|Platform:||PlayStation Network (originally PlayStation)|
Downloadable content is becoming a major factor in gaming culture. It has been common in PC games for a while, but with consoles becoming online powerhouses and sporting high capacity hard drives, Xbox Live, PSN, and the Wii Virtual Console began offering downloadable retro games for little coin. One example is Wild ARMs, which the PSN offers for download on the PS3 or PSP for about $5.99. A high quality RPG offering 35-50 hours of gameplay for only 6 bucks is a fantastic value. I loved Wild ARMs back in the day and it not only remains my favorite of the series but also one of my favorite RPGs of the Playstation era. I even preferred the good ol' original to the Alter Code F remake. Wild ARMs may not offer a revolutionary RPG experience, but it's still a really fun and charming RPG. Since the Playstation 3 and PSP don't have the largest RPG selections right now, Wild ARMs is 6 bucks well spent until the next great RPG appears.
Wild ARMs takes place in the dying world of Filgaia and tells the story of three divergent heroes whose paths cross during a time of crisis, and they are called upon to save the world from an ancient evil that has come back with a vengeance. Rudy is a kind-hearted boy whose possession and use of a forbidden power leads to his exile from the farming village he calls home. Jack is a treasure hunter whose exploration of a fabled ruin exposes him to the cryptic beginnings of one of Filgaia's most guarded secrets. Princess Cecilia is an adventurous student about to graduate from her magic training at a nearby abbey. The three of them meet up by chance in the town of Adlehyde on the eve of the town's harvest festival. The three take on an emergency mission that day and part ways... or so it seems. During the festival, the minions of the Metal Demons (that aforementioned ancient evil) attack the town in search of Princess Cecilia and her teardrop pendant. Thinking the demons will relent if she gives in, she offers them the teardrop but they still decide to commit unspeakable acts of evil and vie for world domination. The king calls upon Jack and Rudy to retrieve the teardrop and an insistent Cecilia wants to go with them as well. What follows is a classic save-the-world tale with nods to past RPGs such as Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals and Final Fantasy VI.
My personal favorite part of the story was the very beginning where I got to play each character's path individually until they met up, and I would have liked those sequences to be longer. My second favorite part was the ending. The ending was very long and felt like a suitable reward for 45 or so hours of diligence. Sure, some aspects of the ending were a little cheesy, but I could say that about many RPGs. The artwork displayed during the end credits was beautiful and served as a nice reward as well. I'm always happy when an RPG does not skimp on the ending. Now that I've described the beginning and ending, that leaves the lengthy middle part to describe. The story in Wild ARMs was not revolutionary or mindblowing, but it progressed at a good pace and had plenty of cool NPCs, such as the mysterious and beautiful gunslinger Calamity Jane, along with memorable and emotional moments, such as Rudy's extensive backstory. I only wished that Jack's and Cecilia's pasts had been fleshed out as deeply as Rudy's was. Another issue I had was that Rudy was a silent protagonist. He was as much a main character as Jack and Cecilia, so why couldn't he have dialogue and a personality? He was duller than he really should have been. On a final note, Wild ARMs' localization was surprisingly good. SCEA was not known for top-notch localizations back then. Legend of Dragoon, Star Ocean: The Second Story, and even Wild Arms: 2nd Ignition for example had rough localizations. However, Wild ARMs' text and dialogue read smoothly and was free of technical errors, though the font was sometimes cumbersome to read on a small screen.
The main strength of an RPG such as Wild ARMs isn't its story, but its gameplay. Any way you slice it, Wild ARMs is a fun RPG to play. I've played many RPGs with amazing stories, but never wanted to play them again because they weren't fun. I was more than happy to play Wild ARMs again years later on my PSP because the game is fun and enjoyable. The game utilizes classic RPG gameplay with some inventive twists. Battles occur randomly and the turn based battle engine is icon-based and very easy and intuitive to use. One cool feature is that characters' equipment can be changed during battle without any loss of turn penalty. Why can't more RPGs have conveniences like that? Boss battles can often be challenging, but the most challenging aspect of the game is the puzzles.
