Review by Fin_Obelius
Reviewed: 04/08/08 | Updated: 04/21/08
Combine a Clint Eastwood film and RPG elements, and you've got Wild ARMs.
Wild ARMs 5-The Vth Vanguard for those residents of Japan-is the fifth installment in the enduring Wild ARMs series created by MediaVision (a common misconception is that XSeed creates the games, but they are just in charge of translation, actually). It was released in 2007 to commemorate the series' tenth anniversary. The developers celebrated by adding cameos of every playable character from previous Wild ARMs games, including the extra characters from Wild ARMs: Alter Code F-a remake of the original Wild ARMs.
Following and improvising upon the formula of it's predecessor, WA4, WA5 becomes the best WA game in a while. The return of the Wild, Wild Western themes is also more than welcome. That means the deserts, spitoons, and impressive looking ARMs are back (if only there were tumbleweeds, then it would look like something straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie). With changes both familiar and new, the time has also come to say goodbye to a trademark of the WA games. I am, of course, talking about the exclusion of the opening animation that has been present in every WA game since the original. Nevertheless, the series has still changed for the better.
You take the role of a young ARMslinger that goes by the name of Dean. He's the generic goody two shoes protagonist that all idealistic heroes dream to become. He wants to leave Hicksville (also known as Capo Bronco) because he has a dream to become a Golem Hunter, and follow in the footsteps of his idol, the legendary Nightburn. After exploring the forest with his friend, Rebecca, he comes upon a young lass that has suffered a most severe case of amnesia and can't remember anything except her name, Avril Vent Fleur, and the two words, 'Johnny Appleseed'.
Whether he is the Johnny Appleseed of our folk tales or even if he's a person is uncertain. With the goal of finding this enigma in mind, the trio sets off to explore every nook and cranny of the world of Filgaia and recruiting more playable characters along for the ride, each with their own personal reason for tagging along. You name it, revenge, love triangles, pursue of high adventure, and et cetera. Newcomers to the series might be wondering what ARMs are, but it's simple. ARMs are the guns that the characters wield.
There may be cameos of characters from previous WA games, but there is no evidence to support that this is the same Filgaia of past WA games. It's more likely it was just a way for the developers to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Wild ARMs. So therefore, it is completely unnecessary to play any of the previous games as each WA games are standalone games with minor but welcome references for veterans of the series. Really the storyline is nothing special, but it's not terrible either. many of the characters are mere stereotypes, but their personalities are well defined, so you could call them stereotypes with a little bit extra- archetypes, if you prefer that term.
The gameplay is easily the most unusual aspect of WA5. The Wild ARMs games has always seemed to be hybrids of Action RPGs and conventional RPGs, when you consider the puzzles you have to solve by actually interacting with the environment. You can slide under, jump over, shoot, or smash objects. With those options (and more) you will have to solve the puzzles this game dishes out to you during the dungeons that you explore, and maybe even pick up a treasure or two in the process. Add that with a random encounter system, and you've got a bizarre mix of ARPG and RPG aspects.
During the game Dean will find new types of ammo to fire at different types of targets. Like for example, regular ammo will not be able to rekindle a fire, but Fire Ammo will be able to. This enhances the experience and gives you a reason to backtrack to a previously visited dungeon to claim that one inaccessible treasure trove. Despite the new concepts (I can't really say that shooting random objects can count as puzzle solving), actual puzzles are few.
The random encounter system that is employed by 95% of the RPGs on the market tends to become tiresome, especially when dungeons are just one big crawl. Fortunately, the solution comes in the form of a certain object called a Sol Niger. One in every dungeon in the game, they require purification via engaging in combat with the foul creature that is the source of it's corruption. Once you've won the battle, you will gain a very useful ability: The function to toggle the random encounters on/off in that particular dungeon.
