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   Wild ARMs XF - Staff Review  

Wax On, WAXF
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PSP
BATTLE SYSTEM
5
INTERACTION
3
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
1
MUSIC & SOUND
2
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Challenging
LENGTH
Long
OVERALL
3.0/5
+ Excellent battle system.
+ Unique and expansive class system.
+ Great level design.
+ Very challenging without feeling cheap.
- Horrible storyline.
- Voice acting is terrible.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Round up a posse of the meanest, baddest desperados this side of Texas, because Wild ARMs is back, this time in tactical form. Wild ARMs XF (pronounce it "Crossfire!") is the first spinoff of the western-themed RPG series that has recently entered its fifth installment. Featuring an extensive and highly original class system and a hexagon-based grid, Wild ARMs XF is a remarkable departure from more traditional tactical titles, but still has a few too many hiccups to be widely accepted.

   Once again returning to the world of Filgaia, Wild ARMs XF follows the idealistic young sharpshooter Clarissa and her brother Felius as they track Rupert, a drifter who stole her mother's sword, to the kingdom of Elesius. Once there, the duo learn that the kingdom is in a state of political unrest. With the king bedridden from illness, a group of opportunistic politicians have taken it upon themselves to usurp the throne. It isn't long before Clarissa learns that she greatly resembles the late Princess Alexia, who would have taken over the kingdom from her father had she not been conveniently dispatched. As idealistic heroines are wont to do, Clarissa uses this resemblance to don the guise of the princess, inciting a rebellion in hopes of restoring peace to the country.

   Frankly, this story doesn't start off all that bad. With likable protagonists, an ensemble of villains each with their own agenda, and a backdrop of political unrest and insurrection, Wild ARMs XF has everything needed to make a great tactical RPG. Unfortunately, midway through the game everything changes, and the tale devolves into a science fiction nightmare, featuring time travel, interdimensional spaceships, and a giant robot army. From here it just continues to slide downhill until the inevitable and highly disappointing conclusion. Furthermore, much of the dialogue is excessively longwinded, particularly towards the end of the game when all the characters feel the needs to monologue their innermost thoughts and feelings, often in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.

   Thankfully, Wild ARMs XF's excellent battle system manages to carry the weak story with strength to spare. Battles play out in traditional tactical style, except characters move about on a hexagon grid rather than the traditional squares. What sets XF apart, however, is the exceptional level of strategy each battle requires of the player. Outside of the main battles, experience is scarce, and thusly levels cannot be relied on to pull through difficult situations. This lends the game a rather difficult level of challenge, but a rewarding one as well.

The class system is unique and extensive. The class system is unique and extensive.

   The impeccable and creative level designs are one of the primary reasons the game's battles are so fun. In addition to the traditional battles where the player's goal is to defeat all opponents, many win and loss conditions that deviate from this norm occur with frequency. Several maps simply require the player to reach a target hex, some maps require the player to solve a puzzle rather than fight, and there are even a couple of stealth maps where the goal is to move about without being spotted. There are many other varying conditions that need to be met on certain maps, which provides a refreshing change from the standard gameplay of the tactical genre. Each map's terrain is also used well in their design, and the player will regularly need to abuse height, obstacles, and other terrain advantages in order to win. Surrounding enemies and using the "Lock On" command to have several characters attack simultaneously also plays a significant role, particularly in boss fights.

   There are sixteen classes in the game, unlocked four at a time at specific points in the story. These classes all have unique, original abilities, and learning what these classes can do, and more importantly, when to use them, is vital in order to progress. From the most basic fighting classes such as Elementalist (a mage class) and Secutor (a fighter class) to more specialized support classes such as Geomancer and Grappler, every class has its strengths and weaknesses. However, it is virtually impossible to create a large team of specialized characters. Rather, the game encourages the player to change each character's class regularly. As each class is used, class levels are gained, allowing their original commands and support skills to be equipped while utilizing other classes, though limited by the number of skill slots the character has. By combining skills from multiple classes together, many new and unique tactics can be imagined and deployed.

   The main cast of the game also have access to their own unique character classes, and this ends up being a double-edged sword. While having access to extra sets of original commands is a definite plus, it has the adverse side-effect of eliminating the need for hiring additional drifters to fight alongside you. They can still be used to search for materials for the game's crafting system, but there is really no need to hire more than a handful at the beginning of the game, causing this feature to go to waste. After the second act, they'll likely never see combat again.

   The crafting system is irritating in that normal combat does not provide the necessary materials to make use of it. Instead, parties of drifters need to be sent out into Filgaia to search for them. While drifters are away, story battles cannot be fought, which makes it an unnecessarily tedious endeavor. However, while crafting can produce weapons and equipment that can provide a decent edge in many fights, it is in no way necessary for the successful completion of the game, and many players will opt to simply ignore it.

GLOMP! GLOMP!

   Wild ARMs XF's graphics aren't really anything to write home about, but they get the job done. They're crisp and easy to identify, which makes them quite suitable for tactical gameplay, but they don't really push the boundaries of what the PSP is capable of. They also run at a good framerate, although there is a strange hiccup for about half a second to a second whenever an original command is performed.

   The audio experience is a bit below the par, unfortunately. While the music is good and captures the western theme of the series quite well, the voice acting is notably lax. It's not the worst voice acting ever, but it's certainly far from good. XSEED Games generously provided the original Japanese audio along with the English, and making use of it is highly recommended.

   Of particular note is the absolutely incredible amount of playtime Wild ARMs XF offers. The story battles alone will likely take players at least 60 hours to complete, and that number can easily be inflated should players fumble with some of the more difficult maps in the game. If one should choose to make use of free battles and the crafting system, 80 or more hours is a definite possibility. While hardcore tactical fans are likely drooling in anticipation, the excessive length could prove a turn-off to a large number of players, especially when the challenging nature of the gameplay is taken into consideration.

   Overall, Wild ARMs XF manages to bring a lot of new, fresh ideas to a genre that hasn't changed much since the PlayStation era. Unfortunately, its story falters so horrendously that from Act 3 forward it just drives itself deeper and deeper into a pit of mediocrity that it fails to crawl out of. Tactical RPG fans owe it to themselves to play Wild ARMs XF for the battle system alone, as it is unquestionably the most well-designed tactical system to be released in years. Mainstream RPGamers will likely find the difficulty too frustrating and the story too unfathomably bad to be able to put up with it for long.

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