Replay Value: 9
These last few months have been a whirlwind for fans of RPGs. With several different releases such as Grandia Xtreme, Suikoden 3, and Legaia: Duel Saga, Sony and the PS2 has strengthened their RPG lineup even further than before. With the aforementioned RPGs, Sony entered the third installment of its Wild Arms franchise called Wild Arms Advanced 3rd in Japan and simply Wild Arms 3 for its domestic release.
The first two Wild Arms, which debuted on the Playstation, presented traditional a RPG with a western flair to the setting and style of the game. Even with the western feel to the games, they were still somewhat fantasy orientated. Wild Arms 3 takes the western element of the previous games and steps it one pace further by presenting a world that's distinctly western with a good dashing of fantasy.
The game starts with on a "Dark and stormy" night. On a train, our main protagonist, Virginia Maxwell is reading a book in her cabin when she hears a disturbance. Stepping outside of the cabin, she finds the employees of the train in a hurry and stops Tony, a young member of the crew to ask him what happens. Telling her, she bolts to the back of the train to find a rail car has been broken into. Investigating further in, she finds the precious cargo and opens it up. At that instant, three other people pop out, one from the window, one from behind other cargo, and another from behind the door. An old-fashioned face-off ensues and thus begins the game.
From there, the player is presented with a choice of the four characters. Just like previous games, the beginning starts with the introduction of the characters and the circumstances that would bring them to their journey. Unlike the previous installments, the game starts and focuses on 4 main characters, Virginia Maxwell, Jet Enduro, Gallows Caradine, and Clive Winslett. While the character's each can be railroaded (pun intended) into clichés, the writers did an absolutely wonderful job of taking the most basic clichés and weaving them into characters that break the mold and separate themselves from other RPG casts. They each possess a well-developed distinct personality with hopes, dreams, and motives that they can call their own. Thanks to an excellent translation job from Square, the English dialogue is well-written which is a tremendous blessing considering that a poor translation would've easily ruined this entire aspect even more so than other games.
The game contains several different story arcs that interweave to make the whole game. While the story itself isn't terribly original the way it's presented is, like the characters, absolutely wonderful. Very few games give a great sense of adventure and journey and WA3 does this. Thanks to the great characters and equally great villains, the game's story comes to life like none other. The only complaint I have is that it followed the town/dungeon/town formula for most of the game but that's only a minor quibble.
The meat of the game is presented into portions, the map screens and the battle system. There are two distinct features to the game when traveling the overworld. There's the search system when traveling from area to area. The feature, from Wild Arms 2, makes the player search for the next target area as opposed to already giving the location away. Players must ask in current towns for the location of the next area to proceed to. While the basic concept is unchanged, the system is refined by the fact that locations are placed in a much more logical manner and the clues are exactly that, clues instead of dead giveaways. So finding towns takes a little bit of exploration. The second overworld feature is an entirely revamped encounter system also from Wild Arms 2. In Wild Arms 2, a player could avoid battle by pressing a button assuming the characters were at the correct level to do so. In Wild Arms 3, a gauge and level is now present. All the non-boss and non-surprise battles in the game can be avoided by pressing the cancel button. By canceling the battle, the gauge will mark off a certain amount of points from the Encounter Gauge. How much is taken off is determined by the party's migrant level, which is the present in the center of the gauge, and the opposing enemy's migrant level. If the party's migrant level is equal to or higher, the battle can be avoided at no cost but if it's lower, it'll cost the difference in levels. Additional, certain actions such as opening a chest will cancel battle as well. This system is a tremendous addition because it allows the player to choose their fights and thus gives a greater control to the player. It also allows players to explore current or previous dungeons, as it is present in dungeons as well, without the worry of facing weaker enemies that may take time. It helps to break the monotony that can occur when battling too much.
On the subject of dungeons, the game returns with the puzzle/action based dungeons throughout the game. Each character has a different set of items that they can use when traversing dungeons and each of these items must be used to solve puzzles either to unlock new treasure or allow progression through the dungeon. With this, the game's dungeons become much more interesting rather than cumbersome like most RPG dungeons. The only downside is that most of the puzzles with a few exceptions are relatively easy. While that isn't a bad thing per se, it would've been quite nice to have a few more brain busters.
