So, I’ve basically beaten WAXF now.  I’m at what I’ll hereafter refer to as the “abandonment point” of the game, or the point of the game where I most frequently abandon what I’m playing so it doesn’t end.  This is the point right before the final series of “end game” battles at the end of an RPG that I seem to perpetually stop at.

I fully intend to finish this, mind you, but I usually end up just stopping and never resuming.

Beat it.

Wild ARMs XF Clear Data

Anyway, back to the review.  I’m a Wild ARMs Fanboy, basically.  Well, of the games that I’ve played until now.  I love the setting, WA1 was the first ‘standard console RPG’ I had played (mostly due to the fact that I rarely played RPGs until then, and the ones I did play were StratRPGs).  I’m going to start throwing reviews of games up here; I should probably include pictures, but I’m lazy.  Maybe if people actually started reading this.  :)

Wild ARMs XF is a story about Clarissa Arwin, a woman journeying from another land to the country of Elesius in pursuit of her mother’s sword, being held by a villain by the name of Rupert.  The story begins in medias res and eventually balloons into a full blown civil war and story about ecological devastation.  If that last part sounds odd, you’ve never played a Wild ARMs game before.  Filgaia, the planet every Wild ARMs game takes place in, has got to be the most unfortunate planet in the history of gaming (TVTropes claims it is actually the unluckiest in all of fiction even…).

Story-wise, initially, this felt like a separate strategy game that had elements of Wild ARMs crammed in, kind of like FFT felt compared to the rest of the mainline Final Fantasy games.  That notion is quickly turned around in the half-way point of the game, where the references to the other games in the Wild ARMs series starts being poured on, to the point where I can generally pinpoint when in the chronology of Wild ARMs this game takes place (between Wild ARMs 1 and 2, if anyone is curious; the only references of WA3 in this game tend to come from things in WA3 mentioned as happening ‘again’ – meaning this could be the first point where it happens) and be generally happy with the story.

Problem is, this game is flawed.  I’m not being picky – I mean, come on, I love Beyond the Beyond of all things – but there are a bunch of glaring issues that should have been corrected.

Story – Great (on a scale of “suck” to “jaw-dropping”)

The musical quality of WA is, as usual, awesome.  A nice long and detailed score of tracks in the game, although sadly not composed by Michiko Naruke (composer for WA1-3 + random tracks in 4-5), who is my favorite Japanese game composer.  My only complaint is that the random battle music is always the same – for a Strategy RPG that you need to grind in, this quickly gets annoying.  Still, minor complaint.  Given that I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing up the review, that’s typically a good sign.

Many of the cut scenes are fully voiced.  The English voices are, well, what you’d expect from a non-AAA title being localized from Japan – stick with the Japanese voices, for your own sanity.  Those are perfectly fine.

Audio – Awesome

Graphics quality, well…  this is a PSP game.  I’m playing it on a 42″ 1080p TV.  It is going to look pixelated.  It is a sprite-based 2D game that I’m playing years after it was released, so I’m not expecting Crysis 2 or anything, but the graphics do its job and do it well.  The picture-style of cutscenes work well for a PSP game; if this was released for a console though, I probably would have dropped some points for that.

Graphics – Good

Now onto the part that matters for a strategy RPG – the battles.  The core behind the system is a strong one; it is very similar to that of FFT or really any other class changing system – you have a primary class and abilities assigned to you from other classes.  You have a number of slots based on level and can assign things as you see fit, with some bonus for having your primary class be mastered based on the class.  A few problems though:

  1. Some abilities require a particular type of weapon.  One of the things I enjoyed in FFT was the combination of abilities obviously meant for melee weapons to be thrown onto ranged ones – the gun sniper with knight abilities comes to mind.  You can’t do this in WAXF, which greatly limits what you can do with ranged weapons or two handed weapons.
  2. You know that annoying mechanic in FFT where, in order to use items, you needed to level up a class and even then you’d only be able to use items immediately next to you?  Yeah, WAXF somehow made it worse.  Sure, you can use most items without doing that, but only on yourself.  In order to use advanced items though (which are over half the items in the game)?  You have to be in the Gadgeteer class and have it mastered.  It makes such items worthless except for in a single battle.
  3. Unique characters are strictly better than generics, unless if you’re trying some oddball strategy like I tend to do.  Each of the uniques have their own personal class on top of all of the regular ones, and the bonus for being in that class is three additional skill slots.  These three skill slots are far better than the bonuses for any of the regular classes, so there is no reason to have your characters be anything else unless if they want to level up in another class.
  4. Not enough characters in combat and/or too many uniques.  I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post.
  5. You never need to actually use any of these strategies in the game, mostly because of how pathetically easy the main plot is and how much easier the random battles are.  Seriously, I stopped getting damaged except merely as a means to save (real) time around halfway through the fourth chapter.  The only thing that was challenging was the secret hidden boss that is in every WA game, and that was only because it cheated, and the start of Chapter 3 because I had neglected to upgrade equipment four times.  I’m serious.

It bothers me greatly to see a game that is shipping up to be awesome be plagued with these…  minor issues.  They’re not minor to me, they’re just minor to fix.  Make random battles harder (even just leveling up the enemies to be your level would have helped!), add in more character slots per battle, make them more difficult toward the end where you actually need to use these strategies – ANYTHING!  You had such promise WAXF, but then you failed me.

Battle System – Poor

Don’t get me wrong – I still like the game.  It showed such promise, the story was engaging, the musical quality was superb..  but at the end of the day, strategy RPGs are judged primarily based on..  you know.. strategy.  You don’t need strategy once you get past half-way through the game, and this is a travesty.  I shouldn’t be rewarded for using a single character to kill everything in sight every plot battle because it is easier, just as I shouldn’t be penalized for wanting to try out new things.  Why do you make me sad WAXF?  You could have been AWESOME.  Fix the battle system to not have those stupid ideas, put in some kind of random battle mode where you can actually fight challenging fights, and you could have made yourself the next FFT in my mind.  There is a NewGame+ mode in the game… but why would I bother?  There isn’t a reason to use alternative party configurations because I’m being gimped by using generics, and I’ve already beaten the big nasty hidden boss.  There is nothing left for me in this game save the ending to see the plot finish.

Oddly enough, this means that my problems with the game are exactly the opposite of the review up on RPGamer for the game.  He commented about the storyline being fine until the midpoint of the game, where scifi elements appeared ‘out of nowhere’ – which is explained by the fact that I don’t see a review up for any other Wild ARMs game by him.  That’s a staple of the WA series, Adriaan, it is to satisfy their base of gamers – like me.

Overall Rating:  Decent to Good
Difficulty:  Very Easy
Length:  Long
(60-70 Hours)

Reference on difficulty:
I play a lot of Strategy RPGs, so my definition of “Very Easy” is probably different from someone who has problems with them.  For instance, I haven’t encountered a StratRPG I’d classify as “Very Hard”.  I’m also not including me breaking the system to the point of it crying in a corner – I can do that with just about anything.  Now, if the system naturally breaks without me trying, yeah, that’s going to be labeled as easy.  Thus, I’m putting in this handy reference in:

From hardest to easiest (and only of mostly beaten games):

All non-GC/Wii Fire Emblem games > Front Mission 3 = Ultima 4 > Final Fantasy Tactics > Shining Force 2 > Phantom Brave = Disgaea > Shining Force 1 = Wild ARMs XF = Vandal Hearts > Eternal Eyes

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