Roughly two months later and I’m finished with Wild Arms. How does it stack up compared to the rest of the RPG’s I’ve played?

Story

Frankly, Wild Arms’ story was very weak. I did love the wild-west meets fantasy/sci-fi setting and it sorta reminded me of a cross between Trigun and Firefly. But cool as the setting was, it wasn’t enough to carry the game. The overarching plot was a group of extraterrestrial demons who want to take over the world and the three adventurers who stopped them. Not the most original storyline out there.

It started out strong with lots of unanswered questions and several interesting characters. Gradually, however, the game’s story got lost and there were whole sections in the middle of the game where I really had little idea what was happening and why. It was not unusual to be going into a dungeon to seek the Bright Widget of Importance but not remember why it was Important. Things did come together a bit at the end and the story definitely accelerated but by that point my interest had waned.

The characters weren’t much better. At the beginning I was intrigued by these three people and wanted to know more about them. They all did have interesting stories but again I would have liked to see more more happen with them. There was very little interaction between the trio and there were very few moments where their personalities developed outside of their adventurer role.

It’s sad that the one character I liked the most and wanted to know more about was Jack’s little rodent-friend Hanpan. The one part of the game where you got to play as Hanpan was genuinely fun but too short.

I would have liked to have seen a lot more done with Wild Arms’ characters and story. I give it a mediocre 4 out of 10.

Gameplay

Gameplay is king. If an RPG doesn’t have compelling gameplay then I might as well be watching a movie or reading a book. A game with a mediocre story and presentation can be completely redeemed by great gameplay. Suikoden was a great example of this.

In Wild Arms, gameplay was mostly full of irritations. I did like how each of the characters had different abilities that they could call on to defeat traps, open chests or reveal new areas to explore. Rudy’s bomb and Jack’s grappling hook were always fun to use. It did add some “action” elements to the game but I thought it was a positive addition.

Combat was another matter completely and was definitely the weakest element of Wild Arms for me. My complaints about combat are that it was boring and ultimately pointless, and that there was way too much of it. Combat in Wild Arms serves to give you experience points and money and really nothing more. Compare that to Grandia or one of the Final Fantasy games where you have abilities you can improve the more you use them or skills you can learn during combat. In Wild Arms, combat just served to shovel buckets of XP at your party. And when they levelled up I had no control over what improved or how they developed. It made them stronger but not in any way that I could directly influence. Without that hook there was little reason to seek out battles and lots of reasons to avoid them.

And I really wanted to avoid battles by the end of the game. They always felt sluggish and seemed to take far too long to resolve. I resorted to counting random battles at one point but I gave up doing that because they happened so often. I literally almost stopped playing because I was so frustrated with the battles. I often avoided exploring side areas because I knew I’d be drawn into more random battles. The one spell that let you avoid them also turned your character invisible so it was difficult to navigate and was a drain on your MP reserves to have to keep recasting it.

Wild Arms also suffered from the “What am I supposed to do now?” problem. Many times I’d wander around from town to town talking to people trying to get some clue where I was supposed to go or what to do. I hate that in games and I frequently had to consult a FAQ to get past those points.

It also didn’t help that about halfway through the game you ran out of places to buy improved weapons and armor. I’d occasionally find some in the dungeons but I often didn’t have much to spend my money on other than upgrading Rudy’s ARMs.

Gameplay was the weakest and most frustrating aspect of Wild Arms. I give it a very sad 3 out of 10.

Presentation

Wild Arms is primarily a 2D sprite-based RPG. As such it looked fine compared to most SNES or Genesis-era games with the possible exception of some of the greats like Chrono Trigger. I suppose I should expect more since the Playstation was capable of more than those 16-bit systems but I tend to like 2D games and I thought it held up well. Characters were detailed enough and everything was bright and clear. When you’d walk through a puddle of water in a town you’d leave footprints. Little touches like that were nice.

What didn’t work so well were the 3D battle scenes. It was a different effect but ultimately failed to impress me. I wish they’d kept to a 2D battle field or else put forth the effort to make the 3D system look nicer.

I appreciated that there was no voice acting in Wild Arms as it tends to be poorly done and easy to criticize. There was an opening full-motion video that looked great and I watched it a couple of times but there were no intermediate or ending cinematics.

Music was generally great. Many of the tunes were catchy and all seemed to have a Spaghetti Western flavor to them. I would rate the music as excellent overall but the battle theme spoiled it. From the heavy metal screech that led into the battle to the repetitive nature of the song I came to hate the battle theme. I wish they would have changed it halfway through the game as some games have done.

Wild Arms gets a 5 out of 10 for presentation.

Summary

Overall I’m glad I played Wild Arms. It has an important place in the RPG Hall of Fame but it’s not without its faults. While the game started off strong, by the end I was glad to be done with it as its weak points became clearer and clearer. I really can’t see playing any of the sequels.

Final score: 3.8 out of 10

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