Although it takes place in a dystopian future with science fantasy elements, Front Mission is a video game series much more about the human experience in world-altering events. Each of the mainline games is complex and involves an intricate political story that has to be figured out. You know, while also going into battle with giant mecha.
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It would take a book to go into full detail about each of the Front Mission stories. But that’s pretty daunting, so just to dip your toes in the Front Mission water, here is an overview of the series and how the games and overall story work.
Front Mission Overview
Front Mission was created by Toshiro Tsuchida and developed by G-Craft. G-Craft would later be absorbed by Square, and then, when Square merged with Enix, it existed in the new Square Enix as Product Development Division-6.
One of the things that ties all the Front Mission games together is the regular use of ‘wanzers’ in each of them, giant mecha that you can use in battle. The word ‘wanzers’ comes from the German word ‘wanderpanzer’ which means ‘walking tanks.’
They take place in the 21st and 22nd centuries, focusing on political and military conflicts between supranational unions and their member states. And although each individual story can stand alone, they all tie into a greater, overarching plot that stretches across the entire series.
Front Mission – The First One
Front Mission was first released in February 1995 for the Super Famicom. It would be directly ported to the WonderSwan Color in July 2002.
In 2003, it was ported to the PlayStation with the title Front Mission First. This port included a whole new scenario to play through, and new characters. Front Mission First was the basis for the Nintendo DS port, which came out in 2007 and was the only version of this game to be released in North America. It was also released as a PSOne Classic in 2008.
The story takes place at the end of the 21st century. The Oceana Cooperative Union (OCU) which consists of the countries of South Asia, South East Asia, and Australia, is fighting with the United States of the New Continent (USN) made up of North and South American countries, over the control of Huffman Island in the South Pacific.
It follows Lloyd Clive, an OCU captain, as he and his unit are ambushed by the USN in the Larcus District of Huffman Island, a battle that would become known as the Larcus Incident. That sets off a new war between the two powers, and Lloyd finds himself on the forefront of the fighting, helping the OCU win the war.
That’s the plot of Front Mission, but Front Mission First also introduces the Kevin Greenfield scenario. He’s a USN officer whose military career is on thin ice and now leads a unit that needs to help the USN win the war quickly.
Both Lloyd’s and Kevin’s scenarios are necessary to understand the full story of Front Mission First, as both have information that won’t make sense until you’ve played through the other.
The original Super Famicom release of Front Mission ranked pretty highly with critics, Weekly Famitsu first gave it a rating of 9/10. The DS port, however, didn’t fare as well, while the number of options and the depth of the game were praised, it had a total lack of online play.
But the original version, at least, was a huge success commercially. Even though it only came out in Japan, it sold over five hundred thousand copies!
Front Mission 2
Released in 1997 for the PlayStation, Front Mission 2 was also a huge success, both critically and commercially. It had 3D graphics and a moving camera. It was also the last title to be produced under the G-Craft name.
Front Mission 2 was also released as part of a compilation in 2003 called Front Mission History that included Front Mission and Front Mission 3 as well. Front Mission 2 was re-released on the Ultimate Hits line in 2006. And in 2008, it came out on the PlayStation Network.
All of this, however, was only in Japan. No version of Front Mission 2 has ever come out in North America. Koichiro Sakamoto, the series public relations manager, has said that this is due to situations and vocabulary necessary to the game that would be considered unacceptable or a faux pas in the region.
Front Mission 2 is set in 2102, twelve years after the events of Front Mission, in the People’s Republic of Alordesh, what we today know as Bangladesh. They are a member nation of the OCU, but anti-union sentiment is rife in the country.
The game starts when the Aldoreshi military stages a coup d’état against the OCU. It follows three people from the OCU who are there: Corporal Ash Faruk, Captain Thomas Norland, and intelligence officer Lisa Stanley.
Over the course of the game, they have to save as many OCU soldiers, officers, and government officials as they can, see if there’s any way of stopping the coup, and look into who is behind the incredibly well thought out strategy the Aldoreshi military is implementing, as it’s possible that it’s a third party entirely.
Front Mission 2 would eventually sell over 500,000 copies, even though it was only released in Japan, earning Sony’s ‘Gold Prize.’ It was also a critical hit, with Famitsu giving it a score of 32/40 and naming it the 63rd best game on the original PlayStation.
Front Mission 3
Front Mission 3 was released for the PlayStation in 1999. And while the console stayed the same, a whole lot else changed. For starters, it was the first game to be released in North America, Europe, and Australia. It also changed the game mechanics; while it is still a tactical role-playing game, the emphasis is way more on the role-playing than the strategy.
Front Mission 3 takes place ten years after Front Mission 2, as the OCU is being stretched thin due to pro-separatist movements across the union. It focuses on the cold war between the OCU and the People’s Republic of Da Han Zhong (DHZ).
The main characters are wanzer test pilots Kazuki Takemura and Ryogo Kusama who work with the Japanese Defense Force (JDF). They accidentally stumble on a government plan to steal a weapon of mass destruction and have to stop it to save lives and the very fragile peace in the region.
There are two possible scenarios, which are triggered by a choice made early on in the game. One scenario is based around the USN, involved in a peacekeeping capacity, and also includes scientist Emir ‘Emma’ Klamsky as a major character. The other revolves around the DHZ and includes DHZ agent Liu Hei Fong and Kazuki’s sister, Alisa.
Front Mission 3 received generally solid reviews, although some critics were frustrated by the lack of sophistication as battles went on. One said that the system was just a matter of ‘grasping the basics and applying them over and over.’ But even so, it still sold almost 300,000 copies in its release year, and earned several re-releases over the following years.
