The Wild Arms games on the PlayStation were great games! I loved the first two, with the second one giving me hours of entertainment. However, as the series went on, it continued to be a commercial failure. Sales outside of Japan were constantly low, leading to the series dwindling to the point where Sony didn’t want to release a number of the games outside of Japan. These were eventually brought over by other companies, but the fact that Sony didn’t want to bother with them spoke massively about the lack of success the franchise saw outside of Japan.
Nevertheless, we did eventually get a PSP game in the series, known as Wild Arms XF. When it first came out, I actually missed it entirely because of the lack of marketing and publicity that the game received. However, I’ve now gone back to play the game and see what become of a series that I once adored.
The story of Wild Arms XF (pronounces as Crossfire, for some reason) deals with the battles between a group of knights known as Chevalet Blanc and the Council of Elder Statesmen who currently hold rule over the kingdom of Elesius. It starts off with a small amount of intrigue in the opening cutscene, but this doesn’t really pick up that much as you go. When you consider the storylines of the other Wild Arms games, especially the likes of Wild Arms 2, this is really quite disappointing.
I came into the game expecting at least something of similar levels, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t reach the same heights. However, I found myself getting bored with the story and rather disinterested very often. It just doesn’t have the same pull as the other games.
The plot is supposed to feature political intrigue, social decay and strife, which it does to an extent… It just doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could have been. There are some good parts to the story, but it goes up and down a lot, and really doesn’t capture the “feel” of Wild Arms. You don’t really get the sense of the wild west theme that made the Wild Arms games stand out so well. Instead, you get a pretty generic fantasy storyline with wild west set pieces thrown it.
It’s not a terrible story, mind you. It is enjoyable overall, despite the low points, but it just isn’t of the quality I have come to expect from the Wild Arms series as a whole.
The gameplay of the Wild Arms series has seen a lot of modification throughout the years, changing the traditional turn-based battle system into a hex battle system, for example. But the biggest departure from the rest of the series came with Wild Arms XF. Rather than playing as a typical J-RPG, full of exploration and turn-based battles, Wild Arms XF is a tactical role-playing game.
Dialogue and character engagement is done through loosely animated cutscenes that play out like visual novels rather than an actual game. Most tactical role=playing games utilise scenes to showcase story, but many animate the in-game character models and environment. Wild Arms XF instead simply has still background images and anime-style character images that swap in and out, showing different facial expressions. Every now and then, an actual cutscene will play out, but this is more along the lines of an interactive comic book rather than a fully animated cutscene.
Movement between locations is done through a world map with specific points to choose from, with set paths between them, just like typical tactical J-RPGs. Battles also play out in the traditional manner for the genre, with nothing particularly new or innovative. The way in which the turns play out is nice, as you are able to see whose turn will be next through a bar on the right-hand side – this allows you to plan out your strategies a bit easier. Whilst this is also implemented in other tactical RPGs, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, the easy-to-see graphical representation makes life simpler compared to searching through menus to find the information.
The use of the hex-based battle system does add a nice extra to the tactical element, as you have more options of where to place your characters around enemies, rather than just the stand “front”, “side” and “back” options. However, the benefits that this creates is taken away by the fact that you cannot choose which way your character faces at the end of the turn. This, in turn, means that you can end up leaving your character open to a back attack simply because you can’t control the way they face.
The final thing that I need to mention about the game is the difficulty. Now, I love games that are unforgiving (like Valkyria Chronicles), especially when it comes to Tactical RPGs. However, they need to be unforgiving with good gameplay design. Wild Arms XF, unfortunately, isn’t. Far too often you’ll find that the game’s mechanics are set up against you in such a way that it feels like poor level design. For example, you have to defend a row of hexagons at one end of the map from the enemy, and if just one enemy touches them, you fail. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if you weren’t incredibly outnumbered and the enemies had near-infinite movement area whilst you have very limited movement.
Wild Arms XF follows, once again, the typical tactical RPG style of using pixel graphics for the characters and world, but does art a nice border around the edges of raised areas and items in the battlefield. This gives a slight cell-shaded or cartoon feel to the world. However, the character models stick out like a sore thumb compared to the style of the world itself. When standing next to trees, for example, the shading and overall graphical style clash considerably. It is almost as if the environment designers and character artists didn’t have any communication during development.
On the other hand, the user interface fits very well with the characters… Or at least, the menus do. The targeting and movement indicators, which appear as hexagons on the world, seem more in style with the environment, with the colour palette once again clashing with the character models. Admittedly, this does mean that you are able to see where these hexagons are when there are a lot of characters on screen, but they do end up making the characters look even more out of place.
Wild Arms XF doesn’t have bad graphics though. The character models are well put together and animated carefully, with the cutscene character models drawn beautifully. The environments also look outstanding for a tactical RPG on the PSP. Sadly, they just seem to be from two different games entirely.
And That’s All Folks
In the end, Wild Arms XF is a reasonably enjoyable game. It does offer some nice features with the combat, but they are overshadowed by the poor level design and otherwise generic gameplay. Graphically, it looks like there were two games in developments and they just threw them together, and the storyline is interesting in places, but suffers from low points a lot as well.
Wild Arms XF isn’t an inherently bad game, but as part of the Wild Arms franchise, it definitely lacks the uniqueness and the polish of the other games. If you’re a Wild Arms fan, then play this just so that you have played them all. If you’re not a Wild Arms fan, skip it. And if you’ve never played Wild Arms, play the first or second game on the PlayStation – don’t let this be your first one.
Have you played Wild Arms XF? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!