Review by Psycho Penguin

"What does it take to be number one? Come third."

The Wild Arms series has traditionally been an overrated series in my eyes. No offense to the fans, but the 1st game was above-average, but nothing special. It was your typical jaunt through a RPG with a few interesting elements, but there was nothing terribly memorable about it that would make it one of the better RPGs of all time. Wild Arms 2 was a complete failure, as the developers tried to use a worse version of the battle system, along with a terrible storyline. Therefore, I didn't hold much hope for part 3 of the series, especially with the cel-shaded graphics and lack of hype.

Usually it's the underlooked games that end up becoming your favorites, and Wild Arms 3 is a prime example. The game completely engrossed me from beginning to end, and despite its flaws, it manages to be one of the premiere RPGs on the console. The developers continued to do the annoying thing with taking good elements and implementing them in bad ways with the sequel. Wild Arms 2 did this, and Wild Arms 3 took some of the (rare) fine points that the 2nd game innovated, and completely messed around with them. The result is disappointing, but if you can overloook the flaws, you will find an oustanding RPG that manages to prove that hype does not make a good game.

Wild Arms has never exactly had a great storyline, but Wild Arms 3 managed to change that with one of the most epic storylines of all time. It is quite long, and features lots of plot twists, but it will never get to the point that it proves to be confusing. You never get the general idea that the developers threw in plot twists just to throw them in. They build logically, and the storyline moves at a brisk place. It does take the idea of ''we have to go to this random dungeon for this random reason'' to the extreme, but as you get later into the game, the previous things you did start to make sense. That's all I can really ask for.

I think the reason I enjoyed the story so much was because of the deep characters. I usually don't get attached to RPG characters, but I must admit that I got attached to these characters, and wanted to know what would happen to them next. Virginia is the feisty leader of the team of four, who always has an upbeat attitude and tries her best to keep the team together. Clive is the middle aged guy who spends his entire time homesick, but also has a positive outlook about everything, and his intelligence will be invaluable. Gallows is a sage of sorts, who was brought up in a religion-based household. Jet was my favorite of the bunch, as he was a hothead who was always looking to get away from the group.

That's just the main characters, but Wild Arms 3 has some of the deepest villians and non-playable characters of all time, as well. That's what makes the story so deep and addictive: you will want to see what happens next, because you will get hooked on the characters and you will grow attached to them. Not enough role playing games have characters you generally care about. Most of them are your typical RPG heroes, and while some may excuse this game as having these same stereotypical heroes, you will soon notice that their development is second to none.

The thing about the characters are that they are cel-shaded! In a huge risk, Wild Arms 3 is done entirely in cel-shaded graphics. Battles play out especially well, due to the flat characters not looking particuarly bad. The enemy designs are innovative, as you will often wonder what the hell you are fighting. I especially like the little bouncy balls with 3 hands on them, or the mushrooms that shoot white smoke and look mysteriously like male genitalia. The game is 2.5D, as it features 3D buildings, but a rotating camera. The world map and towns look great, and the wild west motif of the game, combined with the cel shaded graphics, makes Wild Arms 3 a sight to behold.

I've never been a huge fan of the music in the series, as I felt they've tried a little too hard in previous efforts to sound different. While the music in Wild Arms 3 also tries to be particuarly different, it also stands out as some of the best music I have heard in quite a while. The range of music in the game is spectacular. The world map theme is a wild west song that really lends credence to the fact that this is a game that takes place in a western world. The various town themes also sound this way.

The various dungeon music is a little disappointing at times, and really good at others. There's about five main dungeon themes, and they tend to repeat at times in different dungeons. The battle music won't get annoying, but isn't the best in the world. I loved the boss themes, especially the battle with Maya, and the special boss theme. Most of the music definitely has a semblance of western style stuff, so you may not like it if you are against this style of music. Otherwise, you will find a lot to like with this game's music, especially if you are a fan of video game music. I plan to purchase the soundtrack of the game myself.

This game won't win any awards for innovation for the most part, but the basic gameplay is still pretty effective and well done. You go from dungeon to dungeon, fighting turn-based battles and finding out clues that help you get to the next dungeon. The battle system works pretty much like you may expect if you've played the first two. Each character gets their own unique skills, as well as a gatling attack (which fires off multiple shots). As you get hit and perform attacks on enemies, you gain Force Points, which enable you to cast magic and use your skills. Managing your Force Points is an important part of battle early on, and it gives battles a little strategic feel to them.

