IGN Review of Wild Arms 5
Ten years ago, a game appeared on the Sony PlayStation that many still look back upon fondly today. Called Wild ARMs, this RPG focused on three extremely well developed and likeable characters as they adventured through the fictional world of Filgaia. High difficulty and mind-boggling puzzles were the hallmark of Wild ARMs - it was often said that one couldn't realistically solve all of the puzzles in the game without some sort of help from a strategy guide - and though the game wasn't as pretty as some of its counterparts (such as the later-released Final Fantasy VII), its traditional style and quirky wild west atmosphere won it many loyal fans. Wild ARMS 2, released later in the PlayStation's lifecycle, continued the tradition in good form, and was another rousing success amongst fans of the Sony-built franchise.
Subsequent Wild ARMs releases have changed the series in many ways. Some of the changes are of a more drastic variety than others. As a result, the quality of the series has certainly fallen since the release of the second game, but the series has remained a worthwhile staple of many RPG fans' libraries through the third and fourth releases (the latter of which saw a major evolution of the series). And now we're here with the fifth installment of the Wild ARMs saga, Wild ARMs 5, on the tenth anniversary of the series' inception.
Wild ARMs 5 is an RPG that was created with the right ideas in mind. Like any good RPG, it's character driven with an interesting battle system, wide-open environments, and lots to do. Unfortunately, the execution of some of these good ideas ultimately leaves much to be desired, considerably tainting an otherwise enjoyable gaming experience. It's not that Wild ARMs 5 is a poor game. It's that Wild ARMs 5 isn't the great game it had the potential to be. It's simply a title that RPG fans and series aficionados will enjoy, while everyone else passes it by without giving it a second look. But even RPG fans might be hard-pressed to find true pleasure out of a play-through of Wild ARMs 5 due to issues concerning difficulty (or lack thereof), aesthetics, and flow. In the end, it's a good game, but not one that manages to stand out in a genre where titles can truly envelop their audience with great gameplay and an engaging story.
Like all Wild ARMs titles before it, Wild ARMs 5 takes place on a planet known as Filgaia. This time around, your party revolves around a sixteen-year-old named Dean, a teenager obsessed with mythical golems. Living in a small town isolated from much of the world's events, he dreams of getting out of his hometown of Capo Bronco to find adventure. Influenced greatly by a mysterious old Golem Hunter who resides in his town, Dean ultimately resolves to head away from Capo Bronco to fulfill his own destiny as a golem-hunting adventurer.
But before Dean can find adventure, adventure finds him. Witnessing a gigantic piece of debris smashing into Filgaia from space above, Dean, along with his childhood friend Rebecca, go off to investigate. What they find changes their lives forever. The left hand of a giant golem was the piece of debris they saw fall from the heavens, and clutched within the golem's digits and palm is a mysterious girl named Avril. Mumbling something about a man named Johnny Appleseed (not the American frontiersman legend, mind you), Avril is rescued by Dean and brought along on his adventure, which now, amongst other things, involves uncovering the identity of this man.
The fighting system will be familiar to gamers who played the fourth installment of the Wild ARMs series, since their styles are essentially the same. While your party will get into battles with enemies via random encounters - your normal RPG fare - the way the battles unfold is fairly unique. Each fight takes place on a grid on the battle screen known collectively as the HEX system. The battles are turn-based, to be certain, but movement around the HEX is key to battling effectively. By moving your characters around strategically, putting them in and out of range of their own attacks as well as their enemies, grouping them to get the most out of an item, or putting two on the same square for Force-based Team Attacks, you can cause massive devastation for enemy parties. What's more, certain tiles on the HEX grid will strengthen and weaken certain attacks. There's a definite strategy element in Wild ARMs 5 due to this very system, but unfortunately the battles rarely pose an actual threat, severely diluting the otherwise enjoyable experience of doing battle.
The layout of this title's version of Filgaia is as true to form as the "wild west" undertones are. The world map is made up of a plethora of towns and villages, caves and dungeons, and other points of interest. Traveling from one of these points to the next is, like most RPGs, the bread and butter of Wild ARMs 5. Since the characters, while sometimes underdeveloped and oftentimes cliché, are nevertheless likeable, running all over the place to see what happens to them next is actually an enjoyable experience. Like the Wild ARMs games of yore, there are also side quests to conquer and optional (but powerful) gear to acquire, but most of that is relegated to certain parts of your experience, especially near the end.
Innovation is firmly rooted in the Wild ARMs series' ability to mix action/adventure elements with your typical RPG formula. This has never been more evident than in this installment of the series. Main character Dean, wielding a firearm weapon at the crux of the game's battle system called an ARM, is able to shoot at objects such as jars and crates, as well as jump and slide. The latter two skills become useful in dungeons when new platforms must be reached, or objects need to be in some other way manipulated. So naturally, Wild ARMs 5 has its fair share of puzzles, some more complicated than others. Regardless, the challenge present in this game doesn't hold a candle to the original PlayStation titles. It shouldn't hurt your enjoyment of this inventive hybrid-RPG environment, however.
A major gripe we had with the game was the camera system. Since the world rendered in the game is 3D, the game gives you the helpful option of fully controlling the camera. This is good, of course, since there's no real limitation on what you can and cannot see (although this sometimes changes). However, the camera has a ridiculously clunky feel to it and is sometimes more confusing and frustrating than helpful and, most importantly, intuitively controlled. Thankfully, this is redeemed by some interesting in-game options that assist you in your journey, including in-game markers that help you navigate (so you don't keep going in circles for hours) and dungeons laden in entities called Sol Nigers, which, when fought and slain, will give you the ability to shut off random enemy encounters in entire areas. Neat, we know, but like with any RPG, battles shouldn't be avoided. The game might be easier than most RPGs, but even in Wild ARMs 5, neglecting enemy encounters will only hurt you in the end.
A seemingly inconsequential but very cool feature in the game is the Hint system, which can be accessed anywhere you're able to save your game. When accessed, you will get a hint on what you should do next. This alleviates the infamous problem some RPG gamers have of walking away from a game too long and forgetting what you were going to do next, potentially forcing a restart or downright abandonment of the game. Our biggest complaint with this installment in the series, however, is relative to the ease of most of the adventure. Aside from the lack of challenge outside of battle, the fact that the party is healed after most battles is downright ludicrous, since the party can essentially go for broke on each battle knowing that HP meters will be refilled automatically at the conclusion of the fight. For shame - aren't RPGs supposed to be difficult!?
©2007-08-29, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved