Wild Arms is a humble RPG offering developed by Media Vision. The game was published by Sony in the US in 1997, just a few months before the inevitable release of the great Final Fantasy VII. Because of this, Wild Arms pretty much went under the radar for most gamers, but was successful enough to merit two sequels.
Make no mistake, the first Wild Arms is by far the best game in the series, and not only that, but it is also one of the very best RPGs of all time. So it is no wonder that today 8 years after its release the game is highly sought after by hardcore RPG fans.
I approached this game a couple of weeks ago after finishing Fable, and Lunar 2 (again). I approached the game thinking it was going to be a simple, fun, quick RPG in which my brain would finally take a much needed break from the monstrous Lunar 2, and the 3-D action adventuring of Fable. However, what I found was the total opposite of what I was expecting. Wild Arms is an epic, a SUPER long, and frustratingly difficult RPG, that only those who have the patience of a Shaolin temple monk will conquer.
To start, the 2-D visuals of Wild Arms are some of the best – if not the best – I have seen in a 2-D RPG. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn featuring exquisite colors, and lighting effects. The Graphics here are good enough to even grab the attention of even the most 2-D games skeptics around. Wild Arms is really a work of art, visually (and in other areas as well) it takes a lot from the Lunar series and Chrono Trigger.
The Character sprites themselves are by far the best I have seen in this type of game, save for Grandia, Breath of Fire IV and Xenogears. The character sprites in Wild Arms are smooth, they don’t have that common pixilated look found in other games. You can even see details like hair movement by the wind. Not only does Wild Arms presents us with technically impressive looking graphics, but the artwork it’s flawless. One only has to witness the beautiful design of our three main heroes. Each location and village in the game has a distinctive feel too.
The visual presentation is near flawless, yet two small things will hold the score back a bit on this category. One, the world map, which looks like it belonged on the Super Nintendo, and two, the horrible 3-D graphics that appear during battles. Of course, this game’s 3-D renders were released in early 1997, and the big selling point of the game was that this was going to be the first RPG to feature Full-Polygonal 3-D battles, and that it did. Yet because it was the first to do it, the graphics look simplistic, the characters look short and squatty, and lack detail, the animations are stiff. The common enemy polygonal figures are a flat out embarrassment (The Boss models look a bit better).
Call me a purist if you will, but I would have prefered to keep the battles in 2-D. Other than that, I cannot complain much about the visual package in Wild Arms.
Music wise this is Composer Michiko Naruke’s best work ever. In fact, musically this game is on par with the Lunars and the Final Fantasy series. The music sort of has like an old western feel, but enough Japanese soul in it to keep anime fans from jumping off bridges. The compositions from beginning to end are brilliant. I have very seldom heard such beautiful music in an RPG that does not come from Square, Sega, or other big developer, so big props to Media Vision and Sony for this.
Story Wise, the game couldn’t have been better, while it is cliched (it takes obvious elements from Lunar 2, Chrono Trigger, and FFVI) if you are going to steal cliches steal them from the best and that is what Scenario writer Akifumi Kaneko did. You start the game controlling Dreamchasers ( a cross between adventurer, treasure hunter, and mercenary), Rudy and Jack, and also at your control is princess Cecilia. Each character has different issues to resolve even though Rudy doesn’t speak (ala Link). Each character has an interesting past specially Rudy and jack.
Naturally, their world, Filgaia, is in peril. However, unlike in most games the world has already been screwed before the game starts. The world was torn by a war between alien invaders called Demons, and Filgaia’s 3 native races the Elws (who are really Elves, why they are called Elws is anyone’s guess, maybe the developers did not want to make the cliché so obvious), Humans, and the Guardians.
After fierce battles that left Filgaia a barren wasteland, the Demons were defeated and had to retreat to the planet’s Arctic Zone. However, after everything was resolved, the Humans’ greed (what’s new?), forced the good natured and nature loving Elws to abandon Filgaia, as they foresaw the planet’s impending doom.
The Guardians having used up all of their power disappeared and became myths of time. So now, they are more than mere legends of the old Filgaia.
At the game’s start, Filgaia is slowly rebuilding itself, but the Demons apparently have regrouped and once again they will threaten Humanity’s existence. The difference now is that both the Elws and the guardians have gone AWOL, and it is up to ARM (an ancient weapon, that some citizens of Filgaia see as evil) wearing Rudy, Rat carrying Jack (the rat is his partner Hanpan) and Magic casting Princess Cecilia to save Filgaia.
