Ever since Final Fantasy XII, RPG fans have been playing the waiting game, especially when it comes to this new generation. We still have to wait for the likes of Mass Effect and White Knight Story, and many hardcore fans of the genre are still looking to the PS2 for their role-playing fix. That’s not a bad idea, either, considering we’ve seen the likes of Odin Sphere, Dawn of Mana, and Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm in just the past six months. And it’s not going to end there, either; Media Vision and Sony are prepared to deliver another potentially top-notch RPG in Wild ARMs 5 later on this month. Some will say this long-running series has been stuck in a downward spiral ever since the original PS1 title received glowing critical praise, so we’re hoping this one can reclaim some of that lost glory.
Ah, but the story is exactly what you might expect from a traditional turn-based RPG, with a few twists and turns along the way. You will play as Dean, a young man from a small town (yeah, you saw that one coming) who has lofty dreams of some day becoming a great Golem Hunter. But of course, that fantastical world is well outside his tiny town’s walls, and nobody really thinks Dean will actually leave. But when Dean and his childhood friend, Rebecca, visit a nearby mountainside, the first major plot point occurs: a giant mechanical arm falls from the sky, and it’s grasping a mysterious woman stricken with amnesia. This woman has two ARMs with her, and while she certainly remembers how to use them, she has no recollection of the rest of her life, or even where she’s from. Her name is Avril, and given what she’s carrying and her bizarre method of entrance into his world, Dean leaps at the chance to help her out. At the same time, he can pursue his lifelong dream; kinda like two birds with one stone. Yes indeed, the plot is thickening!
You’ll be doing a lot of exploring, too, which is in stark contrast to Wild ARMs 4’s very linear node-based world map. We’re back to free-roaming in this newest installment, and that includes wandering through beautifully created environments and even traveling on trains that travel through the “wild, wild west” motif. And once you enter a dungeon or forest area, whole new aspects of the gameplay open up (even though these elements aren’t entirely alien to fans of the series). For example, Dean can use his dual-pistol ARM setup to shoot at far-off switches, and other characters each boast a very special ability that can be utilized in the normal field of play. This is a major deal, too, as there is a greater emphasis on puzzles and action-based pseudo-platforming elements. It’s exactly the kind of thing that adds another dimension to the standard RPG format – which actually began with the second Wild ARMs back on the PS1 – and everything has gotten a bit more fancy and advanced now.
Dean can crouch and slide into various objects, which lets him bust up crates and most anything else in his way. He has a leaping smash attack that works towards a similar goal (breaking things), but he also has a defter touch when necessary; Dean can grab and move various boxes in order to gain access to blocked doorways and hidden areas. Obviously, while you’re maneuvering through your relatively complex environment, you’ll be running into plenty of random encounters, and Media Vision is using a mechanic similar to the one found in Wild ARMs 4. The battlefield consists of a set of HEXes, and depending on your enemies, certain HEXes will sport different environmental effects. Because this style is turn-based, a character will have the option of moving one HEX in any direction and executing a certain action. This can include the typical Attack, Item, and special command and/or magic options, but the key lies in position: cornering multiple foes on one HEX is advisable, but don’t get caught in the same predicament yourself!
As you progress, you’ll be able to gain and allocate Skill Points, which of course will translate to new special abilities. You can choose which points go where depending on how you want to set up and customize your party, and that sort of freedom is bound to appeal to many role-playing fans. But there is a catch to this character advancement system- the more points you distribute, the more abilities you will receive, but you will also sacrifice HP. It’s like a trade-off; you can opt for super-powerful characters with weak constitutions that will speed up battles (one way or the other), or you can go for less skills and more resistance. If you were seeking a significant strategic aspect of Wild ARMs 5, you’ve found it. We’ve heard you can locate a special device that will let you turn off random encounters, but while that does sound handy, it’s not something any veteran RPG fan would recommend. Even if you don’t want to use too many of those points, it always helps to have the option. Remember, it’s always about giving yourself more than one way to succeed…in the realm of RPGs, obtaining alternate methods for success is an essential method of play.
Wild ARMs 5 is slated to release on August 28, and it does seem like this one could be well worth your time.
8/9/2007 Ben Dutka