Mike wasn't kidding when he says Wild Arms 3 follows standard role-playing game (RPG) conventions. Wild Arms 3 has the standard band of strangers, a strong, silent party member with a "mysterious past," lots of dungeons to explore and a predictable plot for the player to be lead through—and that's just to name a few. But it is Wild Arms 3's differences, subtle as they may be, that I think makes it a little more than an also-ran.
I enjoyed Wild Arms 3's Wild West iconography. It was a refreshing change to the other post-apocalyptic RPGs on the market today. Having to handle guns and other machinery (and manage their upgrades and maintenance) in addition to standard magical spells gives the gameplay such a unique feel that it almost seems new. I could see the influence of the spaghetti western and anime and I agree that they gave Wild Arms 3 a distinctive look and feel. But though I did enjoy it overall, I would have liked a bit more consistency.
After a strong beginning, the lonely, dusty Old West gives way to something less Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly and more Barry Sonnenfeld's The Wild, Wild West. It happens right about when Media Vision falls back on all of the usual RPG conventions for the rest of the game. Oddball characters start showing up—the kind that only seem to find their way into Japanese RPGs—silly premises and mediocre philosophical banter throw a monkey wrench into the works. The "cool factor" and grittiness of the Wild West evaporates and is only resurrected at certain key points in the story. And that's a shame, because there seemed to be so much potential there.
The game's cel-shaded graphics look wonderful—the characters look great and the colored-pencil shading technique looks especially good. In a genre packed with a surprising glut of cel-shaded RPGs, Wild Arms 3's graphics are probably the some of the more memorable. It's unfortunate that the barren dungeons and some towns were not given the same amount of attention, but they do not take away too much from the overall look of the game. The one area that was particularly hard on the eyes was the designs of the monsters in this game. They ranged from hideous to unimaginative—some looked like they were just Frankenstein combinations of other creatures from other RPGs.
Enix's Grandia series scored points with me because its active battle system was so kinetic and full of strategic elements. Wild Arms 3's is not as unique. The characters run around haphazardly in-between turns, stopping only when someone's turn comes up. About all this really accomplishes is to randomly change the position of a party member on the battlefield while totally throwing out strategic essentials like proximity and advantageous positioning. I also took issue with the camera system. It is always spinning and panning over the battlefield for dramatic effect, but in the process it often left me disoriented. I couldn't always tell where my character was or where all the enemies were. That is not to say that the battles weren't fun, because they certainly were. Wild Arms 3 offers a nice mix of standard weapon attacks, more advanced weapon attacks, spells and Medium (think demigods) summoning. With so many options, fights with powerful enemies can become quite interesting.
The high encounter rate or random battles makes some aspects of the gameplay seem questionable. Perhaps to sell the fact that you are often in uncharted territory, you actually have to travel the world map searching for towns, dungeons and even treasure. You do so by walking along hitting the "radar" button every few steps hoping to unlock something within its radius. You'd think something so mundane would be fun, but it isn't. It's a very slow and tedious process that is only slightly bearable when my party is considerably stronger than the enemies that are sure to interrupt the search.
I do have a final peeve. As Mike says, each character can use one of three tools. The problem with these tools is that they aren't always applicable when logic dictates they should be. In several rooms full of torches, for example, the ice tool has no effect. It is as if the torches are just wallpaper. When I enter another room, after a lot of trial and error, I soon find that the only way to proceed is to use that very ice tool to extinguish the torches. That lack of consistency makes the puzzles seem trivial.
Media Vision does offset some of these negatives with a couple of welcome positives. In Wild Arms 3 I can take on enemies while riding on horseback. It doesn't exactly change the dynamics of a fight being on horseback, but it looks pretty damn cool. Also, every RPG (especially those that emphasize random battles and demand constant leveling up) should have an Auto-Battle feature similar to Wild Arms 3's. Though a bit risky during battles with unknown enemies, it is a godsend when forced into repetitive battles with substantially weaker opponents.
I enjoyed my time with Wild Arms 3. It does have some flaws, but nothing too egregious and it makes up for some of its shortcomings with some nice additions that any RPG fan can appreciate. It is relatively easy—which these busy days counts in its favor—and the story and graphics work well to create a nice world to play in. Wild Arms has always been a quirky series lacking the extravagance and cachet of Square's RPGs, but they have always been solid enough to be worth the consideration of fans of the genre. Wild Arms 3 is no exception; it is a quaint release that won't make anyone forget about the other RPGs on the market, but will hold the player until the end.