Monday, February 06, 2006

Series overview - Wild Arms

The Wild Arms series has been around since 1997 in Europe, but it wasn't until I happened upon a preowned copy of Wild Arms 3 for £10 that I realised just how great these games are. I had previously dabbled with the original (in fact it was the first turn-based RPG I ever played) but I got stuck on a certain boss battle, and then Final Fantasy VII came along and the game was forgotten for quite some time.

After playing WA3 through to completion though, I went back and completed the original and WA2 as well. Now I'm working my way through Alter Code F, and have a copy of WA4 waiting patiently for me afteward. Seeing as this year is the 10th Anniversary of Wild Arms (in it's native country of Japan at least), I decided to do a little special feature on each of the games in the series.

Wild Arms - PlayStation - released in 1997 (Europe)
As I said before, I never got around to finishing the first game in the series when it was released. Looking back, I'm not really sure why I found the battle with Zed so difficult, as upon replaying the game a few years ago I breezed through it. I guess it was down to my overall lack of experience with this type of game.

Anyway, the first Wild Arms introduced us to the world of Filgaia, and the characters of Rudy, Jack and Cecilia. The dungeons featured some fun (but not too taxing) puzzles which made use of various tools that the characters have, including bombs, a wind mouse named Hanpan and a flame rod. The battle system was fast and fun but the graphics let the side down a bit even at the time of the games release, plus there were some really bizarre sound effects for the various spells. The music however was amazing (something that would go on to be a series trait). If you see a copy on sale for a bargain price, by all means consider picking it up, but you may want to purchase the newer (and pricier) remake, Alter Code F, instead.

Jack as he appeared back in 1997.

Wild Arms 2 (2nd Ignition) - PlayStation - never released in Europe, released in 2000 (US)
WA2 is generally regarded as the worst game in the series, but personally I enjoyed it just as much as the first. The graphics can look a little rought at times (2D sprites and 3D backgrounds never seem to mesh well) and the translation leaves a lot be desired, but the game is very enjoyable to play, and the plot is slightly different from the other games in the series.

WA2 also featured several additions to the gameplay, including the ability to skip battles (at least until your encounter bar runs out and you're forced to fight) and a radar that you have to use to discover dungeons and towns before they will actually appear on the world map. This last idea is a bit strange and can be frustrating, not to say unrealistic. I mean, just because you don't know a huge great tower exists, doesn't mean you can't see it does it?

For some reason the game was developed by Contrail instead of MediaVision, who developed all the other games in the series. Contrail are perhaps more well known for making the awful Alundra 2.

Unfortunately the game was never released in Europe so if you're really determined to play it you'd have to import it. Copies can still be found quite easily on ebay, but it's up to you whether you can be bothered to go to the trouble of having it shipped over.

The Wild Arms games are well known for their beatiful intro's, and WA2 is no exception.

Wild Arms 3 (Advanced 3rd) - PlayStation 2 - released in 2003 (Europe)
I would have to say that this is definitely my favourite game of the series. Everything just seems to come together so well. The graphics use a kind of cell shaded technique which have a kind of "hand painted" look to them which I think works very well, and the music is the greatest of all the Wild Arms games.

Also included were a couple of truly gargantuan side quests, including the 100 level Abyss and dozens of tricky Millenium Puzzles to solve. Completing these quests as well as defeating extremely tough optional bosses gave you EX File Keys, whch could be used to unlock more features once you'd completed the game, most of them with a second play through in mind.

While the plot is basically a rehash of the original game, the new characters are charming and the story kept me interested to the end. Sony got Squaresoft to do the english translation for them, and they did a very good job. This time, Ubisoft decided to pick up the game and publish it in Europe. My top 5 RPG's is constantly shifting and changing, but Wild Arms 3 continues to stay on there (along with Skies of Arcadia). What put the icing on the cake is that I bought the game at the bargain price of £10 brand new, and that's incredible value for money!

The heroine of Wild Arms 3 Virginia Maxwell is a descendant of Calamity Jane Maxwell from the first game.

Wild Arms: Alter Code F - PlayStation 2 - not yet released in Europe, released in 2005 (US).
WA:ACF is a remake of the original game, with the graphics, sound, gameplay and story all brought up to date for the PS2. While the plot still follows the basic outline of the PS1 classic, extra scenes have been added, characters which were part of the supporting cast are now playable, the music has been re-recorded (with mixed results, sometime I prefer the orginals). The visuals have also been given a fresh lick of paint, but personally I don't think they're as good as WA3's. Finally, new gameplay ideas that were introduced in the 2nd and 3rd games have been added to ACF and the The Abyss and Millenium Puzzles have been brought back. If you have fond memories of the original game, then ACF is well worth a look as it is new enough to get you interested again, yet familiar enough to have you smiling with nostalgia.

Jack as he appears in the remake.

First Impressions
Wild Arms 4 (4th Detonator) - PlayStation 2 - not yet released in Europe, released in 2006 (US).
I haven't had time to play Wild Arms 4 properly yet, but I have played enough to try out the new gameplay ideas and get a general feel for the ways things work.

Basically, WA4 is the biggest overhaul the series has had so far. The old gameplay and battle system have been completely jettisoned. Instead you get something that resembles a platform game, complete with double jumps and bottom bounces, and then a highly tactical battle engine which uses hexagons to divide up the play area. It's a bit of a strange mixture but it seems to work so far and is a much needed breath of fresh air for the series.

The music is not quite up to the same standard as the other games in the series because unfortunately the regular composer Michiko Naruke fell ill while the game was being made and two other composers were hired to finish the project while she was recovering. While their music isn't bad, the styles change a bit too much from one tune to the next which messes up the feeling of continuity somewhat.

From what I've heard the game is much shorter than previous games, clocking in at about 25 hours maximum, which is a bit of a shame, but long term fans of the series should definitely give the game a try.

Wild Arms 4 brings some very interesting new ideas to the series, including special team-up attacks.

Just announced
Wild Arms V (the Vth Vanguard) - not yet released in any territory
To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the series, Media Vision have recently announced the 5th game in the series. Very little is known about it yet, so it could return to the more traditional gameplay of the earlier games or continue in the same vein as the 4th game.

Wild Arms PSP
In a recent interview, the head of Media Vision said he would be very interested in making a PSP version of the Wild Arms series, which is very exciting for fans of the series. Let's hope it becomes a reality soon.

Spin offs
Wild Arms: Twilight Venom
ADV made an anime series a few years ago, and the first episode was given away free with Alter Code F. Unfortunately it wasn't very good, but if you're a die hard fan of the series you may want to track it down.

Next time I write a series overview it will be on the Metroid games, so keep a look out for that one!