Wild ARMs Alter Code: F - Reader Re-Retroview  

C for F
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

20-40 Hours
+ Can skip some encounters.
+ Whole different experience than original.
+ Looks good, sounds better.
- Strategy guide is almost a necessity.
- A nasty overworld glitch.
- Weak translation and story.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Remakes of RPGs have become fairly common in recent years, with prominent titles such as those in the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises receiving graphical and musical upgrades alongside occasional tweaks to their gameplay, so that newer generations could experience the classics without the restrictions of past console generations. In 2003, it was announced that Media Vision would be remaking Wild ARMs for the Playstation 2 as Wild ARMs Alter Code: F. At first, it seemed like this remake wouldn't see foreign release, although Agetec hopped on the chance to bring the title to the Anglophone world, releasing the English version nearly two years after its Japanese release. To even those who played the original, the remake will feel like a fresh experience, but is this a good thing?

   Instead of completely reusing the original version's mechanisms, F instead borrows elements from the second and third Wild ARMs, such as the latter's encounter cancel system, where the player can cancel a certain number of random encounters before having to fight enemies on the overworld and in dungeons. Obtaining Migrant Seals can increase the level of encounters the player can cancel, with green exclamation points meaning that encounter cancellation won't drain the encounter gauge, and white exclamation marks indicating that said encounter does drain the gauge by a certain amount. Red exclamation points indicate unavoidable encounters, and annoyingly, even weak enemies can frequently ambush the player.

   Combat itself fuses elements from all three original Wild ARMs titles, with a few new ones thrown into the mix, as well. Gone, for instance, is the equipment system from the original version, semi-replaced by a Personal Skill system somewhat similar to, but not exactly like, that from the third game, where each character can equip various Personal Skills having effects like increased defense and HP, heightened resistance against status ailments and magical elements, and so forth. Each character has a certain number of Personal Skill Points depending on their current level, and each Personal Skill, acquired from either treasure chests or shops, consumes a certain number of these points. Unlike in the third game, however, the player cannot adjust Personal Skills during battle.

I'll have what she's having! "It's just been revoked!"

   The three main heroes from the original, Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia, return to dish it out with the enemy, though their commands somewhat differ this time. For instance, Rudy can "normally" attack enemies by firing his ARM (Ancient Relic Machine) at them, with the player at ARMs shops able to upgrade each of its stats, such as attack power, accuracy, bullet capacity, and such. Rudy also acquires various kinds of special ammunition for his ARM with a certain number of uses each that can be increased at said ARMs shops with Alter Parts found occasionally from treasure chests (although a late-game item ultimately makes them into normal enemy drops). Defending will reload Rudy's normal ARM bullets, and his Force ability maximizing cartridge accuracy (which works for his normal attacks as well) returns, as well.

   Jack's Fast Draw abilities return as well, although players no longer have to use them a few times after their "acquisition" to "unveil" them. However, Jack's MP is much stingier in the remake, although once used a certain number of times, Fast Draws will "level up," somewhat reducing their MP consumption, up to five levels, although Fast Draw leveling is a sluggish process. His Accelerate command, guaranteeing him the first strike in a round of battle, returns, too, and doubles to increase the power of his Fast Draws. Still, even towards the end of the game, players will have to be frugal with Fast Draw use.

   While each character could equip and use Mediums in the original with Force Points, in the remake, only Cecilia can use Mediums with her Force Points, in addition to MP-consuming magic acquired with Crests at Magic Guilds. Sure to annoy veterans of the original is the new inability to use her magic outside of battle, alongside her additional inability to use the Mystic command to extend item effects to the whole party (which has been moved to one of the secret characters who only temporarily joins during the main quest and requires a sidequest near the end for permanent party membership). Cecilia's loss of Mystic can account for many tough bosses, but there is a Medium that extends spell effects to the whole party; sadly, corporate greed dictated that players have to buy the strategy guide in order to find said Medium.

Calamity Jane Victoly

   Battles themselves follow the same typical setup as in pretty much every old-school-style turn-based RPG, where the player inputs all commands for the party and lets them and the enemy beat each other up in a round. As one can expect, turn order is often unpredictable and annoyingly inconsistent at times, even when character/enemy agility remains the same. Before each round, however, the player can change party setup, and, if more than three characters are present (very rarely during the main quest, and some of these characters can only become permanent party members through late-game sidequests that, again, will likely require the strategy guide to find), the three frontline characters. After a round of battle has ended, characters not in the active party will recover HP from their Vitality Gauges, a feature inherited from the third installment.

   Escape from battle has also been restricted to one of Cecilia's spells, and if it succeeds, characters still acquire experience, money, and occasional items, from killed enemies. Ending battles normally yields similar results, and afterward, characters recover lost HP from their Vitality Gauges. Sometimes after battle, moreover, in another feature from the third game, a special treasure chest might appear, bobby-trapped or not, that the player can either have one of the active characters open or use a Duplicator to unlock (not a good idea, since Duplicators, allowing players to unlock sealed treasure chests in dungeons, are rare), for an additional item.

   Overall, the battle system has some nice ideas, although some of the changes, like the heightened difficulty compounded by Cecilia not having the Mystic command, certainly won't please fans of the original. If players die in a battle, however, they can restart it from the beginning, with each character fully recovered, no less, with a consumable Gimel Coin, although players will not acquire experience from battles restarted in this fashion. This can be something of a double-edged sword, since bosses are the main source of death for the player, yet the only truly reliable source of experience. Other options of continuing after death, such as reviving in a town at the cost of half the player's money, would have been nice, as well, especially if players find one of said bosses, or a super-difficult optional battle, to be unwinnable.

