Wild ARMs XF – Staff Review

The Wild ARMs series has never been known for stellar quality, but the games — excluding the second installment, which left many fans with PTSD — are still the objects of affection for many RPG connoisseurs. Naturally, players have certain standards and tolerances when it comes to Wild ARMs games. They know they aren’t getting a perfectly polished game, just an above average one that gains appeal largely from nostalgic references.

So when a longtime fan recognizes that the newest Wild ARMs title isn’t up to the series’ standards, you know it’s bad.

The story begins as a hunt for a stolen sword and some good old Wild West revenge, but it evolves into a political muddle with sci-fi and supernatural twists. It’s certainly not a bad tale, but as these things tend to go, it’s just poorly executed. Generally, the writing is mediocre with a few moments of cleverness, but on occasion the game forgets that it’s not a Working Designs title and spins out into the absurd. Characters spout atrocious lines like “I am the shield that breaks the wind” and “Your hoity-toity name makes my butthole itch.” Some of the characters have a bad habit of constantly reciting their one-dimensional personality descriptions. Labrynthia won’t shut up about how she’s a very capable 34-year-old woman, for example, and Felius ceaselessly broods over protecting people.

Felius never forgets to use protection.
Cutscenes play out much like the ones in WA4, only without the 3D interruptions. The use of character art and dialogue boxes over landscape backgrounds works fairly well for a sprite-based strategy game, but at times the artistic licenses should be revoked for creating silly scenarios. Every time the dog is mentioned, a small square portrait of him pops up in the middle of the screen like a lolcat macro on a forum. There are also scenes where a character is supposed to be bedridden and ill, and he bemoans this fact while standing upright in the middle of the screen.

The worst part, however, is the voice acting. At times, characters sound bored, half-heartedly speaking lines with little emotion or obviously forced emotion if any. Far too often, characters will utter lines in a low, dramatic voice while the dialogue text is peppered with exclamation points and the figure art shows the character yelling. Unearthly growls and fearful shouts sound like belching and vomiting.

The graphics have vibrant colors and decent details. Character art is quite good, and some of the class costumes are very stylish. However, aside from one illustration in which a female character, due to the unfortunate placement of a dialogue box, seems to be performing a lewd act, the visuals will not be stimulating to most players.

If it gets in your way, beat it up.
Music and sound effects are passable and not memorable. The tunes are mostly imitations of Michiko Naruke’s style, and nothing is worth adding to your iPod or Winamp playlist.

The big draw of Wild ARMs XF is that it takes the HEX battle system from WA4 and 5 and expands it into a HEX-based strategy RPG. It succeeds at turning an interesting and obvious concept into a system that actually works very well. Instead of the standard four directions, the HEXes give you six, and this changes the way the player has to consider movement, executing straight-lined and ranged attacks, and casting multi-target magic. Dungeon puzzles, the staple of the WA series, are even played out on HEX battle maps, and there are stealth objectives as well. It’s a welcome deviation that freshens up the strategy RPG formula. Like any good strategy RPG, Wild ARMS XF has a ton of classes with unique and unusual abilities, and the game follows through by adding a lot of creative battle objectives that require the use of specific classes or abilities. A few of these objectives are pretty fun.

Sounds great, right?

The HEX system works. It's the rest that doesn't.
It’s not. Some of the objectives are difficult and unfair to the point of being outright cheap, requiring up to 30 retries before completion. For example, some battles require the player to reduce the enemies’ HP without killing them. It’s challenging enough to create a strategy for this, but when the game doesn’t give the player a way to turn off the characters’ counterattack abilities, an automatic counterattack at the wrong moment destroys all one’s hard work. Challenge is one thing, difficulty is another, and outright sadism is just wrong. Regular battles outside the storyline, in contrast, are tedious and boring, sometimes consisting of a long walk across a large map just to beat up some birds for meager experience and class points. The numerous classes and objective requirements instill an urgent need for class level grinding because you never know when you will need to equip that one obscure ability on your characters in order to clear that one annoying objective in that one infernal place.

Though it has a great battle system, Wild ARMs XF is one of the most disappointing games in the series due to its ridiculously difficult objectives, wretched voice acting, and pervading mediocrity overall, even for a WA game. It should appeal to hardcore SRPG fans, but aside from experiencing the battle system, the game isn’t worth the effort.

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