Wild Arms is Contrail's first RPG for the Sony Playstation. Before it first arrived on US shores, RPGs were fairly scarce, so the release of Wild Arms was met with sizable attention from Playstation-owning RPG fans. This attention proved to be well deserved; though Wild Arms has some serious storyline problems, it executes like few others.
Wild Arms takes place in Filgaia, a world far removed from its past
glory. Ages ago, Filgaia was extremely prosperous, with humans and Elw
(a race that combined technology with magic) living harmoniously under
the watchful protection of the mystical Guardians. Suddenly, a race of metal demons attempted to take over Filgaia. The humans and Elw joined their forces, and, with the help of the Guardians, were able to drive the demons back.
The cost of victory was high. The planet was decimated, the
Guardians were drained of their power and disappeared, and the Elw
became disillusioned with humans and disappeared as well.
Now, 1000 years later, a new civilization (consisting of
humans) has begun to rise. However, Filgaia still has not fully
recovered from the war, and the demons are ready to invade it again.
The plot revolves around the three playable characters in the
game. Rudy Roughnight is a wandering youth who can interface with
ancient relic weapons called ARMs. His past is shrouded in mystery. Jack Van Burace is a treasure hunter who is accompanied by a rat-like creature named Hanpan. Little is known about his past as well. Cecilia Lynne Adlehyde is the princess of the kingdom of Adlehyde, and has spent the majority of her youth in Curan Abbey learning magic. Although each one of them comes from a very different background, all of them end up sharing the same goal: to stop the metal demons and restore Filgaia to its former prosperity.
As mentioned before, Wild Arms' strongest singular
aspect is its gameplay. Much of Wild Arms' gameplay consists of tried-and-true elements from other RPGs. Enemies are encountered randomly in area maps as well as on the world map, and battles take place on their own screens. The battles are turn-based. Magic and skills are learned by your characters, and can be used to aid them in battle against enemies. Summon attacks can also be obtained. Your party can embark on side quests to gain rare items, become more powerful, and round out some of the details of the plot better.
What sets Wild Arms apart from most other RPGs is its execution. Nearly everything in this game is carried out extremely smoothly with
near-perfect precision. In addition, the difficulty balance is excellent (except for some of the optional side quests), and the encounter rate is just right. There is also a useful auto battle command for when you want to save time. Another nice touch is that there is a lot of possible interaction between your characters and the backgrounds. For example, boxes and even chickens can be picked up and thrown.
Despite its abundance of familiar RPG elements, Wild Arms brings a few new (or at least uncommon) gameplay elements to the table. The most
noteworthy of these is the force attack. The force attack works somewhat similarly to the limit break in Final Fantasy VII; there is a meter for each character that slowly fills up as the character takes damage or scores a critical hit on an enemy. When the meter fills up, the character can execute a special force attack. The twist here is that there are multiple levels of force attacks. When a character's force attack meter fills up, you can either have the character pull off a level one force attack (thus emptying the force meter), or you can have him or her continue to fill up their meter for a higher level force attack. When the force meter is completely maxed out, a status called "condition green" is reached. In addition to allowing the highest level of force attack to be used, reaching condition green cures all abnormal status effects that the character is afflicted with.
In Wild Arms, each character also can use their own unique set of tools. These tools are used in the area maps, and allow your party to access new areas or solve puzzles. Each character starts with 1 tool, and new tools are obtained throughout the quest.Examples include bombs for Rudy, a grappling hook for Jack, and a pocket watch for Cecilia.
As strong as the gameplay is, it carries a few significant w
eaknesses. There are a lot of puzzles in Wild Arms, and I dislike
puzzles in RPGs when: 1) they are not closely tied in with the plot, and 2) they are inanely difficult. The puzzles in Wild Arms generally have nothing to do with the plot (they're just kind of randomly thrown into dungeons), and they force you to make either absurd leaps of logic or go the trial-and-error method to solve them. To me, they were a big waste of time.
Battles also tend to drag a bit, due to the fact that enemies
use incapacitating status attacks on your party a little bit too often.
However, other than this flaw, the battles are executed extremely well.
Closely tied into the excellent gameplay mechanics of Wild Arms is its near-impeccable control. Your characters can move in 8 directions, and a dash button (usable in both area maps and the world map) allows them to run at a faster pace. A nice, realistic twist to the dash button is that while it is depressed, your character controls as if he or she was actually running, instead of just walking in fast motion. Of course, some precision is lost this way, but the control doesn't suffer too much at all.
There really isn't much to say about the field menus, except that they're very well organized. However, the battle menus are a departure from standard RPG fare. Instead of having your main battle options presented in a list format (i.e. Final Fantasy games), the main commands are presented in a cross (like Shining Force games). This is an excellent way of organization; once you get used to it, command selection during battles gets more efficient, and more importantly, feels much more efficient.
Wild Arms is also a visually pleasing game. It opens with a
beautifully drawn and animated anime cut scene, and while it is the only one of its type, it is very impressive. The character designs and art in this cut scene are among my favorite that I've seen in a 32-bit traditional RPG.
The in-game graphics don't do that poorly, either, even though the wonderful character art is not prominent in the game itself. Wild Arms is played from an overhead 2D perspective (with the exception of its battles, which are polygonal and in 3D). The area maps are sterling in their detail, and the colors used are plentiful and vivid. Wild Arms even throws in a few nice touches. For example, if your character steps in a puddle, he or she will leave little wet footprints for a short while.
The world map is also viewed from an overhead perspective, and is very similar to the area maps, except with less detail. It does,
however, zoom in and out (something the area maps don't do), and
does so quite smoothly.
The battles were not as visually impressive for me. Although there is no noticeable loss of resolution when entering battles (unlike Final
Fantasy VII, the most noteworthy other game to use a similar battle
engine), I was unimpressed with the extremely superdeformed characters and lack of detail in player characters and enemies alike. A strong point of Wild Arms is that its battle engine is actually cleaner than that of Final Fantasy VII in that the scrolling and camera work are better executed. The animation is also very fluid throughout the battles. Some of the spell effects are pretty
impressive, too, though the summons really aren't anything to
write home about.
Wild Arms is also blessed with a strong sound department. The
sound effects are mostly excellent and sometimes spectacular;
they're among the best that I've heard in any RPG. The Michiko Naruke-composed soundtrack is also extremely well done; the majority of the tunes not only have catchy melodies, they convey a great deal of emotion as well. Much of the soundtrack is very mildly influenced by hillbilly and country music, and it matches the frontier spirit of the game near-perfectly. There is no voice acting in Wild Arms.
The weakest aspect of Wild Arms is its storyline. The overall story is well told and interesting, but there are many long stretches in the game where there is almost no storyline development at all. Some of these stretches sorely tempted me to stop playing altogether, but the excellent gameplay kept me going. The three main characters are a likable group, but they are only intermittently developed, and the player receives almost no insight to their interaction with each other. In addition, the ending was very disappointing for me; many loose ends are left completely untouched.
The dialogue is also fairly weak. Characters generally don't reveal much personality in what they say, and the dialogue
tends not to flow naturally at all. In addition, grammatical errors are
noticeable, and in some places the dialogue just doesn't make a
whole lot of sense.
Wild Arms' story isn't all bad, though. As mentioned before, the major events in the storyline are quite interesting and the main characters (as well as most of the small supporting cast) are likable. In addition, the storyline contains a few extremely poignant moments that rate among the best the genre has to offer.
Overall, Wild Arms is one of the best RPGs available in the US, and its execution is nearly unrivaled. I wholeheartedly recommend this one to any RPG fan.
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