MAKUHARI MESSE--During the Square Enix Party 2005, we had a chance to check out Front Mission Online and get our hands on the game. Unlike previous console installments in the series that played out as turn-based strategy games featuring walking tanks called wanzers, Front Mission Online is a real-time, third-person action game. You will assume the role of a soldier working for either the Oceania Cooperative Union (OCU) or the Unified Continental States (USN) during the Second Huffman Conflict in the series' timeline. You can either take on missions against the computer or battle against human players in teams of up to 10 members. We were able to take the game for a spin and found in it a complex but action-packed mech combat experience.
Our trial of Front Mission Online started out in a lobby area, kind of like in Phantasy Star Online. We walked around as a wanzer pilot in what looked like the wanzers' maintenance area, and touching on a panel close to our wanzer allowed us to purchase parts and customize our vehicle like in the original series, such as its weapon equipment, body, backpack, and legs. We saw that the game included a nice selection of weapons, including a heavy machine gun and a sniper rifle. Once we were finished tinkering with our wanzer, we were sent to another area with monitors, which let us select a mission against computer opponents and see how the game actually plays.
The basic controls for Front Mission Online were simple enough that we got a good grasp on them in our first few minutes of playing. The left analog stick was used for controls, and the R2 button was used for attacking, which is somewhat unusual for a PS2 game. We could switch around our weapon according to our situation by pressing the square button. Pressing down on the right analog stick (R3 button) let us switch between the normal third-person view and a first-person cockpit view. The right analog stick was used for rotating our wanzer's upper body, which came in handy when trying to shoot at fast enemies. L1 was used for guarding and L2 was used for dashing, and when pressed in combination with the left analog stick, L2 also let us strafe from side to side. Triangle let us switch around our mech's backpack, which gave it different special abilities like in Front Mission 4. One special ability in particular let us engage optimal camouflage, masking our wanzer from view. The X button was used for switching on and off a jetpack to reach high places. And, being an online game, Front Mission Online also let us communicate with our teammates using macros. The setup at the event also had microphone-enabled speakers hooked up, which eliminated the need for using macros and the keyboard.
Although Front Mission Online is Square Enix's first attempt to transform the strategy game series into an action experience, it looked to be pretty well featured in terms of controls, and it also seemed to be doing well in inheriting the elements and atmosphere of the series. For strategy game players who aren't too good at action-packed mech games, though, trying to play the game will probably take some getting used to.
Front Mission Online is already out in Japan, and a PC edition is slated for release later this year. Square Enix is currently accepting beta testers for the PC edition on the game's official site. The PC edition will allow for gameplay in a high resolution of 1280x1024 but should otherwise offer a similar experience. Also, like with Final Fantasy XI, PC-edition owners will be able to play with PS2-edition owners.