Review: Wild Arms XF (Sony PSP)

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Genre: Strategy RPG
Platform: Sony Playstation Portable
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Media Vision
Publisher: XSEED
Release Date: 3/11/08


The Wild Arms western-themed RPG series has graced our consoles for the past 12 years. The first two titles were released for the Playstation, and the third, fourth and fifth titles (as well as a remake of the original) all came out on the Playstation 2. This is the first in the series to be released on a portable system, and has a completely different combat scheme to boot.

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Wild Arms XF (pronounced “Crossfire”) is a Strategy RPG. While I’d rather not compare the game to any other, the comparisons to Ogre Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics are simply too obvious to ignore. That’s not a bad thing, since both of those games are excellent games (well, the original FFT anyway).

As with the rest of the series, XF is set in the world of Filgaia. The once prosperous world was devastated over a millennia prior to the events in XF by a massive battle between the evil demons and humans, aided by the god-like Guardians and mystical Elw. After the battle ended, the humans were left to fend for themselves, and even 1000 years later, are trying to recover from what happened before.

This is the story of Clarissa and Felius Arwin, who are chasing after a man named Rupert, who has stolen the sword of Clarissa’s late mother, called Iskander Bey (interestingly enough, taken the Turkish name of an Albanian hero known as Skanderbeg). In the beginning of the game, Rupert leaves the duo to fight some of his lackeys while he leaves for another continent. Clarissa and Felius win the battle and follow Rupert to the Elesius Kingdom, where they are subsequently caught up in a deeper plot of the corrupt government. The beloved princess of the kingdom was killed in an accident the year before, leaving the distraught king unfit to lead the kingdom. The Senate takes control, and as you can well imagine, all hell breaks loose. On the outside, the country is beautiful, but on the inside, it is quite ugly.

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While the story isn’t one of the deepest ones out there, it walks the fine line of being interesting and complex, but not TOO complex. There aren’t the moments you find in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics where you wonder if you missed something. It’s well told and has sufficient build up to important events, and all the while, makes you care about the characters. Clarissa is a kind person who, although she originally just wanted to find her mother’s sword, she cares about the people and wants to help them. Felius is a strong person and all he cares about is protecting Clarissa. And even a lowly side character, an innkeeper, illicits emotion when she helps the party flee a town under siege. These are people she doesn’t know, but she sees the good in them and knows that they can help them. It’s this type of story that you don’t see very often.

The visuals for the game are great. It’s all pixel based, so there are no 3D graphics to be seen, but as we’ve seen with games like Disgaea, that’s perfectly fine as long as the execution is up to snuff. And it really is here. The designs are very anime based, and even the opening intro feels like it could go at the beginning of an anime. All the cut scenes are pretty standard fare for this type of game, where they show a portrait of a character talking. Again, the execution is very well done, and really my only complaint is there is no animation at all on these cut scenes. To show animation, the portrait will just change, and that’s fine and dandy most of the time, but that was the case in the opening cinema as well. Just a little bit of true animation would have gone a long way.

Likewise, the sound in the game was also pulled off splendidly. As I said, the opening intro could have been on an anime, mostly because the opening song fit so well. Without that, the intro cinema would have been a bust. Likewise, the rest of the music in the game is very top notch. It really helps drive home the western theme, especially the classic series theme on the title screen. In addition, the voice acting was very well executed. I wasn’t able to pick out any of the voice actors (and of course it’s not in the manual either), but I couldn’t pick out a one that didn’t fit their character to a T.

The gameplay in XF is similar to what you’d expect in a Strategy RPG. I’ll give a little run-down, for those of you who are not familiar. Essentially, the battles take place on a game board. Most SRPGs use a square-based grid, but Wild Arms XF uses a hexagon-based grid. It’s not the first to do so, but it is definitely one of the few. (As an aside, when are we going to see a Battletech SRPG? It would certainly fit, and I’d much prefer it to Front Mission. Ahem.)

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Each turn, your characters get a certain amount of movement points that allows you to move X amount of spaces. After you move, you can either attack (if in range), use an item, use an Original (like a special or magic attack) or wait until the next turn. All the characters (including enemies) get turns based on how fast the characters are. One unique aspect of the game is that if your characters surround the opponents in different formations, called Combination Arts (front-back, triangle, complete surround), your attacks will do more damage. So you take your turns, moving about and fighting. Most stages (referred to as Quests) are simple: kill all the enemies without losing any party members, but there are others that are a little different, such as make it to the end of the board without dying. After battle, your experience is tallied and you will get some Gella, the currency of Filgaia, and maybe some items.

Since it is an SRPG, this is probably what 80% or more of the game will be. When you aren’t fighting battles, you are usually on the world map (which is basically just a collection of dots with lines connecting them, showing you where you are able to go) or towns. Towns are very simplistic in that you don’t actually move your character around. You only have menu options that allow you to choose where you want to go, and who to talk to. Fortunately, it will often tell you who it is most important to talk to, to continue your progress. There are also shops of course that allow you to buy new items and equipment.

