There are a number of RPGs in the fantasy and science fiction genres, but not so many in the western category. That's where the Wild ARMs name steps up, filling the cowboy-shaped hole with plentiful experience points. While never achieving the fame or status that the Final Fantasy franchise has, the Wild ARMs games have stuck to their guns and continued being enjoyable, if not occasionally cliché. The newest installment keeps enough of the old while mixing it up with plenty of new stuff.
"Dean doesn't have Jude's Accelerator ability, but he makes up for it by duel-wielding pistol ARMs that can be equipped with various ammo."
It opens with Dean Stark, a sixteen year old boy armed with a pair of spurs and a shovel who has dreams of being a Golem Hunter. He's accompanied by a six-shooter wielding, Daisy Duke wearing cowgirl by the name of Rebecca Streisand, and the two of them set off from their hometown in search of adventure. They find a girl who's fallen from the sky instead, and together they try to figure out this girl's identity and hunt golems along the way.
Players can expect to be doing plenty of exploring over the course of the game, and Wild ARMs 5 has a massive world to get lost in. In WA4 players were limited to a node-based map, moving from town to dungeon without any real overworld to wander about in. Wild ARMs 5 goes back to the free-roaming ways of the earlier games with beautifully drawn environments. Gamers won't spend the entire game on foot, though. In addition to being able to board one of the many trains that criss-cross the wild west, Dean and company acquire a little number called the mono wheel to carry them down the dusty trail.
One you enter a dungeon, a whole new aspect of the game opens up. As in WA4, each dungeon feels like an adventure game, with puzzles that require you to run, slide, pick up items, and generally do more than simply push boxes around. Dean doesn't have Jude's Accelerator ability, which was used in the last game to slow down time and find secret items, but Dean makes up for it by duel-wielding pistol ARMs that can be equipped with various ammo. This allows Dean to go into a special mode where he can shoot at distant switches, light candles, and climb to higher places.
As exciting as exploration is, the real meat of any Wild ARMs game is in the battle system. Taking a page from WA4, battles in Wild ARMs 5 take place on a small hex-based grid. At the beginning of each character's turn they are given a chance to move to an adjacent hex that's no inhabited by the enemy. Attacks, spells, and items all effect the hex, not necessarily the characters. So if you pile your party into one hex then any attack by the enemy will hit your whole party, but any cure spell or healing item will effect everyone as well. It adds a layer of strategy to the meat-and-potatoes turn-based fights while keeping the basics intact.
Back are the Wild ARM staples of Force Points and Summons, much like they were in WA4. Unlike the previous two games in the Wild ARMs series, players no longer have their entire crew of adventurers active in each battle, opting instead to limit the fighting party to three people but have more playable characters available. With his change comes new and varied Team Combos, which combine the strength of the characters in a single hex into a more powerful attack, and Chained Attacks, which allow a character equipped with a special badge to attack over and over until they run out of ammo.
The graphics are easy on the eyes and character animations are fluid. From the screenshots and trailers released, the colors do enough to say "this is an RPG set in the west" without looking too much like the brown, barren plains of Texas or too much like the neon-bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip. The mix is spot on, as is the music, which retains the series' classic southern taste without becoming cheesy in the slightest.
While the game has been released in Japan since December of last year, this western game will see western shores on August 28. Giddy up.