Front Mission: Evolved
by Dan Hunt

There's no denying that some terrible, terrible shit is happening to everything that SquareSoft & Square-Enix have ever touched. Recent research and a bag of mushrooms indicates that it's down to one of two things; ancient family curses or men with twenty-dollar bill extensions on their nostrils. Could be both. My money's on Ancient Family Witch Curses, though. How else could the tainted, evil spirits seek out and destroy everything they've ever made or even published with such accuracy? Breath of Fire had minimal contact, and it took a burning, screaming descent into the scagheap. Parasite Eve got one shot off before you were in the middle of the desert, wondering why the fuck mutant camels wanted to kill you. Chrono Trigger, I don't even want to talk about. Final Fantasy...well, you already know about that, and if you don't, you probably only came here looking for weird porn.

Worse than all the mystic bullshit I can throw at you, however, is what we're doing in return for the screaming bouts of herpes that pass as Square-Enix games. 'What are we doing?', you ask, Apart from sitting there, pantsless, at this hour?

Well, units are still leaving the shelves. Why? Because someone is buying them. And why is that? Because of the name on the fucking box, of course. Picture all of those desperate fuck-ups who couldn't help but try to convince you that Final Fantasy XIII wasn't a raving HD fuck-up - would any of them have bought the damn thing or so rabidly defended its small virtue if the name on the box had been more honest? Perhaps something along the lines of 'We Hope You Like Walking in Straight Lines'? Or 'Thanks for the Money, You Dumb Motherfuckers'?

I'll be the first to admit that I never played that raving shitpile. I jumped from that bandwagon late December Aught One. I hit that laughing scene and felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my soul; I was free. Which meant, for better or worse, that I only watched the game (13) rear up like the Great Beast from the television as my friend played it. With mandibles and mouths beyond counting, it devoured the last of his dignity and pride. I grabbed my last beer from the fridge and left after that. It kind of killed the casual conversation. People might call me wrong for judging a thing without actively engaging it; I say Fuck That. There's a great clarity to be had when standing outside and looking in. It's why generals and commanders stay away from the frontlines.

I didn't see that friend for almost a month after that; I dare not imagine what horrors he bore as I went about my business as a terrifying caricature of a normal person. He was a broken shell when we next crossed paths; huddled in the corner of my kitchen as I shot the shit with all the other people who'd arrived to forget the world outside, our syntax forever out of time with his.

I smiled and shook my head for some weeks beyond that; every time I asked him about it, he tried to convince me that I should at least give it a go - if only at least to empirically confirm that I don't like it. It sounded a lot like shelling out money and time in order to have a bunch of suits in Japan laugh at how me and everyone else was still lapping this shit up. I told him I'd pass. Besides; I could understand the subtext of the conversation. He wanted me to play it so that we could be in denial together.

AWESOME...right? Seriously, I have no fucking idea, and that makes me feel so much better about myself.

I laughed at that idea all the way to the store in early October, and then laughed some more with the clerk. He was a friend of a friend and thought that his job was awesome because he could slack off most of the time and because Randall Graves is, for some reason, his idol.

The irony of mocking modern Final Fantasy fans while buying Front Mission: Evolved should have been enough to cause a cerebral haemmorrhage so colossal that it would've split my head in two right there and then, but the universe doesn't run on should, so we're all still stuck with me.

I dropped the game into the disc tray as soon as I got home, happy that I'd finally come to possess another Front Mission title. Running around the planet like a dirty hippie and shitty localization strategies had conspired to keep us apart for nearly ten years. I was in no way prepared for what I was about to see. I have no idea what occured in those ten years, but there was no series of events that my mind could imagine which would allow for this to happen.

I stood from the couch rapidly, upending the ashtray. I demanded answers from the console, the TV, the fallen ashtray, but none of them had answers to give. Was 'Evolved' a mistranslation? Did the original word have no analogue in our tongue? Or did it just mean something vastly different in Japan? There was nothing evolved about what I was seeing; this was nothing more than a razor-sharp face-fuck of all the backwards and broken shit that's festered and rotted its way into every medium whenever someone realized that there was profit in it.

