Four skilled strangers join forces to save the world from an ancient and unspeakable evil. Along the way, theyll learn to work together, respect each other, and grow into better warriors and better people. Sound familiar? It should—its the basic plotline of every console role-playing game (RPG) ever released.
Wild Arms 3 is no exception. Traditional to a fault, the third installment in this series sticks to convention like a stamp to an envelope. The series one daring design decision—to set the game in an alternate version of the Wild West instead of the fantasy realms or steampunk settings of most titles in the genre—remains the only break from conventional RPG structure and presentation.
How one views this is largely a matter of opinion. RPG fans dont mind traditional plotlines filled with archetypal characters doing things that theyve seen a thousand times before. These gamers will enjoy Wild Arms 3 because its a good, if not overly original, RPG.
Gamers expecting something more dynamic and involving will most likely find Wild Arms 3 to be a rather trite and staid gaming experience. How much enjoyment a player will get out of the game depends largely on how they feel about the genre in general.
Graphically, Wild Arms 3 is fairly impressive. The move to a cel-shaded 3D look comes off much better than the many screenshots would have you believe. For some reason, seeing the characters in motion is a much more impressive experience than gawking at a still.
The game has a distinctive aesthetic at work in it visually—sort of a cross between the spaghetti westerns of the 1970s filtered through Japanese anime. Wild Arms 3 never looks as gritty as the films of men like Sergio Leone, but the influence is there, subtly, in almost every scene.
Dungeons dont fare quite as well, featuring some rather bland architecture and simplistic design (particularly in comparison to the recent crop of PlayStation 2 RPGs), but Wild Arms has never really been about jaw-dropping graphics anyway.
What it has been about is gameplay, and this installment in the series is quite possibly the high point.
Featuring a traditional turn-based battle system complete with random encounters, the game borrows a page from the Grandia series by implementing a battle system thats never static despite being turn-based. Characters move about the battlefield, and a bit of strategy is involved in figuring out whom to attack and when. Add in the fact that the characters guns (thats rightno swords or staffs here) have to be reloaded (which takes up an attack turn) and the battles become very dynamic.
The other interesting twist to the battle system is the addition of force points in place of traditional magic points. Characters build force points through actions in battle and then can use them for support or attack spells. Successfully dodging attacks and things of that nature will earn the player more force points.
As mentioned before, battles are encountered randomly—and the encounter rate in Wild Arms 3 is high. Fortunately, the game features an Encounter Gauge, which can be used to skip some of the random encounters (at a cost). Using the feature depletes the gauge, and players will eventually be forced to fight.
When that happens, one can simply employ the auto-battle feature instead of duking it out manually with easy opponents. The auto system features a nice range of artificial intelligence options that should be useful in any given situation.
Like most RPGs, the game follows a town-dungeon-town pattern in the gameplay. The dungeons feature lots of enemies as well as numerous puzzles not unlike the Zelda games. Each of the four characters will receive three tools, and using these tools is often the key to solving the many puzzles littered throughout the dungeons. There arent any major brainteasers, but it is nice to see that the series is moving beyond the simple block pushing puzzles of the earlier games.
Wild Arms 3 is a traditional RPG with a few minor innovations. It does everything an RPG should do and does it pretty well, but the lack of innovation is a bit disappointing. This is a genre that has become so mired in predictability that its possible to sum up most of the games in brief, Hollywood-style logline. Wild Arms 3 doesnt do anything to break the RPG mold, but whether thats a good or bad thing is a matter of perspective.