: Wild ARMs
: Media Vision
: December 20th, 1996 (Japan); April 30th, 1997 (North America); October 1998 (Europe)
Wilds ARMs is a peculiar game. Two heroes and a heroine come together to stop alien demons controlling giant robots from destroying an anime-style post-apocalyptic world that looks like it came out of the American Wild West.
It was strongly influenced by earlier video games in the Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Lufia series. Many gamers argue that it was just an ugly hodge-podge of throwing game play and plot concepts from these games into an embarrassing cliché-riddled console RPG. While there is certainly plenty of evidence to back that position, I believe writing off Wild ARMs as a pre-Final Fantasy VII sacrificial lamb is too linear and too simplistic of an argument.
To better describe Wild ARMs and its role as an early Playstation RPG, I propose this theory:
Wilds ARMs was, for the most part, a below average adventure that relied far too much on tiresome game play and predictable plot clichés as well as banking on the accomplishments of its predecessors.
There is a gracious smattering of truly great concepts, ideas and moments strewn through out the game that more than redeem it. As a whole, Wild ARMs is complex in that it combines the painstakingly banal with brief flashes of serene and wonderful storytelling. Yet still... I can't help feeling this apologia of a such a mediocre game might all just be an attempt to justify the fuzzy nostalgic feeling I get from watching the intro. Yeah, probably. Well, on with the facts.
Our heroic trio
Your party is comprised of only three people, which was an oddity for its time. The introduction was set up interestingly enough. You have the option to chose which of the three characters you wish to play. Eventually, all three of them meet up at an important city called Adlehyde and, for the most part, stick together throughout the rest of the game.
Rudy is the eternally silent, blue-haired outcast with the terrible gift of ARMs (or, in more familiar vernacular, mechanical weapons). Many people, embodying themselves in the forms of angry mobs, know that only demons can use ARMs, so he's constantly trying to hide his powers and find a place where he's accepted. Strangely enough, those mobs are right. Rudy is, in fact, an artificial mechanical horror called Holmcross built with apocalyptic destruction in mind. This is what makes him such a cool character.
Cecilia is the princess struggling for a sense of individuality. She wants people to view her as "Cecilia," not as "princess." There's point in the game where she cuts her hair with a sword in a symbolic act of exercising free will. It comes off pretty melodramatic. Cecilia isn't all too interesting of a character.
Jack is the grizzled outlaw with a mysterious past and a bad mouth (saying "Damn" and "Hell" in a console video game back then qualified as risqué). The obligatory cute anime animal, Hanpan the talking rat, is his pet and intellectual superior. Jack's past is full of remorse, regret and getting his ass kicked by demons, so he's pretty much venegeful and upset under his care free, goof-off demeanor. Jack is more interesting than Cecilia, but not as interesting as Rudy.
How the game works
The interface for Wild ARMs is that of a standard traditional console RPG with hints of action and puzzle elements.
While controlling your one character (who may represent 1-3 characters) from the expected overhead view, you can walk around, run in straight lines, pick up objects, throw objects and use certain items required for puzzles.
Also in the vein of traditional console RPGs is the random battles. Unfortunately, Wild ARMs is plagued by long loading times, high step-to-fight ratios and shallow strategy. The biggest upside to this weak battle system is the individuality of each of the three characters. All three can fight, run or use items, but they all have radically different paradigms for their fighting styles.
Rudy is able to use the forbidden power of ARMs. These mighty, feared weapons of destruction are found lying around in treasure boxes across the world. They require endless streams of gold to upgrade and reload, but deal more damage on a more consistant basis than anything else in the game. Examples of his ARMs are the hand gun, a laser, a bazooka and some obscenely powerful alien technological blaster weapon thingies.
Cecilia can cast spells by finding "Crest Graph" items can then combining them at a magic shop. There are a set of about 20 low level spells and a set of 20 high level spells. You basically use a Crest Graph to fill up a spot on a confusing grid that teaches you a spell of some sort. This means once you find 40 Crest Graphs, she knows all her magic. See the cheating section below for more info on how to abuse this. Her spells range in usefulness and power, but they are integral to staying alive and damaging certain enemies.
Jack learns his stylish sword "Draw" moves by activating hidden mini-cut scenes. He'll get an idea for a new move, then he has to learn it by using it battle. Like Cecilia's spells, his Draws vary in importantance. Regardless, Jack does the most damage just doing normal attacks.
Puzzles are an important part of Wild ARMs. Standing out in otherwise drab dungeons, caves and spaceships, they provide a welcome shift in the game play.
