Everyone basically knows the standard formula for an RPG, primarily because true innovation seems to be both hard and disruptive to the genre. So what’s typically found in many of these titles are an evil unleashed upon the land, wreaking havoc and terror and destroying the peace and tranquility of the people. Inevitably, a group of heroes sets out in search of the disturbance, killing hordes of monsters, collecting tons of dough and gaining lots of experience and abilities before discovering the source of the trouble. Well, in 1997, Sony attempted to turn this formulaic plot upside down by releasing Wild Arms, an RPG that blended these prescribed elements with the untamed harshness of the Wild West. The result was a unique mix of RPG pacing and Western weaponry, magic and gunpowder, and it was an acclaimed hit. Well, 5 years, one system and a sequel later, Sony has released the latest title in the series, Wild Arms 3.
Set on the world of Filgaia, Wild Arms 3 takes place sometime after a cataclysmic event that plunged the world into chaos. Once verdant and filled with water, Filgaia has now become a desolate wasteland of craggy spires and immense deserts. The land teems with wild, untamable monsters, and large, technologically advanced civilizations that stood out along the landscape have been swallowed hole by raging sandstorms that leave little to no trace of their existence. Many citizens blame this spate of havoc on a Demon Knight and his followers acquiring a mystic relic called the Eternal Sparkle, an item with unknown powers.
Fortunately, there are some citizens who would seek to tame the wilderness that Filgaia has become. Knows as Drifters, these brave men and women travel throughout the land surviving off their skills and accomplishing various tasks. Experienced bounty hunters, Drifters have been known to doggedly hunt their prey, even when severely injured. Experienced guards, many towns have employed Drifters as protection against rampaging enemies. Expert shots, most Drifters rarely ever miss in combat, earning them a feared reputation from humans and sentient monsters. However they are employed, most people recognize Drifter as benevolent to humanity, and people they’d generally want to have around in case problems arise.
Creatively, players don’t automatically assume control of a pack of Drifters, or train at any academy before getting released upon the world. Instead, players are introduced to four different characters with their unique quirks and reasons for adventure. Victoria is the youngest in the party, and as such, is probably the most idealistic, choosing to leave her family and friends behind for the life of a Drifter. Wielding two pistols, she’s often ready to shoot later and ask questions first. Completely contrasting Victoria in temperament is Gallows, a brash, self-absorbed young man who left his pre-ordained fate as a shaman for glory and fame. Carrying a double-barreled shotgun, he can fight and heal his allies. Jet is the loner, a treasure hunter and thief who will do anything he can to get his hands on money. Backing up his questionable deeds with a machine gun, he has no problem letting his actions speak louder than his words. Yet while these three are still novices to the wasteland, Clive is the only experienced wanderer the party has. A veteran Drifter, he carries a high-powered sniper rifle to take enemies out at a distance.
To RPG vets, this may sound like the stereotypical party setup. In fact, old school Final Fantasy pros will look at the setup and think, “We’ve had that for years…” Well, Wild Arms 3 puts a spin on party dynamics in at least two ways. First, in most RPGs, players spend a lot of time fighting for, earning money for or finding newer, more powerful weapons to help them destroy monsters. Well, the characters in Wild Arms 3 hold onto their firearms, instead spending their hard earned money on weapon modifications. Doing so, for instance, can augment the firepower of a gun, or increase the chances of a critical hit. The second twist deals with the explorative nature within RPGs. Typically, characters will crawl through dungeons, explore distant cities and roam through foreign lands, often with clearly marked locations on maps. Well, the world of Filgaia is not so fortunate, especially with much of the world being swallowed up by sandstorms. To find new towns or areas to explore, your characters will have to actively search their surroundings for potential sites.
Obviously, during these searches for unexplored territory, you’ll run into the ubiquitous staple of RPGs: that of the random encounter. Considering that the wasteland is filled with monsters, unexplored areas and other mysteries, it isn’t a shock that you’ll inevitably stumble upon something that would like to add your party to its diet. You are presented with the option to avoid fights if you have good timing; however, doing so reduces your chances of being able to dodge later fights.
Sooner or later, though, you will have to get into a battle. You will find the typical options presented here, such as attacking, using items, and guarding against enemies. There are a few differences. For example, the first one that you’ll immediately run into is the need to reload your weapon after a few shots. Since each character holds a gun, there are only a finite number of bullets that can be held in the chamber of each firearm before it’s empty and cannot be used without fresh ammo.
Secondly is the use of magic, or “Mediums” as the game refers to them. Elemental forces representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water, Mediums have to be sought out and bested in combat before they can be effectively used. Well worth the risk in battle, Mediums boost status resistances to a creature’s special attacks. They can also be used to summon a manifestation of the Element itself to attack enemies or channeled into Arcana, specialized skills that are unique to each character.
Wild Arms 3 can be described in one word: gorgeous. At first glance, you may think that this is just another cel-shaded video game in sheep’s clothing. However, the developers of Wild Arms 3 developed and used a new technique called stroke-shading to make the characters pop out of the screen, giving them added cartoon-like features and larger than ink or pixel realism. Cutscenes, though not plentiful, are drawn in full anime style, which makes them feel more dynamic than your average, advance-the-plot cutscene. Since the entire game is drawn in this format, you can expect a beautiful gaming experience all the way through. If anything, the lone graphical setback is that of the summons within battle sequences, which can come across as a watered down Final Fantasy rip-off.
The Western theme that you’d expect for this title is prevalent throughout the entire game, although a little variation from the whistles and similarity in theme songs would’ve been nice. Sounds are nicely attached to individual objects, so Victoria’s handguns, for example, comes across totally different than that of Jet’s machine guns. The largest downfall comes from the fact that there is very little if any sound. Even the most enthusiastic RPG player would get tired of supplementing character voices all the time.
Yet for all of the creativity placed within the gameplay, its graphics and sound, the largest problem within the game lies within battles. For one, they’re just not exciting. Controlling and entering individual commands are basic, but can get to be a little tedious after a while of only seeing a cross of options popped up in the center of the screen. One of the other issues is that the on-screen action has absolutely no impact upon individual damage rankings. Typically, when you enter a battle, you see your characters run around the battle space, supposedly in an attempt to get a better shot on their target. However, since there’s no discernable advantage to whether an enemy is closer or farther, it makes this movement of circling seem extraneous.
The appealing nature of Wild Arms 3 is that it manages to take the ideas of the original title, capitalize and grow upon it into a viable, continual series. Yet this title will not appeal to every player, especially purist RPG players. However, if they, action junkies or those looking for a good title want creativity, good storylines and a solid dose of anime, they can’t go wrong with Wild Arms 3.