Like the majority of RPGs, WA5 employs a turn based battle system. What makes it so extraordinary is the unique HEX system (first ARMS, now HEXes?!) that was introduced in WA4, but honed to a fine point in this installment. Basically, when you are engaging a fiendish opponent in combat, you stand in seven hexagonal tiles (hence the name, HEXes) where the combatants can stand during battle. Party members are capable of sharing the same HEX, this proves to be beneficial as items that you use on a particular HEX will be shared among all of the residents of said HEX. Attacks by opponents will be inflicted upon all of the members of that one HEX. Therefore, this tactical twist is somewhat of a double-edged sword effect.
That isn't the only aspect of gameplay that has changed for the better, or at least honed. In the WA games of the past, Mediums have always been instruments for summoning big ass monsters that deal MASSIVE DAMAGE upon an unsuspecting foe. That isn't their sole focus anymore. Instead, you learn new abilities if you are at a certain level, like for example, an attack-oriented medium will teach you abilities that bolster your offensive capabilities. Fans uncomfortable to find about all the changes will be relieved to hear that you still can summon, but you will have to be an extremely high level to learn the ability to summon. Mediums still grant specific bonuses to your stats.
There are specific types of Mediums that cater to the tastes of a Healer oriented combatant, Thief type fighter and other RPG stereotypes. You are capable of 'sacrificing' levels to attain new abilities faster, e.g. If you are level 39 and there is an ability you positively cannot wait to get, you can 'give' that ability a level so you can learn it, at the cost of your stats being reduced to those of a level 38. Fortunately, if you screw up, you can always undo those changes. So instead of summoning the incarnations of gods, you get to become a veritable god on the battlefield. That's a great deal, if I may add.
If that wasn't enough to make the game easier (and believe me, the game is extremely easy) there are objects that boost or give you unique abilities when equipped, called Badges. Best of all, Badge effects stack up on top of each other-the ones that empower your characters' stats, more specifically. That makes way for hundreds of combos that make usual encounters with monsters that harbor bellicose intent a breeze. Along with new armor and parts for your ARMs, it isn't difficult to make this game a ridiculously simple matter.
The Search System returns as well-but instead of scanning for cities as was the case in WA3, you survey the surrounding area on the world map of Filgaia for a treasure chest by sending out sonar pulses. If a treasure chest is within the radius of your pulse, the said hoard will reveal itself to you, unopened and ready for picking!
The visuals are slightly above par with other games on the PlayStation 2. The monsters you encounter in random encounters are great and rarely recycled. The environments are unimpressive with few and far in between landmarks. It doesn't help much that the areas in the World Map (Yes, MediaVision learned from their mistake and reincorporated a World Map into the WA series) are usually expansive and aesthetically unremarkable. This makes it easier to steer around on your vehicle, so it's not really a big problem.
The facial expressions are some of the best I've seen, especially since most games fail so badly when it comes to transition in facial expression (Yes, that counts even Final Fantasy). And some of the non-playable characters are done in such detail it's surprising. Some may be sitting around a table while drinking something. Others may even be sitting together while having their heads turned towards each other.
The costume design is also done superbly. The outfits of the characters attract the eye without being overly gaudy. If there are some costumes that you dislike, there are some armor that you can equip on your characters to change the palettes of their clothes. Those special armors are rare, but you have to admit that it's awesome that the developers put this much attention into this game-the costume swap of your characters will even be viewable during cutscenes and battle.
Wild ARMs 5 not just succeeds WIld ARMs 4, it actually surpasses said game in almost every way. The storyline itself, is not anything special but the characters' personalities are well done so I have little complain story-wise. Graphically, I think MediaVision has certainly deserved their kudos-if you can ignore the bland dungeons, of course. We can never forget the great job XSeed does in translating. I can honestly say that I cannot find a single error in the dialogue. The gameplay is a fresh change from the cliches of mainstream RPGs. Overall, Wild ARMs is yet another great game that falls below the radar of the public eye.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Wild ARMs 5 (10th Anniversary Edition) (US, 08/28/07)
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