Front Mission 3 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Kero Hazel
As much as I try not to judge music by sound quality, with Front Mission I can't help but keep coming back to it. My first thoughts when I started up the Front Mission 3 soundtrack were "wow, this is like, electronic, but it's also... good!" The dynamic duo that composed this 2-disc set, Koji Hayama and Hayato Matsuo, made it clear that this was a stylistic return to the roots of Front Mission. Many of the symphonic styles and complexities of Front Mission 2 were stripped away, going back once again to that old simple mechanical groove. It's like the evolution of synthesizers. It used to be that a piano sound on a synthesizer sounded like, well, a synthesizer. Then synth makers got good enough that they could make a synthesizer that sounded like a real piano. But then they got this idea to synthesize the old synthesizers too, so now you can select an instrument that reproduces perfectly that old crappy electric piano. It's not quite the same, but you get the idea.
The Front Mission 3 Original Soundtrack features a large amount of electronic instruments, but they do indeed sound very cool. The characteristic wide range of genres is a feature any Front Mission player will definitely appreciate. One thing is definitely unusual for a Front Mission album, however, and this is the track length. Most of the pieces are well into the 3-5 minute range, with only a very small number being less than 2 minutes. Compare this to Front Mission, which had a mean track lengh somewhere in the 1-2 minute range. Though the pieces of this soundtrack are still fairly simple, that extra length allows for a great deal more variation, which is a big plus.
The first track, "Government," is a perfect example of that return to electronica that I find charming about the soundtrack. It reminds me a lot of Phantasy Star 2; it's got that same happy melody, and the instruments are similar to the old Genesis hardware too, though the good mixing and sound quality makes it a lot cleaner. Sometimes the composers try some interesting fusion, having real-sounding instruments playing alongside heavily electronic ones. "Rest 2," an early track on Disc Two, has its melody carried by some wind instruments. Strings provide additional ambient backup, but the main bass range is clearly dominated by a monotone synthesizer. Such tracks are fairly common in game music, but that doesn't make them any less welcome.
Jazz enthusiasts will welcome the early "The Bar," which might be a homage to Noriko Matsueda's fantastic jazzy work on the first two Front Missions. The two "Setup" tracks, also early in Disc One, make great demonstrations that prove that the extra track length isn't just filler. The first is a trancey dance number featuring very high frequency sounds, a catchy rhythm, and interesting layered melodies. The second is similar in some ways, having the same good ryhthm and dance-ability as the first. The style is very different though, using a bass guitar, brass, and piano for the instruments. The end result is a cool Latin swing that's very easy to groove to. "Barrier" takes first prize for being the downright coolest groove song, though; it's just so funky, you have to give it a listen. Another one of my personal top picks is "Forst Invasion," a dark industrial piece with really evil-sounding horns and something that sounds like a sinister war machine.
Front Mission 3 may feature a wider genre span than any of its predecessors. With "Bar (China)," the name speaks for itself. "Hideout," the track which follows, is a heavy, moderately paced piece, and it has some of the best instrument selection on the soundtrack. The monotony of the bass line is easily relieved by the rising and falling synth backups, percussion, and cool-sounding bells that continue the Chinese theme. There's also plenty of symphonic material, despite the soundtrack's general trend towards a more electronic feel. "Assault" on Disc Two is highly recommended, featuring powerful percussion and brass, and a catchy melodic theme that will really get your blood pumping; it's one of those themes I shouldn't have to point out, you'll know it when they get there.
For those looking for battle music, look no further than the bizarre "Determination," which has a really dissonant harmony, but I guess that just makes the fighting seem even more desperate. "Swift Attack" and "Attack" are also highly recommended. "Enemy Attack" is cool in its own right too, but it's much slower and sounds more like a premonition kind of piece than a battle theme. You might notice that all the battle tracks are split up here, something I think should have been done with all the Front Mission soundtracks. With the first two, they lobbed all the fighting tracks at you in one volley. Here they take the smart road and mix it up more, so you don't overdose on it.
Is there a Front Mission soundtrack I won't recommend? Not at all likely. Folks, they just keep getting better and better. As of this writing, Front Mission 3 is new enough that finding a copy should still be pretty easy. If you only buy one FM soundtrack, please make it this one. Considering that many of the others are out of print, this makes your choice a bit easier.