Wild Arms 3

Review

posted 11/10/2002 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
I have to be up front about this: I’m a sucker for this sort of game. I’m a huge fan of RPGs of any flavor, and I can never walk away from any kind of puzzle or mind-bender. Give me a game with healthy doses of puzzles and RPG goodness, and I’m a very happy person. Wild Arms 3 is just such a game.

At first glance, there really doesn’t seem to be anything to set Wild Arms 3 apart from any other run-of-the-mill console RPG. In fact, players with any experience in the console RPG genre will find themselves right at home within minutes of play. Even the story seems a bit cookie-cutter: A Great Big Naughtiness is afoot, and so Fate throws four Unlikely Heroes together to battle the Forces of Darkness. The world in danger is Filgaia, a place that really doesn’t have much going for it to begin with. Seems some war between the demon hoards and the defenders of the planet took place a very long time ago. The good guys won, by all accounts, but the battles left the planet in sorry shape, something of an ecological wasteland. The setting has a very Western-style, frontier-sy feel to it. Our Heroes are Drifters (and Drifter wannabes), brave souls that set out into the wastelands seeking adventure, fortune, and a Good Time.

The ARMs of Wild Arms 3 are ancient relics, artifacts that look a whole lot like the familiar guns of today. Each character has one ARM for the entire game. While this may seem a bit dull, they can be upgraded at most any town to increase accuracy, firepower, chances of critical hits, and number of bullets. Throughout the game, each ARM can only be upgraded 15 times, making for some tough decisions for ARM advancement.

As in most RPGs, ARMs aren’t the only things that upgrade. Characters have the tried-and-true advancement of gaining experience and leveling up through killing stuff. Unfortunately, there is no control over how characters advance with leveling…they just get a little better and a bit harder to kill. I would have liked to have a bit more control over my character’s customization.

Customization can be achieved, however, by the equipping of Guardians, spirits that allow the casting of spells, boosting of character stats, and occasional be summoning to lend a hand in a tough battle. Of course, summonable creatures aren’t anything new to the console RPG field, so don’t expect anything spectacular here. I seldom found myself using the summons during combat, relying more on the stat increases and special abilities imparted by the Guardians.

Speaking of combat, RPG veterans will feel right at home here, too. Combat is turn-based with a slight twist—orders are issued for each character at the beginning of a combat round, and then combat begins. Characters and monsters compare Reflex scores, the highest score going first, next highest after, and so on. This makes for some interesting decisions, because when a character’s target is killed before their turn, the character will randomly target another monster, which can lead to some frustration, especially if the new target is healed by a particular spell rather than harmed.

During combat, characters have “freebie” actions of “attack”, “guard”, and “use item”. However, as the characters hit their targets, dodge attacks, and even take damage, they gain “Force Points”, which are used for the more interesting combat tricks. Certain levels of Force Points are needed for the casting of spells, although these castings don’t deplete the Force Point levels. Unique character moves, summoning the Guardians, and “Gattling” (unloading multiple shots at once) deplete Force points, meaning that even the primary magic-user will be turning to the trusty ARMs every now and then.

There are also a few other types of combat. Since this is a Western-style game, there are horses. And riding on horses doesn’t insure that the local critter population is going to leave Our Heroes alone. Actually, horseback combat isn’t at all functionally different than the normal type, but it looks kinda cool, and adds a bit of spice to the game. In addition, later in the game the characters will gain the use of a ship (there’s always a ship), and the ornery varmints will even attack the Heroes as they’re sailing the sand-oceans, leading to ship-vs-monster combat. Ship combat is quite different from the other combats. Each character is assigned a particular job on board the sandcraft, such as Gunner or Helmsmen, and their particular stats play a crucial role in determining how often they act, and how effectively they do so. Just like the ARMs, the sandcraft can be upgraded to deal some pretty impressive damage and take some pretty impressive abuse.


What about the non-combat parts? Well, this is where Wild ARMs 3 shines. Time is spent in the relatively safe towns, the not-so-safe Overland map, and in dungeons. While wandering around the Overland and the dungeons, monsters will take an interest in the party. However, combat isn’t necessarily going to happen just because a monster wants a quick snack. The party has an Encounter Gauge, which allows them to skip battles. The bigger the monsters that are avoided, the more the Encounter Gauge depletes. Some battles can be avoided, but not all of them, since the Gauge will eventually run out. Fighting battles slowly refills the Gauge, allowing the party to avoid some battles and fight others, depending on the health of the party or the patience of the player. Some small monsters can be avoided without depleting the Gauge at all. Which means no more fighting those annoying beginning-game monsters when the party has achieved level 60.

Dungeoning is where I had the most fun. The dungeons are mostly made up of a series of puzzles interrupted by the occasional battle and boss-fight. Puzzles consist of block-pushing, triggering switches, and using each of the characters’ special tools to solve a particular riddle. These puzzles may not appeal to everyone, and even I found myself frustrated every now and then. There is even a series of side-quest puzzles if the main story line isn’t enough. Since most of the game is spent wandering into a town, getting a bit of story, and then being sent into a dungeon for some serious hack-n-slash puzzling, those wanting to “just kill stuff and take their things” should look to a different RPG.

As far as the technical stuff goes, it gets the job done and not much more. Wild ARMs 3 uses the now-popular “cell-shading” style of graphics, which is different. Not really good, not really bad, just different. At first, I found myself a little put off by the graphics, but I soon grew accustomed to the style, and it didn’t detract at all from the game play. Likewise, the audio keeps the game moving forward and not much else. There is no voice acting, just sound effects and music. Both can get a bit repetitive, but neither had me hitting the “mute” button. The game play is what’s important here, and the technical side does a solid job of brining out a good game.

So is this a good game? I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, although it may not be for everyone’s tastes. If the thought of pushing blocks around to form bridges, lighting torches in a particular pattern, and writing down the occasional password turns you off, then look elsewhere. If you’re like me, however, and enjoy a RPG laden with puzzle-y goodness, Wild ARMs 3 will certainly deliver.





B
A solid RPG delivering lots of hack-n-slash and tons of puzzle-y goodness. This isn’t the Next Big Thing in RPGs, but it’ll do in the mean time…