Things were going badly wrong at a ferocious rate. Ten minutes in, and I was fantasizing about murder. I've never been much at maths, but I calculated that if the game continued to get worse at this rate, it would only be a few hours before a giant hand emerged from the console and beat me to death with a six-foot disembodied dong.

Every face that I encountered in the game was a hateful caricature of 'fuck it, it's lunch in ten minutes, let's come up with a painful cliche so we can get some steak on'. The people who had penned these things must have been defective on a staggering scale. Were they even self-aware? If any of then were, they probably went right to suicide after they did this shit.

I sure could go for some cyanide right now.

For the first time in years, words failed me. There was simply no way to describe the horror before me using structured and verbal communication. Just watching it unfold was the most compelling argument ever made for no-one being allowed to speak to each other, ever again, for ever.

If you thought the silver screen was a master of maliciously unintelligent, juvenile storytelling, then be prepared to meet its most favored student. I'd never seen anything quite like the hatred for the consumer currently boiling from my screen, and worse still, it acted as thought I was the idiot that needed every ridiculous plot point reiterated several times.

With a snarl, I remembered the words that the clerk at the store had imparted as we laughed about Final Fantasy XIII. 'But, dude,' He had told me. 'Not everyone, like, plays the game for the plot, dude.'

I hadn't thought of it at the time, unsure of what I'd done to rank as a 'dude', and worried that he was going to dig up some other ancient slang, but it was true. Even if the way he had chosen to express it was about as offensive as someone mouth-fucking your mother on the kitchen table.

There was a very real desire within me at this point to run back down to the store, pull him over the counter and eat his soul.

I've had a lot of practice, you know.

If you don't want your game to have a plot, that's cool. That's absolutely fine. It's the difference between reading a book and playing a sport; one is a mental action, the other a physical. Some games are about the plot, others about the gameplay. Some both, but rarely.

But, shit, let's go back about ten years and look at how I stumbled into this franchise.

1999, in a random generic gamestore. I've got nothing to do, nowhere to be, nothing save the dread that never allows me to forget that tomorrow will be exactly like today. I eyed a small PlayStation case with what I thought was a squat, ugly robot on the front. The words 'Front Mission 3' stood above it, and though I had no idea why this mission was at the front, or even what a mission had to do in order to be placed at the front ('Was this, like, some nerd mission that sat at the front?' I laughed to myself, apparently not realizing that I was a [REDACTED]), I recognized one thing on the box. 'SquareSoft', it said, and I was sold. I almost sprinted home to unlatch this casket of delights - imagine my surprise when I found that it was essentially a sci-fi version of Final Fantasy Tactics.

In fact, it might even have been better - I remember that for the first few hours of playing, I was worried that some kind of sci-fi analogue to magic crystal plot devices would appear. None did (which is not to say that there was an abscense of blaringly awkward plot devices), and the fear was replaced with the realization that despite the word being missing from the box, tactics were more important here. FFT's battles were about 80% decided in the Formation screen and the actual combat made up of making sure nothing too awful happened.

FM3 seemed to have the opposite approach; vehicle customization (which was essentially character customization) was straightforward; the best was apparent by the pricetag, and it seemed highly encouraged to keep characters using the same weapons they came with. In battle, an anticipation of what the AI might do and an understanding of what it was capable of was vital. This level of involvement translated to something roughly the digital equivalent of a dex addiction. I don't even want to think about the amount of my life I've spent staring at FM battle screens.

Back in the present, my mind struggled to relate those experiences to the nightmare still unfolding before me. FM3 wasn't exactly Ulysses, but it was passable. The gameplay was sometimes sluggish, but it was engaging. What the fuck did any of that have to do with the abortion perched on my screen? [pic:face.jpg txt; I don't think calling it an abortion is excessive - it's bad enough to give you a miscarriage, even if you're not pregnant. And a guy.

