Wild ARMs: Alter Code F - Staff Review  

To the End of the Wilderness
by Cortney Stone

40-65 HOURS


Rating definitions 

   Wild ARMs first appeared eight years ago during the early years of the PlayStation. It was an amalgamation of the Wild West, science fiction, fantasy, and anime. For many fans, it became a beloved classic, and it triggered a series of successors that followed its mixed themes. In the summer of 2003, Sony announced that a remake of this classic title was in the works. Finally, after many delays, Wild ARMs: Alter Code F has made the worthwhile journey to North America.

   Because it is a remake, Wild ARMs: Alter Code F is not a highly original title. Nevertheless, it feels new and comfortably familiar at the same time. The setting, characters, and basic story elements are all the same, but the rewritten script, updated graphics, and gameplay changes give it a fresh feel. The changes improve the game into an even more enjoyable experience. The rewritten script clarifies important plot points and expands character backstories, while the updated graphics fully animate the story by showing emotions, body language, and environmental effects.

   The gameplay changes are what make Wild ARMs: Alter Code F feel so different. One staple of the series is using character-specific tools in dungeons and towns to solve puzzles and obtain treasure. While most of the tools are the same, some were changed. Rudy's rocket skates, Cecilia's pocketwatch and water jar, and Jack's lighter are gone. Instead, Rudy lobs grenades, Cecilia waves wands that control wind and fire, and Jack leaps and stomps with special boots. Naturally, dungeons have been completely redesigned with new puzzles and layouts, and these new tools are suited for the challenges. The encounter cancellation system, enhanced world map, and overworld search function from the second and third installments of the series have been added to Alter Code F as well.

Wait, this isn't Metal Gear Solid! Wait, this isn't Metal Gear Solid!

   Combat centers on the same cross-shaped menu that pervades the series, while integrating a few changes and some battle features from Wild ARMs 3. Characters move around the field in the heat of battle; critical hits result in visually satisfying "blow away" animations in which the enemy is knocked backwards, as seen in western movies. Characters may also enhance their attacks and defenses by equipping Personal Skills, which are collected as items and are no longer dependant on the Guardian Mediums, as Cecilia has sole access to the Guardians' power. Other enhancements from WA3 include experience bonuses, the VIT gauge, cancelable attacks at the cost of Force, and trapped treasure chests appearing after battle.

   The basic combat choices are still the same, but character abilities have changed. Instead of having four Force abilities, each character has only one. Only Cecilia can summon the Guardians in battle, and she no longer has her Mystic ability. A few non-playable characters from the original are now playable. They temporarily join to help clear a dungeon or two, but at the end, all but one may be permanently recruited. Each one has highly useful abilities, and they may be switched in and out during battles.

Cecilia gets a makeover. Cecilia gets a makeover.

   While the visuals of Alter Code F are not the best, they are still above average. The developers opted to give the 3D graphics a clean, smooth anime feel, and the game also includes excellent opening and closing anime sequences. Pivotal scenes in the story become captivating. The characters' body language is usually smooth and credible, although a couple of serious facial expressions end up appearing rather silly. Attack, summon, and spell effects are all well done, and text boxes and menus are clear and easy to read. The only problem is an annoying menu bug that will cause a frame to randomly jiggle on the screen. Fortunately, this is a very rare occurrence, and closing and reopening the menu fixes this problem.

   The real treat of Wild ARMs: Alter Code F is its sound. The music consists of remixes and a few original songs composed for the added material. It is Michiko Naruke's finest work to date. Most of the remixes are superior to their originals, and in a few cases, they are dramatic improvements over their predecessors. The music of Alter Code F has more of a Wild West feel; it includes more acoustic guitar, banjo, flute, harmonica, and whistling. Sound effects are crisp and on-target, although some seem to have been taken from Wild ARMs 3.

Jack and Hanpan get into trouble. Jack and Hanpan get into trouble.

   The only drawback to Alter Code F is in interaction -- specifically the localization. While the controls are easy and trouble-free, the translation occasionally misses the mark. Generally, the text flows smoothly -- even as well as any Wild ARMs fan could want -- and there are no errors. However, at various points of the game, the text will suddenly become bland or even sloppy; grammar flubs, randomly placed commas, and spelling mistakes start cropping up. There are even a couple of spots where a line runs completely off the screen. These mistakes are not frequent, but they are minor irritations in cutscenes. On a positive note, Agetec gave special attention to the most memorable cutscenes, and these are presented so well that they compensate for the mistakes elsewhere. Another point of interest is that the voice acting and singing present in the Japanese version have been removed. While the removal of voice clips is not a problem, the lack of singing during particular musical pieces is a disappointment. The vocal pieces on the OST are striking, and hearing these in English in the game would have enhanced the beauty. Fortunately, the overall quality of the music is outstanding even without vocals.

   Wild ARMs: Alter Code F is a rather easy game. Any player who spends time setting up Personal Skills, upgrading Rudy's ARM, and seeking out some bonus items and Guardians will have many victories in combat. The dungeon puzzles -- hallmarks of the series -- offer decent mental challenges as well. The game can be completed in around forty hours, while completionists will revel in the many hours of side quests, which includes hunting down Guardians, special items, and other hidden treats. For those who want a real challenge, there are brain-bending puzzle boxes and the 100-level Abyss -- as seen in Wild ARMs 3.

   Wild ARMs: Alter Code F truly succeeds as a remake; it holds true enough to the original to invite nostalgia, while presenting a fresh experience. It is certainly worth purchasing -- either as a longtime fan or a newcomer to the series -- and the soundtrack is worth picking up as well. Even though the localization needed more care, the title is still above average, and it stands as an excellent remake of a great classic.

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