Review – Front Mission 1st: Remake
Some people enjoy turn-based combat simply for the thrill of the kill. Let’s be clear, when the mechanics are good or the graphics are gorgeous or basically anything can distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing (chores, work, funeral), then it’s easy to overlook the shortcomings. I may not totally understand what I’m supposed to be doing in Neon Abyss, but I don’t care because there are fun bosses, weird eggs and guns that shoot bubbles. So when a game is able to take a core concept and deliver it well enough that it distracts me from the shortcomings, then you get a fun overall experience, even if you don’t totally know what or why you’re doing something. This, in a nutshell, is the value of Front Mission 1st: Remake.
For those who haven’t dipped a toe into the franchise before, Front Mission is what happens when military minded developers discover Mechs for the first time and decide that they really want to go all-in on the tension and dramatic elements of conflict but not successfully explain why. You are in command of a team of “wanzers,” the name of the giant robot suits the fighting forces of the future use. Each game is set in a future far enough away that we’re able to justify both the existence of hand-to-hand robot fights with why we’re still arguing over oil and democratic coups. 1st: Remake is, on the nose, a remake of the very first Front Mission (originally published in 1993), although this is a remake of a remake: the original remaster was on the DS back in 2007. This gives you the general feel of the series in a very concise and exciting way, offering both the original story (disgraced ex-captain exposes corruption in the military) and the alternate storyline (disgraced ex-officer exposes corruption in the military).
Both campaigns benefit from the updated graphics (the Super Famicom style is nowhere to be found) as well as the choice of original gameplay mode (fixed camera, no movement outlines) and updated (moving camera, play fields, general QOL updates). Sadly, neither really has a massive difference between them, and that feels like a missed opportunity. If you’re going to have “classic” mode, I guarantee the appeal to play these games in the pixel-version of the first iteration would have been exciting for many, including myself. Granted, the Kevin storyline didn’t exist until the DS version, so retrofitting that storyline with old sprites may have been a tad difficult.
Cutting straight to my dislikes without explaining anything else, the story of both Front Mission 1st: Remake campaigns is hokey and schlocky to the point of parody. Nevermind that the dialogue is often stilted and off-putting: it’s clear localizers did very little in terms of updating or even grammatically improving what was translated from the first Lloyd storyline (Kevin’s is marginally better).
It’s the fact that both feel like the plots of movies from the late 80s/early 90s, and not necessarily in a good way. Getting revenge for a dead girlfriend/wife/team member only to discover that the real evil goes all the way To The Top is about as well trodden as you can get. Mix in getting people who used to distrust you but now trust you, people who you thought you could trust but it turns out they’re double agents and someone monologing in a WALKING TANK while explaining their evil mission is just done to death. If you ever watched Commando and thought that the action was getting in the way of the amazing storyline, then come enjoy this and never call this number again.
Thankfully, the turn-based combat for Front Mission 1st: Remake mostly makes up for this. Each battle takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes depending on the difficulty you’ve chosen (adjustable when starting a new game) and your current wanzer setup. Between missions, you can use the funds you’ve generated from successful fights to upgrade your machine, adding different kinds of weapons (ranged, melee, medium and support), adding armor, improving your legs (never skip leg day) and changing the color when you’d like.
Once your team becomes more robust, you can have different variations of mechs that you’ve designed yourself, from scouts who can shoot missiles and run away to bruisers who don’t mind taking a few scrapes while getting in the mix. My time with Aegis Rim: 13 Sentinels gave me a better appreciation for mech mods and turn-based combat, though that’s a lot like saying my time watching American Ninja Warrior helped me appreciate my kids on the playground. They’re sort of the same, but the caliber is completely different.
With Front Mission 1st: Remake, the biggest ideas to keep an eye out for are the randomized damage points. In theory, things can be really cool when damage is converged in one of four spots: body, left arm, right arm or legs. If you eliminate an arm, you take away the weapon it uses. Nicking legs means the wanzer can no longer move, and a body shot can result in destruction and shutdown. There will be times where straight up exploding a wanzer isn’t exactly what you’d like to do, but being able to knock the legs out from under one can help in a “protect this target” mission.
If there was the chance to specifically train your weapons on one section, that could make all the difference and actually boost the strategy of the game to a much higher quality. Unfortunately, all that you can do is choose to attack or defend and hope for the best. In one fight, I got the body of an enemy wanzer down to a single point of health, and then my next two attacks took out both arms. Why? Why couldn’t I just explode those poor bastard and call it a day? War is hell.
After you get over the core ideals of needing to accommodate for terrain, having enough cash to outfit different mechs with versatility and then power leveling your main fighter to stay alive and tank for most of the missions, the game sort of just plays itself. With the exception of a couple variants in the missions (protection detail, enemies having mobile offense platforms), you fall into a pattern: a fun pattern, but nothing particularly exciting.
Front Mission 1st: Remake has all the graphical and design upgrades that come with a remaster, but the core gameplay still hangs on the limitations of the day. You can see some improvement with Kevin’s campaign (more robust enemy fights, better spacing) but that even is limited by what the DS had for capabilities. The turn-based robot combat has come a long way: look no further than Transformers: Battlegrounds to see that you can have something be cartoonish and still brutal.
This feels like a game that really speaks to people who were in the sweet spot for certain points of the release window. If you played this on the DS as a younger person, it’s great to revisit it. If you really enjoy Front Mission titles and want to appreciate the first game, it’s perfect. If you’re an absolute turn-based, grid based, isometric combat beast and can’t wait for the Final Fantasy Tactics remake, this scratches some itches, though in a lesser way. It’s fun, it’s comprehensive, but it’s just not…great.
The controls are good enough, but I expected it to feel fluid with the joysticks, not to accidentally keep passing over the same spot over and over. It’s just good, and, for some people, that’s going to be more than enough, especially if this is your jam. But, if this isn’t where you’d normally go for entertainment, Front Mission 1st: Remake is not the best way to get into the genre.
The improved textures and higher avatar fidelity probably looked great on the DS, but this Nintendo Switch version is in limbo: too clean to be retro, but too simple to be modern. The lack of pixel origins is disappointing.
Clean and satisfying turn based combat with plenty of customization between missions. Good variety in weapons and planning styles, and the chance of targeting specific appendages makes for exciting developments. Lack of proper aiming keeps it from scoring higher.
Good ambience in both explosions and tense, combat-focused music. No voice acting is a double edged sword, preventing potential scenery-eating dialogue but also making everything feel stiff and stilted.
While it was a fun trip into the jungles and deserts, nothing about this first Front Mission made me hungry to keep moving forward with this individual game: it showed me promise of what could be, and encouraged me to go out and try the sequels while leaving this in the dust.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Front Mission 1st: Remake is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Front Mission 1st: Remake was provided by the publisher.