Front Mission: Gun Hazard
In the waning days of the Nintendo/Square partnership and the days of the SNES, the company put out a side-story to their successful Front Mission SRPG. I say side story because you can't tell where Gun Hazard fits into the Front Mission timeline, nor is it like any other game in the series. Rather than being part strategy and part RPG, this game is part Scrolling Shooter and part RPG. Like River City Ransom, only with giant robots and less puking when you die, unless you count puking massive explosions.
Anyway the story is as thus: There's a space elevator called ATLAS that was supposed to be used to solve an energy crisis using solar collection and microwave transmission of the energy. At least that seems to be the science behind it, given how the "L" in ATLAS stands for "Laser" but for some reason I'm not sure laser power has ever been given serious thought given a laser's propensity to melt things or blind aircraft pilots.
In any event before ATLAS can be completed microfusion power is discovered and the energy crisis supposedly ends. ATLAS is still completed thanks to private funding but nobody really cares because hey, microfusion. Also brushfire wars. With mecha (i.e. the Wanderung Panzer or "Wanzer" of the entire Front Mission series)
But let's forget about that and instead turn our focus to the tiny Scandanavian nation of Bergen, where Air Force Colonel Ark Hellbrand (a name you can trust, surely) has staged a coup against the President (what a shock, right?). The only person who pretty much stands in the way of Ark's plans after he hits President Orwen's only way out with a cruise missile rave is you, Sergeant Albert Grabner. You and your budget-priced Harby-G Wanzer, which pretty much looks like someone welded a machine gun onto a construction wanzer and called it a day.
Anyway after attempting to try and rally the few troops loyal to the president, you and he are captured by Ark, but you manage to escape with the help of a mercenary named Brenda, and subsequently also gain lucrative employment with the Kernelight Foundation as you fight across the globe, picking up allies and better equipment along the way, in the hopes that you'll get your chance to free your home from Colonel Hellbrand's grasp (and next week on GI Joe...). Your allies include a pilot in need of better training (because apparently his whole country's Wanzer corps was trained badly as a joke), a mad scientist, a secret agent with a Tarot fixation, A nervous kid with a repair wanzer, a resistance fighter, another mercenary, and a son of a tribal chief (and respected Wanzer pilot in his own right). Eventually after dealing with numerous conflicts across the globe, you become a bad enough dude to rescue the president, and can head back to Bergen where you'll eventually square off against Ark in a fight for your homeland. And if you believe that's ALL there is to this game I also have a bridge to sell you. However in the interest of not spoiling too much I'll just stop talking about the story here and move onto gameplay elements.
Like most sidescrolling shooters of the time you have numerous weapons, most of which fire in 8 directions, or in the case of secondary weapons, have unique abilities. By the time you reach the end of the game you'll have access to a weapon similar to the Plasma Laser from Raiden II which will just bend and curve to hit every goddamn enemy on the screen. Also it may or may not break the final boss fight, but since this is the SNES we're talking about, it's nice to have an equalizer against the standard "Nintendo Hard"-level of endboss (and in fact, the last series of missions are exceptionally hard due to the punishing level of damage your enemies can both dish out and take, even if you're fully upgraded).
Graphically the game is very good looking (considering it came out at the end of the SNES' life and that it was made by Square I should damn well hope it looks good), and unique in many locations, though I really have to wonder why some of the really big missions towards the end were squandered on what essentially are dungeon crawls through confusingly-built installations. Sound is on the level with Square's other SNES entries, with a varied soundtrack that includes orchestral, electronic, and rock-based music.
The game also has a lot of RPG elements as mentioned before, and just not the plot (which is typical Front Mission fare, right down to the vast multinational conspiracy). Just about every piece of equipment you or your NPC allies have will gain experience from use (up to a possible 120%) augmenting its stats. For example, weapons will get larger magazine sizes and faster recycle times, even above what you can upgrade them to with items and parts you buy. Armor plates will give you more HP after simply just being equipped on a mission, and so forth. And of course, there's always leveling up and having to grind yourself to the bone in order to get the best weapons and equipment.
However, despite all the RPG elements, the game at heart is a shooter, and more importantly, a shooter with an excellent plot, even if it seems that many of the characters and plot devices are Expies from Mobile Suit Gundam. But of course since I said this has an excellent plot, it is not to be confused with Code Geass (yeah I went there). I mean when your protagonist is stomping about in the only white mecha in the game (in fact even keeping the same paint job as you upgrade) and is harassed by two pilots in red mechas (one of whom is aloof and has family issues), you quickly see connections.
All in all Gun Hazard stands out to me as one of my favorite Square games, from an era that sadly seems to have been left twisting in the wind by the company ever since becoming Square-Enix. The story is good, the gameplay is fluid, and experience altogether feels rewarding. It makes me wonder why they didn't import it to the States, but then again given the RPG elements some gamers may have been put off by that. A shame really, they could've witnessed the earliest use of a now cliche emoticon (or at least close enough).
If you like sidescrollers and RPGs, I'd recommend giving this a look and finding the translation patch from Aeon Genesis. Overall I'd say it's a better game than Cybernator...
but not nearly as good as the king of all sidescrolling action/RPGs, River City Ransom.
And yes, I know River City Ransom has no giant robots...unless we mean the Mech Assault version of River City (which we do not...this time).