Wild ARMs: Alter Code F - Reader Review  

We Can Rebuild it, We Have the Technology
by Mr. Sparkle

40-80 hours


Rating definitions 

   Ahh, the 90's. The decade that brought us Doom, among many, many other things; a magical, fun-filled time when the JRPG was finally starting to become more commonplace on this side of the pond. Then the gargantuan Final Fantasy 7 hit shores, and some of those poor, other RPGs were all but buried in its wake. One such game has finally gotten a second chance at bat, eager to tell the tale of the blue-haired boy with enough firepower to arm a small nation, the token wandering swordsman with a mysterious past, and the magical princess that doesn't have enough to do. 21st century, meet Wild ARMs: Alter Code F, the remake of the original Wild ARMs; a charming lil' redux that's 19 parts faithful update, 56 parts much-needed improvements, and 22 parts "oh geez, not this (expletive deleted) again."

   First, the obvious. ACF is indeed based on the Wild ARMs 3 engine; controls, world map, interaction, battles, it's all pretty much the same. In combat, you have your three heroes at your disposal, employing the staples (regular attacks, items, magic/unique abilities) and extra-special Force Abilities; these require points to use, which charge according to your actions. You have special items that can be equipped and swapped out to grant skills, like magic resistance, extra HP, covering someone from damage, recovering HP while guarding, etc. Out of combat, you have the Encounter system, which permits you to potentially avoid random encounters (appearing as '!' marks over your character), provided you have enough points on the gauge to do so. It's nothing new, but the upside is that battle and related aspects are fairly intuitive, and should pose no problems for RPG veterans or those familiar with the series. It's worth mentioning, however, that the game appears to have an unusually high rate of ambush encounters, such that it's possible to be ambushed two or three times in a row. It's unclear whether this was due to skill applications, Encounter gauge levels, or some other factor, but it remained an irritant nonetheless.

   It would be misleading to dismiss the graphical and musical changes as simply cosmetic, as while it's basically a visual and audio reskin for WA3, that in itself is no mean feat. Characters and locations are colorful and well designed; even at its least impressive the game is rarely dull to look at, and some locales, such as Artica, are downright impressive. ACF has at least partially trumped the Tiny Town Syndrome, in which towns have one or two houses, a store, an inn, and nothing else, although the towns are noticeably smaller than their Playstation counterparts. The camera feels too far back from the main characters, but apart from that the graphics are a welcome update. By contrast, the music of the original still holds its own amongst most soundtracks today, and yet for the most part Michiko Naruke has managed to outdo that with the score for ACF. Some tunes remain untouched, some have been redone (for better or worse) and a few new tracks have been added, but the overall audio package leaves little to decry.

Crates: Filling the empty space in your RPGs and FPSs since 1993. Crates: Filling the empty space in your RPGs and FPSs since 1993.

   As has been the case with all games in the series, ACF is quite puzzle-heavy, the answers to which often rely on the use of each character's tools. Most of the ones from the first game are still around, but there are a few new additions, such as Rudy's grenades, which keep the puzzles and dungeons from becoming too monotonous. The puzzles themselves, however, range wildly in difficulty, with some being unreasonably difficult or requiring a good deal of foresight on part of the player. The search system is back as well, whereby the player has to search for new locations on the world map. Fortunately, ACF does a much, much better job of keeping the ball rolling by pointing out, on the world map, the general areas where undiscovered locations lie, and since said locations are often the next or overall destination, the plot feels smoother than it did in WA3. It's still dumb to have to search for a tower that should be visible from miles away, but it's a lot less frustrating here.

   Speaking of the plot, the dialogue has undergone some significant changes, although most of the important events are more or less the same. The story follows the adventures of Rudy, Jack and Cecilia as they wander Filgaia and battle demons to save the world, blah blah, yackety smackety. Again, nothing particularly new or outstanding here. While the story is a bit less obtuse than it was in the original, there are still several lines of text which could charitably be called awkward, spelling errors being a prime offender here. The story does indeed flow better, and sprinkled throughout the game are some legitimately moving, funny or simply well-written scenes, but just as frequent are parts which don't deliver the dramatic punch they were meant to. Some scenes also visually come off as awkward or strange, such as not having enough characters on screen for an otherwise important event, or not using body language properly; these tend to be the exception, but they are noticeable. In short, the writing has improved, and the graphics engine is up to the task for cutscenes, but neither are used consistently well to convey the story.

You!  Invaders!  Get you the hot bullets of shotgun to die! You! Invaders! Get you the hot bullets of shotgun to die!

   Where the game really goes off into WA3-land is with its many, many extras. The EX file keys, which unlock postgame extras, are back and more numerous than ever. Uber-hard bosses wander around here and there, some of them somewhat inappropriately - why they stick a level 90 boss as a random encounter on the sea when you're about level 40ish is way beyond me. The odd bonus dungeon or two or ten are scattered around as well, all of which hold tasty and generally useful secrets. The ill-conceived Abyss dungeon is back, with its hundred-plus levels of tedium and all. The puzzle boxes make a more compelling return, as they're generally easier here than they were in WA3. Perhaps most keen of the new additions is the set of extra characters who occasionally join the party, three of whom can join permanently after a certain point. All the characters are useful in their own ways, and bring some fresh faces and tactics to the proceedings.

   When all is said and done, Alter Code F gets a lot right, both as a remake of the original and as a total conversion of Wild ARMs 3. It can't quite escape the more frustrating aspects of the latter, nor has it completely left behind the story headaches of the former, yet fans of both games should find a lot to like here. Newcomers to the series may not be so quick to overlook the game's flaws, but nevertheless it contains enough old-fashioned role-playing gamey fun to warrant a closer look from the curious, and it's jammed with enough extra content to keep even the industrious gamer busy for quite a while.

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