It's nothing new, but once you get in-depth into the game, you will start to notice how it manages to be different. For one, you no longer get weapons and armor to equip. You get defense boosts from equipping mediums, which I will discuss soon. Your main weapon is a gun. Each character has a different gun with different characteristics and shooting style. For instance, Virginia holds a double pistol, while Jet has a machine gun. You can upgrade these guns (adding on bullets, critical hit percentage), but you can never buy new ones. This makes gold pretty useless for the most part, as the only thing you will ever be spending it on is upgrading your weapons. That's because you can't buy healing items - the only way you can gain new ones is from winning them from enemies, finding them in dungeons, or finding a secret garden where you can harvest them.

Side quests are a huge part of RPGs nowadays, so Wild Arms 3 has a nice bunch of them as you may expect. The thing I enjoyed most about them is that the majority of them involve battles and fights. There's lots of secret bosses, as well as ''teleport towers'' that cast random status effects on you that you have to fight. There's also a 100-floor dungeon, complete with tons of random battles, puzzles, and bosses. You won't find any lightning dodging here, so those of you that are battle freaks like me will be in heaven.

Wild Arms 3, sadly, retains some annoying elements from Wild Arms 2 that prevent it from becoming an instant classic. First, you still have to ''search'' for towns and dungeons on the world map by pressing the square button. I hated it before, and I still hate it. However, they did make the places slightly easier to find, as the clues are easily obtainable and highlighted in red. It's still annoying to push square everywhere trying to find something that you need to go to in order to progress in the game. Secondly, magic still is pretty worthless. Your physical attacks will usually do better than your magic attacks. The only time you use magic is when the enemy is resistant to physical attacks. It makes the game horribly unbalanced.

And finally, the bosses are horribly unbalanced, as well. Some bosses are extremely easy, some are extremely challenging. One boss requires you to simply cast ONE SPELL on it in order to kill it. Of course, you get no clue as to what this one spell is during the battle, so you will just be trying anything to kill the guy before you finally find the spell (and it's a weird one) to kill it. A couple of bosses will keep challenging you, and they manage to be horribly consistent as well. One battle with the Maya family will be challenging as hell, and the next they will succumb in a few rounds. It's not too much to ask for a consistent challenge, and sadly the bosses in Wild Arms 3 are too unbalanced and weird to make me satisfied in this particular area.

Wild Arms 2 did have one really cool idea. There was a shop you could go to, and in these shops, you could develop skills. Each time you leveled up, you got 1 skill point, which could be used to develop any skill you wanted on your list. Sadly, in this game, this idea was implemented poorly. Every once in a while, you will gain a Medium. Equipping a Medium boosts your statistics, and gives you magic spells and a set list of skills that you can learn, based on what medium you are equipping. Each medium has different skills, and you can learn and erase skills by using items. You get to learn these skills by leveling up.

This idea sounds good in theory, but sadly the idea of managing a bunch of mediums, each with their own skills and magic spells, gets frustrating quickly. You'll have to constantly check between equipped mediums to see what skills they have, so you don't accidentally learn the same skill with more than one equipped medium. The game doesn't just give you a list of what skills you have, which is sad. It's too confusing and hard to properly manage all these skills, and that was one of the most disappointing elements of the game for me.

The game isn't exactly challenging, either. Like I explained briefly above, the boss challenge level will fluctuate big time. Some of the bosses are defeated in totally mundane and weird ways, while others require sheer power and force. The random battles are pretty tough at first, but I managed to auto-battle my way through about 90 percent of them. I rarely ever used magic, relying on physical attacks unless I had to use magic, and I did just fine. I found the most amount of difficulty in solving some of the unique and challenging puzzles that the game will throw in every dungeon in the game. Be ready to solve lots of puzzles, and some of them are a little confusing and complicated.

Despite all these flaws, I managed to find myself totally immersed in the Wild Arms 3 experience. The game will have you hooked from beginning to end, and it will keep you locked in due to the high amount of secrets and side quests. It will literally take a hundred hours to completely master this game. There is so much to do and learn, and it happens to be damn fun, so with that combination, this game has a high amount of replay value. And just to make it even sweeter, if you collect EX Keys by doing some of the side quests, you'll get to start the game over and play through again on your current levels. What more could you ask for?

I was originally going to give Wild Arms 3 a 10/10 due to the fact I loved it so much, but judging fairly, I have to bump my score down to a 8. The game has lots of flaws. The bosses are horribly unbalanced, the management of skills could have been implemented better, and the game gets tedious at times. Those who don't like crawling through dungeon after dungeon may want to try out something else. For the rest of us, the next great RPG is finally here. This game is special, because it has a lot of flaws, but you won't even care about them as you play it. It manages to be fun, addictive, and offers one of the best storylines of the year. What more could you possibly ask for?

Just don't cry to me too much when Tiamat kicks your ass.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/02/03

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