Genre: Role-Playing Game
Publisher: Xseed Games
Developer: Media Vision
Release Date: August 28, 2007
The 10th anniversary edition of Wild Arms 5 comes in a beautiful package. It's large and well designed, with nice box art and a beautiful 80-page art book that covers the entire history of the Wild Arms franchise. I mention this because the box is, by and large, the most memorable part of Wild Arms 5. It isn't a bad game, it isn't going to offend or frustrate you, but it also won't excite or challenge you. It is the video gaming equivalent of a McDonald's hamburger: It'll fill you up, you'll probably enjoy the taste, and you'll never think about it again after the last bite. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Sometimes you want some fast food, and sometimes you want a simple and fun game. Is Wild Arms 5 really what you're in the mood for? Read on to find out.
WA5 puts you into the shoes of Dean, an everyday sort of kid who spends most of his time outside of his village with his trusty shovel, searching for ancient artifacts relating to Golems. Golems are giant mechanical fighting robots that existed in ancient times, and their technology is incredibly important to the world of Filgaia. When Dean and his friend Rebecca discover a mysterious girl while exploring a cave, things take an unusual turn. The girl, Avril, has amnesia, and the only thing she can remember is her own name and the phrase "Johnny Appleseed." Naturally, Dean, being the hot-blooded youth that he is, decides to take Avril on a quest to discover who (or what) she is.
However, things are not quite as simple as that. A technologically advanced race of aliens called the Veruni came to Filgaia a long time ago and took over, dividing the world into Veruni rulers and the underclass humans. Once Dean leaves the protective safety of his village, his simple quest to discover Avril's identity thrusts him headfirst into the rapidly brewing species war that threatens to destroy Filgaia and everyone on it.
For a plot with such potential, WA5 does little with the tools it is provided. Every single element is so foreshadowed and clichéd that it quickly becomes a drag to work your way through the story. Characters are boring and trite, locations are unimaginative and dull, and there is little style or flair to make these lackluster elements into something fun. WA5 tries to be over the top, including everything from high-speed train robberies to giant robot combat, but all of the elements simply feel forced. You don't feel excited when Dean finally gets access to the Golem of his dreams or when you discover the truth about Avril. You just feel bored.
Wild Arms is a franchise that prides itself on its repetitive elements; every single title in the series shares many of the same plot devices, characters, and settings. Think of Cid from the Final Fantasy franchise, only with many more setting elements. It was initially fun to see the reappearance of certain weapons, character archetypes or joke references, but it also caused the series to grow tired very quickly. WA5 attempts to freshen the series, not by adding new fundamentals, but by wholeheartedly embracing the old. Every single Wild Arms hero from the previous games and anime make a guest appearance in WA5. Cameos appear in almost every town you visit, every piece of armor you pick up and every weapon you find. It is a veritable bonanza of treats for the fans of the Wild Arms games, much like Final Fantasy 9 was for that series. The only problem is that if you can't tell Rudy Roughnight from Ashley Winchester, none of this is going to matter to you. Sections of the plot that are supposed to make you say, "Oh cool, I remember that," will instead feel subdued and rather unexciting.
Dean is joined on his quest by six other available characters, ranging from a smart-mouthed Golem-hunter apprentice to Dean's very own personal Golem, the one-armed fighting machine known as Asgard. Despite the variation in the characters, they're not going to end up functioning very differently in combat. Rather than each character having his or her own unique abilities as in the other Wild Arms titles, WA5 instead offers players customization over their characters. Each character can equip a Medium, which grants new abilities as the character levels up. Mediums can be switched at any time, and there are only a few different Medium types, with each focusing on one attribute, such as melee strength, speed, or support magic. The problem is that each character has specific stats that are generally best for a particular Medium. For example, once I equipped the Sword Medium, it never left Dean's inventory unless I really needed to have an extra person to steal items. Since you can duplicate Mediums by using the Blank Medium item, there isn't even a need to worry about having too few of a Medium to go around. Given the chance, you could easily equip your entire team with one type of Medium.
The Hex combat system returns from Wild Arms 4, with a few modifications. Random battles take place on a series of interconnected hexes, and player actions influence everything inside the targeted hex, thus allowing clever players to damage multiple enemies or heal more than one ally at a time. The changes are minimal: Hexes now have multiple shapes, preventing boss battles from being quite as easy. You only have three party members now, so a few of the more unbalanced strategies from WA4 are no longer valid.
Many of the same complaints still exist, though. It is possible, especially early on, for the random distribution of players on the hexes to mean that you can lose a fight before you can even act because the enemies wipe out your team too quickly. This problem lessens as the game goes on, but it can easily deter newcomers to the franchise. Likewise, while the battle system is fairly interesting, it means that random battles can sometimes end up being quite long and tedious. You can speed up or disable some animations to make this go faster, but it still feels like an eon compared to the more accelerated combat found in other recent RPGs.
WA5 brings back the tool system found in the first three Wild Arms titles, although in a slightly modified form. While exploring the various dungeons, Dean will discover cartridges for his handguns (or ARMs). These cartridges have different attributes that can be used for exploring dungeons, including: freeze ray, missile launcher, homing beacon, and a few other nifty gadgets. For the most part, it's overly obvious when you need to use one of these gadgets. Most of the puzzle items look very out of place, and once you figure out which cartridge goes with which puzzle device, you've basically solved it. There is a smattering of interesting tricks scattered here and there throughout the game, but the puzzles feel less like they were designed to challenge the player and a lot more like the developers felt a need to have puzzles in the game, logic or interest be darned. Compared to the fun puzzles found in the first three games, these are just dull, although they are better than those found in WA4.
WA5 isn't really much better looking than WA4, which was almost worse than Wild Arms 3. It isn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but the graphics are very insipid. While some of the cut scenes have interesting design, the graphics actually hold them back, rendering what should be a pulse-pounding scene into something yawn-inducing. The major improvement over WA4 is that the plot is conveyed through fully animated scenes instead of still pictures, which is a dreadfully welcome change.
It's rare that I feel as mixed about the audio in a game as in WA5. The soundtrack is full of Western-themed music that fits the tone and setting exceptionally well, but the voice acting is simply atrocious. The very best actors are mediocre and boring at best, and from there, it's a downhill slide to voices that just sound wrong for the characters. In the case of Carol, the voice is so terrible that you'll avoid using the character just so you never run the risk of hearing her. One of the game's bonus features even comments on Carol's horrible vocals, leaving one to wonder why on Earth they didn't just hire a better actress. Even the excellent music can't make up for this shortcoming.
For those who are not fans of the franchise, "bland" is perhaps the best way to describe Wild Arms 5. If one doesn't understand or care about the cameos and franchise-related bonus features, Wild Arms 5 mostly comes off as yet another clichéd and average Japanese RPG. To gamers who have followed the series since its early days on the original PlayStation, Wild Arms 5 holds a wealth of nostalgia, but unfortunately, it doesn't offer much else. As cookie-cutter an RPG as they come, Wild Arms 5 is one you'll play and forget. If you're desperate for an RPG fix or simply enjoy the franchise, Wild Arms 5 isn't a terrible choice — it's just not a particularly captivating one, either.