With the first RPG on the system being the
mediocre -- to put it nicely -- Beyond the Beyond, the PlayStation
got off to a rocky start in the RPG world. The situation soon rebounded,
though, with the release of Suikoden, the promise of Final Fantasy
VII, and the presence of one other oft-overlooked gem -- Wild Arms.
The first RPG from developer Media.Vision
(now Contrail), Wild Arms brought a breath of fresh air to a
genre that thrives on clichés. The game flies against
convention in a number of ways -- its action RPG-style puzzles,
its use of just three characters, and most importantly, its storyline.
Expecting an evil empire to overthrow
or a corrupt religion to unmask? Don't look here; there is
no empire, and religion is on your side for once. After beginning
with a frustratingly slow series of pointless quests, Wild Arms
does an about-face and produces one of the
best storylines ever, tossing constant surprises at you.
The final boss is just pure genius -- and no, I'm not going to
spoil it here; go play the game!
And that's the bottom line, 'cause Hanpan said so!
The story is supported by a great
cast of characters, both good and bad, whose personalities
shine in the excellent translation. The characters include
Jack's sarcastic wind rat companion Hanpan (who can fly
over to distant chests and retrieve them), the irreverent
"Calamity" Jane Maxwell ("This is a game! You should always
carry a special weapon!"), and a great villain in the form
of Alhazad, a sadistic demon who spends most of his time
thinking up new and creative ways to tortue people. Even
the NPCs entertain at times, such as the doctor in Adlehyde,
who is the subject of a hilarious running joke. The lone bad
apple in this bunch is the ninja Boomerang and his wolf Luceid,
who are the most blatant rip-offs of other
characters (Shadow and Interceptor) I've ever seen. Indeed,
a number of elements in the game seem "inspired" by those in
others -- the interior design of Malduke, for example, looks
eerily similar to that of Kefka's Tower, and the fake wedding
scene resembles FF VI's opera scene. But, hey, if you're
going to copy, you might as well copy from the best.
I feel like tossing chickens tonight!
Of course, an excellent story would be nothing
without gameplay, and Wild Arms delivered in that department
as well. Although the gameplay is nothing terribly original, a
number of unique features stand out, such as the magic
system -- you locate Crest Graphs in chests and other locations, then
take them to a Magic Guild to have spells inscribed on them. The game
also takes a page from action-RPGs by including various tools (bombs,
hookshot, lighter, etc.), crates (and chickens) that can be
carried and thrown, and puzzles in dungeons. Challenging
puzzles normally make a great addition to a game, but some of the
ones in Wild Arms are just too challenging -- nobody
could ever think of the solutions on their own, so most people
solved them either by trial-and-error or by consulting a FAQ.
One major complaint that has always been
leveled against Wild Arms is its lack of characters -- you
only have three characters, who comprise your party for the
entire game. More party members would have been nice, and
a number of existing characters could well have been party
members, but the three who do exist are used in a number
of creative ways. Each of them has their own distinct set of
abilities, for one -- Rudy uses a variety of ARMs (guns)
that can be upgraded by weaponsmiths, Jack learns sword
techniques and must practice them to use them, and
Cecilia casts magic from the aforementioned Crest Graphs.
In addition, the trio splits up in a few special situations
and each character moves around separately -- indeed, the game
opens with three short quests, one for each character, that you
must complete before they meet.
The graphics weren't much to speak of when
Wild Arms first was released, and they certainly aren't now. A
few touches are worth noting, however -- for example, walking through
a puddle of water in one of the 2D field screens will cause
your character to leave wet footprints, and the bosses
perform actual death animations when they die rather than
just disappearing. The 3D fight scenes lack detail, but that was
probably sacrificed in order to maintain the speedy frame rate
and allow the use of light-sourcing effects (a rarity in RPGs,
both then and now).
Must... watch... intro... again...
What Wild Arms lacks in graphics, however,
it makes up in music. Some of the pieces of music are so
good that you can't bear to leave the scene where they play
because you want to keep listening to the music (such as the
flying theme). The most prominent of these is the main theme,
which accompanies the outstanding anime introduction. Most intros
you watch a few times, then you just skip over them -- but not
Wild Arms's. It cleverly uses story elements from later in
the game that can't be understood at first, but become perfectly
clear later in the game, thus giving the intro more meaning
with each viewing. Sadly, the intro is the only such anime movie
in the game; more cutscenes later would have been a great
Wild Arms is one of those cases where
the whole is greater than the sum of the pieces -- none of the
elements would have been enough to carry a game on their own, but
together they form a classic RPG that holds its own against
many more recent titles. Unfortunately, if you haven't already
experienced this masterpiece, you may never get a chance. Most stores
have already said their farewell to ARMs, and the game is virtually
impossible to find. If you can find it, though, don't pass it up --
this is one game that's worth almost any price.
Retrospective by Fritz Fraundorf.
|Wild Arms FAQ
|8 brief movies / 24 screens
|24 characters and scenes
|Game and soundtrack covers