I must admit to a little bias regarding Wild Arms Alter Code: F; the original game was the very first I ever owned for the PlayStation, and ever since the announcement from Agetec that it would be translated and released stateside I waited with bated breath, through delay after delay, like a poor, lost puppy in need of apocalyptic western desert planet adventure stories. It has been a long time coming – a very long time, in fact – and besieged by calls of bad localization and uproar over the removal of character voices. So, after all of these delays, interruptions and clarion calls, the crux of the matter: is it worth it, or is this just an attempt to cash in on another bad remake?
For those of you who may be too young to remember or possibly have been living in a hole, Wild Arms Alter Code: F (WAAC:F) is a remake of Wild Arms 1, one of the first PlayStation RPGs ever released and part of the push of games that brought this genre to the PlayStation crowd. The planet Filgaia is slowly dying; desert is claiming land away from forests, the seas are infested with monsters and few will travel, and in a far country, the castle of Arctica is razed to the ground by mysterious attackers. Amidst this backdrop, a young drifter named Rudy rolls up to a sleepy little village looking to stay a while; a princess-in-training named Cecilia hears the voice of the Guardians, the gods of the world, in her head; and a middle-aged drifter named Jack… falls down a hole.
From there on out, fans of the original know just what to expect. For those who haven’t played said original, let me sum it up: WAAC:F does not have a complex plot. This is one of the old guard, where all a trusty group of heroes needed was the presence of a demon in order to go valiantly kick its ass and save the world. There’s no massive navel-gazing and introspection here, just a nostalgic and cliché story where each character confronts and overcomes their problems while learning to move ahead and, yes, beat up ever-increasing-in-strength forces of evil. This would sound bad were it not quite so refreshingly simple and, if you’ve played the original, being so wonderfully nostalgic. It’s clear to see where they’ve expanded upon the original dialogue and plot, and the new movies really help the story to flow during the more dramatic moments.
While the plot has gained a small amount of spit and polish, it’s the gameplay where the major changes have been made. Gone is the original, rather unpolished system from the original, and in it’s place is a battle system extremely reminiscent of Wild Arms 3 with some minor Wild Arms influences; mostly presenting itself as a standard turn-based RPG, the more you fight the more you gather up Force Points which generically increase your attack and defence and which can be burnt in chunks of 25 to allow each character to perform one unique combat tactic – yes, one. Gone are the days of each character having 4 Force Abilities; now each character has to stick to their core ability, which usually has to do with enhancing their normal special moves, which generally consume MP as you would expect. Again, following on from Wild Arms 3, natural healing items and overly powerful healing spells are scarce. Berries, the standard Wild Arms health-restorer, must be grown or found rather than purchased, while the spell repertoire of Cecilia includes a single, low-power heal spell. Instead the burden is taken up for the majority of the game by the VIT gauge, a stock of spare healing power on a character-by-character basis refilled by finding gems in the dungeons.
Other things are back from Wild Arms 3, too. The ENC gauge returns along with the accompanying Migrant Seals, there to limit the amount of battles you may simply bypass in a given area. Possibly the most shocking change from Wild Arms 1 is that equipment is gone; your stats and level alone determine your combat capabilities, though passive skills may be set up by means of collecting an item relevant to that passive skill and assigning it to a party member. The only exception to this no-equip rule is that of the ARMS-users in the party, whose weapon may, in yet another holdover from Wild Arms 3, be upgraded a total of 15 times in a variety of areas such as attack power, capacity, critical power, or the rather esoteric ‘handling,’ that affects the ease with which that character counterattacks or automatically reloads their ARM.
This usage of the Wild Arms 3 battle system has advantages. It’s a simple system, that can gain a surprising amount of depth as you properly learn to use spells and abilities, but suffers the problem of becoming too simplistic in this incarnation. To clarify, in Wild Arms 3 a lot of the complexity of the system came from correctly setting up Guardians such that this character had that spell, and this other character had those spells and stat bonuses. In this static-move world of WAAC:F, where only Cecilia has the spells and certain characters can only do specific things, this leaves too many characters with very little to do but attack endlessly; and by the same token, since poor Cecilia will never, ever gain any bonuses to her attack power, this leaves her forced to either guard through her turns or burn away MP every single battle.
Further changes: no longer are there the three core characters of Jack, Cecilia, and Rudy. Additional to these three you also control five other characters throughout the game, three of which can become permanent additions and, in some cases, outshine the main three in terms of abilities and power. In terms of new gameplay, this is a boon. Doubling the number of permanent characters is an impressive achievement for any remake, and making them worth using doubly so, though there is a slight thematic problem with using these three over the mains.
Wild Arms wouldn’t be Wild Arms without Tools and puzzles, and they’re back. Each core character gets four items that are used in a variety of puzzles throughout the game. A Fire Rod might be needed to light faraway torches, say, or some Bombs or Jump Boots to get past aspiring blockages. I hate to say it, but I was a little let down here; while there were plenty of engaging small puzzles, no dungeon really delivered the sort of back-breaking final puzzles I expect from a good Wild Arms. As a side note, those of you who might remember the Millennium Puzzles, again, from Wild Arms 3, will be either pleased or horrified to learn that they’re back. Again, sadly, they’re much easier than their previous incarnation, though a nice touch is no longer being able to launch yourself off the edge into an abyss at the merest provocation.
As you would expect, the graphics have been massively updated. The original Wild Arms had rather blocky towns, filled with sprite townspeople. Now, everything is in crisp 3d models, and while it’s a shame to see this facet of the original is lost the graphical flair of locations and the care put into each model – not just the main characters, but every NPC – means that the core feel of the game is retained. No area is incredibly breathtaking or amazingly complex or epic, but towns are appropriately dusty or run-down, demonic towers suitably evil and gothic, and so on. The lack of a particularly mobile camera means that some areas can be a devil to properly tell what’s going on, but on the whole the slightly isometric viewpoint works well enough. Battle graphics are a treat; the monster designs are classic Wild Arms, and the coloring bold and vibrant, with some hilarious or just plain cool attack animations.
The music! Oh, the music. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed Wild Arms music, full of whistles, acoustic guitars and soft strumming tunes. The original soundtrack has been cleaned up and polished a great deal for Alter Code: F; the tunes are wonderfully toe-tapping and only serve to heighten the nostalgia. Unfortunately, the sound and voice is a little worse for wear; it’s plainly clear that voices have been removed and it does lead to many sections of the game, particularly movies, suddenly becoming jarring as, in a moment of silence, the absence of any voice becomes painfully clear.
More than anything else, the strength of Wild Arms Alter Code: F is in the small touches and the nostalgia. For a lifelong fan of the series, Alter Code: F is a treat because it takes the story of Wild Arms and adds lots of little touches to it. The hair scene is played out in full, camera angles and all, so the player can better feel the impact of what is happening. Hanpan gets far more of a look-in than he did in the original, NPC dialogue is richer, and different depending on who you talk to them with! The bonus characters are awesome and sometimes wholly unexpected. Salut.
My bias is clearly showing. Let’s be more objective, then, and sum up: players new to the series, or looking for a more cerebral RPG, should stay away from WAAC:F. The battle system is rather simplistic and the plot rather too cliché to derive much fun from if you’re not looking for something quite that barebones. If you’re looking for a nice light RPG, you could certainly do worse. Go into it without much in the way of expectations, and you’ll be pleasantly pleased. The real treat is if you’re a fan of the series and particularly if you fancy replaying the first game; WAAC:F is notably polished and a fantastic bout of pure nostalgia to see such a wonderful game done anew, and that nostalgia can probably add at least 10% to that score up at the top.