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Wild ARMs 3 - Review

Third time's the charm

By: Phillipe Richer


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 6
   Plot 7
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Time to Complete

60-75 Hours

 
Overall
8
Criteria

Wild ARMs 3
 

   Released in October 2002 along with a myriad of other competent RPGs, Wild Arms 3 marked the beginning of exceptional RPG gaming on Sony's most recent platform. The Wild West theme is more implicit than ever, and the visual uniqueness of the game creates some strikingly appealing environments. Wild Arms 3 presents one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences ever, faltered only by a few minor glitches.

   According to myths and legends, the Filgaia of old was a planet filled with lush plains and endless cerulean oceans. However, semi-humanoid demons and dragons mangled for centuries with humanity, which left scars all over Filgaia and brought about its decay. At least, that's what people have come to acknowledge as the truth, but as you'll quickly find out the truth is much more gruesome and complex. Four Drifters' (wandering mercenaries) fates will entwine, leading them to journey further than any of them ever thought possible across the now barren Filgaia.

   Similar to Wild Arms 2, the battle system in WA3 (Wild Arms 3) relies heavily on ARMs (Ancient Relic Machines), Guardians, and Force. Your four characters' main mean of attacking is their unique ARM, or a gun so to speak. Shooting their ARM requires one bullet clip, and you can augment that number along with the ARMs' stats in the various ARMs shops for generous amounts of money. If you run out of bullets, selecting the "defend" command will reload your magazines entirely. Much like FFVIII junction system, equipping Guardian mediums on your characters will allow them to use different Arcana spells and equip personal skills. Since there is no real equipment to be found in WA3, your defenses lie solely in the power of the equipped mediums and the various personal skills that you can teach them using appropriate items. Concretely, one specific type of item contains one personal skill, and once you use an item you cannot unequip it. You distribute each characters PS (personal skill) points, which are gained incrementally at every level-up, among the many personal skills to gain resistance to various elements and status conditions or to use more concrete skills such as auto-reload or critical hit up. You can reassign PS points anywhere at anytime.


What's the worst that could happen?
What's the worst that could happen?  

    In battle, hitting enemies as well as getting hit yourself will cause your Force gauge to fill-up slowly. Arcana spells can only be used once you reach a certain number, and they don't deplete the gauge when used. What does deplete the Force gauge is the use of Force Abilities, like summoning guardians or unloading a barrage of ARMs attack. Unlike WA2, all abilities are available from the get-go. Unfortunately, battles in WA3 can become quite dull, both because of their ease and their repetitive nature. Thankfully, the handy Auto-Battle features are back and will probably be used from time-to-time. Of course, most RPGs are all about repetition, but WA3 strictly doesn't offer enough variation or challenge to remain interesting. The presence of a Vitality gauge that restores a character's health makes matters all the more easier. Additionally, there are many tricks that can be used to eliminate enemies rather quickly, such as using Virginia's "mystic" ability coupled with an appropriate elemental gem. Since using a gem of the matching weakness on an enemy will provide you with another one in the battle spoils, using that strategy will get you through the entire game without breaking a sweat. And bosses die much too quickly to pose any real challenge.

   The ECN (encounter) gauge allows you to avoid encounters even before they occur and can be upgraded by finding key items hidden in towns and dungeons. The gauge will be refilled after each battle, by finding gems in dungeons, and by resting in inns. Furthermore, you'll also be presented with a separate battle system with your sandcraft, but once again encounters are pretty much a joke. You can upgrade your sandcraft using "dragon fossils" scattered about, and once you buy a strong enough cannon, all you'll have to do to defeat any enemy in the sand is select the "unload" option in battle. Being the joke that they are, those battles shouldn't have been included in the first place.

   The game presents some very crisp locations for your party to explore. The use of "tools" brings some much-welcomed interactivity to dungeons, as do the different puzzles littering your path. Puzzles are a fun addition to any RPG, but those in WA3 are a complete and absolute farce to solve. Most of the time, all you'll have to do is push a block here or flip a switch there to continue onward. Still, it makes exploring dungeons a lot more pleasant. As for the menus, items and abilities are sorted incredibly well and just couldn't be presented any better. Exploring towns and dungeons is also whimsically delicious (yes, that good) thanks to the perfect rotating camera and the flawless controls. To discover new locations on the map, you'll first have to acquire enough information about its emplacement and then use the "map scope" to discover the building. This makes wandering the world map very enjoyable as well, a map that is very well constructed and a pleasure to uncover. You'll use your feet, horses, trains, and two other vessels to roam the huge planet of Filgaia.

