I have a bit of history with Wild Arms. I loved the first installment to death, and it was one of the few RPGs I’ve beaten multiple times. On the other hand, I disliked Wild Arms 2 because it didn’t click with me, and I loathed the gameplay mechanics in Wild Arms 3. I didn’t even enjoy the remake of the first installment due to using the 3rd game’s engine. As my interest in the series was waning, along came Wild Arms 4. It had its flaws, but it took the series in a brand new direction, and it was an enjoyable experience. Thanks to XSEED, Wild Arms 5 is now available, celebrating the series 10th anniversary since the domestic release of Wild Arms back in 1997. Fortunately, this is another gem for the western-themed RPG.
12,000 years ago, the people of Filgaia prospered thanks to the convenience of technology. However, the use of advanced technology caused the planet to decay. In order to prevent the planet from further ruin, the people had no choice but to abandon their technology. A group of people called “radicals” took the technology with them and flew off to space to find a new home. Others stayed behind in hopes that they would be able to restore the planet’s life. Since then, Filgaia became a primitive planet until 100 years ago when human-like aliens known as Veruni descended to the planet. The Veruni quickly became rulers of the planet because of their superior strength and by their exploitation of the humans’ avarice and desire for technology. As a result, a prejudice formed between the two races.
Fast forward to present day where you start off the game playing as a boy named Dean Stark. Dean is an adventurous, if somewhat nosy, lad who has a passion for Golems (ancient mechanical beings). He wants to see the world and dreams of becoming a Golem Hunter like his hero, Nightburn. One day, he and his childhood friend Rebecca are out at Celestial Peak when a golem arm falls out of the sky. In the golem’s clutches is a girl named who holds a strange ARM (Gun). She only remembers that her name is Avril and keeps mentioning the name, “Johnny Appleseed.” Dean immediately offers her aid since he is a sucker for helping people, plus it gives him a good excuse for an adventure. With Rebecca deciding to tag along, the three set out on a journey throughout Filgaia to find the mysterious Johnny Appleseed. Little do they know that their journey will lead them to determine the fate of the world.
The plot itself isn’t great. It’s the usual “evil faction wants to wipe out humanity” cliché with most of the boilerplate twists. Regardless, the execution is solid, and while the plot didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, it made me wonder what would happen next.
I do like the protagonists in this installment. These heroes aren’t the most interesting cast to grace an RPG, but they are likable, and all of them received good character development. Throughout the journey, Dean befriends three others who have their own reasons for joining his journey. I got to know them well because the are many cutscenes that show the team interacting with each other, including dungeons where they sometimes stop to talk and get to know each other.
The villains, while a bit shallow, are more interesting and fleshed out than the Wild Arms 4 antagonists. One problem with the villains in Wild Arms 4 is that there were too many, and most of them come and go without getting to know them. With the number reduced, I had a much better understanding of who they are along with their motives and beliefs.
My main gripe with the plot was the ending. There were parts of the ending I liked, but all that build-up for the final showdown winded up being a little lackluster; in addition, some plot twists occured at the last minute, and felt tacked-on. It is annoying when a plot builds up at a steady pace, only to result in an unsatisfying conclusion. Suffice it to say, however, most of the journey was fun while it lasted.
Even though the plot and characters are nothing special, the game has visual merit. The characters look great, have a lot of style, and are well animated. The towns also look dynamic, but dungeons appear plain, with a few even having the same design with only a swapped color palette to differentiate them. What is most impressive, though, is the world map of Filgaia, which has a remarkably similar style to Square Enix’s Dragon Quest VIII. Filgaia looks great with lots of detailed scenery.
Presentation has also improved with the removal of the 2D portraits used in the previous installment. The portraits look fine, but the transitions are rough: they blur the 3D, while adding ugly black borders to indicate when characters are distant from each other. In this installment, all the dialogue and cutscenes are shown using in-game graphics, which should’ve been done in Wild Arms 4. It’s a shame that there are no anime cutscenes in this game.
Wild Arms series composer, Michiko Naruke, had no involvement in the music of this installment. In her stead, Masato Koda and Noriyasu Agimatsu composed the music. Their compositions didn’t have as much of an emotional effect on me as Naruke’s, but they did a great job capturing the spirit of the game and making the music enjoyable. The music has a heavy western theme, but other genres such as orchestra and jazz were added for variety. I was impressed that every town and the majority of dungeons had their own theme, making each locale unique in terms of musical score. The boss themes were the best thanks to a rockin’ mini-boss theme and each villain having his or her own theme song. The opening song is sung by Nana Mizuki and XSEED kept the original Japanese vocal. For such a nice song, it is a shame that it the opening is only played once in the game.
