This week marks the birth week of the very first Squaresoft mecha-heavy turn-based strategy RPG title Front Mission, a 1995 Super Famicom title that mixes Battletech mecha fights with allusions of politics in a sci-fi world.
There are five main entries and a number of side games in the series. The main games have their ups and downs, but they’re solid SRPGs all-around.
Front Mission turns 25 today – it made its debut on this day in 1995. A tactical RPG, it tells the story of a war in the year 2090 fought with mecha known as 'Wanzers'. pic.twitter.com/xdDf8glmAp
— RPG Site (@RPGSite) February 24, 2020
I’ve only played parts 3 and 4, but I have friends who rave on about how deep the entire game’s political intrigue can get, especially since they all tie in together. Not to mention the fact that customizing your own Wanzer death machine army is incredibly enticing on its own.
Which is why it’s such a huge travesty that the series went off on an abysmal note with Left Alive. Our very own Alleef “Comicslord” said the following in his detailed review:
I can’t possibly imagine anyone actually enjoying the soul-crushing ordeal of playing Left Alive.
I don’t blame him. I played a few hours of Left Alive and felt truly betrayed. I can’t imagine how my friends felt when they see their favourite series run to the ground like this.
We should touch on why Front Mission truly deserved better than ending on a wet fart.
It’s A Great Blend Of Strategy RPG & Sci-Fi Dystopian Storytelling
Before Battletech’s strategy games, Front Mission was the first and nailed the strategy turn-based RPG and story combo just great. Not only do you have to customize your Wanzers with the correct weapons, arms, and legs, but also pick the best pilots for the job. Your missions also vary from killing all insurgents to protecting certain characters for a set amount of time.
While part 1 started it all, it was part 2 that really went all-out with its politically-driven narrative (where each perspective of the war isn’t as black-and-white as it seems) and featured a diverse cast from different countries. It even featured actual LGBT representation, which was kind of unheard of during that time.
Part 3 introduced branching paths at the start of the game (in a pretty sneaky dialogue choice), which means you have to play the game twice to get the full story. Part 5 on the PS2, a prequel of sorts, was considered the apex of the series, creating the best strategy combat while crafting an intense story on the horrors of war and how its main cast endure and find hope in such troubled times, as well as establishing all the story beats that set up past games.
If you want a nice entry point, play Front Mission 3. If you want a long-spanning epic to sink into, play part 1 all the way to part 5. Before games like The Division got political, the Front Mission games tapped that first & nailed the landing.
It Featured Top Tier Talent From Squaresoft
The Front Mission series was a bold new sci-fi in JRPG history at the time because of the following people who worked on it, from its designers to its music-makers.
Here’s a short list of people involved with the franchise. You’ll probably recognize some names.
- Toshiro Tsuchida – director and producer of the series.
- Yoshitaka Amano – renowned artist known for his Final Fantasy work.
- Jun Suemi – another renowned artist known for the Brandish series cover art.
- Yoko Shimomura – famous composer.
- Noriko Matsueda – Squaresoft composer who made most of Front Mission’s music.
- Nobuo Uematsu – legendary composer.
- Masashi Hamauzu – renowned Squaresoft composer.
- Junya Nakano – renowned Squaresoft composer.
- Hidenori Iwasaki – Squaresoft music composer and programmer.
It Had A Decent 2D Spin-Off
Front Mission: Gun Hazard proved that with the right team and mindset, you can make a decent spin-off to your mecha-driven JRPG. All you have to do is hire the guy who designed Assault Suits Valken and make it a little different than the usual run-and-gun games in the era.
It Tried Its Hand At Transmedia And Succeeded
The series was so promising, its developer G-Craft made damn sure it had mangas, novels, radio dramas, and live-action films. If there’s any series that did transmedia right, it’s most likely the Front Mission series.
Last but not least, Front Mission wouldn’t have attracted so many people to its narrative were it not for its main draw: the mechas known as Wanzers. They look cool, they serve their purpose as walking tanks that feel “realistic” and grounded to ground and sci-fi Earth warfare, and have some heft when they move. Gundams they ain’t.
— VGDensetsu (@VGDensetsu) April 27, 2017
So long and thanks for the memories, Front Mission. You may have been cut off by your parents, but at least your games are still playable, fan-translated, and made available for younger generations. Hopefully, they’ll know how expansive, ambitious, and incredible you were.