by Davneet Minhas
previewed on X360
Expanding a Legacy
Square Enix first released Front Mission, a tactical turn-based role-playing game, on the Super Famicom in 1995. The game introduced players to a politically divided future Earth dominated by Wanzers, massive mechs piloted by military personnel. Its tactical gameplay, deep customization, and complex story spawned numerous spin-offs and sequels on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, in addition to action figures, model kits, and manga.
Much of the franchise's success however, has been constrained to Japan: most of the entries in the Front Mission series were never released outside of the country. So it is curious that Square Enix isn't developing the newest entry in-house. In a move seemingly aimed at reintroducing gamers outside of Japan to the Front Mission franchise, the Japanese publisher has employed Double Helix Games, an American developer based in California, to create Front Mission Evolved.
But the newest game in the series doesn't just differ in developer. Front Mission Evolved also eschews the traditional turn-based RPG genre in favor of real-time third-person shooting. Trying to meet the expectations of an existing fanbase while expanding the franchise's audience has certainly provided a thoughtful development process for Double Helix.
Out of Japan
Front Mission Evolved is set 50 years after the events of Front Mission 5: Scars of the War. Two superpowers, the Oceana Cooperative Union (O.C.U.) and the Unified Continental States (U.C.S.), are deadlocked in a cold war – each side watches the other with large networks of military surveillance satellites, waiting for a spark to ignite conflict. That conflict arrives when an unknown force attacks and destroys one of the U.C.S.'s orbital elevators linking their surveillance satellites to Earth.
The Front Mission series clearly has an established universe with a rich history and memorable characters, as expected from any Square Enix production. Double Helix of course drew on that in fleshing out the story, characters, and Wanzers in Front Mission Evolved, but the developer was also tasked with "westernizing" the game.
To make the characters more accessible, Double Helix first tried to make them grittier and more raw, doing away with Japanese stereotypes perceived by America and Europe. But doing so strayed too far from what gamers have come to expect in a Square Enix title. So the American developer focused on more subtle changes, ensuring the male characters are realistically masculine while giving the female characters a sexier and more provocative edge.
For the Wanzers, Square Enix updated pre-existing designs from the series, giving them a sharper and more layered look. In fact, the new Wanzer designs may be attempts at tapping into the success of another giant robot franchise that has gained success in U.S. movie theatres.
Choose Your Weapon
Outside of its story, the Front Mission series is also known for deep, tactical combat. Unfortunately, moving from turn-based strategy to third-person shooting can potentially decrease Front Mission Evolved's tactical nature. Double Helix hopes to avoid this by amplifying another Front Mission staple: robust Wanzer customization.