Preview: Wild ARMs 3

Summoner 2


Cell shaded spaceships... can't argue with that.

Ten steps later...

More conventional forms of Western transport.

Here's your chance to avoid battle: push X now.

Clive and Virginia: half of your crew.

Jet gets a vitality boost.

A square dancing duel: the more peaceful alternative.

Our intrepid heroes.

Digital Music

Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Rated Teen for mild violence

One of the best RPGs for the original Playstation was the original Wild ARMs. That game had a traditional fantasy approach to role-playing, threw in some sci-fi and topped it all off with a Wild West setting. With one less-impressive sequel in between, Wild ARMs 3 is carrying on the traditions of the series with a new graphical style.

Cell shading is one of the more interesting things to emerge from the upgraded graphics of the next-generation consoles. It has been used in many games already, but WA3 will be the first RPG to use the graphical style... and it will not be the last. In fact, the only apparent reason why Sony chose cell shading was to hop on the trend boat, and they just happened to get their game done first. Not that their game is going to look any less pretty for it; this game jumps way ahead of the lackluster expectations set by the first two graphics wise. For the first time, the characters in gameplay actually look somewhat like their counterparts in the anime intro. Actually, the whole effect, combined with the Western setting, reminds me of a short-lived Calamity Jane cartoon that aired a few years ago.

For a traditional, menu-based RPG, Wild ARMs has always had a heavy load of puzzles. The new game promises puzzles as well, most of which are solved either by moving blocks or by having one of your four characters use one of their special tools. Though WA3's puzzles are described as mere distractions to amuse gamers between battles, without presenting a significant challenge, hopefully this is just talk worded to avoid scaring off action-oriented gamers. The puzzle aspect should be embraced and milked for all its fun value, otherwise it's just dead weight.

Indeed, it is the battles that might end up playing second fiddle; for one thing, you can avoid them. As the character walks along the field, an exclamation mark appears over his or her head. If the player hits the X button fast enough, then a battle is avoided. Dodging strong enemies does cause a penalty in the form of a decrease to your ECN (encounter?) meter. If you should end up fighting that battle and (gasp!) get hurt, your health will be restored for the low price of a small reduction of your Vitality meter. Ah, I can hear your concerns now: "But what if one or both my meters run out, and I'll be forced to fight battles and use curative magic and items? Oooh, they make RPGs so hard these days!" Let your worries be cast aside, friends: you merely have to find the proper crystals to refill your meters.

All these innovations may have been put in to alleviate the potential boredom factor inherent in all classic turn-based RPGs, where you're constantly hitting the same button to confirm your commands. Fortunately, the battles themselves are spiced up a bit. Force Points (points acquired in different amounts depending on what happens to you in battle) play a slightly larger role in this game; not only do you need them to summon the Guardians, those benevolent spirits of battle, but also to use items and "Gattling Combos." As for the namesake guns, the ARMs themselves, they are more common place in this game as well. They use ammunition as before, but the need to go to town to buy more clips has been eliminated. This time around, ammo is recharged on a battle to battle basis, but you've still got to keep an eye on your bullets. Your characters can reload their weapons in battle by defending, or if the worst come to the worst, there's always the butt of the gun. If players still find all this boring, well, Sony has revived the old Auto-Battle mechanic. Hey, maybe if you're really lucky, your kid brother will play the whole game for you!

He's going to be at it a long time. Wild ARMs 3 has many side quests to keep players entertained. The original game had plenty of side-quests as well, but the satisfaction was the most significant reward you got for completing them. The difference this time around will be the magic system, where what spells you can use depends on what Guardian you have equipped. Thus, finding more Guardians will be very much worth the players' while.

Fans of the series will be happy to note that the same composers who are responsible for the first two soundtracks have made the third. I've heard a couple of tracks, and they are very much reminiscent of the older music (a good thing.) Some tunes have the familiar flute/folksy feel to them, and it has never been more warranted. WA3 fully embraces the Wild West theme. The opening bit of the game has the four party members converging at the site of a looted train, then engaging in a "Mexican Standoff." Of course, Wild ARMs tradition insists that players backtrack and play the introductory prologues for the four individual characters, before they reach the standoff. The four characters include the mandatory treasure hunter and bounty hunter, Jet Enduro and Clive Winslet respectively, and Gallows Caradine, an Elw shaman. Elws were effectively elves in the previous games; this time around they seem to be modeled after Native Americans!

Speaking of Calamity Jane, do you remember how there was a Calamity Jane Maxwell in the first game? Interestingly enough, the name of the main character this time around is Virginia Maxwell.

The benefits of Wild ARMs 3 are obvious, but it doesn't really matter. The legions of Wild ARMs fans will buy this game anyway. If you aren't part of the above group already, here's your excuse to join.

by Matthew Scribner

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