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Wild Arms (PlayStation) artwork

Wild Arms (PlayStation) review

"A post-apocalyptic tale about wrestling with demons, both literal and figurative."

When you begin Wild Arms, get ready to be depressed. This RPG doesn't take you to a lush fantasy realm during a time of great prosperity. Rather, this is post-apocalyptic tale features a world slowly decaying. Following a massive war, part of the planet Filgaia was transformed into a desert that began to spread across the already ravage land. In the present day, sand slowly replaces the once-green environment, and horrific mutants crawl out of the wastes. You start in the midst of this rot, playing one of three travelers dealing with personal issues of their own, soon to become saviors of the wasteland...

The game delivers its narrative in several different ways. During cutscenes, you either pick up additional info regarding the three main characters (Cecilia, Rudy and Jack) or advance the plot. Each of the aforementioned protagonists faces their own struggles that form individual character arcs. Cecilia, for instance, detests her life as a princess because she feels believes her subjects only see her as a figurehead and not a human being. Rudy faces constant alienation because people fear him and his ability to wield ARMs, which are ancient firearms forbidden throughout most of the world. Then there's Jack, who searches for an "ultimate power" because an event from his past left him feeling powerless.

Our heroes work to prevent a cataclysm at the hands of an army of demons led by a monstrous progenitor called Mother and her top-raking generals, the Quarter Knights. Most of this content plays out through numerous cutscenes and dialogue, though the storytelling isn't merely limited to such methods. For instance, you uncover tons of backstory by reading books or talking to NPCs. Particularly, volumes found at a sealed library detail Filgaia's history, especially the tremendous war that led to its slow decay, the races of Filgaia, the creation of various weapons and the presence of god-like creatures called "Guardians."

Meanwhile, townsfolk progress the story in their own way. They offer their fears and wants while the demons invade their home, not to mention tiny bits of history regarding some supporting characters. For instance, folks dwelling in a town called Court Seim tell you about a local philanthropist and his daughter, offering up the origin story for a recurring character who frequently aids the party. Best of all, some chatty people you bump into can help you move the campaign forward. Like many titles from the 8- and 16-bit eras, this one doesn't always tell you exactly where to go next. Instead, you sometimes need to strike up conversations in a few different towns to get hints on where to find important items or how to locate the next dungeon you need to explore.

Every place you visit served a function once upon a time. Each one is a temple erected to the guardians, or a weapon created by a race called "elws" (this game's version of elves), or an ancient research facility. Hell, some of the locations are even more creative than that, including an alternate dimension within a book called De Le Metalica, or a tower that served as Rudy's mentor's work studio called Epitaph Sea. On top of that, they all feature a wide variety of puzzles and challenges to complete, from simple push-block segments to logic-based riddles. Sometimes you just need to arrange statues in a particular order, others you might need to traverse corridors in the right order to access a sealed door.

And each location teems with either the same beasts that wander the wastes or servants of the demons. You fight them in standard, turn-based battles with all the usual commands on offer (fight, item, skills, etc.). Each party member brings their own talents, including Cecilia's magic, Jack's swordsman techniques called "fast draws," and Rudy's ARMs. Most of your foes fall with little effort, though some of them can knock you senseless if you're not careful. Bosses, on the other hand, require a little more prep work and strategy, especially once advance past the halfway point. That's when your opponents regularly hit you with powerful nukes or status afflictions, some of which can bring your whole party to its knees. Truly, these can be the toughest and most exhilarating parts of the campaign, especially when going toe to toe with optional bosses like Angol Moa or Leviathan.

However, combat also represents one of Wild Arms' stumbling blocks, particularly on the visual front. I'll admit that the creatures you fight still look cool, even after over twenty years, but the constant framerate drops have become more obvious and irritating since the '90s. At best, watching the action slow to a crawl hampers battle's aesthetic value, but at worst the lag kills the pacing. Sometimes you'll see Jack ready a fast draw or a critical hit, only to sit still on the screen for a few seconds before executing a choppy leap across the battlefield. Meanwhile, you grow impatient while the game struggles to process the animation.

Few of the above factors lend themselves to this journey in the way music does, though. The works of Michiko Naruke bolster the experience, bringing the story to life with emotional and exciting tracks. Moments of melancholy are all the bluer with titles like "Alone in the World," "From Anxiety to Impatience," and "Hope." Faster-paced tracks kick up when you enter dungeons or battle bosses, especially during major boss encounters against the demons or Mother herself. Naruke knows how to help bring the story to life, and perhaps offered some of her best work in his series' primary installment.

Wild Arms is like any good RPG. It's partially a story, but also a collection of battles, a bunch of explorable locales, a handful of clever puzzles and a lineup of at least decent characters. This one is a conventional J-RPG without any added gimmicks or advancements, and instead plays to the genre's strengths. Yeah, there's a lot of chatter about love, hope and all those simple pleasantries, not to mention some philosophical blathering about power and its use. But ultimately, this is a true-blue Japanese RPG that'll thrill fans of the category, even after over twenty years in existence.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 11, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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overdrive posted February 15, 2020:

Really good review for a game that's one of my more enduring favorites. In that category where I wouldn't think of it when thinking of any "this is amazing" highlight of my gaming life, but it's among the best for being fun to replay due to the puzzles and being one of those games that's just really easy to pick up and play due to it being so action-oriented and not wasting your time with extensive bursts of story-telling.

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