The voice acting is nothing to write home about, but the actors do fit their roles well. The voice actors did make some characters such as Elvis and Kartikeya more interesting, but overall, I’ve heard better. At least none of the characters have terrible voices, except Carol’s to a small extent.
Overall, the gameplay is similar to Wild Arms 4, but some elements have been refined and new concepts are introduced to the player. The strategic HEX battle system is back with some improvements. For those who didn’t play the fourth installment, battles consist of 7 hexagonal grids (or ley points) where each character moves on a grid and takes action. Allies can stand on the same grid, but if attacked, the entire group receives damage. Healing magic and items can apply to a whole group standing on the same grid. In every battle, there are three grids that have an elemental property, consisting of earth, fire, wind or water. Standing on an elemental grid can change a character’s magic or physical attack to that element. After each battle, the party’s HP is fully restored, but you can only restore MP by reaching a save point or finding crystals in dungeons.
Battles are less tedious in this volume because characters can now move and attack on the same turn. You have a total of six party members, but only three can participate in battle. Fortunately, you can swap party members in the middle of battle, and those who didn’t participate receive full EXP. To spice things up, the structure of HEX fields change during boss fights to add strategy. When two party members stand on the same grid, they can perform a flashy team combo. There are a total of 12 team combos to discover.
The battle system is one of the reasons that I enjoyed Wild Arms 4, and the 5th installment only made it better. The fights are challenging, requiring a good amount of strategy. This especially holds true for boss fights where bosses would have unique traits or abilities to make the fights unique. Battles occur randomly, but defeating a boss called Sol Niger in each dungeon can turn the random battles on or off.
In dungeons, the tool system changed once again. Traditional tools are completely absent, but Dean can use his ARM to solve puzzles which mainly consist of pushing boxes and triggering switches from a distance. As you progress, Dean obtains elemental bullets and devices for his ARM in order to overcome specific obstacles. Sadly, the puzzles aren’t well thought-out and are too simple. It’s not until the last few dungeons that puzzles get creative and slightly challenging, especially puzzles with clever riddles.
Dungeons may lack a heavy puzzle component, but there are 20 Puzzle Boxes to be found in Filgaia. These puzzles are about pushing three or more matching boxes next to each other in order to make them disappear and all boxes must be removed to win great rewards. The concept is simple, but quite challenging, and it should keep puzzle enthusiasts happy.
With the return of a world map, the search feature from Wild Arms 2 and 3 is back. Since towns and dungeons are already visible, the search feature is used for finding hidden chests and puzzle boxes. The tedium of searching is reduced by allowing you to move while searching, enabling you to cover more ground. Halfway through the game, you unlock various ways of transport such as a Monowheel which lets you ride around Filgaia. You can also take a train ride to get to other continents. You can even pilot a golem and make it fight.
Party members obtain abilities by equipping a magical device called a medium. There are six mediums in the game, each with its own set of abilities and stat boosts. New abilities are learned when a party member reaches a certain level, but you can learn it in advance by spending points. Each character has points equivalent to his or her level, but each point spent reduces their HP. You can take back the points at no expense. It may give you some option of customizing your character, but I am not a fan of that method. I like characters that have their own abilities because it makes each character unique, otherwise, why bother having many party members if you can make them to anything you want?
Party members can also equip badges which gives a character a stat boost or a trait. Each character can equip up to five badges, depending on his or her level and if a medium is equipped. There is also ARM customization with the use of dragon fossils. In this installment, each party member is an ARM user, but you don’t need to distribute dragon fossils. Each character can upgrade evenly depending on the total number of fossils obtained.
As a staple in every Wild Arms game, there are a lot of extras. In addition to puzzle boxes, there are a few dozen optional bosses, ex files which are bonuses unlocked by completing certain parts of the game, four optional dungeons and lots of sidequests. These sidequests mainly consist of fetching an item or finding a person for the quest-giver. As a treat for longtime fans, over 20 cameos from previous installments can be found throughout the game, and seeing them again evoked sentiments of nostalgia.
The controls and interface are fine, except with the occasional issue of targeting with Dean’s ARM. There is no manual target, and sometimes, the object isn’t targeted despite facing the target correctly. While it does not happen often, it does make some puzzles harder than they should be.
Personally, Wild Arms 5 didn’t dethrone the first installment as my favorite in the series, but it comes pretty close. Wild Arms 4 rekindled my love for the series, and the 5th game increased my love further. Its story isn’t great, but the gameplay is challenging and fun, and the graphics and music are a treat. I completed the game in around 40 hours without doing many sidequests, but for perfectionists, the playtime can easily double. With a fairly lengthy main quest and extras galore, at only $40 it’s armed thievery.