP, but destroying the limbs or central body of an opposing mech grants a more reasonable sum.

Of course, the tedious and slow character leveling is just scratching the surface as, in true late-‘90s Squaresoft form, each character possesses four different Job Classes that can be leveled by using different weapons: Fight is leveled by using melee, Short is leveled by using machineguns and rifles… which unintuitively have the same range as melee, Long is for missiles and grenades (most of which have highly limited ammo supplies compared to the infinite ammo of Short weapons), and Dodge, which helps mitigate damage by making the enemy miss more frequently. In addition to improving character performance with corresponding weapons, each Job also has a number of skills associated with it… which are all learned (and upgraded) by characters based on opaque and tiresome RNG processes.

The mechs piloted by the large, bloated cast of characters can all be fully customized with a pair of legs, torso, individual arms, two hand weapons, two shoulder weapons, a CPU, and a nebulous ‘backpack,’ freely chosen and purchased from an enormous stable of parts that expands as the player moves through the campaign and visits new cities. However, the basic nature of “Front Mission’s” stats and combat really makes the tried-and-true RPG mechanic of ‘visit new town, buy new gear’ feel incredibly boring and stale. Yeah, there are lots of new parts available in each town. No, there’s no reason to think too hard about them or agonize over the differences, as there are obvious best-in-class choices in each new selection. Really, the only thing that should cause the player mental agony is trying to afford all of these upgrades for the entire team. Unfortunately, while most remakes of old, old RPGs tend to tone-down the grindiness and pave over difficulty spikes by, say, doubling the amount of money and XP the player earns by playing normally, “Front Mission 1st Remake” actually makes things much, much WORSE on the economy side. While the original game allowed players to sell old mech parts for 75% of their cost, the remake only gives 25% of the cost for old parts, making it, ridiculously and stupidly, MUCH grindier than the original release.

While the game starts off reasonably balanced, and dare I say, mindnumbingly boring and simplistic, after about 10 hours, I got to the point where missions seemed to expect my characters to have some of those fancy weapon skills…but none of my characters had learned any. This left me with three options. 1) I could grind in the 1v1 mech battle arena through tedious, mindnumbing, and repetitive matches to get ALL of my characters up to snuff (and earn enough money for more upgrades). 2) I could trial-and-error my way through battles, praying to RNGesus that my mechs wouldn’t have both arms one-shotted by trash enemies, rendering them useless. Or 3) Stop playing this turd of a game and move onto something else. I chose option 3, and I don’t regret it. I DO, however, regret spending big bucks on the physical Switch Limited Edition of the game instead of just adding it to my Steam wishlist, then removing it after reading grumpy user reviews about how boring, poorly-balanced, and excessively archaic the entire experience is.

Overall
Alas, I now understand why “Front Mission 3” was the first ‘Front Mission’ game localized outside of Japan and why it took so long for “Front Mission 1st” to make its way stateside. While many people would place blame on the uncomfortable socio-political Alt-History futurism that comprises the plot, the fact of the matter is that this game is completely ruined by archaic and poorly-designed RPG systems that would have seemed backward and tedious even in 1995. It’s mindnumbingly simplistic when it’s balanced; tedious, repetitive, and frustrating when it isn’t. As a remake, “Front Mission 1st Remake” absolutely fails at the primary purpose of a remake, which is to bring something excellent from the past to the present, while smoothing over any rough patches and idiosyncrasies that may not have ‘aged well.’ Nothing about “Front Mission,” aside from Amano’s character portraits, has aged well, and the remake not only didn’t address these overwhelming flaws, but actually proceeded to make the in-game economy WORSE. I cannot recommend this game to anyone, whether or not you love ‘90s Squaresoft, mechs, or Tactical RPGs.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 1/5
Overall (not an average): 1.5/5

 

 


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