Wild Arms Alter Code: F

In the early lifecycle of the Sony PlayStation, the first installment of the Media.Vision-developed Wild Arms series saw its release in Japan and North America, receiving a decent following and relatively positive reviews. It would receive a sequel on the PlayStation and another the next console generation on the PlayStation 2, and afterward came the development and release of a remake of the first game, Wild Arms Alter Code: F. While its fate outside Japan at first seemed ambiguous, Agetec took note and localized the title, which is in many respects a good reimagining of the first game and simultaneously a Frankenstein’s monster.

F features mostly the same encounter system as the third installment, with three different kinds of exclamation points appearing above the active character’s head: red, which indicates a mandatory battle; white, which indicates a battle skippable at the cost of one or more encounter points; and green, which denotes a fight skippable at no cost. Migrant Seals increase the level of enemies that he player can avoid for free, although even with specific Personal Skills, the rate of enemy ambushes can be somewhat high at times.

Battles at first glance follow the structure present in the original game, where each character has HP, Jack and Cecilia also have MP, and they have a number of commands, such as attacking, defending, using an MP-consuming ability, or using a Force Point skill if a character’s FP is high enough, with this value defaulting at zero when a battle commences. There is no equipment system in F like there was in the original, with various Personal Skills being the sole “equipment,” and providing special effects such as elemental defense at the cost of Skill Points, which are equal to a character’s level.

The player’s character and the enemy take their turns depending upon agility, with this area luckily being relatively consistent, with no apparent randomization in turn order. A change from the first game is that Rudy now attacks with his equipped ARM instead of a knife, with his ARM having a bullet capacity and other stats that the player can increase for a cost at special facilities (although he still has special ARM cartridges with different effects and ranges). Jack’s Fast Draws return as well, becoming more powerful and costing less MP with repeated use. Cecilia’s magic, necessitating the use of Crests at guilds, is more or less the change, although a minor step backward is that the player can’t use her spells outside battle.

Winning battles nets all characters experience, money, and occasional items. There are special items that double money and experience earned, although the player would be wise to save these for boss battles, which is where the bulk of their levels come from. If all the player’s characters die in battle, the player can restart with full health and magic at the cost of a Gimel Coin, although the player won’t earn any experience or money from the battle they restart as a result, and thus, doing some grinding and trying to beat bosses without continuing is definitely preferable.

Money is also somewhat scarce, and sleeping at inns can be costly since the cost of resting increases with characters’ levels, although there is a dungeon that has a free HP, MP, ARM cartridge, and encounter gauge-restoring save point, with these being scarce through the game as well. Another change that can make the game a bit tough at times is that Cecilia no longer has the Mystic Force ability, so healing when fighting bosses can be taxing at times. However, it is possible to acquire a Medium that extends the effects of her spells, such as the always-useful Heal, to the whole active party of three characters, though finding it might necessitate the use of a guide and requires a hidden item as well.

For most of the game, the player’s party will consist solely of Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia, although occasional guest characters join that the player can swap out before each round of battle. Recruiting a few of these characters permanently, however, is only possible right before the last dungeon. If the player acquires at least one of these permanent extra party members, then in between turns, they recover HP from their Vitality gauges (a feature bequeathed from the third game), which they also do once a battle is over, assuming they have remaining Vitality.

The battle system works decently for the most part, although some things, such as Cecilia’s new inability to use Mystic (with that ability transferred to one of the extra characters), may make players yearn for the simplicity of the original version’s gameplay, and many bosses have the ability to one-hit-kill party members in many instances. The game does become slightly easier if the player acquires the aforementioned Medium allowing Cecilia’s single target-affecting spells to the whole party, although no one should have to use a guide to figure out how to find things such as that, and there are some other flaws such as the inability to skip sometimes-long Medium FMVs unless the player acquires a special item that, unsurprisingly, also requires a guide to find.

The interface is superficially clean, what with an easy menu system and controls, and puzzles often requiring the use of tools return from the original game, although some can be daunting without using a guide. Not that it’s a bad thing, but F inherits the overworld system present in the second and third games where the player must uncover towns and dungeons using a hemispherical radar, a feature somewhat better implemented than in Wild Arms 3 in that the player can see flashing dots indicating where there are towns and dungeons on the overworld map, and a late-game item allowing the player to see hidden items as well. FMVs are also skippable, but unfortunately not pausable, causing this reviewer to miss most of the ending. In the end, interaction isn’t bad, but could have been better.

The original Wild Arms’s story in essence ripped off of that in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, what in particular with a group of four villains known as the Quarter Knights that are essentially Expies of the Sinistrals from the Lufia franchise, and a few bosses that the player must fight again and again, although the primary protagonists do have some semblance of backstory. The translation, however, is just as bad as it was in the original version, with plenty of unnatural-sounding dialogue, inexcusable given the alleged year and a half necessary to localize F. In the end, the story is pretty much run-of-the-mill.

Many of the musical tracks in F are not direct remixes of themes from the original version, many of them either being Suspiciously Similar Songs, pieces such as the Curan Abbey theme coming into mind. The mostly-new soundtrack sounds pleasant for the most part, although those who think that the original game’s soundtrack was the greatest thing since sliced bread may not appreciate it as much. The sound effects, however, are much better than the original version, and while the Japanese version had voices in battle, the English version unfortunately excises them. In the end, though, a great-sounding game.

The graphics are also nice, no longer using cel-shading, with a style neither fully realistic nor fully anime that for the most part is pleasant, although there are occasional pixilated textures on the environs when seen close-up, even during the FMVs that oddly have this pixilation as well. The remake has a new anime intro that looks good as well, and in the end, the game looks good in spite of the visual flaws.

Finally, the remake can last players at least thirty hours, although supplementary content can easily boost this to somewhere around sixty hours, a New Game+ adding ever more playing time.

Ultimately, Wild Arms Alter Code: F is for the most part a solid remake that hits most of the right notes, in particular with its upgraded aurals and visuals and to a lesser extent the gameplay, although some things in the latter area might make more nostalgic gamers yearn for the simplicity of the original version, and many things such as the puzzles might drive players to use a guide, something no one should have to do when playing a game. Whether or not the remake is superior to the original version, to many players, is definitely a matter of taste.

The Good:
+Solid game mechanics.
+Some decent puzzles.
+Great soundtrack.
+Nice visuals.
+Excellent replay value.

The Bad:
-Money can be scarce.
-Parts can be hard without a guide.
-No pause button.
-Trite story and localization.
-Battle voices left out of English version.

The Bottom Line:
A decent remake, but some things were better in the original.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Varies
Playing Time: 30-60 Hours

Overall: 7/10

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