There are several memorable puzzles in the game. There's one ruined temple where you need to piece together the order in which to light a series of torches to awaken some spiritual entities. Probably the most infamous puzzle was a hazy pseudo-world existing inside a book that involved answering moral questions and going through correct doors. It doesn't sound too hard, but I don't think I ever solved it without cheating.
Pecularities: Worldly& Other
Wild ARMs really shined in its conceptual level of fantasy elements, particularly fantastic forms of life. If the plot and dialogue had been developed to a decent level rather than seemingly slapped together, these creatures probably could have carried the whole game. As it is, they remain interesting concepts nevertheless.
First there are the eight giant robots, know as Golems. All the evil ones have sweet, evil sounding names: Diablo, Lolithia, Lucifer, Sado, Barbados, Leviathan and Barial. And then there's the friendly giant robot... Earth Golem. WTF?! Why didn't they just name Earth Golem something cool? Arg. Your party is left with the lamest of the world's giant robots. But you still have the opportunity to fight the other seven. Several of them are optional hidden bosses that give uber equipment.
Next are the group of four demons bent on world destruction. They call themselves the Quarter Knights and engage in all the serious villiany through the game. In reality, they're some angry aliens that don't like humans. So since they're both aliens and demons, they've got that "double" evil thing going on.
The most entertaining alien demon is Zed, who is actually not part of the Quarter Knights. He wants to join them, but he can't since he's such an idiot. He's the foil, the comic relief villian who bumbles around and does funny stuff to emphasize the true evilness of the competent demons. For example, after being able unlock a password guarded door that opens to any password, Zed spouts one of the best lines in the game: "You fools! That door would open to any password!"
.....Sorry. I guess you just have to go through the game to get it.
Among the more friendly creatures of Wild ARMs are the Guardians. If you've played Final Fantasy VI, think Espers. Guardians are all-wise mystical spirit creatures that serve as mentors, guides and summon spells for the heroes. They have cool names that reflect their magical properties, like Zephyr, Moa Gault, Solus Emsu, Duras Drum and others.
The other fantasy creatures worth mentioning for the Elws. I often get the feeling that "Elw" is simply a mistranslation of "Elf". Elws are humanoid creatures with that deep connection with nature. They used to build weapons and are responsible for most of the cool ARMs Rudy gets and other spiffy equipment the for the other two. They have their own private dimension made up of organic, floating islands that looks similar to the Kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger.
Cheating due to crappy programming
You can take advantage of item duplication to become very powerful, very quickly. Besides the obvious benefits of item duplication, Wild ARMs rewards item duplication cheating in a special way due to the nature of several items.
"Lucky Cards", for instance, double the amount of experience gained in a single battle. Duplicate the first Lucky Card you get, use one every battle (especially bosses), then you level effectively twice as fast. "Duplicators" are a rare type of key that you can normally only win through lengthy arena battles or by random enemies dropping them. If you duplicate the Duplicators, then you save yourself hours of time scrounging them up.
Here's how to do it.
- Make sure that you have only one of the item that you're duplicating.
- Get into a fight.
- Have both Rudy and Jack use a "Heal Berry".
- Have Cecilia select the Heal Berry then switch it with the item you want duplicated. Exit the item screen and use defend.
- Finish the battle.
- You should now have 255 of whatever item you switched with the Heal Berry in your inventory.
The opening sequence
The most artistic, beautiful part of Wild ARMs doesn't require any actual playing of the game. Simply pop the game CD in your console and let it run through the introduction. The resulting sequence of unexplained mini-adventures accompanied by startling powerful whistling music qualifies as one of the truly great moment in video game aesthetics.
It basically features Rudy walking and making dramatic faces on a cliff with an abnormally large moon hovers above while a folksy guitar riff plays in the background. A creepy whistling slowly joins the guitar as the intro cuts to Jack and Hanpan wandering a desolate landscape while the music builds and eventually a whole orchestra of stringed instruments and a brass section combine as Cecilia confidently sprawls and spins upward in the giantic hand of the Earth Golem. A second later, with the brassy music blaring, it shows her levitating some sort of magic book with a disaffected frown mixed with all sorts of flashy, magic colors. The finalé comes as Rudy scales the side of cliff and meets his smiling friends, Jack and Cecilia, on the top just as the guitar riff enters a decresendo and a final synthasized hum draws to a stop. Three characters grin wryly at each other, the creepy whistling comes by one more time, and it fades out.
It's one of the most impressive introductions to any text, video game or otherwise, I've ever seen. I would argue it's definitely the best part of the game.
Wild ARMs has two sequels. I'm not familiar enough with either of them to observe how the original affected them. A complete remake of this original is in progress right now.
Wild ARMs - Wild ARMs II - Wild ARMs III
Playing the game