Wild Arms XF Preview
When Wild ARMs first broke onto the scene back in the early days of the PS1, it kinda caught RPG fans by surprise. We had already had some role-playing goodness with Suikoden, but at the time, most of us were eagerly anticipating Final Fantasy VII. However, Wild ARMs turned out to be a fantastic game, punctuated by a unique magic system (remember the Crest Graphs?) and an epic style with a dash of modern-day panache thanks to the ARMs. The series continued through the PS2 generation, but most will say the series was never able to reclaim the glory of the original title. But now that the long-running franchise is going portable, we may be seeing a new - and very promising - chapter in the history of Wild ARMs, especially because Media Vision is abandoning the traditional role-playing format. This time, we're looking at a blend between strategy and RPG, which should help to inject new life into the aging series.
IGN said Wild ARMs XF is similar to a "Wild ARMs-themed Final Fantasy Tactics." Now, considering we're gigantic fans of the latter, we have to admit that we're instantly excited about this new PSP title. We'll take control of characters like Clarissa and Felius and we'll attempt to...well, save the land. That much sounds like standard RPG fare, but there's more than meets the eye, here. If you are familiar with recent installments in the franchise (like Wild ARMs 5 for the PS2), you'll remember the hex-based combat mechanic. Essentially, the hexes would dictate your actions during battle, which lent a decidedly strategic tinge to the standard role-playing format. This time around, though, they're going to make the hexes a central theme for the strategy portions, and we'll get to select from a variety of cool classes: Elementalists, Secutors, and Gadgeteers are just a few such classes. Obviously, each chosen discipline will be very specific; certain classes will be optimally suited for magic, physical attack, or diverse support ability. But the depth doesn't end there, as both skills and equipment can be upgraded and altered to fit your play style, which immediately opens up a bevy of gameplay options we never had before in this series.
Classes, of course, are similar to that of the Jobs in FFT, as is the map that is going to be on display in Wild ARMs XF. This may disappoint avid followers of the franchise, because we'll be limited to point-to-point exploration of our surrounding environment, but hey, that's the price of greater gameplay depth. Besides, wouldn't you rather be spending the vast majority of your time fighting? When it comes to strategy titles, you do. You will be able to select both the class and equipment of each of your characters before kicking off a battle, and after that, a familiar turn-based RPG/strategy setup will appear. You will progress through combat with each side taking turns, and you can move a certain number of spaces and execute one action per turn. The only question we have is in regards to speed: in pure turn-based games, speed is not a factor (like the Disgaea games, for example), but in most "turn-based" games, like FFT, unit speed is a factor. In other words, will speed affect our turns, and if so, will certain classes and certain equipment alter that speed when on the field? We'd like to think it's the latter; it adds even more depth.
As for the Western theme that has been so prominent in past series entries, it will be returning in full force. We won't have the benefit of those impressively artistic cut-scenes we've enjoyed - the UMD format for the PSP probably couldn't fit ‘em - but we will be able to appreciate some Western-style tunes in the soundtrack. And of course, we'd expect the environment to be significantly "Western" in style as well, which certainly adds to the décor. One of the least appreciated - yet still crucial - aspects of any game revolves around the presentation, of which the setting is a large part. This is one of the reasons why past Wild ARMs titles have been appealing; the originality of the environment was a big draw for many of us. We're hoping that Media Vision, despite altering the gameplay foundation (no world map to actually explore), will retain one of the defining traits of this series, which is that Western attitude. Remember, the storyline will also be a major focus, and it always helps to have a great setting for an engaging plot.
Wild ARMs XF is scheduled to arrive next week, and we're definitely looking forward to trying it out. Now that you're fully aware of the change in focus, perhaps you're willing to give it a try, just because it's nothing like its average or mediocre predecessors. We can't say it's a "return to the original's glory," simply because of the strategy element, but it could be yet another great strat/RPG for the PSP. For fans of titles like Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions and Jeanne d'Arc, this preview should've piqued your interest...
3/6/2008 Ben Dutka