No longer a turn-based strategy, Evolved sees you skating around, shooting sloppily at shit. It's determined to treat you like a slow-minded, lumbering idiot, which is presumably who it's aimed at; if you engage your brain at any point during Front Mission Evolved, you're going to want to go on a killing spree so long and violent that it'd make Vlad the fucking Impaler look like a pretty reasonable guy. There was no strategy nor planning, no thought or afterthought - nothing but gliding around generic locations like a mechanical [REDACTED] blowing shit up, then a boss fight, where you glide around picking up unlimited health and ammo drops like a mechanical [REDACTED] until whatever one trick-enemy you're up against dies (but not before a speech that'll make you cringe so hard that you'll want to die in a fire). Is it fun to do this shit? Of course it fucking isn't! What the fuck other answer did you expect?

I don't think I've ever been literally angry about a videogame before - in the grand scope of things, this is some trivial shit, after all - and if it isn't to my liking, it must be to someone else's, right? I've watched a few franchises take the eternal lunge into the shitpan and thought to myself, 'hey, well, if that's what the people want, whatever'.

There's no redemption for this, though. It runs on the assumption that you're too stupid to realize that every line of dialogue would be childish to a ten-year old, too dense to figure out how to customize your vehicle (and even if you aren't, fuck you and put these hover legs on), too fucking fat and lazy and stupid to play anything with even a modicum of difficulty. Understanding the assumption of the developer is also key to understanding the genre swap; they assume that you're too fucking stupid to play anything that isn't a shooter. I can picture the meeting that decided this; 'Hey, we gave these idiots something they liked, so rather than more of that, why don't we give them what everyone else is having?'.

In short, everything about Front Mission Evolved is a condescending insult, and you've proved all of it true by buying it.

If you wanted to convince yourself that there is nothing left of the medium you grew up coveting, this is the fucking way to do it. Fire this shit up, play it through once, and you'll be tempted to take several actions immediately. In order, they are:

1) Exorcise the demonic STD's it's given your console
2) Sell all this plastic gaming shit and start a useful habit, preferably involving controlled substances that will allow you to forget what the fuck it is that you just witnessed.
3)Scream at passing cars about just how this heralds the end of times.

They must be made aware of your revelations.

I watched in horror as all this occured to me. The plot was unfolding in a way that I could never have predicted; not because it was original, but because there is no living human that I dislike enough to suggest that they could be this much of a screw-up hack shitfucker. Had FM3 been a dream? Had I simply invented it inside of a mind warped by too many late nights, bad TV, and chemicals only approved for industrial use?

A Google image search shattered that theory, however, and the nostalgia gland fired to life. I couldn't comprehend how the images on the monitor translated to the horror on the TV. How had that happened? Why was I here? I'm usually select enough in my buying habits to avoid most of the crap in this medium, but this had slipped in under the cover of its forefathers.

I thought of my friend, sitting in my kitchen a few weeks ago, quite clearly mentally disturbed because he couldn't force hismelf to admit how bad Final Fantasy XIII was.

"Shit," I muttered, standing. The ashtray fell to the floor again, but I barely noticed. "I've of them."

There was no denying it - I was just as bad as him and all the other schmucks trying to pump blood from that long-dead horse. Not only was I wasting my time and money, but I was propagating this filth by boosting sales. The situation was bad. Fuck every last person involved in this shit, I told myself as I threw the disc back into the box. And fuck myself for buying it.

The worry now, I thought to myself ruefully as I threw the game into the trash, is that despite all the other terrible things I've done in my time on Terra, this is what I'll be made to account for at the gates of heaven. I won't have an answer when an explanation is demanded, and I'll be sent to burn in the same bloc of hell where the developers scream in agony. The game and all the minds behind are fucked, and it's fucking me, it'll fuck you, and the chances are that it'll continue to do so for all eternity.

They must be made aware of your revelations.

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