Front Mission 4
Front Mission 4 was the first game in the series to be released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003, but many parts of the gameplay mechanics are reminiscent of its predecessor, Front Mission 2. Additionally, it was popular enough to be the top-selling game of Christmas 2003.
The North American release of the game changes the name of the United States of the New Continent to the Unified Continental States (UCS), but that is unique to the region’s release. In all other areas, and in the below synopsis, the power is still referred to as the USN.
Like most of the other mainline Front Mission games, Front Mission 4 focuses on two protagonists. The first is Elisa Eliane who is a member of the European Community (EC) Armored Tactical Research Corps, also known as the Durandal.
In 2096, five military bases in Germany are attacked, and the EC doesn’t know by whom. The Durandal are sent to find out who did it and why. They go out and investigate, but after they come back saying that the attackers originated from the Republic of Zaftra (what we know as the former Soviet states) their boss lies on TV about it and says the attack came from the USN.
Meanwhile, the other protagonist, USN sergeant Darril Traubel, is sent down to Venezuela, which is rebelling against the USN, to bring them back into the fold. When he and two of his friends stumble on $25 million in gold, they decide to steal it and go AWOL. But the Venezuelan State Army (VSA) is after them, meaning that they all need to escape.
They go from person to person who might be able to help them get out of the country, and as they do they learn about the Alianza de Libertad Venezolana, the attacks in Germany, and how those connect to the VSA relentlessly pursuing them in South America.
Receiving decent reviews, Front Mission 4 earned an aggregate score of 75% on Metacritic. Although it was dinged for the slow pace of the plot, the production values and complexity were deeply admired. Official PlayStation Magazine even said ‘Outside of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, nothing surpasses the complexity of FM4.‘
Front Mission 2089
Don’t worry, we didn’t skip 2,085 entries in the series! Front Mission 2089 came out first in 2005 and was designed for mobile phones. Although the numbers don’t line up perfectly and the next main entry is called Front Mission 5, this is still considered part of the mainline series.
As it was designed for mobile phones, the game became practically serialized, with Square Enix releasing three chapters per month.
In 2007, Square Enix announced they were remaking the game for the Nintendo DS, acknowledging that most of their fans don’t play mobile games. Released in 2008, it featured new visuals, character artwork, cut scene events, game scenarios, battle maps, and the story was rewritten to make it more linear. It was called Front Mission 2089: Border of Madness.
Front Mission 2089 takes place on Huffman Island one year before the Larcus Incident, when small skirmishes are still happening on the border between the USN and OCU. That border is marked by the Mail River.
The game follows a group of mercenaries and their leader, Ernest J. ‘Storm’ Salinger, who conduct sorties on or near the Mail River. Lately mercenaries from both sides have been disappearing in the area, and Ernest and his team are sent to investigate.
It’s hard to find reviews or sales records for the mobile version of Front Mission 2089, but Front Mission: Border of Madness debuted at #13 on Japan’s video game charts in its opening week, and would go on to sell over 50,000 copies within the first half of the fiscal year.
Front Mission 5: Scars of the War
Even though it’s called ‘5,’ this is the sixth main entry in the Front Mission franchise, released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2. Very different from all of its predecessors, it takes place over the course of about fifty years and covers, then resolves, the series’ overarching story.
The downside to this is that there is so much information to cover that only players who have played all of the previous Front Mission installments, including some of the spinoff games like the 2089 sequel Front Mission 2089-II and Front Mission Online.
Front Mission 5: Scars of the War follows USN soldier Walter Feng from childhood as he witnesses countries coming together to form their supranational unions, like the USN and the OCU, among others. He goes through the first and second Huffman Conflicts (the wars based around the island) and into other world affairs covered by the other games.
Overall, the game focuses on the individual and his personal story, but is really about the fight between nationalism and globalization, and the terrorist organization that wants to destabilize the unions and have the world return to nation-states.
Although Front Mission 5: Scars of the War was only ever released in Japan, in 2009 a group of fans called Front Mission: Series Translation Project released a patch that translated the entire game into English.
Less than a month after release, Front Mission 5: Scars of the War had sold over 200,000 copies, leading the Front Mission series to surpass 3 million units sold. It was later also released under the Ultimate Hits line.
Front Mission Evolved
The last Front Mission game to come out (not counting Left Alive which is in the same universe but otherwise unrelated… and is also very bad) is a third person shooter spinoff called Front Mission Evolved. It takes place a century after the events of the mainline series, and is separated enough that players won’t need to have played the other games first.
It was released in 2010 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. It includes a multiplayer mode in which users can engage in PvP matches.
In the late 22nd century, the global superpowers are in another space race, constructing orbital elevators to connect cities to massive satellites used to spy on the other powers around the world.
USN engineer Dylan Ramsay is testing a prototype wanzer when he sees the orbital elevator in New York City, called Percival, get attacked by unknown forces. He goes in, finds, and engages the attacker, the fight is cut short when Percival collapses around NYC. Afterwards, Dylan joins the USN army as it gears up for war against the OCU.
Front Mission Evolved received mediocre reviews from critics, who enjoyed the sound design and wanzer customization but panned the ‘uninspired’ story and ‘overpowered’ bosses. It received an aggregate score of 58/100 from Metacritic.
Involved, complex, and cerebral, Front Mission is a series that really gets at the heart of the human experience amidst greater world events. It’s starting to age a little bit now, but for the politics nerd in your life, or just yourself, it’s still a great game to play on your older consoles to make you think about the state of the world and your place within it while still having fun!