Genre: Western Fantasy Role-Playing
The genre of the ‘western’ has appeared in many mediums. Cinema used to be rife with John Wayne movies and tumbleweeds aplenty. Themes of cowboys and gunfights have permeated plenty of popular literary pieces and even some action packed video games. Role-playing games, however, tend to have fleeting sequences of Wild West tones in them. When I was younger and found Wild Arms, a Wild West game with elements of magic and lost technology, I was obsessed almost immediately, even having not been a fan of Westerns in most other formats. The series, now five strong in its main stable, has been around for some time now, despite the fact that most people don’t know much about it. Is it a series that is even worth looking into, though?
Wild Arms begins in an unfamiliar fashion. Beginning as three separate scenarios, able to be played in whatever order the player would like, you are introduced to your party in their own situations. You will meet Rudy, a quiet young man with a power over the mysterious ARMS, mystically powered firearms that bind to their owner, and whom appears to leave a wake of destruction that ends with him being exiled from his home village. Cecilia is a young woman who is part of the Adlehyde royal family who has been studying at an abbey and finds herself called to by a malevolent force threatening the world. There is also Jack, a treasure hunter with a mysterious past who, along with his wind mouse companion, Hanpan, finds himself engaged in a quest that, along with the others, will mean the salvation of their world, Filgaia.
Once their separate scenarios end, they find themselves with similar goals, thrown into the goings on far beyond their wildest dreams. As most games of its ilk, Wild Arms does play like a standard RPG in many ways. Your characters level up by engaging in battles, and while equipment is readily available to help strengthen characters, most of the better equipment is found by exploring dungeons as the game goes on. In fact, one of the interesting parts of the game is that each character’s special abilities upgrade most efficiently if you explore thoroughly. Cecilia, for instance, learns new spells by finding items that she can inscribe them on, so the more of these you find, the quicker her repertoire expands. Rudy, on the other hand, only gains new ARMS by finding them in special chests in dungeons. It’s one of the few ways the game sets itself apart from other games of the era, so if you don’t enjoy exploration, you may find yourself lacking in your experience with this game.
Another feature, though reminiscent of games like The Legend of Zelda and Lufia, is the
original feeling ‘Tool’ abilities that the characters each get, helping navigate the puzzle like dungeons of the game. One character has bombs that can be used to blow up weak walls. Another has a wand that can help you talk to animals, which will get them to help you or give you items. All of them have their uses, some more frequent than others, but it sets the characters apart more than just by name and personality.
The game is engaging, and while it hits on most of the tropes that other fantasy based role-playing games do, the veneer of the Wild West and steampunk tones makes the game feel fresher than the usual fare. Characters have distinct personalities, but they are pretty clear cut. Heroes are heroes, and villains are quite obviously evil. If there is one complaint,
and this tends to be a note across the entire series, it is that the game feels like it has a succinct end point that it blows by, extending the game for what feels more like run time rather than actual plot. It is not quite as egregious as it is in other entries, but there may be a time or two that the player feels like the story has ended only to tack on one or two more plot points, however irrelevant they may be.
Graphically, the game is unique and has two real fields to gauge- the overworld map graphics and the battle visuals. The visuals you’ll see most of the time- the overworld and whatnot- are very clearly detailed, and they are a pleasure to look at even at this point in time. They feel dynamic and with the palettes mostly being variations of sepia and earthen tones with occasional pops of bright color, they create a style indicative of the feel of the Wild West setting the game prides itself on. The battle sequences are charming, but they are the true sign that the game has aged. Characters are polygonal and clip regularly, and the monsters don’t fare much better. There is some dynamic lighting through spell effects and other environmental traits that make the visuals a bit more complex, but looking at the models in these battles, while obviously impressive for the time, shows the most age in the game.
The soundtrack is epic. Acoustic guitars and other ‘rugged’ or ‘Western’ instruments bring a solemn and refreshing set of tunes to the forefront of the game. While the game does feel like it digs into the same territory as other Playstation era RPGs (the battle theme is a sidestep from the motif of the rest of the game and fairly generic), it mostly sticks to its guns and keeps the charm coming. Most people who have played this game remember the title tune, and it is one of the more memorable of the era to me. Sound effects are where the game loses some points, as many can be jarring and intrusive the general soundscape of the game. For some reason, many of the enemies also sound like cats when you strike them, a note that an observer made while I played in the background one night. It’s an odd mixing of noises in what is mostly a solid listening experience.
If you’re looking for something like Lufia but can’t do the games with full on fantasy
settings, Wild Arms might just fall into your wheelhouse. It is charming, challenging, and a strong entry into anyone’s role playing game library. Any flaws that it has are minimal, and they display the same issue that many games of the time do, making this a precise view into the past of the genre itself, despite falling into mediocrity over time. Wild Arms is available through the Playstation Network, if it interests you, or a physical copy usually doesn’t go to extremes in pricing. If anything, the game is a worthwhile adventure to try out if any of the above interests you and you like to take your time exploring through all a game has to offer.