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The First Outing on Filgaia is a Great One
By: Phillipe Richer
Since it came out before the giant that is FFVII, Wild Arms (WA) didn't have much competition on the slowly expanding PSX RPG market. Even for its time, the battle graphics were quite repulsive, and the game as a whole did not offer much to revolutionize the RPG industry. Despite its few flaws, with some terrific music and some enchanting characters, WA succeeded in providing a satisfying, though somewhat unoriginal, experience.
The Metal Demons who were defeated over a thousand years ago in an epic battle once again seek to gain control over the beautiful and peaceful planet of Filgaia. Filgaia's main hope resides within three diverse heroes; Rudy, a 'dream chaser' and master of the ARMs, Jack Van Burace, a treasure hunter seeking the 'absolute power', and Cecilia, a princess who can communicate with the mystical Guardians and wields the exceptional power of magic. A rather unexpressive and cliched plot you might say, but a well executed one nonetheless.
WA employs the venerable turn-based battle system, where each character acts according to his or her speed stat. The fun of battling lies within the three characters' diversified arsenal; Rudy can use the mysterious and destructive power of ARMs (or Ancient Relic Machines), Jack can slice through enemies using deadly 'fast draw' sword techniques, while Cecilia is the only one capable of harnessing the long-lost power of magic. To obtain more ARMs, sword techniques, or spells you have to find certain items hidden in dungeons or towns. One particularity is that you must first bring Cecilia's crest graphs to an engraver and choose which spell you want engraved on the card, meaning that the acquisition order of spells is totally up to you.
Most battles in WA are pretty easy, but some of them will require you to use all the strategy you can by way of special spells, skills, or items. You can also change your equipment at the beginning of any battle turn, which also brings about more strategy. By acting in battle, a force gauge will fill-up slowly allowing you to use special force abilities acquired after certain plot points. The ancient Guardians will also be a big attribute in combat.
A staple of the WA series, and one thing that was best executed in the first installment, are the puzzle-filled dungeons. Much like any good action/RPG, you'll be required to use various tools and interact with your environment to advance through dungeons. Compared to the following games, the puzzles in WA were just the right difficulty and still presented some fun concepts and genuinely fun layouts. From the excellent top-down view, navigating areas is remarkably easy in WA. An 'auto-battle' feature is also at your disposal during fights, so if you ever feel like leveling-up while scratching your lazy-ass with both hands, rest assured you can do so.
Musically scrumptious, the only accusation I can direct towards Wild Arms' soundtrack, composed by the very talented Michiko Naruke-san, is the short length of the tracks. Most compositions last less than one minute, so they'll loop quite often. Nevertheless, the music is so good that you likely won't notice that little fact. The world map rendition is great, practically all town themes are excellent, and for once dungeons aren't a pain-in-the-ears. The main theme, first heard as part of a whistling melody during the intro, is a superb composition presented in a variety of great re-mixes along the course of the game. In battle, sound effects are mostly pleasant, though a little dated for one very good reason: they ARE dated. Throughout the game, the great music heightens WA's atmosphere and contributes to its great unique charisma.
While the plot does employ many old cliches, the storyline is fairly well executed. The characters exhibit a suitable amount of personality, and the fact that there are only three main characters allows the game to really focus on their past, present, and future to decipher them fully. A respectable amount of backstory and complexity elements are present, such as the presence of ancient races, wars, and Guardians to generate more depth into the story. Your characters will learn a lot about the folklore of their planet and their own powers, and although there's nothing revolutionary about it, it's still a good, heartfelt, and nicely presented story. Compared to the Breath of Fire or Dragon Warrior series, WA's storyline is gold, for its time or the present.
The script is pretty solid all-around, devoid of typos, and rather comprehensible for the majority of it. Once again, characters show an appreciable dose of personality, while NPCs do give valuable coherent advice. In general, the localization job is very acceptable. WA offers a lengthy quest of about 30-40 hours, filled with extra equipment, special guardians, and side-quests. The number of optional quests is quite surprising and completing them will reward you with worthy items. More importantly, many quests will provide you with more insight on your characters' past, which is always a great reason to go side questing. Choosing which character's prologue to play through first doesn't change anything to the plot and although the game is as linear as can be, WA is enjoyable enough to warrant another playthrough solely for the heck of it.
The game uses colorful 2D sprite-based graphics everywhere outside of combat. Dungeons and towns are nice to look at and the interactivity of the locations enhances the feeling of immersion. The graphics look pretty standard for the most partÉuntil you enter your first battle. The blocky polygons used to represent your characters and the enemies in combat were quite probably the first ever used in an RPG and it shows. Characters don't show any expression, and the frame-models count is pretty disgusting. The fluidity of movement is awful, and the speed of most actions is executed very tediously. But let's not forget; the game is old, so WA's graphical shortcomings are more easily forgivable.
Despite not offering much that hasn't been seen before, Wild Arms does deliver a nice experience. It follows the standards of RPG gaming almost sacredly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if they are presented so well. In short, Wild Arms does somewhat deserve the cult following it acquired.
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