Wild Arms 5
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Media.Vision’s Wild Arms franchise isn’t as popular outside Japan as, say, the Final Fantasy series, but nonetheless has a decent following to the point where all titles would receive English localizations, although Sony’s American branch at first didn’t want to translate Alter Code F, Agetec taking over translation duties for the game, and XSEED Games those for the fourth title. As such, XSEED was responsible for the localization of the most recent numbered entry in the series, Wild Arms 5, which provides an experience on par with its predecessors.

The fifth installment derives most of its elements from its immediate predecessor, with random encounters instead of cancellable battles akin to the third game and Alter Code F, and regular battles taking place on a field of seven hexagons. The player’s active party of three characters exchanges turns with the enemy depending upon agility, with each of the player’s allies able to move to an adjacent hexagon (although one equippable Medium allows characters to move to any unoccupied space), attack all enemies on an adjacent hexagon, use MP-consuming abilities, defend to reload ammunition, use a consumable item, or switch with an ally in reserve or escape if on an outer hexagon.

Battles tend to end quickly, especially if the player turns off battle animations, and victory results in all characters receiving experience for occasional level-ups, alongside money and maybe an item if a character is standing on a hexagon with treasure (with a certain badge making an indicative ding if a character moves onto a hexagon with an item). Defeat results in a Game Over, although in these cases the player can restart the lost battle with all characters’ MP recovered (with all HP a maximum at the start of every battle), or slog through the company logos back to the title screen.

Mercifully, if the player wishes to avoid a battle, the escape command always works, although doing so results in some lost money, a reasonable expense. When the player has advanced far enough in a dungeon, they receive the opportunity to purify a special recovery point by fighting a battle to gain the option to turn random encounters on or off in a dungeon. Moreover, outside combat, the player can equip a variety of Mediums on their characters, with new abilities permanently acquired after around every ten levels, although the player can invest Graph Points into upper-level abilities at the cost of reduced maximum HP.

Since enemies can easily slaughter the player’s characters in a few hits, they may wish to forgo investing Graph Points into more powerful abilities, and since certain battles, namely those where the player only fights a boss with one character, can depend upon which Medium they have, an option, upon defeat, to change their setup, would have certainly been welcome. Furthermore, swapping out reserve characters wastes the switching character’s turn, a step down from the vastly-superior systems found in other RPGs such as Breath of Fire IV and Final Fantasy X, not to mention the fifth game’s own predecessors such as Alter Code F and the second game. Ultimately, the battle system works, though players might wish to consult a guide at times to determine the best setup for their characters.

The game interface is only slightly above average, with an easy menu system and shopping, not to mention maps for dungeons, although it would have really been nice, given the three-dimensional graphics, if said maps actually showed players where exactly they were in each room and which direction they’re facing instead of merely showing that they’re within a chamber. There’s also frequent poor direction on how to advance the main storyline, and the overworld map could have certainly been more helpful. Moreover, the spacing of save points is simply atrocious, with many boss fights following long stretches without save opportunities, and many puzzles are beyond irritating. Ultimately, interaction is okay, although there are definitely elements that could have been better.

The terrible direction on how to advance at times, despite the ability to get reminders, helpful or not, on how to advance, at save points, is a mark off the narrative, which is among the worst of the Wild Arms franchise, with a cast of unlikeable characters and hackneyed elements such as tumultuous racial relations and a character that has amnesia that only remembers the phrase “Johnny Appleseed.” The quest to determine the exact meaning of this phrase, however, mildly redeems the plot, and the translation is adequate in spite of some awful names for things such as “Sol Niger.”

The fifth game features voice acting, as well, although some voices, particularly for characters such as protagonist Dean, who always sounds constipated, and Carol, with her irritating high-pitched voice, are simply terrible, and there seems no reason why the localization team thought it natural for characters to shout things such as “Searching!”, “There!”, or “Teleport!” Full marks, however, go to the composers for a nice soundtrack, and the game generally sounds pleasant in the end.

The three-dimensional graphics also look decent in spite of an inconsistent framerate that differs depending upon whether the player is on the overworld, in town, in battle, or in a dungeon, although there are occasional bland textures.

Finally, the fifth installment will last players about forty hours, with plenty to boost playing time such as endless sidequests. Ultimately, Wild Arms 5 is a solid series offering that hits many of the right notes with regards to elements such as its tactical battle system, soundtrack, visuals, and lasting appeal, although it also leaves plenty of room for improvement with regards to some occasional nasty difficulty spikes, annoying puzzles, the awful storyline, and some lousy voice acting. The Wild Arms franchise would receive a spinoff on the PlayStation portable, although the series has somewhat become inert afterwards, with little indicators of a forthcoming sixth main entry.

The Good:
+Good tactical battle system.
+Great soundtrack.
+Nice visuals.
+Excellent replay value.

The Bad:
-Some nasty difficulty spikes.
-Plenty annoying puzzles.
-Awful plot and characters.
-Terrible voice acting.

The Bottom Line:
A good series entry.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Schizophrenic
Playing Time: 35-45+ Hours

Overall: 7/10

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