Fast Draw Magic floating sword surrounded by light

   Leveling in normal battles, moreover, can be tedious, given the general sluggish nature of combat (even on "Turbo" mode, which only slightly reduces already-long battle animations), the inability to skip Cecilia's lengthy Medium animations (it is possible to find an item allowing players to turn them off, but yet again, corporate greed dictated that they have to buy the strategy guide to find said item), and often weak rewards from them. Healing berries can also be in short supply, and in yet another feature bequeathed from the third installment, a Secret Garden becomes available to grow them, although they do so much, much slower in F. All in all, combat has its moments, but might often make players yearn for the simplicity of the original game.

   Interaction in F is superficially decent, with relatively easy menus and controls, and towns and dungeons that more resemble those in the third game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the remake consequently feels like a fresh experience. As in previous installments of the franchise, moreover, advancing through dungeons chiefly requires the use of tools, alongside the solving of occasional puzzles, although some of these puzzles can be tedious, and literal walls preventing the player from advancing the game (a certain password puzzle, for instance, requires players to recall a specific plot detail), with the strategy guide almost being a necessity to at least make it through the main game, never a good design decision.

   Not so bad, however, is the overworld system, where, similar to the second and third installments, the player must "search" to uncover initially hidden towns and dungeons. As in the second game, the player acquires a scope showing the location of these hidden towns and dungeons, and while this system is certainly unrealistic, it isn't a terrible deterrent. More problematic, however, is the often-terrible direction on how to advance the main storyline, which again could require the strategy guide. Other irritations include the inability to pause during FMVs with dialogue, the ability to teleport to visited towns but not dungeons, the lack of in-game tracking of how many treasures remain in dungeons, and a rare but nasty glitch on the overworld where large chunks of it, for some reason, magically vanish. Overall, interaction could have been far better.

Or a Fast Draw Time for some bugspray

   Always unfair it is to damn remakes for unoriginality, and since F generally feels like a different experience than the original, it does deserve some credit for being original, feeling much less like Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals than the Playstation version, although it still retains the same basic Lufia-esque storyline. All in all, F is middling in terms of creativity.

   As mentioned, F retains the original's basic Lufia-esque storyline, where the Sinistrals Quarter Knights seek to revive an ancient evil known as Mother and take over the semi-western-themed world of Filgaia, a millennium after an ancient war. While the remake's plot is deeper than the original's, and more believable because of the improved visuals, deeper doesn't always mean better, with the story pretty much exhausting many tired RPG plot elements, such as the ancient war, the ancient evil, villains trying to take over the world, protagonists with mysterious pasts, a rebellious princess, a character becoming temporarily incapacitated during the game (which seems to happen in just about every Japanese RPG for some reason), and so forth.

   The biggest shortcoming of the story, however, is the weak localization, which shockingly took about a year and a half, and the consequentially shoddy script. Dozens of grammar errors and occasional misspellings are present that even a middle-schooler could detect, alongside endless dialogue no Anglophone would ever speak, unless on drugs. Bastardized forms of mythological names, such as Zeikfried (instead of Siegfried, actually pronounced "zeek-freed") and Fenril (instead of Fenrir) also find their way into the script, with the biggest mystery still being how to pronounce Elw (and unvoiced RPGs, in this reviewer's opinion, actually need pronunciation guides). Not that the original's translation was better, but since F's writing sinks to a new low in the series, it is possible that perhaps the Japanese script wasn't that good in the first place, with the story ultimately not faring any better.

The wedding's off! Nice burn!

   Much better, however, is Michiko Naruke's soundtrack, mostly remixed for the remake. Sure to upset philistine players and purists who sing the original version's praises, however, is that many tracks have been remixed into different genres (such as Zed's battle theme and the sailing music), with other pieces, such as a few of the dungeon tracks, being replaced entirely. Admittedly, there are some tracks whose original versions sounded better, such as the Curan Abbey theme, though the remake's soundtrack is far from terrible, with the new music very well standing on its own. While the Japanese version, moreover, had voice acting in battle, complications with Sony's American branch eliminated it from translated version, luckily sparing Anglophone players the torture of hearing typically-terrible English battle cries. Overall, F is a superb-sounding game.

   Rather than using the third installment's cel-shaded graphics, F changes visual course to a style that's neither fully anime nor fully realistic, with towns and dungeons looking nice with the camera's reasonable bird's-eye view, character models being reasonably anatomical, and enemies rarely being palette swaps. Scenery textures do show a bit of pixelation during many cutscenes, in battle, and even in the FMVs, which are in effect a brighter, glossier version of the normal graphics. The anime cutscenes that open and end the game, as always, are a visual treat, and ultimately, the graphics are another of the game's strong suits.

   Finally, F is about a thirty-five hour-long game, with an endless array of sidequests, such as the Puzzle Boxes, a few extra dungeons, additional bosses, and such, naturally pushing playing time well beyond that range.

   In the end, Wild ARMs Alter Code: F is a remake that one could best describe as a Frankenstein's Monster: while it combines supposedly-good elements from the original and its two sequels, their fusion somehow doesn't always work to the game's benefit, with things such as the heightened difficulty, general tedium of playing it without a guide, and especially the weak story and translation, working against it. It certainly does have its share of redeeming aspects such as its visuals and especially its soundtrack, although both those who truly enjoyed the original and those with limited experience of the series will definitely want to take the remake with a grain, maybe a shaker, of salt.

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