Wild Arms
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A few months before the release of the highly-anticipated Final Fantasy VII came another console role-playing game that would contribute to the system’s nice selection of the genre, entitled Wild Arms, which had the distinction in its time of being the first RPG with a Western setting, largely backed by solid gameplay and the soundtrack, although it’s not without its faults.

Fortunately, the game mechanics don’t bear the bulk of these faults, with a random encounter rate that the player can ultimately adjust with two of Cecilia’s magic spells, sure to accommodate those who enjoy the battle system and others that would just rather focus on the puzzles and plot. The battle system itself isn’t bad, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, with the three main characters, Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia, squaring off against a pack of enemies that has at most four foes. Before inputting commands, the player can adjust equipment (useful for swapping summoning Mediums if desired) or attempt to escape, with this option naturally not working all the time.

Commands for each character include attacking with their equipped weapon, using an MP-consuming skill (although Rudy does not have MP, instead various acquirable ARMs, Ancient Relic Machines, basically firearms with consumable bullets the player can refill at inns for a price), defending, using an item, or using one of four Force Point-consuming skills, with FP acquired when attacking or taking damage, and resetting to zero each fight. Jack’s MP-consuming skills are Fast Draws, with “hints” acquired at various points through the game, question marks replacing the skill’s name until Jack has performed the mystery skill a few times to reveal it.

Cecilia, on the other hand, specializes in using MP-consuming magic, with Crest Graphs found throughout the game granting her up to sixty-four different spells, half standard and the other half advanced, becoming available a ways into the game. Each character has up to four different levels of Force Point abilities, such as Rudy’s Lock On, which maximizes accuracy for his ARMs, Jack’s Accelerate, which guarantees him the first command in a round of battle, turn order aside from that being unpredictable and sometimes random, although agility-increasing magic can remedy that, and Cecilia’s Mystic, which extends an item’s effect to the whole party, useful for healing.

The player can upgrade the attack power, accuracy (although players won’t want to emphasize this given his Lock On ability), and bullet capacity of Rudy’s ARMs at special facilities in towns, with his firearms in some instances actually being the difference between victory and defeat in the later battles, and frequent updates definitely being recommended. Aside from the cheapness of certain bosses, particularly the ones towards the end of the game, including one that can regularly heal 9999 HP (although stocking up Force Points to use the most powerful FP moves can help), the battle system works surprisingly well despite its simplicity.

Control is decent at points, as it is with the menu system and puzzles, most of which won’t drive a player to use a guide, although there are some negative points such as the lack of dungeon maps, and better direction on how to advance the main storyline would have been nice as well.

Although Wild Arms definitely earns points with its Western steampunk milieu, a nice break from traditional fantasy settings (although there are certainly some fantasy elements in the first installment), not to mention solid development for the three protagonists, it does have some negative aspects such as its general resemblance to that in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, with the Quarter Knights, for instance, being Expies of the Sinistrals / Four Mad Gods from the Estpolis franchise. The translation doesn’t help, either, with the localization team lazily leaving Japanese quote brackets in the dialogue as well as oddly thinking it natural for characters to say things, for instance, such as “I’m back at this place of hatred, the hatred between a parent and a child.” Ultimately, the story definitely isn’t a draw to the game.

Composer Michiko Naruke started a tradition with the first Wild Arms with a soundtrack consisting largely of Western-style music, although she does sneak in tracks from other genres as well, not that this is a bad thing as they still sound fantastic. The sound effects, however, are somewhat odd, with some sounding like they came from the Atari 2600, and some foes, for some weird reason, meowing when attacked. Still, a decent-sounding game.

The visuals could have been much better, however, although the two-dimensional graphics outside battle look fine, what with beautiful environments, but the character sprites don’t show much emotion and have odd proportions. In battle, however, the graphics are fully three-dimensional, although this isn’t a good thing, as the player’s characters laughably resemble Bombermen, and the enemies have equally-blocky appearances. In the end, the field graphics look fine, but those in combat don’t.

Finally, the first entry is fairly short, taking the player somewhere from twenty to thirty hours to finish, with a few sidequests, but little reason to replay otherwise. In the end, Wild Arms was a half-decent beginning to the franchise, what with its simple but enjoyable battle system, solid puzzles, endearing cast of characters, and superb Western-themed soundtrack, although it has plenty going against it such as the plot’s resemblance to that in Lufia II, the weak localization, and especially the laughable battle graphics. Strong and weak points aside, the first installment is definitely worth a look by novice and experienced role-playing gamers.

The Good:
+Simple but solid battle system.
+Decent puzzles.
+Good character development.
+Great Western-themed soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance
-Derivative plot with weak translation.
-Subpar graphics.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
Half-decent start to the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 5/10
Localization: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 3/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 6/10

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