Wild ARMs 5 – Staff Review

Over the course of the series, Wild ARMs has seen many changes for better and for worse. In Wild ARMs 5, much of what makes the series so beloved comes home for a nostalgic reunion and a blissful marriage of classic and modern elements.

Wild ARMs 5 focuses on Dean Stark, a small-town teenager with unbridled enthusiasm for golems, ancient technological marvels that are now scattered in broken pieces throughout Filgaia’s rocky soil. Dean loves to dig for golem remnants, and this passion leads to the highlight of his young life – the day a golem arm falls from the sky with a mysterious amnesiac young woman named Avril enclosed in its hand. She remembers nothing except the name Johnny Appleseed, and she presents Dean with a pair of guns – his very own ARMs and his ticket out of his humble hometown. After tending to the obligatory “boy leaves his home and embarks on a journey” matters, Dean tumbles out into the rugged terrain of Filgaia, a world once depleted of its vitality by now-lost technological advancements. His quest to assist Avril in her search for Johnny Appleseed naturally evolves into a fight to save Filgaia, but it also confronts issues of race and class conflict. There are classic Japanese RPG cliches here and there, but the main story is well-written and the subplot is quite developed. Players may even be jolted by the game’s relatively mature twists.

Trigger Rondo!

Characters tend to stay within the parameters of their respective stereotypes, except Dean’s childhood friend Rebecca, who receives the most character development. Though she fills the boots of the sassy-girl-with-a-soft-side stereotype, she wears them quite well and even accessorizes with complexities. Some less-sensitive players may be annoyed by the way cutscenes stop so that Rebecca can write out her afterthoughts on the situation in her diary, but this imposition of retrospective provides important insights regarding character and story development. It also reveals an undercurrent of character thoughts that cannot be expressed adequately through regular cutscenes.

All this is spelled out neatly and clearly on the screen, thanks to a quality localization by XSEED that is free of grammatical errors and extraneous punctuation. The localization team even tucked in humorous references to The Goonies and Independence Day.

Most of the graphics in Wild ARMs 5 are very crisp, vivid, and vibrant – quite an accomplishment for a game set on a mostly arid planet. The exception is the overworld, which lacks the clarity of other areas in the game and almost resembles a slightly compressed jpeg. Though it is disappointing that a game that tries to incorporate so much nostalgia lacks a good old uplifting anime introduction, WA5 manages to incorporate anime techniques – such as mannerisms and certain visual effects – into its 3D introduction and in-game cutscenes. It doesn’t compensate, but it’s a nice effect. A few of the cutscenes are very memorable, such as a dramatic Hollywood-style scene where Dean stalks Greg on a train, because of the way they were animated.

Wild ARMs 5 certainly excels in the sound category. The best aspect is the proliferation of Michiko Naruke’s distinctive musical style, the true flavor of Wild ARMs music. The other composers complement her work with their own excellent pieces, and the music quality is nearly on par with Wild ARMs: Alter Code F. Sound effects and voice clips are clear, crisp, and pleasant as well.

HEX 2.0

As for dealing with the necessary evil of combat, Wild ARMs 5 employs a modified version of the HEX system of its predecessor, Wild ARMs 4. Most of the original HEX system is intact – turn-based combat, elemental leypoints, Force, character combination attacks – but only three characters may participate at a time, though other team members may be swapped in if the character is standing on a particular HEX. One notable refinement is that each character can now move to a different HEX and perform an action in the same turn, thus hastening the progression of combat. Another refreshing change is that in boss battles, the HEX layout is reconfigured to create a new kind of battlefield and, subsequently, a slight variation in strategy. Clearly, the beta HEX system that emerged in WA4 has now evolved into a real combat system, and an enjoyable one at that.

Character development is limited to ARMs cartridges, armor, badges, and equipped Mediums, which bestow various skills and require investments of points for growth – another modified import from Wild ARMs 4. Each character has additional unique skills that can bolster certain Medium and equipment setups. Dean’s critical hit damage is automatically doubled, Rebecca randomly gets two or more shots per turn, Greg can shoot and then immediately assume a guarded stance, and so forth. It’s quite easy to fall into categories of “fighter,” “healer,” and “fast sharp-shooting hot redhead in Daisy Duke shorts who can steal items left and right,” but badges provide a decent amount of customization.

Perhaps the best gameplay aspect of Wild ARMs 5 is that the game returns to its roots in many ways. Dungeons and puzzles mostly achieve the complexity of the first three-fifths of the series, and though there are still no character-specific toolsets, Dean is armed with the next best thing: guns with different types of bullets. Ice, fire, hookshots, and much more are all accessible by spinning the chamber of Dean’s ARM and targeting a switch, box, or treasure chest. It certainly beats lugging armloads of junk around a room in order to complete a sham of a puzzle, which was WA4‘s odd idea of fun. The worthwhile tricks of WA4 – platform jumping, sliding, and stomping – have been included, and this action combines nicely with the “tool” bullets.


Another nostalgic feature is the expansive world map, with its many hidden goodies and picturesque nooks. The best way to unwind between dungeons is to cruise around on the monowheel, explore the far reaches of Filgaia, and search for useful treasure and addictive puzzle boxes. There are plenty of sidequests and bonus dungeons to keep players occupied for many hours. There are also lots of cameos scattered across Filgaia; every member of every main cast in the Wild ARMs series can be found somewhere in WA5, and finding each one is like crossing paths with an old friend. Unfortunately, there are some minor complaints. The most noticeable one is that Dean’s ARM relies on automatic targeting for dungeon puzzles. In spots with multiple targets, one must carefully adjust Dean’s position so that he targets the appropriate switch or box, and this can be very frustrating. Manual targeting, like in the Xenosaga series, would have been enormously helpful. Another issue is that enemy AI in combat can be counterproductive to their cause or even outright ridiculous. This is most noticeable in the last third of the game. Sometimes, enemies will move to another HEX then instantly warp themselves back to their original panel, which may leave the player wondering if they merely wanted to dazzle the competition by showing off a spell they just learned. Enemies will also wastefully cast Isolate, a move that spreads out the party, when the characters are already standing on different HEXes. On a related note, the golem fights are controlled by customizable AI, so helplessly watching the golems duke it out gives the player time to mourn the wasted potential of this feature. In addition, instead of being labeled “Blown Away!”, a phrase that seemed to refer to the way fatal gunshots in western films knocked a victim backward through the air, fatalities in WA5 are marked as “Blow Out!”, which evokes the image of shredded tires lying along the highway.

The worst offense, however, is in the ending. The main plot reaches a suitable conclusion, but the highly developed subplot has no resolution, as if someone decided to take the cheap and easy way out and let players – and fanfiction writers – decide the outcome for themselves. Had this subplot not had so much development, such a move could be excused. This is Wild ARMs 5‘s only real disappointment, and fortunately it does not detract from the rest of the game.

In spite of the occasional quirks and the disappointing finale, Wild ARMs 5 is an excellent addition to the series. The sprawling overworld that invites exploration, the remixed HEX system, the challenging puzzles, and the stirring soundtrack all make it a worthwhile experience for any Wild ARMs veteran.


  1. John Boske:

    Wild ARMs has become one of those series where I like every other installment. 1 was great, 2 was irritating, 3 was fun (and ACF was fun++), 4 was dull, and now I’m hearing that 5 is good stuff. The presence of Michiko Naruke on the soundtrack just seals it. She always delivers <3

    Wallet, pack your things! We’re going to the mall.

  2. Duke Gallison:

    I’ll definitely pick this one up, though it’ll have to wait since I’m still tied up with Persona 3…

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