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Front Mission 4 is a tactical role playing game developed and published by Square Enix that was released in Japan on December 18, 2003 and in the US on June 15, 2004. It is a tactical role-playing game in which the player assumes the role of two characters, both of whom pilot large mecha known as Wanzers.
This is the fourth installment in the Front Mission series, the first to be released on the Sony PlayStation 2 video game console, and the second to be released in North America, the first being Front Mission 3.
Front Mission 4's foundation is similar to that of its predecessors in terms of progression. The player completes missions, progresses the narrative, and customizes their units to prepare for the upcoming mission and so on. The gameplay of Front Mission 4 is a mixture of mechanics and features found in the previous three Front Mission titles. Numerous additions are implemented to force the player to rely more on strategy and tactics as opposed to simply overpowering the enemies. Thus, Front Mission 4 is better classified as a strategy-based game with few role-playing elements instead of a strategy role-playing game. The additions and changes are as follows:
Battle system changesEdit
- Battles now operate with up to six units, though the player can access additional forces in certain missions. The player can control as many as 12 units on either scenario, but the ally units cannot be tweaked in any way whatsoever. The U.C.S. scenario is somewhat of an exception as the player can normally choose five pilots out of ten possibilities that will be used in the next mission.
- Weapons can attack more than once during the battle phase, provided the user has enough AP and ammo to ensure this happens. Machine guns and shotguns are the main weapon classes that attack twice, although certain rifles and bazookas also have this ability. Only melee (Knuckle, Pile Bunker, Rod) and support fire (Missile Launcher, Grenade Launcher, Rocket Launcher) weapons attack once per battle phase. If a weapon that can be fired twice runs out of ammo after the first attack, the attack ends and the weapon must be reloaded.
- New backpack types have been implemented into the battle system. In addition to the familiar Item and Turbo-type backpacks, Front Mission 4 introduces five new backpacks. Sensor backpacks are equipped with sonar and radar sensors that extend the firing range of missile launchers in varying weather and time conditions. EMP backpacks are equipped with electromagnetic pulse (EMP) equipment that disables various functions on a wanzer. Repair backpacks fix damaged or destroyed parts and remove EMP status anomalies. Jetpacks have built-in boosters that allow a wanzer to scale buildings and directly bypass obstacles such as water; this becomes relevant since wanzers cannot jump up onto ledges any more. Radio backpacks have communications equipment that allows a Wanzer to act as a forward air controller by signalling the Durandal transport to drop supplies, armor coating, or call in an air strike. The latter function is made by designating an area five squares long and three squares wide, but the player must wait for two turns before the air strike commences. Additionally, Turbo backpacks now come with a small amount of item space, although not as much as dedicated Item backpacks.
- The most noticeable addition is the Link system, which is an expansion of four team-based skills (Backup Melee, Backup Fire, Gang Beating, Firing Squad) seen in Front Mission 3 and the Honor skill Help from FM2. Links allow for more than one unit to assist one another through offensive or defensive attacks, with a maximum of four units in any Link squad. The player needs to assign Link Points (LP) for attack or defense Links and assign an action to be used in Link battles. A unit can participate in Link battles once these conditions are met, provided the unit is within range, has enough ammo, and enough AP to attack. All weapons except for support fire weapons can be used in Link battles. Two non-offensive actions can also be set for usage in Link battles: Antilock and Salvage options from EMP and Radio backpacks, respectively. Antilock causes missiles within range to miss while Salvage restores any wanzers destroyed in battle. Only player-controlled units are able create Links; the guest units cannot create Links.
Non-battle system changesEdit
- In regard to wanzer customization and setup, the ability to strengthen a wanzer's qualities from Front Mission 3 has been removed. Stronger wanzer parts and weapons must be bought at the Shop the further the player progresses through the game, though some wanzers and weapons can be procured through the Battle Simulators. Weapon arms (arms with built-in weapons) from the first two Front Missions are back with a minor improvement in that some are equipped with two weapons as opposed to only one. The Online Shop, which stores older parts that can be bought by the player, of Front Mission 2 and 3 is retained without any changes. 'Spare' wanzers cannot be created and selected at will any more; characters are restricted to only one wanzer each. Finally, the player can purchase role-specific wanzer sets in the Shop, yet another returning feature from Front Mission 2. On a minor note, armor resistances can be set at any given time with the absence of wanzer upgrading in this installment.