   By far WA3's greatest strength is its soundtrack. Michiko Naruke-san comes back after two already excellent prestations to bless our mind with one of the most consistently good and diverse soundtrack to date. The intensive use of whistling in the soundtrack only serves to give the game its special flair, while the many towns, dungeons, and events compositions are all nothing short of extraordinary. There is such a variety of tracks used to boost the key cut-scenes, and the superb acoustic guitar, the staple of the Suikoden series, made me even more disgusted with Suikoden III's silence. Every possible instrument is employed on the soundtrack, and when I stop playing to listen to a dungeon theme, I know I'm witnessing something spectacular. Not to mention the extremely good vocal tracks, both in English and Japanese, heard during the anime intro, when you quit the game, and during the ending. The engulfing beauty of the music even made me cry in a simple, almost inconsequential little town. Of course, after hearing it a hundred times, the battle music gets a little drab, but no soundtrack is completely perfect, and if WA3 doesn't deserve a perfect note here I don't know what does.


The music alone makes the game worth playing.
The music alone makes the game worth playing.  

   WA3 continues with the series tradition by making you play through the four characters' prologue at the beginning. The order you play them in alters nothing, but I think it's a nice narrative spin on the story. The big element that carries WA3's plot is incontestably its four characters: Virginia, Clive, Gallows, and Jet. Continuing more-or-less the same storyline of the previous incarnations, the four Drifters will try to harness the power of the life-sustaining Guardians while trying to find the true cause to Filgaia's decay. Overall, the plot is quite captivating and filled with touching moments everywhere, although the game's incredible length forces events to drag-on while not providing enough twists to the main storyline. The amount of dungeons is astounding, as is their stupendous shortness, so you'll spend a lot of time acquiring new information in towns to discover your next target. The plot presents nothing that hasn't been done before, but the endearing chemistry between your party and the large number of NPCs keeps you focused on your task of restoring Filgaia to its old prosperous state.

After the extreme ugliness that is WA2's localization, the task was handed to the ever-capable people of Square. You'll quickly notice the very poetic and figurative mood that was implemented in the dialogues, which greatly helps characterize each individual's personality. The amount of text is dazzling, but the quality never falters. NPCs all have a name themselves, and even though most of them aren't important at all, it once again helps the game's personality. As with other RPGs, the characters' existential revelations are sometimes hard to grasp, as you'll have trouble comprehending exactly what gave them a change of heart, but the dialogues are still a joy to read.

While my in-game clock displayed a time of 45 hours at the end, my manually calculated time tells me that I played more than 70 hours of WA3. That's because the clock doesn't count the time spent in menus and talking to people as game time, which is incredibly stupid. After a well-spent 60-75 hours, I doubt the New Game + feature alone will entice people to replay the game. On the other hand, the amount of side quests is substantial, and the game is so enjoyable that playing through it again could be a likely occurrence. By completing special quests, you'll be given EX keys; keys that you can use on your final save file to unlock various special features.


Damn the graphics look good!
Damn the graphics look good!  

Cel-shaded seems to be the latest trend and RPGs, and this reviewer will not be one to complain. By utilizing this method, creators can design games with definite anime-inspiration while not compromising sharpness or technological prowess. In WA3's case, characters are very well animated from head-to-toe, and the smoothness of every person and structure is incredible. Backgrounds are created with excellent 3D polygons, and the two technologies are incorporated very well to provide a giant feeling of immersion. Be it in battle, on the world map, or in a town the graphics are astoundingly colorful. The anime intro, which changes through the course of the game, is the best anime sequence in a video game. It's a beautiful and exhilarating spectacle for the eyes.

The combination of an aphrodisiac-like soundtrack with great characters and awesome graphics is the winning recipe for any RPG, and it seems that the team behind WA3 understood that concept perfectly. While it may be lacking in innovation and in the gameplay department, WA3 makes a clear statement that the tested-and-true RPG methods are still as captivating as ever. Playing WA3 is simply a great satisfying experience.




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