Review by MIDIPChan
"Better than FF:T? Read on and see..."
Wild ARMs: Crossfire, XF for short, is a SRPG from Media.Vision that takes many standing elements of the genre and doesn't just rehash them with a new plot, but instead have molded familiar elements into quite possibly the most balanced tactics system to date. While the RPG side of the Wild ARMs series is still the dark-horse in the now crowded market of RPGs, it has always retained a special place for me. While not always the most cutting edge per say, Media.Vision has always put together a wonderful overall package with the Wild ARMs series. However, there was always something holding each iteration of the series back, be it a muddy textured battle engine a la Wild ARMs I, or the strange grainy sepia toned look applied to everything in III. Not so in Media.Vision's first foray into the SRPG market, Wild ARMs: XF. But, while it may soar high above the other Wild ARMs games, how's it stack up to other games in the genre like Final Fantasy: Tactics or Disgea? Well let's do it like Donnie D and break it down.
Let's get this one right out of the way. Clarissa and Felius are chasing after Rupert Dandrige who has stolen Clarissa's Mothers sword that will make the world beautiful again...somehow. While pursuing him they sail to the Kingdom of Elesius where right off the bat, they notice things aren't going well for it's people who are caught in the middle of a political power struggle. These two seemingly unconnected matters prove to be more than the sum of their parts and come together to form the core of the story. The story may seem like throw away fodder initially, but it manages to keep everything tied up nicely, be entertaining and help to move the game along at a nice pace. Everything is very clear as to what's going on and why you're doing it thanks in part not only to the translation by XSEED, but also because 90% of the story unfolds through beautiful stills with little motions here and there to spice things up(more on that later). So while the plot isn't exactly a David Lynch head scratcher, it isn't something you'll find your self wanting to skip through either.
Wild ARMs has always shined here. While not everyones cup of tea, no one can deny that the music has always been a major highlight of the series. This tradition is continued here in XF. While there are still music tracks that Wild ARMs is known for (Country music married to Rock & Roll and they had a baby called Jazz Fusion is back) these tracks, to most of our enjoyment, are much less than previously. A much better arrangement of music is put forth here evoking fond memories for me of such wonderful game soundtracks like Lunar: SSS. Having some great voice talent on board also helps the game since nothing gets me to tune out a story quickly more than an annoying character talking in an annoying voice(see every character in Enchanted Arms for reference...ahem). Richard Epcar, a.k.a. Batou, from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex voices the main character Rupert. While he's the only one I recognized what show/game he's from, there are a bunch of other voices that seemed to be familiar talent as well. However, voice actors in this game are also why the score gets a 9 and not a 10. A majority of the voices are good, some great even, then there are a handful of characters who have the dreaded bad anime voice ACTING!(no its not a typo) disease. Enough so to knock off a point on the score, but no one should be so turned off by this as to pass up the game entirely.
A welcome high point for this game are it's bright, crisp, and clear presentation for everything onscreen. Menus are laid out nicely and the text is very easy to read. Different classes and other characters that accompany your party are all easy to distinguish from one another on the battle field. The characters themselves are done as animated 2D sprites set atop a 3D map. While there certainly are some stages that share similar characteristics (e.g. all woodland stages have some foliage and all castle stages have stone and mortar tile sets) I never really felt like the maps or tile sets were overly used. Every map you'll encounter has it's own distinct look and flavor appropriate for it's location. As previously mentioned, animated still pictures help to tell the story in place of FMVs and is a welcome change. While this feature easily could've ended up as an old school gimmick, it's handled so well that I never missed or felt the need for FMVs which came as a surprise after loving Jeane D'Arc so much, in which FMVs were present for almost every major story event. Using 2D sprites and animated stills really helps to keep loading to a minimal which serves to keep the player wrapped up in the action. While on the subject of loading times, there was one thing that bothered me from time to time. Just like in Final Fantasy: Tactics for the PSP, when using special skills or magic, there's sometimes a short freeze while the animation loads up. Now while this is no where near as frequent as in FF:T, where slow down happened every time you used a skill/magic, it does happen from time to time. Not enough to really hamper the game, but it did serve to pull me away from enjoying the game now and again.
FF:T is a game that any SRPG gamer garners as a base for comparison against all other SRPGs(despite loving or hating it), but there was something about it's game play that bugged me. Looking back, while revolutionary for the time, FF:T's job class system was more broken than a Ford Taurus. Sure it was cool to be able to change jobs and build up skills to try to make powerful allies of your own design, but by the middle of the game you'd already acquired enough overly powerful main characters in your party that almost any other character you tried to build was rather weak. Sure you could decline to have those uber-characters join your party, but even then the job class system itself had classes that could mop the floor against anything else, so why use any of those other classes? Wild ARMs does a great job of fixing this issue. In Wild ARMs: XF the class system is well balanced enough that the 4 classes you initially start with will still be useful even by the end of the game. All in all I believe there are 16+ classes, with the + indicating character specific jobs (i.e. the main character Felius can only select the Halberdier class). With the classes being so specified it may sound limiting, but it makes the game incredibly fun and easier to know what classes to use for certain battles. For instance, one mission had two main characters making a stealth rescue attempt in a enemy camp. One of the guards had dropped a key you need somewhere and you have to find it without being seen by him. Sounds like a pain in the butt, however, if you change classes to an Excavator you can use the Detect skill which finds objects/items normally hidden on the map. It's little gems like this that make it stand out from regular SRPG fare of go here, battle these guys, wash, rinse, repeat. A majority of missions are straight up battle, but there are also escort missions, rescue, escape, even the aformentioned sneaking mission is are a welcome change from the norm. What's more is that it provides a good degree of difficulty without beatting you down. I hate to keep referencing it, but anyone who has played through FF:T knows the second Lucavi Boss you face is near impossible without cheating of some sort. This battle had me so ticked that I quit playing the first time through. Not only was the battle long and drawn out, but if I lost there wasn't a quick way to restart the battle. In Wild ARMs, you'll certainly be retrying a fair share of stages till you get it right, but I never felt like I was being unfairly outmatched in strength, only tactics. The battles in Wild ARMs: XF always come down to strategy, as it should be in this type of game. Games like Disgea and FF:T, after a while of beefing up your characters, you can pretty much just go in and attack to your hearts content without having to really rely too much on any kind of plan. Never the case here. Plus there is a quick battle restart option that puts everything back to the beginning in a snap, no loading. You'll always want to give careful thought to your unit types before going into battle and if you made the wrong choice the previously mention quick restart option will let you try it again and again(quickly) till you find the right balance.
To be honest, I'd never expected to be so taken by this game. As a whole the Wild ARMs franchise has been hit & miss, but this game more than delivers on every front. Sure there are some elements that aren't perfect, but pound for pound this is a game that can not only stand with the best SRPGs out there, but in this author's opinion, Wild ARMs: XF sets a new standard for games in terms of balanced SRPG game play. Square-Enix, I never thought I'd have to say this to the o.g. of SRPGs, but you may want to take some notes from these guys at Media.Vision.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/17/08
Game Release: Wild ARMs XF (US, 03/11/08)
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