It would be more or less accurate to say that the difference between Front Mission and most other strategy RPGs is that you control robots instead of knights or mythical creatures, but the implications of that statement are so broad as to make the series very unique within the genre. For one thing, an organic system of level-ups doesn’t make sense for mechs. The skills of the pilots increase using such an experience system, but the hit points, strength and agility of the unit are determined by the parts you buy for them, similar to Armored Core and other such titles. Furthermore, the statistics of each limb become important in combat, as damage is dealt to them individually. Breaking an arm or leg disrupts a wanzer’s ability to attack or move, respectively, while a destroyed body spells death regardless of the status of the rest of the machine.
The predominance of ranged attacks makes a big difference in the way the game is played, too. If a gun can hit from four spaces away, then there are 32 possible places on the grid from which you can make an attack, each with its own modifiers based on distance and relative elevation to the target, intervening cover, the direction each unit is facing, the hand in which each is holding their weapon and so on. Thus, while any number of these considerations might be present in other strategy RPGs, each impacts combat in Front Mission significantly more.
Front Mission‘s turn-based battle system is standard in many respects, but also employs a number of innovations that set it apart. Rather than operating at maximum efficiency, each wanzer is limited by a resource called Action Points, which are a reflection of the pilot’s skill. Since there isn’t enough AP to do everything, players are forced to make interesting choices about how to best apply their efforts. For instance, since even movement consumes AP, making a long charge across the map might leave a unit too drained to produce a meaningful attack, and in order to counter an assault, there must be enough AP remaining to fire a weapon. Managing this aspect becomes even more complicated once support actions become possible.
Pilots can aid each other in combat by assigning Link Points to their allies, which is a new feature in this title. Links come in two varieties: attack and defense. Whenever one unit begins a battle with another, all allies with a link to the aggressor, line of sight to the target and enough AP to act will open fire as well. Likewise, all wanzers linked to the defender that meet the same requirements will retaliate on the aggressor. Without getting everyone to work together, it’s nearly impossible to avoid wasting AP. Once you devise a support strategy, it’s set in stone until the end of the next battle, so it pays to put some thought into it. Linking everyone to a single key player provides the most offensive potential, but a great deal of that output might be wasted when finishing off a weaker target. In general, it’s better to go for focused offensive strikes rather than relying on your opponent to trigger your defensive links; however, there’s something to be said for a soldier with a fast weapon preemptively destroying an assailant’s ability to deal damage. There is any number of possible approaches to the system.
Additionally, each unit can learn a number of abilities that trigger randomly in combat to improve power, add status ailments and so on, and these skills are doubly important in linked battles. Whenever two of these effects occur in a row, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll chain and incur a damage multiplier. The more consecutive times this happens, the higher the multiplier, up to a maximum of 2x. Doubling the value of an already enhanced shot usually spells victory, particularly if you’re lucky enough to end with a technique like Barrage, a machine gun specific feat that hits all linked enemies. Additionally, there are passive traits that make certain characters better leaders by enhancing the performance of others that act in assistance to him or her, either by curbing their AP costs, making them more likely to score critical hits or applying some other such modifier.