The big selling point of the game is the job system, which is another concept that is taken from many other SRPGs, but is a little different in this game. There are a total of 16 job classes, not counting the unique classes that each of the main characters has. For example, Clarissa is a Dandelion Shot, and although she can become a Secutor (fighter class) or Elementalist (magic class), no one else can become a Dandelion shot. You start the game with 4 classes, and as you progress you unlock more. As you finish Quests, you will gain Class Points, which will level up your class. As you level that up, you will unlock skills, which will allow you to use certain attributes of that class if you switch to another one. I like how everything job related is handled except that when you change jobs, all of your items and equipment are removed (though not lost), so you have to re-equip them before combat. I can understand the reasoning behind removing the equipment, but not the items, and it would at least be helpful if they immediately took you in to the equipment menu when you change jobs, because I forgot to re-equip more than once.

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I haven’t forgotten to talk about the execution of the overall gameplay. Simply put, it is extremely well done. The combat is virtually flawless and everything moves very quickly, especially compared to other SRPGs where it seems like the computer is taking forever to figure out where to go. The only slowdown I noticed is when you are in combat and you bring up the menu either to use an Original or an Item, it takes an extra second, but it’s no big deal. Other than that, the execution is so well done that it EASILY makes up for any other flaws the game has.

Speaking of flaws, I’m going to have to talk about the difficulty a little. I’m not one to whine about a game being hard because usually if it is, I either need to level up more or something. But there are some points in this game that are just hard for no apparent reason. My example is that I went to a random dot on the map and entered the forest. This is very early on in the game, mind you. So I fought three level 1 beasts and defeated them. I saved and figured what the heck, I’ll go back in. My party of four ranges from level 4 to 6 at this point. So this time, in addition to the three beasts, there are 4 birds that are level 10. On the first turn, one comes and instantly kills a party member. And most attacks I attempted on these birds either failed or did an insignificant amount of damage. It didn’t kill the game for me, but it wasted my time, which I don’t like. There is no way in hell I could have won that battle, so I don’t understand why the computer put me in an uncompromising position like that. There are other difficult battles, mind you, but I have two words of advice: 1) Always carefully read the battle objectives and follow them. There is a battle early on where you are attacked by an impossible foe, but your objective is not to defeat him, so don’t even bother trying. 2) After a few initial battles, one of your characters will start to give a Direct Event Report (DER). LISTEN TO HER. She gives good advice and makes things much more manageable. I know a lot of people love hard games, but it’s not cheating when the game gives you the information you need RIGHT THERE.

While the game itself will last you a good long while, as with most tactics games, you probably won’t find yourself playing it a second time, because there really isn’t much of a point. Granted, you will want to try to unlock everything, and probably have characters maxed out on every class, but you’ll certainly want to do that on the first play through. Though I will admit, while playing it, you will definitely want to be the best you can be. I’d tell myself “I’ll keep playing until she hits her next class level” and then she would, but another character would only be a few points off, so I’d keep going. But then one of those frustrating moments would kick in, as I explained before, and just kill it.

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Probably the biggest flaw of the game though is just that it’s so unoriginal. Yes, it is the first Wild Arms SRPG, but most other series have been there and done that. The hex-grid system is the most unique thing about it, and even that has been done before. (Again, where is my Battletech?) I’d probably have to be more harsh on the game in this regard if it weren’t done so well. Sure it’s old hat by now, but how many WESTERN SRPGS are there? Just this one. And now is the perfect time to be doing it because SRPGs are still pretty popular, so it has the appeal going for it. The only argument I could have is that perhaps it should have been on the PS2 instead of the PSP to have a wider potential audience, but Sony considers the PS2 to be virtually dead now, so what can you do?

At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is how fun the game is. Even if it sounds awful and even if it’s ugly (neither of which is true for this title), is the game fun? And I say YES to that for Wild Arms XF. It is a great deal of fun and easily one of the best strategy RPGs I’ve EVER played. It feels very much like Wild Arms, yet it also feels like Final Fantasy Tactics, and that is saying a lot coming from me. And I have to give XSEED mad props for the localization of the game. I didn’t see any translation errors, and the dialogue in general was very well done. In addition, their inclusion of the soundtrack on the UMD was a nice touch. It’s something that every company should do, but doesn’t always.

Ratings Summary

Story: Great
Graphics: Great
Sound: Classic
Gameplay and Control: Very Good
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Classic

Final Rating: Good

Short Attention Span Summary
I’ll make it easy for you. Do you own a PSP? Do you like either Wild Arms or Strategy RPGs? If so, buy this game. It’s a bold move for the series, but it pays off in spades. It doesn’t push the hardware to its limits, but it doesn’t have to. It looks great, sounds great and plays great. What more do you need? If you don’t like SRPGs or the series at all, then you’d probably want to pass, but who knows, you may want to give it a rent and you may like it.

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