Wild Arms (PlayStation) review
"Filgaia wasn't always the sparse, barren landscape you'll now find it to be. Once it was a hospitable and green land, filled with life of all sorts. The world’s desolate dunes were once lush hills, the uninhabitable deserts previously great forests that stretched out serenely into the horizon. Then there was war. Nothing apocalypses up a place more than a good war. "
Filgaia wasn't always the sparse, barren landscape you'll now find it to be. Once it was a hospitable and green land, filled with life of all sorts. The world’s desolate dunes were once lush hills, the uninhabitable deserts previously great forests that stretched out serenely into the horizon. Then there was war. Nothing apocalypses up a place more than a good war.
From the skies came the Metal Demons, an oppressive race set on conquering the once-peaceful land. Rather than bow down to their new would-be overlords, however, the people of Filgaia fought back. Drawing on the powers of the mystic Guardians, the Humans and Elws struggled against the invading forces and eventually defeated them. The cost was great; the Guardians’ power, which had sustained Filgaia for so long, was next to depleted, and with their mystical energies running low, the world slowly began to decay. The humans tried to rebuild, bearing the burden of the labor alone, their Elw brethren forever departed from the world. They toiled endlessly, their only comfort being the thought that though their world may very well be slowly dying beneath them, those pesky Demons had been seen off.
Strict RPG laws demand they resurface at this point. Wild Arms obliges.
Recently awoken from the countless years slumber, the demons stir. A council of their leaders gathers, the demonic quarter knights presiding over them all. They watch…and they wait, biding their time; but you can bet this stylish assembly of villains won't wait forever. They hole themselves up in the most desolate of icy wastelands, unaware that they will soon be challenged - and not by any mighty army, either. No, the fate of the world rests in the hands of three complete strangers.
Wild Arms wastes little time producing your heroic trio, so I will dally no longer in their introduction. However, unlike me, the game does this in an invigoratingly unique way.
Each of your three-member party has to first brave his or her own little tangent before their fated meeting, helping to drive home their individuality early on in the game. Meet Rudy, a silent young drifter with the rare ability to utilize the forbidden technology of ARMs. His current abode is in a run-down shantytown, where he wittles away his time working for whatever small payment he can receive. Perhaps you'd rather get acquainted with Jack, a blade-wielding treasure hunter who is searching for a mysterious “power”. He and his sidekick Hanpan, the amazing chatty rodent, can be discovered gutting some ancient Elw ruins. Last of all, you'll discover Cecilia, the obligatory magician. This crest sorceress has a royal background, which explains why she can afford to be at the no doubt highly expensive boarding school that serves as her starting place.
Completing each corresponding cast members’ opening quests leads to their chance meeting, as they all head towards the same location. Guided by the hand of fate that throws them together to combat the eerie forces of evil that have been gathering, and all that. It's the eve of the yearly fair, a celebration of Filgaia's liberation from the Demons all those years ago, when our trio meet. Held in Adlehyde, the capital of the world, festive shenanigans ensure, set against the hulking silhouettes of the golems of old, ancient relics that had been used to drive the invaders off eons ago. But before you even get a chance to sample what the fair has to offer, the sky ominously darkens, swallowing up the merry mood. But a sense of foreboding isn't all it brings.
Demons. It's always demons. Arrange a fair in any RPG, and you can bet pesky bloody demons will rain on the parade.
The sudden emergence of obviously hostile forces gives your trio no choice but to do battle. With what seemed like a pleasant morning in ruins, it's time to for your freshly acquainted team to unleash some righteous anger upon your foes.
And in doing so, the first thing you'll notice about Wilds Arms’s battle system is how bloody ugly it is. The main game plays out in a beautifully-crafted 2D realm, the most striking quality of which is a bright simplicity that is no less appealing for its lack of complexity; you can't help but immediately adore it. Enter battle, however, and your colorful cast becomes compromised of hideously deformed mutants with bulbous, wobbly heads much like those awful nodding dogs you can put in the window of your car to depress other drivers. Tiny midget bodies grasp barely recognizable weaponry as you face up to take on your enemy. Everything about WA’s battles is a polygonal nightmare of epic proportions. It's frustrating that the designers obviously decided that 3D graphics were needed in the battle-system when 2D fared so well in the main game.
Luckily, the same reckless abandonment evident in the battle graphics is absent from the dynamics. Battling in Wild Arms gives you all the usual options: you are free to attack the dastardly swine that challenge you, defend against their attacks, or whip out a usable item. That’s not all, though - WA utilizes the unique Force Points system, which allows your characters to build up energy to unleash special attacks, such as striking first or summoning Guardians to toast the opposition. Magic, too, has its place in Wild Arms, primarily present in Cecilia’s crest sourcery. Scattered liberally throughout the game are blank crests, which can be taken to a guild, where, free of charge, they will be permanently inscribed with a spell of your choice. Jack also consumes MP when he uses his Sword Arts, but Rudy’s firearm arsenal (a stock that’d make Rambo jealous) runs off of a different ammunition - that is, bullets for his ARMs, which can be replenished in any town.
…Which leads me to wonder why cities would stock such a thing. The plot makes it very clear that ARMs are taboo, yet not only will you find each and every town will sell you ammunition, but a gunsmith is present. Puzzling, perhaps, but without this, Rudy's individual skill would be moot, so it's overlookable.
Individuality is equally stressed throughout the exploration of WA’s many dungeons. Each of your team members collects several tools that are key to solving the game’s many puzzles. This great inclusion gives you a level of interaction that you don't often find in RPGs, as rather than just fighting your way through monster-choked lairs, you have to engage the grey matter a little. Can't get to a switch that lies on a ledge blocked off by an ominous drop? Have Jack send Hanpan speeding across the void to do the job for you. That crack in the wall look suspicious? Perhaps having Rudy drop a few bombs in front of it will yield some results. Or maybe you’ve just screwed up a puzzle of sorts, but never fear, as a quick trip back in time via Cecilia’s magical stopwatch is but a button push away.
Even the dungeons themselves exhibit a charm. One moment you might find yourself picking your way through a darkness-choked, crumbling cave filled with suspiciously derelict architecture and pervading gloom, only to discover your next task takes you to a once-thriving factory, filled to the brim with the forgotten technology of a now-extinct race. The dungeons come at you thick and fast, but there is enough diversity present to stop their exploration from being a chore. Tackling them is not only made a joy from the previously mentioned vibrant backdrops, variety of themes, and cleverly used puzzles - the accompanying soundtrack is nothing short of staggering.
In fact, throughout the game, the soundtrack is exceptional, capturing the mood almost effortlessly. Each of the main villains has his or her own theme, be it a Spanish desperado ditty or a strikingly grand symphony. The great sense of personality the villainous fiends exude has much to do with the musical score behind them. That's not to say that everything is perfect, however; the battle theme and the more commonly-used tracks have been over-stretched, and you will soon start to tire of them. This is forgivable since you've already watched the unforgettable anime opening scene. Try not to later whistle the memorable Wild West-inspired track that plays along with it - I dare you!
That single track will stayed forever lodged in my mind, just as will my entire experience with Wild Arms. It doesn't aim to be epic like so many 32-bit RPGs do, and in this it has found its niche. The twisting plot will fail to wow you, but what it and the rest of the game does is charm you. That's the key word when discussing Wild Arms: charming. This is what helps it poke its head above the throngs of average and over-hyped RPGs in an overcrowded genre.
I'd go so far as to suggest you'd need a heart of stone to dislike Wild Arms. It'd be akin to setting a puppy on fire.
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