This game really surprised me. I generally don't get too excited about turned-based RPGs (I lost interest about midway through Shining Force), but I couldn't stop playing FM3, and it's difficult to explain why. Like Chi, I have mixed feelings about the game. FM3 left me feeling short-changed on several occasions. And yet, this game managed to pull me in and keep me interested. I found myself addicted to the fun battle scenarios, and the story proved just compelling enough for me to keep plugging away at this futuristic RPG.
I really got caught-up in the "world" of FM3. As Chi was quick to point out, it presents to us a future dominated by sweeping social and economic change. Rapid advancements in military technology are at the forefront of this worldwide shift of power, as the development of the aforementioned wanzers has erased the possibility of a lone superpower. Even the smallest sovereign nation can now compete on a global scale so long as they have an army of wanzers at the ready. There's a superb illustration of this in the game with a great scene involving a foolish farmer who has constructed his own fleet of makeshift wanzers (each piloted by members of the family) in an attempt to muscle his way onto the world stage. In this regard, FM3 reminded me of the Japanese anime Patlabor, a film that focuses on how the introduction of these huge, mass-produced robots affects every aspect of society. Instead of using the wanzers solely as an example of the latest instruments of destruction, FM3 shows their impact on everyday life. Everyone from the military, to the police, to construction companies have found a use for this new technology, and have consequently made it a huge industry—on par with the automobile or arms industries. And like car manufacturers or arms producers, the corporations responsible for the wanzers have a far reaching political influence. Sure, the giant robot theme has been seen many times before—in comic books, anime, popular film and other video games, but the world of FM3 is deep and textured and delicately depicted.
However, the story is not told with the same precision. The game tells the story using a combination of rendered-on-the-fly sequences, hand-drawn talking heads set against static backgrounds and full-motion video (FMV) cut scenes. I would have preferred one or the other—there's too much of a discrepancy between the 2D illustrations, the real-time 3D graphics and the expertly rendered FMV. It's hard to follow a story such as this when there's no visual harmony. Having said that, there are some impressive scenes—especially the FMV sequence involving the detonation of the MIDAS bomb over a city (totally convincing) and the many real-time scenes before battle where some truly menacing weapon makes its presence felt. I wasn't bothered by the characters as much as Chi was. Kazuki is the typical impetuous, melodramatic, young lead character we've seen in every other Square RPG. I don't think he hurts the game, because the comic relief from his friend Ryogo negates any bad vibes. I've come to expect such simple personalities in games, and I wasn't expecting FM3 to break any new ground that area. However, I got bored with the heavy-handed, text-driven dialogue between all the action. I found myself yawning a lot and mashing the buttons to skip to the next battle.
The great battles really save FM3 from mediocrity in my opinion. Despite the frustration I share with Chi regarding the limited and sometimes confusing customization of my wanzer force, I was truly addicted to the involved strategy and explosive action during combat. The anticipation of the next encounter with the enemy caused me to lose precious amounts of sleep (I spent much of the time playing FM3 through blood-shot eyes). Chi does make some valid points about the battle system, though. While I didn't have any problems with the enemy AI, I was bothered by the randomness of the Battle Skill feature, and was positively dumbfounded by David, one of the characters who joins your team. Though armed with a sniper rifle, he always manages to miss his targets at the most inopportune times. I wanted to squash David beneath the heel of a goliath wanzer (pun definitely intended), but instead I chose to outfit him with a grenade launcher in an attempt to make him less useless. However, he couldn't equip the grenade launcher because his wanzer couldn't handle the weight. So I put him in a different wanzer—one I captured from the enemy—and he still couldn't use the weapon because his attack points were too low in the new wanzer. So I had to live with David's worthlessness and become resigned to the fact that captured wanzers are only good for selling when you need extra cash. I guess this reveals more holes in the gameplay than I originally intended, but I still found the battles to be thrilling and not-at-all repetitive.
I disagree with Chi concerning FM3's 3D graphics. Contrary to popular belief, PlayStation's 3D rendering capabilities have always been a little rough around the edges when it comes to generating realistic (non-cartoony) visuals. Sure, there are environments like the urban settings, where the buildings are basically blocks with pixilated textures mapped on, but I don't think PlayStation is capable of much better at this point. There are a lot of big explosions, and the wanzers certainly look very cool. In fact, I thought Squaresoft did a nice job with the original designs of all the military vehicles and weapons, all of which are impressively rendered and look just different enough to be from another time. But Chi and I are on the same page everywhere else. The psuedo-Internet simulation is something new and is a welcome addition to the game. Buying equipment through online vendors is the best feature of the Network mode. I liked the idea of online correspondence and investigating government operations and corporate plans via the Internet. However, as ambitious as it is, it's not very fun to use.
I still enjoyed FM3 quite a bit. The problems don't really keep it from being a good game, but they do keep it from being a more engaging experience. This could have been a breakthrough game instead of just another solid turn-based RPG. But I think the payoff is well worth dealing with the game's flaws. It could just be that I hadn't really sunk my teeth into a good RPG in a while, and FM3 certainly gave me plenty to chew on. Don't let the one disc fool you—FM3 is a long game that requires a serious commitment on the part of the player. Those willing make the commitment shouldn't be disappointed.