Wild Arms 3

Released on the original PlayStation around the same time as the immensely-popular Final Fantasy VII, the first Wild Arms title attracted some, but not a lot, of attention, although it attracted praise for its use of tools and puzzles. A sequel came out about three years later, though it didn’t see as good reception as the first game. Nonetheless, developer Media.Vision produced a third title, Wild Arms Advanced 3rd on the PlayStation 2, released in North America as Wild Arms 3, which combines some of the best elements of its two predecessors into an enjoyable title.

First of all, the third Wild Arms game features an encounter system that’s similar to that in its predecessor, albeit with many unique twists. The player has an encounter gauge that has a set amount of points, initially ten, not to mention a Migrant Level that the player can increase through the acquisition of Migrant Seals found throughout the game. The number of points can increase as well through the gain of Booster Kits occasionally found, as well. Whenever a white exclamation point appears above the active character, the player can skip the encounter for a certain number of points, this cost decreasing with increased Migrant Level. Green exclamation points indicate encounters skippable with no cost, while red exclamation points indicate mandatory encounters that mostly occur when the player doesn’t have any more encounter points.

Encounters take place with all four protagonists squaring off against a number of enemies, with their initial Force Points based on their current level. Outside combat, each character can equip up to three Mediums that grant them stat increases and magic spells they can use limitlessly as long as they have enough FP. Mediums also grant each character Personal Skills into which they can invest a number of points again based on their current levels, these skills doing things such as shielding against specific status ailments and certain magical elements.

Before a round of battle commences, the player can input commands for all four characters, among them being a normal attack with their equipped Ancient Relic Machines (ARMs). At special facilities in towns, the player can customize various aspects of ARMs such as attack power, accuracy, weight, and the number of bullets (reloading ARMs requires characters to defend for a turn). Other options include using consumable items, using magic spells from equipped Mediums, and using special abilities that require at least twenty-five Force Points such as using more than one bullet in a gatling attack against an enemy, and Virginia’s ability to extend item effects to the whole party.

Once the player has inputted commands for the whole party, they and the enemy take turns depending upon their Reflex stat, with the player able to adjust character turn order in the menus that precede normal command input, a feature that can actually be useful at times. While character turn order typically remains constant, player unfortunately are left clueless as to when the enemies will take their turns, and sometimes they can do things such as beat the player to healing a character low on HP. Winning battles nets all characters experience, some money, and occasional items, and all characters will recover HP through their vitality gauges that decrease with recovered HP.

A handy feature is that scan magic works permanently against enemies and bosses, thus letting players plan strategy such as exploiting their elemental weaknesses. Furthermore, characters can summon their equipped Mediums into battle, with their power depending upon their current Force Points and consuming all their FP, and defeating enemies with particular elements will cause them to drop consumable gems that can attack enemies with the aforementioned elements. After battle, the player’s encounter gauge somewhat recovers, although finding white gems can recover encounter points even more, and orange gems can refill vitality gauges.

Other battle modes include sandcraft battles that take place on the sandy seas of Filgaia where the player has a variety of attack options, and aircraft battles that also have a similar flow. In the end, the battle system works well, and setting fights to Turbo mode can make them go by faster, although options such as being able to skip summon spell animations would have been nice, as well. A turn order meter would have been nice, as well, and there is a bit of a difficulty spike towards the end, although there are certain tricks to make endgame fights easier, and ultimately, the battle system helps the game far more than hurts.

The interface is superficially decent, what with an easy menu system and controls, although there are plenty of issues such as the extremely sluggish game clock that pauses whenever the player navigates the menus, when cutscenes occur, and when battles happen, making the game feel a little longer than it actually is. Dungeons also necessitate the use of tools to solve many puzzles, and while many of them are good, there are others that may lead the player to use a guide to advance. There’s also a poor direction at times on how to advance the main storyline, and the overworld system borrowed from the second game doesn’t help there.

Like Wild Arms 2, its sequel features an overworld where towns, dungeons, other areas, and occasional items are initially invisible, with the player needing to release a hemispherical green detection radius to discover them, players often having to advance far enough in the main storyline or get directions from NPCs to detect said towns, dungeons, and other things. Unlike the second game, however, the world map that players can buy from a vagrant merchant doesn’t show dots where these things are on the overworld, sometimes leading the player to use a guide to find out where to go next, something no one should have to do when playing a game. In the end, interaction is above average, albeit only slightly.

The story has plenty going for it, such as a well-developed and endearing cast of characters, not to mention even NPCs having names and portraits, with the main storyline revolving around the mysteries of the world of Filgaia such as why it’s mostly desolate, with a few decent plot twists throughout the game. Squaresoft handled the translation, which is generally above average despite some small errors such as a use of the term “Good Samaritan” in a religionless world, and there is at times poor direction on how to advance the main storyline. One interesting feature of cutscenes is the Activate Selected Keyword (ASK) system to get more information from highlighted terms in dialogue that further develops the plot. Ultimately, the story is good, although things such as the poor direction sometimes hurt it.

Michiko Naruke returns to compose for the third game, and her works sound excellent as always, with plenty of western-themed tracks that never get old, and the sound effects help the game more than hurt. There are some occasional silent points, but otherwise, the aurals are one of the strongest suits of the third Wild Arms game.

Wild Arms 3 was the first cel-shaded role-playing game released in North America, but still looks surprisingly good even today, with well-designed character models that show plenty of emotion with both their models and the art in the dialogue boxes during cutscenes. Moreover, every important character and NPC in the game has their own character portrait, and the hues very well convey the desolate desert atmosphere. There are some occasional graphical glitches in battle when riding horses, however, plenty of pop-up scenery when flying across the overworld, and some bland pixilated textures at times, but otherwise, the visuals are gorgeous.

Finally, a straightforward playthrough of the third game takes somewhere from twenty to forty hours, although it can be sometimes hard to estimate given the inaccuracy of the game’s clock, with plenty to boost playing time such as a New Game+ and plenty sidequests, some of which revolve around the collection of EX File Keys.

In conclusion, Wild Arms 3 was an excellent transition of the franchise between console generations, what with solid game mechanics, some good puzzles, a good storyline with a competent localization, an excellent western soundtrack, beautiful graphics, and plenty to boost playing time. It does have its flaws, such as the need to use a guide at times to find out how to advance, not to mention the odd overworld system. Despite these flaws, the third installment even today stands out as one of the best entries of the Wild Arms franchise for both fans and average gamers alike.

The Good:
+Solid battle system combining good elements from previous games.
+Some decent puzzles.
+Decent storyline and translation.
+Great western soundtrack.
+Gorgeous graphics.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Game clock is slow.
-Some puzzles can be hard without a guide.
-Overworld system can be annoying.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.

The Bottom Line:
An improvement over its predecessors.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 20-40+ Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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