Front Mission 1st: Remake Review: What Is A Remake?
The lines between a remake and a remaster can often be hard to define. A true remaster generally only has its existing visuals tweaked, with improved resolution being the most common improvement. Other than that, you’re usually still playing the exact same game as the original version of the title. A remake, however, usually rebuilds the game from the ground up, with new visuals, gameplay tweaks, and modern amenities.
Front Mission 1st: Remake has declared itself firmly to be a remake. They literally put the word remake in the title. But despite its redone visuals meaning this is technically true, most of the time, it feels a lot more like a remaster than a remake. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Front Mission holds up as an excellent strategy RPG even after all these years, but players should know they’re walking into a game that is still firmly rooted in its original SNES release.
Two Sides Of A Conflict
The original path in Front Mission revolves around OCU Captain Lloyd Clive. Stationed on Huffman Island after a recent war, an uneasy peace is being maintained with their former enemies in the USN. The island has been split up, but both parties don’t like that the other is still there, and a palpable tension hangs over everything. Lloyd just happens to be there when that tension turns into a spark which threatens to burn the whole island down, causing a huge personal loss to him in the process. Lloyd leaves the military after this, but it isn’t long before a desperate OCU leadership recruits him back to lead the Canyon Crows, a group of mercenaries.
While Front Mission 1st: Remake is firmly rooted in earlier versions of Front Mission, it is good that this includes all earlier versions. Optional missions from the DS version are here, and more importantly, so is the second campaign added in the PlayStation port. This puts you in charge of a USN Officer and shows an entirely separate side of the conflict. If you want to really get the most out of the story of Front Mission, you’ll need to play through both campaigns, and players will have the option to do so in any order, though the game recommends playing the OCU side first.
The main plot of Front Mission 1st: Remake remains excellent, on both sides of the conflict, though its telling is still notably rooted in the original title. Characters don’t have the depth we might expect today, and the conflict can sometimes feel a bit simple, with the motivations of larger political powers sometimes feeling more interesting than the relationships between the cast. Still, I enjoyed the characters for the most part, and some of the soldiers you recruit have fascinating backstories.
Thinking Things Through
Battles take place across the island, both in the wilderness and in cities as well. This is a standard grid-based tactical RPG, only with mechs. Maps are, for the most part, well-designed and require you to make interesting choices in how you’ll split your forces and engage with foes. Some of the early maps, in particular, are fairly brutal if you’re not on one of the lower difficulty levels, but proper planning and spacing go a long ways.
Engaging with enemies in combat is fascinating, though modern players may have mixed feelings on it. Each mech has four separate health bars. One for each of their arms, one for movement, and one for the body of their mech. Destroying an arm disables the attack tied to it, while disabling movement significantly shrinks your range of movement, though it doesn’t stop it entirely. To destroy a mech, though, you’ll have to defeat the body. Doing that takes it out, regardless of any health left in other parts. In theory, this provides a lot of depth and strategy in how you’ll attack enemies, and at times it does. Most of the time, though, you’re better off just taking out the body.
That can be frustrating because, in the early going of Front Mission, you can’t just target the body. What part of the mech you’ll attack is random. While you do, in time, unlock the ability for specific skills to have upgrades that do things like letting you target a specific part of an enemy, getting there takes a lot of time, and it never feels good to lose a unit because your attacker took out their movement instead of the body that was one hit from death.
It helps, however, that you can customize your mechs a great deal. Each mech has options to customize its appearance as well as its movement ability and various types of armor, which boost your stats and movement in different ways. You can also add a wide variety of attacks to each mech, adding different weapons on each arm and shoulder to give you tons of flexibility in how you want to build out your forces. Customizing mechs isn’t as streamlined as it would be in a modern title, but it feels better than a game like the recent Tactics Ogre remaster. I spent a lot of time tweaking my favorite units to get them just how I wanted them. You’ll want a nice balance of heavy hitters and faster units that can get in and out of conflict.
From Another Time
A lot of Front Mission 1st: Remake feels like it could be more streamlined, though, and that’s perhaps the biggest disappointment when it comes to a game selling itself as a remake. A complete visual overhaul is here, making the game fully 3D. It looks nice, particularly when played in handheld mode, though the full camera controls sometimes simply don’t go where you want them to, making it hard to see what you’re doing. Fans of the original look don’t need to worry, a classic mode is still available to play the game like you remember.
The bigger issues, though, are that so many other issues remain in the game’s interface in particular. A lot of information you’ll want in battle, like how much health specific enemies have, simply isn’t available when it should be. For example, you can see enemy health when moving your cursor around the battlefield, but not when targeting them, so you’ll just have to remember it or back out of your attack and find what you need. Most of what you need can be found, but whether it’s in combat, when upgrading your mechs, or on the map, a lot of time I ended up having to go out of my way to find what I needed, and it often just makes the game feel awkward. None of these issues are huge problems alone, but they come together to make things feel outdated in ways that simply weren’t necessary and which you wouldn’t expect of a remake. This is the sort of problem I’d expect to remain in a remaster.
Front Mission 1st: Remake often feels old but that’s no huge surprise. It is after all an old game. It released nearly 28 years ago. That it still mostly holds up as an excellent strategy RPG with an excellent story, interesting customization, and strategic combat, is impressive. While it may fall a bit short of what we’d hope for in a true remake, it remains a strong game worth the time of fans of the genre.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: Forever Entertainment; Developer: Forever Entertainment; Players: 1; Released: November 30th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $34.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Front Mission 1st: Remake provided by the publisher.