Front Mission 2 (フロントミッション セカンド), released 9/25/1997, developed and published by Square
This is the second main game in the Front Mission series (Front Mission Gun Hazard, a non-SRPG, was released before it). As I said in my original post, I was disappointed in the first game for a number of reasons, and was hoping the second game would improve on various issues.
I feel like it did, while at the same time having its own flaws and drawbacks. One that is criticized by almost everyone is how slow the game plays. Load times are long (even playing off an ISO), everything is sluggish, and there are unskippable long battle animations. Setting up your Wanzer units is frustrating because of how long it takes the images to render. When FM2 was re-packaged in the “Front Mission History” set, they hacked in a battle animation skip feature (thanks to Harvey for letting me know about this). However, this is only a hacky patch; you get little to no information about what happened in the battle and have to check the status afterwards — all you see from the overhead map is the total HP of a unit, which is a virtually irrelevant statistic (the HP of each part is much more important).
The game is the same basic system as FM1, with each “wanzer” (mech) having HP divided into body, two arms, and legs. If you lose parts you also lose the ability to move or use that weapon, and if the body goes you’re dead. This game no longer has the ability to aim at specific parts, but that introduces more luck into the game because an attack might miss, or spread damage around to parts, or it might take out your arms or body. Current total HP is no guarantee of anything.
The skills are implemented better in this game. One of the complaints I had about FM1 was that the skill learning seemed random, whereas this time you get specific skills at specific levels (which are still divided into Fight, Short, and Long).
One big change is the AP system. Each character has a certain number of AP (starting at 7 but going up as you level). You use the AP to move (1 point per space, up to your move limit) and to make attacks (from 3-6 AP). You also then need AP in the enemy phase to be able to counterattack.
In principle you recover all AP at the beginning of each round. But each enemy that is adjacent to you reduces the AP recovery, and each Ally increases it again. So this incentivizes you to move as a group — the same rules apply to the enemy as well, so if you surround an enemy they will likely be unable to act on their turn.
There are also “honor levels” that get you skills which help out your surrounding allies; I know you get them from beating enemies or attacking but neither the instruction manual nor the in-game help really explain how the system works.
One of the main complaints was the slow speed, but another one is the balance issues. This is one of those games where differences in levels between attacker and defender make a huge difference, particularly in hit rates. So if you have a guy who falls behind a bit they are ineffective in combat, and there is no real way to catch them up. More problematic, a common issue I saw is that if you try to use your whole team (you can dispatch up to 11 people later), you will get to a point where none of your characters can match the enemies in levels and you’re stuck. What you should do instead is focus on 5-7 characters and have the rest just use items for healing, without “stealing” any of the XP.
On the good side, Amano’s designs are good as usual and overall the graphics are strong. This game benefits from the increased internal resolution options of emulators which sharpens the mech polygons as well as the buildings and other objects on the map.
And also on the good side, there are a number of people who consider this the best game in the series because of the difficulty level and strategic challenge — it seems like if you start out knowing what you are doing (or are willing to restart from the beginning once you figure things out) you can enjoy the game. Although it is telling that all of the positive reviews I saw spent the first paragraph reassuring people that the game was not as bad as everyone says it is.
The story takes place 12 years after the first game, in Alordesh. The military overthrows the pro-OCU (Union) government and declares independence, led by Ven Mackarge. The main character Ash Faruk escapes Alordesh with his companions from the Muddy Otters, but then decides to return to Alordesh to save his friend Griff who was left behind.
Ash comes across Thomas Norland, a survivor of the OCU, as well as Lisa Stanley, an intelligence officer. At first the story switches between Ash and Lisa. Lisa is trying to figure out what is going on with the coup — who might be behind it from the outside. Here’s some nice fanart of her companion Sayuri, and the battler champion Cordy who joins their team: (courtesy of Autumn Sacura on deviantart)
I played the first 11 of 31 stages — some of the stages are quite challenging, others are relatively easy if you move slowly forward and surround the enemies. The hardest one was stage 5 where you have to protect a weak helicopter as it escapes the stage. I had to restart this stage four times to finally be able to beat it.
But, I’m really not having that much fun with the game. I’m having to force myself to play it, and even when I sit down to play it I often watch youtube videos to procrastinate starting the emulator, which is not a good sign. So I think I’m tentatively deciding to move on to the next game. It does bother me a bit to skip a game because it’s hard, although I feel like in this case it’s a combination of the difficulty, the slow pace of the game, and the worrying possibility that I would reach a point where I could not progress further. However, a remake is currently in progress for the Switch, which hopefully will fix some of the issues without completely changing the game to something unrecognizable.
Let me know if you played this game and enjoyed it!