Easily one of the more important factors to a RPG is the battle system. Wild Arms 3's battle system is simply well polished. The game is similar to the previous games in most respects except they trimmed it down. The main battle setup is the same as before. Each character has the standard magic, attack, item, defend and force command setup. Each of the four characters have a unique force ability as well as summon and gatling. The standard commands are self-explanatory. The Force command is the same as in previous games. Force Points (FP) build as the character acts in battle and depending on the amount of FP, the character will then have access to the Force abilities. The character specific force abilities are from previous games. The new ability is the gatling command. Gatling is basically chaining multiple regular attacks in a row by expending FP allowing for big damage to be done in one turn.
Guardians return in Wild Arms 3 but play a more pivotal role for the characters. Unlike previous games, each of the characters is allowed to equip three mediums, the solidified form of the Guardian's power. Each of the mediums gives a statistic boost in a certain area depending on the medium. So there aren't any weapons or equipment in the game. ARMs, the trademark of the series, are of course in the game. This time though, each ARM can be only upgraded 15 times in any of five areas. The five areas affect the different aspects of the gun such as attack power or hit power. The upgrades can also be initialized so that if you accidentally upgrade the wrong way, you can start over at the cost of whatever you spent for the accidental upgrade.
Personal Points return from Wild Arms 2 as well. The major difference with the PP system in this game is that the customization can be done over and over again instead of being permanent allowing the player to adapt to situations at hand instead of being stuck in a rut. The number of PP abilities can be increased by equipping the mediums with different items. The items will give different abilities like paralysis prevention, FP charge, Def Null, and etc. The only setback is that once you equip a medium with a specific ability, it can only be removed by erasing that ability permanently so you don't get the item back.
By cutting the number of systems in the game, the makers helped to make the game's battle system more focused. Instead of having a large customization option like some other games, the customization is smaller scaled and much more effective. While although the characters have a role in the mind of the developers, the player can change it to their desire.
Graphically, Wild Arms 3 is superb. Making use of cel-shading that's been rather popular as of late, the game does a great job of portraying an anime look. Each of the characters in the game even the NPCs are unique looking and each has a good amount of detail to their models. Everything from belt buckles to flora patterns on the clothes, there's a lot to each of them. The downside to this though is that the models can sometimes look a little muddy due to lack of hi-res textures up-close and a little rough near the edges in close as well. The frame rate in the game is a rock solid 60 fps with the exception of several battles in the latter game when there are a lot of effects going on at the same time. Otherwise, the game is silky smooth in motion a treat for the eyes.
The audio aspect to the game is tremendous as well. Michiko Naruke returns to do the music for the game. The soundtrack is far and away the best of the three Wild Arms games. Each and every tune sets an incredible mood and atmosphere to the scene or area it plays for. Whether it is to help a feeling of suspense during a confrontation or to fill a battle with energy, the music is placed and composed so amazingly well. The sheer originality of the soundtrack is commendable as there are very few games, especially in RPGs, that are this great and original sounding. The only games that I can think of personally that resembles Wild Arms 3 soundtrack is the previous Wild Arms games.
There are only a few downsides to the game. As mentioned earlier, there's a standard progression formula in the game that some people might be turned off by. The puzzles presented in the main plotline aren't terribly difficult for the most part and some of the dungeon formats could've used a bit more inventive approach to. Lastly, while the game is scalable in terms of difficulty, some of the tactics presented in the game are utterly broken and makes the game almost too easy. If you can avoid them though, the game is infinitely tougher.
On the hand though, the game does give a large number of side quests to the player about midway through the game that can break the progression. The Millennium Puzzles return as well and present a slightly tougher puzzle challenge. And while some of those tactics are abuse-able, the boss battles in the game are very well designed. Brute Force won't automatically win in a large number of the boss encounters as the makers really put effort into making each of these fights as original as possible. They require lots of different strategies to them and brute force just won't cut it all the time.
All in all, Wild Arms 3 is a wallop of a game. It exudes the polish that so very RPGs have. With excellent graphics, incredible music, a well told story that is adventurous in every respect, interesting and fleshed out original characters, and solid battle system and difficulty to fit everyone's need, Wild Arms 3 has the makings of a classic game to be. It's already on this reviewer's top ten favorite RPGs of all time. Oh and did I mention there's a really kick ass animated opening with cool vocals?