Note: the video and the text are the same review.
Wild Arms seems like a standard SNES-style JRPG. Yes, it’s on the PS1, but it feels like a SNES JRPG with higher resolution 2D sprites and 3D battles — with questionable models, though I admit they did grow on me.
The point is it seemed pretty standard… until I realised Wild Arms is doing some unique things.
1. Character Skills and Upgrades
Probably my favourite thing is how the three characters boast distinct abilities and distinct ways of upgrading those abilities.
Cecilia has magic, Jack had sword skills, Rudy Roughknight (cool name by the way) has big guns — doesn’t sound like anything that interesting yet. But the way you upgrade each of these ability sets is also distinct. And each of the upgrade systems has a component of choice: like which spell do you pick from this wide selection, which attribute of you gun do you upgrade, which sword skill do you make cheaper to use. They’re not drastically different character builds, but you will end up with a Cecilia, Jack and Rudy that is good at different attacks than a friend playing Wild Arm’s might
And each of the upgrade systems also has an element of exploration. For Jack’s skills you need to find statues that initiate combat challenges, fo Rudy you need to find special chests, for Cecilia you need Crest Graphs scattered across the world.
It’s not complex, after all it’s only three characters and one unique menu of abilities for each, but it’s a very smooth and polished system that ties together the level design, battles and characters in an elegant way that a lot of JRPGs frankly struggle with.
And it takes the exploration or level design aspect even further, with the second thing I really like about Wild Arm’s, which is the tools.
2. Tools and Puzzles
The convenient way to describe these is like the items in Zelda, acquired throughout the game and used to overcome obstacles in dungeons. There are even bombs and a hook shot. The bombs let you blow up walls with cracks, and sometimes you find hidden stashes of chests, that sort of thing. It adds so much to the variety of dungeons, add the fun of exploring them, break up the monotony of trudging through them. This sort of level design is something JRPGs have only got worse at over the years.
And this is the bit that really reminds me of Golden Sun. In that game, it was psynergy that was used outside of battle to solve puzzles. The balance between puzzles and battles feels very similar. And Golden Sun even has that combination of 2D levels and 3D battles.
Now I know there are a lot of Golden Sun fans really disappointed that Camelot haven’t continued the series, and I agree, but now I’ve got a series of four other Wild Arm’s games to explore instead, and Armed Fantasia after that maybe. It really feels like they fill the same niche of polished, puzzly, bright JRPGs with close knit parties.
What else makes this cowboy JRPG great?
I haven’t mentioned this, but all the Wild Arms characters and some of the side characters are extremely likeable. They’ve got motivations, they’ve got arcs; my favourite is Calamity Jane. And the backstory and the lore of the world of Filgaia is pretty fleshed out too.
And that’s another way Wild Arms is like Golden Sun. Overall, they’re both series that look very traditional, but in their own way, are subtly quite ambitious.
If you want more SNES-style RPG goodness, if you want more of puzzly JRPG like Golden Sun, if you want to see what Zelda might look like as a JRPG, Wild Arms ticks all of those boxes.
How does Wild Arm’s stack up against other PS1 JRPGs? It’s an extremely competitive field, and Wild Arms was an early release. I can point to JRPGs with more brilliant stories or battle systems, but Wild Arms, with it’s original ideas and excellent pacing, delivered a very consistent level of fun that even some of the genre classics don’t always manage to achieve. For that reason, I think it’s top tier, or at least almost top tier, and I’m looking forward to playing the next one.
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