Dungeons contain puzzles similar to those in Lufia II, and as the game progresses, the puzzles get fiendishly harder. Each character has a series of tools they can use, such as bombs, grappling hooks, even a pet rat, to progress through dungeons and solve puzzles. Outside of battles, towns are filled with people to talk to and though the overland is vast, there are occasional NPCs walking around it to talk to as well. How cool is that? And I will tell you, with modern RPGs eschewing the old fashioned overlands, that unbridled joy of sailing the seas in a ship or flying around the world in an airship is a rarity. Wild ARMs has our heroes sailing a boat and flying an airship during their adventure and it's loads of fun. Exploration is well rewarded in Wild ARMs because along with the main quest, there await tons of sidequests to undertake, making for a lengthy RPG.
The control and interface are good with easily navigable menus, but there is one thing to note. Dashing is not handled like in conventional RPGs. Where many RPGs have players hold down a face button with the D-pad simultaneously to make a character run, holding down the dash button in Wild ARMs is like playing with those toy cars that you pull back, let go of, and let them rip till they hit a wall or you pick them up. Dashing takes some getting used to in Wild ARMs, especially during dungeon sequences where players will have to dash through booby trapped areas.
A great convenience unique to the PSN download is the digital instruction manual. Included in the PSN download of the game is digital version of the original paper manual with scans of every page. There are also pictures of the beautiful box art. I think digital manuals are the new wave of the future of gaming. After all, paper manuals are often discarded, easily lost, ignored, and create landfill waste. A paperless manual can't be used for those purposes. Paperless instruction manuals for the win!
The graphics are a blend of 2D sprite-based graphics for the environments and 3D polygon graphics during battles. The character sprites have a surprising amount of detail. Where most 2D RPG sprites do a single-frame about-face when turning around, Wild ARMs' sprites use multiple frames to smoothly turn around more realistically. The game has an old west inspired motif, so the color scheme eschews bright greens in favor of browns to show desolate dying desert plains reminiscent of the old west. When it's time to battle, the game switches to 3D polygon graphics which definitely look dated by today's standards, but do allow cameras to cinematically show battles from a variety of angles. The super-deformed character models look like little polygon blobs with giant heads and squat little bodies. By contrast, enemies look much better, especially bosses. They loom large and look very intimidating. Guardians, powerful beings summoned by the heroes, look good as well with glorious animations; this was definitely a hint of things to come with Final Fantasy VII and its elaborate summon sequences. These polygon graphics looked alright in 1996, but gamers used to today's modern graphics may view the polygons here as blocky messes whereas the 2D graphics still look fine (although Cecilia's occasional post-battle victory dance is still cute and adorable.) As mentioned earlier, the artwork presented during the end credits is beautiful, but the opening anime sequence still remains one of the best anime openings I have ever seen in a video game.
Music composer Michiko Naruke is a microcosm of Wild ARMs as a whole. Wild ARMs doesn't quite compare to Final Fantasy VII's fame and pedigree, but it is still an above average RPG with a loyal fanbase. In much the same way, Michiko Naruke is nowhere near as acclaimed or famous as Nobuo Uematsu, but she's still an excellent composer with a very loyal fanbase among RPG fans. The fusion of classic RPG style music with elements of music typically found in old west movies and television shows works beautifully in the game. There is not a single bad piece of music and all of it fits the intended environment or scene. A mark of a great RPG composer is if he or she can create a battle theme that I cannot get tired of listening to repeatedly, and Naruke succeeds here. For those who choose to play the game on a PSP, play it with headphones, because the music will sound better than through the PSP's speakers.
Wild ARMs may have some dated elements, but it has some timeless elements as well. Even now, over a decade later, I can play Wild ARMs again and still love it for its charm. Wild ARMs is a quality RPG that's a lot of fun to play, easily worth the 6 bucks from PSN to download to your Playstation 3 or PSP, and a great RPG to tide you over until Star Ocean: The First Departure comes out for the PSP and/or until Final Fantasy XIII comes out for the Playstation 3.