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PS2 Review - 'Wild ARMS Alter Code: F'

by Bill Lange on Jan. 6, 2006 @ 12:53 a.m. PST

In Wild ARMS Alter Code: F, a legendary retelling of the classic story, players assume the role three legendary heroes, Rudy, Jack and Cecilia, "Wanderers" who, unbeknownst to each other, are trying to save their world from demonic creatures intent on destroying it. They join forces to bring life back to a land on the verge of ruin.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: Media Vision
Release Date: November 15, 2005

Buy 'WILD ARMS: Alter Code F': PlayStation 2

I feel fairly comfortable making the following assertion, which I believe must be pointed out: the role-playing genre has hit a brick wall. What was groundbreaking 20 or even 10 years ago has become stale almost to the point of being unplayable; tired conventions such as the ubiquitous summoning, sword-and-sorcery, and airships have showed up one too many times, removing any and all novelty they may once have held. The recent Dragon Quest VIII received rave reviews, usually not because of any particular innovation, but due to the near-perfect presentation of the old standards.

The last RPG that completely and totally blew me away was Final Fantasy X in late 2001. It's pretty sad that most PS2 role-playing games nowadays are held up to a standard set four years ago; even the vaunted FF series itself seems to be in freefall, with the wildly uneven state of the Final Fantasy XII demo.

Final Fantasy VII's monumental reception in 1997 transformed the RPG genre from an obscure niche to a towering juggernaut. In FFVII's wake, several intriguing RPGs were released, and most were completely ignored. Perhaps the best of this sad group was Wild ARMS, which stood out with its Western-themed setting, interesting characters, and innovative battle system. Anyone who was too busy bawling their eyes out over the death of a certain flower girl to play it gets a second chance now; Alter Code: F is a remake of the classic from almost a decade ago.

Wild ARMS takes place on the dying planet Filgaia, a world slowly decaying to the point of being uninhabitable. Legends tell of an ancient war between Filgaia and demons from space, alien invaders attempting to claim the planet for themselves. Just when all seemed lost, the different races of Filgaia banded together to create the ultimate weapon: ARM. It was powerful enough to defeat the demons, but also had the unfortunate side effect of doing irreparable damage to Filgaia. The Guardians who held Filgaia together lost their power due to ARM, and thus the world began its slow death.

Fast forward to present day. The game begins as three very different people eventually become an unlikely team: Jack, a vengeful swordsman searching for the "Ultimate Power," Cecilia, a sorceress who can communicate with the old Guardians, and Rudy, a wandering gunslinger packing one of the forbidden weapons of mass destruction. The three join up just as the demons of legend return to resurrect their leader, a nightmarish scenario that only our heroes can prevent. But is one of them more than he or she appears?

While the plot is nothing special (the usual band of courageous warriors must use magic/summoning to save the world), the setting is simply awesome. The series' Western flavor has always drawn me in, and so I'm here again, marveling at the cross-hatched art style, the primitive-meets-sophisticated world, and the clever melding into the story of the Western's icons: guns.

Setting Wild ARMS apart from its competitors are several key gimmicks. This is not a fanciful world filled with sorcery and airships; Filgaia is a superstitious place. Only Crest Sorcerers (and Sorceresses) can use magic, and must train in monasteries for years to gain the power. The few people who can wield the ancient ARMs (which interface with one's mind and are difficult to control) are ostracized, often forcibly cast out; it seems Rudy is doomed to wander Filgaia for the rest of his life.

Wild ARMS vets who skipped over a large portion of this review, impatiently looking for something they didn't already know, listen up: Alter Code: F is not a straight port. Certain story points have changed (for example, all three main characters do not separately find their way to the first town), some items have new purposes, and the layout of the world map has been redesigned. Most importantly, new playable characters have been added, including a certain ARM-toting adventurer.

The original game was completely redone for the PlayStation 2, but graphically and sonically, you'd never know it. The pixilation is gone, but the quality of the characters and environments are nowhere near that of Final Fantasy X, which (once again) is shameful considering FFX came out several years ago. However, the anime cut scene that plays when a game is loaded is breathtaking. Alter Code: F's music is PS1-quality, sounding very much like MIDIs. At least the songs are catchy, with the familiar Western feel that goes along with the game perfectly.

Another of Alter Code: F's shortcomings quickly becomes apparent when your characters begin to converse, either among themselves or with townsfolk. There is zero voice acting in the game, English or Japanese, an inexcusable oversight in today's era of super-powered consoles and huge storage media. The dialogue itself is largely melodramatic and over-the-top anyway, which detracts from the interesting storyline.

For the uninitiated, Wild ARMS's battle system works a bit differently than a FF-style game. Special attacks require MP, of course, but the real doozies are inaccessible at the beginning of a fight (unless certain skills are equipped beforehand). Each character's successful attack builds Force Points which can be used to fuel unique abilities, from summons to lock-on blasts. Guns are also realistically portrayed; no firearm hold limitless ammunition, and so reloading is required after expending an ARM's bullets. Also, Rudy's special cartridges can only be used a few times before needing to be replenished at an inn.

I hate random encounters. There has to be a better way of forcing the player to increase his characters' statistics than tossing them into a fight every three or four steps. Wild ARMS attempts to correct this familiar shortcoming by allowing you to cancel certain battles by pressing a button; success depends upon the strength of the attacking monsters. I appreciate the effort, but it still isn't enough. The game certainly doesn't have the highest encounter rate I've ever seen, but it was still significant enough to make me grind my teeth occasionally. Few things are more annoying than being required to interrupt your world-spanning quest to whack around some gnomes.

Decent RPGs are few and far between nowadays, and anything worth playing is like a glass of water to a man in a desert. Wild ARMS Alter Code: F contains too many technical and presentation missteps to be considered a classic worthy of the hallowed halls of RPG Valhalla, but coasting along on story and style alone takes it far. The upcoming Wild ARMS 4 integrates data from Alter Code: F in some fashion; do yourself a favor and get acquainted (or reacquainted) with this off-beat, intriguing series while you're waiting. If you'll excuse me, I need to practice my Clint Eastwood impression.

Score: 8.5/10

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