In 2006, the western-themed Wild ARMs series entered its fourth installment, and with it came a radical change in the series' combat. Blending traditional RPG conventions with small-scale tactical combat, Wild ARMs 4's HEX combat system was creative and thoroughly enjoyable. Wild ARMs XF (pronounced Crossfire) is an SRPG spin-off of this series, and if the first few hours are any indication, it looks to be an excellent and unusual tactical experience.
Wild ARMs XF begins by introducing the game's heroine, Clarissa, her protective brother Felius, and one of the game's primary antagonists, a drifter named Rupert. After a story sequence told through a series of still artwork and voiceover, I was able to get my first taste of the tactical combat system. Although the game takes place on a hexagonal grid rather than the traditional square, combat seems to be largely the same as other SRPGs. Each character and enemy's turn comes around based on their respective reflex statistics, and they're able to move and act each turn. After this initial tutorial battle, the game opens up its class system, and from there Wild ARMs XF's true potential begins to emerge.
"This departure from traditional SRPG style is one of the most enjoyable aspects of XF so far."
At the start, four classes are available, although after a certain storyline sequence, four more classes became available. In addition to these classes, however, the game's main characters all have a unique class that is unusable by any others. Class levels are separate from character levels, and each character's class can be changed at any time. Furthermore, the game's surprisingly difficult challenge level requires that you do so on a regular basis. Each class has four original commands (spells) available for use as well as several passive abilities that can be permanently learned and equipped by characters, regardless of the currently equipped class, as class levels improve. At the earliest class levels characters can begin using other classes' original commands, while at later levels the classes' most potent passive traits become available.
After another main character joins your party, battles begin with a tactical analysis of the map and suggestions on what strategies to employ to emerge victorious. The player is given an opportunity to survey the map and change classes, equipment, and skills before beginning combat, which is extremely helpful as Wild ARMs XF does an incredible job of making each encounter extremely challenging. Victory conditions regularly vary from the traditional "defeat all enemies" staple, and additional loss conditions such as a particular character dying are commonplace. Certain maps are completely impossible to win without bringing certain classes along, and certain enemies with more complex AI than normal add an element of surprise. In one map I was surprised to find myself staring at a game over screen after a seemingly innocuous enemy propelled Clarissa into a bottomless chasm. Needless to say, I steered clear of that guy in my next attempt. Even the battles where victory is as simple as killing all of your opponents are rarely so simple, as there is usually a catch.
Victory in tactical combat is not the only thing Wild ARMs XF offers, however. Several unique encounters have presented themselves so far, including sneaking missions, an escape mission with a limited number of turns, and even a dungeon puzzle not unlike what you would encounter in an ordinary RPG. In virtually every map, regardless of victory conditions, new and unique strategies must be adhered to in order to win. This departure from traditional SRPG style is one of the most enjoyable aspects of XF so far.
There are a few notable issues, unfortunately. The voice acting, though not nearly as bad as some other games I've had the misfortune of playing, is still not of the greatest quality. For the most part it's passable, just dry and uninteresting, but XSEED Games has been generous enough to include the original Japanese voices exclusively for the North American release. The game also seems to pause for a couple of seconds whenever an original command is selected, though it is highly likely that this is due to the review disc and won't be present in the released product. Regardless, so far Wild ARMs XF is shaping up to be an excellent title. Look for a full review in the near future.