Is it just me, or has the traditional Japanese role-playing game (RPG) worn out its welcome? Certain advances have been made by a few bold titles, and of course the introduction of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) was a force unto itself, but I'm talking about the old, tried-and-no-longer-true formula of teenage hero, group of friends, random battles, talking to townsfolk, and all the stuff that was so interesting and addicting during the 16-bit era. I feel like this structure is so old and out of date that I'm actually a little surprised that these games keep on coming. That's not to say that RPGs themselves no longer hold any intrinsic value, but from where I'm standing, if an RPG doesn't bring anything new to the table then I'm not willing to give much slack.
Wild Arms made something of a name for itself shortly after the original PlayStation debuted and gathered a small following with its quasi-Wild West theme and status as one of the first RPGs available on Sony's then-new machine. I had heard of it countless times, but never had the opportunity to sit down and see what all the fuss was about. Hearing that Wild Arms: Alter Code F was a modern retooling of that title, I was quite interested to finally get in on the series. Now that I've spent time with it, I don't understand why anyone bothered resurrecting it. I realize that it's not a brand-new effort (technically speaking), but despite the work done to bring it up to speed, it feels very clunky and out-of-date.
For example, the frequency of random battles is absolutely outrageous. It's impossible to walk more than a few steps without hitting a group of enemies, and the fights are so dull that there's no enjoyment taken from the game's uninspired combat engine. In fact, Wild Arms: Alter Code F has the option to turn on an "auto-battle" feature where the computer trudges through each fight on autopilot. If a game has so many routine, strategy-free battles that there's actually an option to not even participate in the fights, it might be a better idea to improve the combat instead of enabling a player to tune out from it.
Other aspects to the game make about as much sense as the auto-combat, which is to say, not much at all. The locator system is probably the worst example. When trudging through the overworld looking for my next destination, I could literally be standing on top of a huge town or castle and nothing would appear on screen until I pressed the button activating the "search" function. A little ping of sonar radiates out from the hero, and voilà! All of a sudden, a giant structure appears out of nowhere. Although Code F is not the only game to use this stupid little trick, it's every bit as irritating as it was the first time I encountered it.
Following suit, the rest of the game is just as lacking. Although the graphics have a few occasional bright spots, they mostly look crude and unrefined. The characters all could use more detail, and the dungeons definitely look like holdovers from another era. There is no voice acting, and the story itself takes too long to get started. The first few hours were so ridiculously dull that by the time things actually got rolling, I didn't care anymore.
As readers of GameCritics probably know, I have a weak spot for titles with a Western theme. I was hoping that Alter Code F would capitalize on this theme enough and override the boredom that the rest of the game brought on, but no dice. The weak, clichédplot starring gunslinging teenage outcast Rudy Roughnight and his band of merry men could have easily happened in any other standard RPG, the Western elements being mostly visual design and lip service. If someone out there would like to design an RPG steeped in the things that make Westerns truly Western, please do—I'll be first in line. In the meantime, Wild Arms: Alter Code F doesn't satisfy.
As someone who has no nostalgia for the game's previous incarnation, I had little desire to devote myself to a title that exists without striving to achieve much of anything. Wild Arms: Alter Code F may fit the bill as a standard RPG, but that's about as far as it goes. Considering the wide range of discs available today, I don't see much reason to get into something that could only be called average at best. Newcomers or devotees to the RPG genre may find some basic value in it, but my feeling is that most players who've been there and done that probably won't want another helping.