Front Mission: Evolved Continues Worrying Industry Trend

By Jordan Douglas on May 6, 2010, 3:24PM EDT

The biggest blockbuster games in the West for a long time now have been shooters and action games.  Franchises such as Call of Duty, Halo, and God of War, with their multimillion sales figures and mass market appeal, have made other game makers eager to get a piece of this lucrative pie.  As such, in recent years the gaming industry has seen a wave of franchises traditionally associated with more obscure genres, such as strategy RPGs or stealth games, alter their designs to a more action oriented play style.  This trend is worrying because it reduces the diverse offering of games available, and thereby constrains developer creativity.  The latest installment in the long running Front Mission series, Evolved, is a perfect example.

Front Mission, created by Toshiro Tsuchida in 1993, has traditionally focused on turn-based tactical role playing elements as the foundation of its gameplay.  The series has found a loyal audience in Japan, where each installment boosts fairly strong sales numbers.  However, the game's publisher, Square Enix, has been trying to broaden Front Mission's appeal to Western audiences.  To achieve this goal the series is switching focus from turn-based tactics to action oriented, third person shooting.  Front Mission: Evolved, developed by Double Helix Games, is the result - a mech based third person shooter with eight player competitive online, it looks a lot like Armored Core.

This change in direction is not concerning as an isolated incident, series shift and/or blend between genres all the time, but taken in context with wider industry trends it doesn't bode well for Front Mission.  Square Enix risks alienating their core fan base by completely overhauling the game's design.  They also risk failing to reach the coveted mass market Western audience by putting out just another third person action game.  Without a pretty substantial marketing campaign Front Mission could easily get lost in the vast sea of shooters and action games that saturate the Western market.  From both a creative and business standpoint, this decision appears suspect. 

Front Mission, while on the extreme end of the spectrum, isn't the only franchise to reinvent itself to become more action oriented in the name of sales.  Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus also tried to take an established RPG franchise and convert it into shooter with poor results both commercially and critically.  The latest iterations of iconic stealth franchises Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid didn't completely change their genre, but both placed increased attention on action relative to the stealth components of their predecessors.  When Alan Wake was unveiled the developers emphasized the adventuring exploration elements, years later the game appears to be a fairly linear, straight up third person shooter. 

All of these examples show developers modifying their projects to fit into a narrower mold.  This is not by any means implying these games are bad, the point is we as gamers need to be weary of the negative consequences of these trends.  Creativity suffers if developers feel the need to conform to whatever is popular.  There must be room in gaming for all kinds of diverse experiences: if there isn't, then quality will inevitably decrease greatly.

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