The story is epic, and well paced, there are plenty of twists and shocks, more shocks if you haven’t played many RPGs. By contrast, fewer shocks if you are a seasoned vet. While it was clear to me that the story was cliched, I was never bothered by it because it added new twists to those cliches. NOTE TO RPG DEVELOPERS EVERYWHERE: please DO NOT keep featuring GHOST SHIPS in your games as it is getting OLD and ANNOYING.
Any how, the only problems I had with the otherwise inspiring, and entertaining storyline is the translation. Most of the time it is sub par, and the constant recycling of Villains was troublesome. For godsakes, I had to fight with each Villain at least 3 times. I began to lose respect for the villains when they began to out stay their welcome.
Also, the lack of a strong love story bothers me a bit, at the beginning of the game jack expresses his dislike for Royalty, wouldn’t it have been something if he would have grown to fall in love with the princess? The ending of the game, however, while long and well done suggests there was a love story, but I must have missed it some how.
That said, the game itself is worth buying for the story alone. Wild Arms is one of the best available in the PS1 in that regard.
If there is a weak link at all in Wild Arms it lies in its gameplay. The game follows the standard RPG mechanic of “go to a village yada yada yada, proceed to a dungeon yada yada yada, fight boss, and then repeat yada yada” a little to strictly. While the game is innovative in the sense that it plays like an action RPG, but it battles like a traditional RPG, the Battle system is simplistic. You choose your attack from a menu and wait for the character to attack, then wait for the bosses turn and then repeat. However, it must be said that each of the 3 controllable party characters have different skills.
Cecilia can use magic spells, that she learns by acquiring Crest Graphs in treasure chests and then taking them to different Magic Guilds scattered across the world to create Magic spells. Jack on the other han,d has Fast Draw techniques (Sword techniques) which he can use in battle to cause massive damage to enemies, but it consumes MP. Jack learns this techniques by talking to NPCs, from bosses or even by exploring Dungeons.
Rudy for his part can use ARM attacks, that do not consume MP, but consume Bullets, ARM’s can be found in dungeons, and can be upgraded in town ARM shops.
Much of the success on this game will depend on finding and upgrading Rudy’s ARM. It might be costly, but trust me when I say that you will need all the help you can get to defeat the hellish bosses.
Which bring us to the problem, the enemies, they simply are too tough and most of the time they don’t yield enough EXP. Think of Grandia, and Star Ocean 2 long like periods of random battling in order to have a fighting chance at the next dungeon. I do not kid you when I say that 40 of the sixty hours that it will take to finish WA will be spent on battles.
I recommend you to be at level 60 or above for the Final Trio of Bosses that attack you without an opportunity to save. So again, Wild Arms is a game exclusively aimed at the hardcore crowd. Those accustomed to easy modern RPGs such as FFX will find the game frustrating.
However, something that the game does well is exploration. This is exactly what most of RPGs of today lack, there are hundreds of hidden chests and secrets (even bosses) scattered throughout the game world. In fact, exploration coupled with random battles are the key to success in Wild Arms. The only way to find the best equipment is through exploring, the only way to find the best ARMs is through dungeon searching and the only way to acquire powerful magic spells is to explore the overworld to find the hidden magic guilds.
Like I stated earlier the game plays like an action RPG when you are not in battles, once you acquire all the characters you can switch characters at will. This will be important because this is the key to solve the unique and sometimes very challenging puzzles in the dungeons (there are MANY of them.)
Each character has a different set of tools they can use. For example, Rudy can use bombs, Jack has a grappling hook (like Zelda’s hook shot) and Cecilia has the ability to reset time in a dungeon. Each character has about four special tools, some that are necessary for the game completion are given to you, while the optional tools you must find for yourself.
Another complaint I have of the gameplay though, is that sometimes the directions are not very clear as to what to do next in an area, so I wasted a lot of time searching the world for some location in order to trigger an event. But this doesn’t happen very frequently and it’s not bothersome at all.
Wild Arms is a masterpiece, and probably features the best dungeons found in a PS1 RPG ( With the original Alundra being the exception). It has an unforgettable story, and a huge world full of secrets and things to do. A must buy for hardcore RPG fans. Casual fans who are interested in playing an old school RPG should definitely take notice.
Huge world to explore and challenging dungeons. The Battles could have been a tad easier though.
One of the best looking 2-D games I have ever played. The Battle graphics, however, seem amateurish at times.
Square Caliber music, the game is the best sounding of the series, sadly there is no voice acting.
Story: 9.0 –
Epic and engrossing. However the character development could have been stronger, and there was no love story.
The game itself is pretty long your first time through, but dedicated players will find much to like here, since there is so much stuff to do in the game world.
A true Classic and a must buy for any hardcore RPG gamer. I would recommend the game even to casual players who are looking to play a deep adventure with a great story.
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