Wild Arms 3 (PlayStation 2) review
"You see, the world of Filgaia is the sort where skeletons lay bleached under relentless sunlight and like it because at least the demons are distracted by human flesh. Your human flesh to be specific, unless you pay attention."
If you ever decide you want to sit down for a long gaming session with Wild Arms 3, make sure you bring some water. Forget to and youíll be reminded the minute you sit down to what is one of the most spectacular role-playing adventures the Playstation 2 has ever seenÖ and the driest. You see, the world of Filgaia is the sort where skeletons lay bleached under relentless sunlight and like it because at least the demons are distracted by human flesh. Your human flesh to be specific, unless you pay attention.
From the minute you begin, Wild Arms 3 practically screams its intention to make you its bitch. You donít start at some sissy guild, or asleep on your bed while the peasants labor beneath. Instead, youíre riding a train with other warriors. Each provides plot fodder for a combined total of more than forty hours of gameplay. This isnít a simple discussion over tea and crumpets, though; everyone has a scheme and somehow it all ties together within your first three hours.
Before you know it, youíre on the roof of a train while the scenery swishes past you like so much water. But like I said, this is the driest role-playing adventure youíve likely seen. That affects the game in numerous ways. If you have the brains it takes to rub two sticks together, you probably figured out by now that I love the atmosphere. I like traveling deep into the core of the planet and staring at dinosaur bones between enemy encounters. I like riding across shifting desert sands on a cruiser while I fire my cannons at sand beasts. This is all well and good, but Wild Arms 3 is no movie. At the end of the day, you wonít care how it looks. Youíll care how it plays.
To put it simply, it plays you.
First, thereís the sprawling world map to consider. Well into the game, you still wonít have discovered it all. There are rocky mountain passes, deep ravines, wide prairies so massive they take forever to cross even on horseback. Villages dot the landscape, insignificant wooden shacks choked in the dusty face of a wilderness so barren it defies description. I like a massive world to explore between my monster fights and kissing protagonists, so right there I was ready to stick around for the long haul. For the rest of you who arenít decided, though, I suppose I should talk about battles.
There are two chinks in this gameís armor, and the first of those is the fights. Battles certainly arenít weak. They follow the same basic routine that worked so well for the first two games in the series. Itís just that youíve seen them all before. You still pick from a central action window, still use ammo-consuming arms that must be reloaded in one village or another. Iím not knocking any of this, really, just saying that nothing has changed.
Nothing, that is, except the horseback and desert cruiser battles. Though the former really just amounts to a change of scenery (youíre treated to a view of your protagonists sniping opponents from the back of their chosen mounts), itís still a change for the better. More noteworthy is the addition of the cruiser I keep referencing. Here, battles more closely resemble those you might recall if you played Skies of Arcadia. Your control is a bit removed, but the notion that youíre in charge of heavier firepower has a whole ďmine is bigger than yoursĒ appeal to it.
Another aspect of the game that feels bigger and better is the plot. To be honest, I couldnít care less. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I just broke some secret rule most every role-playing nerd adheres to, especially when so many of us are trying to decide what emotional baggage some loser like Squall had when he led a team of lovesick warriors against a time-hopping sorceress. But honestly, I read books when I want exposure to teen angst or what have you. With that said, Wild Arms 3 strikes that perfect balance. There are people in danger. There are plays for power and demons. It all comes together with enough political intrigue to fuel ten other games like it. But best of all, plot always encourages you to find what lies beyond that next hilltop, or over that distant mountain. Not a namby-pamby noble in sight.
Something else you wonít see is FMV. Instead, in-game character models provide the visual flair. And speaking of that, well, theyíre cel-shaded. Thereís a certain stigma that goes with the label, but trust me when I say itís put to excellent use here. Somehow, the barren landscapes and the art style used to create them fit together like a hand in a glove. Whether youíre dancing around a beastís tail and peppering it with shots or swinging the camera about as you traverse the dusty streets of a mountainside civilization, youíll never for a moment feel that the game suffers from a lack of continuity.
With that said, thereís that other chink in the gameís armor that I must mention, its puzzles. As long as Iím being blunt--and I am--they suck. Early on, they mostly involve you stepping on switches and wandering around mazes. Later on, theyíve progressed to fetch quests where youíre not even always sure what it is youíre supposed to retrieve. If this concerns you, well, I canít really say much to soften the blow. Itís not pretty, but itís there and youíll have to deal with it so you can witness the many bright spots.
Bright spots. Thatís what it all comes down to. And despite its gloomy atmosphere, Wild Arms 3 has plenty of those moments where youíll want to just sit back and stare at the world youíre exploring. Sure, the stars are fiery infernos and the sparkling waves are made of sand. But everything you love is still there. Thatís got to count for something.
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 16, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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