- Weapon selection is relatively unchanged from the previous Front Missions, but Bazookas and Rocket Launchers are incorporated back into the mix after their absence in Front Mission 3. The Bazooka's Flame and Impact affinities remain the same as it was in Front Mission 2, but its damage capabilities have changed. The Bazooka's round deals Impact damage, which is followed up by a secondary attack in the form of an explosion. The explosion deals Flame damage and almost always hits, even if the Bazooka round misses the target but not if the target evades. Rocket Launchers are now purely Flame-based, losing its second affinity (Impact) from Front Mission 2. Furthermore, Rocket Launchers are now artillery-based weapons similar to Grenade Launchers as opposed to being a close-range version of a Missile Launcher. Flamethrowers, the Flame-based equivalent to Machine Guns and Shotguns from the prior three Front Missions, are unfortunately unavailable for usage in this installment.
- Character progression is static in that they never gain experience towards their specialty. Characters do gain Pilot Levels, but this does little in the actual battles themselves. Rather, characters gain Enhancement Points (EP), which can be gained by destroying enemy units and beating missions, to be spent on either buying skills or upgrading to a higher level and its skill set. Each character can learn abilities from six skill sets that determine their specialty in battle. Elsa, for example, is designated to be an Assault unit for close-range combat. As the game progresses, the player can opt to buy extra skill sets at the Computer Shop. The player can improve the effectiveness of their characters or train them in a completely different specialty. Additional EP can be procured by clearing the Battle Simulators, which have returned from Front Mission 3.
Setting and storyEdit
Front Mission 4 has two major scenarios that run parallel to each other, set in the year 2096. One scenario takes place in the European Commonwealth (EC) and the other scenario takes place in the United Continental States (UCS). UCS is the North American translation for the United States of the New Continent (USN), though the reasons for the change are unknown. In the North American translation for Front Mission 3, USN is left unchanged. A large portion of the between-mission dialogue is delivered through voice overs in English (for all regional versions of the game), which is a first for the series.
At the beginning of the game, the player assumes the role of Elsa Eliane, a new recruit for the EC Armored Tactics Research Corps, the "Durandal". The Durandal's initial assignment is to investigate a series of recent attacks on EC German military bases by unknown forces. After completing several missions with the Durandal and learning more about the causes of the attacks, the narrative shifts focus to the other scenario. The second scenario starts off in UCS Venezuela (which has attempted to secede from the UCS) and centers around UCS Army Sgt Darril Traubel and his teammates Billy Renges and Phillip Chaeffer. The three witness the crash of a Venezuelan State Army (VSA) transport plane that turns out to be carrying gold bullion worth up to $25 million belonging to Venezuelan Governor Bruno Diaz. They decide to steal the gold and go AWOL, but it is not long before they are found out by the VSA and have to escape Venezuela.
After a few more missions detailing their attempts to escape, the narrative returns focus to Elsa and the Durandal. For the rest of the game, the narrative continues to shift back and forth between the two scenarios after a certain amount of missions are completed. Eventually, a plot connection is established between the scenarios, though they remain independent of one another for the entire game. Eventually, the Republic of Zaftra is discovered to be source of their issues. Front Mission 4 expands on the unresolved plot elements regarding Zaftra that were revealed at the end of Front Mission 1st, detailing the real reasons behind Zaftra's involvement in both installments. Two characters from the first game also make appearances in Front Mission 4: Frederick Lancaster from the OCU side and Maria Paredes from the UCS side. Several minor loose ends are resolved in Front Mission 5: Scars of the War, though all of the major plot elements are resolved in Front Mission 4.
- Main article: List of Front Mission 4 characters
Front Mission 4 sold a reported 169,606 copies Japan by the end of 2003. Additionally, it was the top-selling game during the week of Christmas in Japan. It was re-released alongside other titles in the series in Square Enix's Ultimate Hits line in 2006.
Front Mission 4 holds a 75% on both Game Rankings and Metacritic. North American reaction to the game was consistent across the board, receiving mixed to generally good reviews. It was praised for its deep gameplay, customizable wanzers, and high production values. On the disapproving side many felt the plot advanced at a sluggish pace, the AI was subpar, and the menu system was cumbersome at times. At least 4 of the critics below mentioned the high complexity of the game would be a benefit or a fault of the game depending on the player. Official Playstation Magazine summed it up best with “Outside of the 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms' series, nothing surpasses the complexity of FM4”. The critic consensus seemed to be that fans of mecha or strategy RPG games would be pleased with Front Mission 4 and that the general audience should rent it first. Another complaint heard (particularly with Game Informer) is that the first few battles alternate between tedious and annoying.