Reviewed: May 20, 2008
Released: March 11, 2008
When you think of all of the successful role-playing games that have come out over the last couple decades names like Final Fantasy, Wild Arms, Mana and the ďTales ofĒ series are usually always at the top of peopleís lists. And itís no surprise that the developers of these namesakes are continuing to make us want even more of these fabled series.
The Wild Arms series is one of those RPG series that has a decent fan base here in the US, where as the 12 year running series is still a cult classic in Japan. The series has been a PlayStation exclusive since its conception in 1996 and that has not changed. What has changed is that the newest endeavor by Media. Vision is not located on a console but rather a handheld. Thatís right the newest addition to the Wild Arms franchise can now be found on the PlayStation Portable. This brings me to the point of this article as I give you the review of Wild Arms XF for the PSP.
Wild Arms XF (or Crossfire as it is pronounced) marks two firsts for the series. The first obviously is that it is the first to be on a handheld, a major feat, and the second is that unlike all the previous titles XF is a Strategy RPG. Before you start groaning, let me say that it isnít as bad as it sounds. It still looks and feels like the Wild Arms we all know, just with a different way of playing them.
You play as Clarissa Arwin, the main protagonist, who has followed Rupert Dandridge to the Kingdom of Elesius to take back her motherís sword from the thief Rupert. Along the way she and her half brother Felius, get caught up in the countries affairs and things start to get real complicated from there on out.
First off I want to say that I am a big fan of RPGs, having played at least one of every major RPG franchise including Wild Arms. As far as SRPGs (or strategy RPGs) go, I am no stranger to them. Among my favorites are the FF Tactics series and more recently Jeanne Dí Arc for the PSP.
The gameplay is pretty straight forward as most titles in this genre go. The interface of XF is pretty much broken down into 4 categories: World Map, Towns, Menus and Battle. The World Map is your means to navigate between locations or battles. However unlike the original Wild Arms, there are no monsters that pop up and attack you at random. Simply select your destination and your character will move there.
The Towns interface is all Menu selection so there is no aimless wandering to be down. You can find everything you need quickly and efficiently. Towns are also where you buy Heal Berries, Potions, Antidotes and other necessities for battle. Later on during your adventure you will also gain access to Synthesizing and hiring Drifters to join you party. I will get to talking about Synthesizing and Drifter hiring in a little bit.
I added menus as one of the 4 main interfaces, because you will spend a good deal of time going through them before and after each mission. In many RPGs, itís all about the fighting and fighting effectively, here itís more of a matter of outsmarting your opponents. In Wild Arms XF you must find the right combination of classes if you plan on succeeding in your missions. There are often times where fighting is not the best option. This game is unforgiving if you pick the wrong classes or moves, one false move and youíre more than likely doomed for the rest of the mission. However there is an option to give up and start the mission again with a different approach.
Probably one of my favorite parts about Wild arms XF is the class selections. There are 20 different unique classes that you will get to play around with. You only have access to 4 classes besides the default one for each player that you have access to. A few of my personal favorite classes are the Nightstalkers, Grapplers and the Excavators. The cool thing about all the different classes is that each is unique and has certain skills that are more beneficial to some missions than others. For example I like the Grapplers because they have a higher VP count and are able to use throwing attacks that can inflict serious damage based o the enemyís weight.
I also like being able to change classes is that you can even use skills from other classes not native to their own. A perfect example would be if I needed to be able to use some Elemental attacks but still wanted to be able to use my main physical weapons. I would make Clarissa primary class Dandelion Shot (her default) and make her secondary class Elementalist. That way she could still use her gun and pull off magical attacks during battle.
I would go more in depth about the classes but the amount of possible class combinations and skills is just staggering. Things will basically boil down to pure trial and error sometimes. Donít get discouraged if you fail, because you will, trust me. The one thing that I will mention is that if you plan on using other classís skills, then you will need to play that class and level up some. There are no free skills they all have to be earned.
Iíve been mentioning things like VP and weight when it comes to actually fighting in Wild Arms XF. Iíve done so because they all play are an important part in surviving the battles. The damage inflicted on you or your enemies will vary depending on the conditions and locations of all the characters on the battle field. Some attacks will do more damage based on the targetí weight or elemental weaknesses so knowing what attacks to use are your main key to success in Wild Arms XF.
The battle system itself has come a long way over the last few Wild Arms titles. Whether or not it was for the better or worse is up to the eyes of the players. The last 2 Wild Arms titles both used a Hexagonal battle field of sorts, although both remained purely RPGs. Both featured a seven hexagonal based field and characters were able to move back and forth between them.
Wild Arms XF however uses a full hexagonal battle system seen in title like Jeanne DíArc. The battle field is made up of several little hexes that vary in size and characteristics. Knowing what each type of hex is and how it affects your characters in battle is also something that you will need to focus on while playing this title. Certain tiles will be water, mud, poisonous water and each will affect your characters ability to attack or move.
As Iíve said above this title is unforgiving in battle. The only way to succeed is to play smart. This title is definitely not for anyone looking for a casual RPG to play. Even for seasoned gamers this title may come off a bit strong. To make things even harder, there really is no warm up levels. Youíre pretty much thrown into this with the assumption that you know who to play it already. There are however helpfully hints given out via Labyrinthiaís Direct Event Report (or D.E.R.) on how to proceed with each mission. How you do it, however is strictly up to you. The D.E.R. will not only give you a overall status of your current objective(s) but also the conditions to win and those of failure.
Some missions will require you to protect a NPC until they are safely across the map and others will have you defeat all or some of the enemies to proceed. Again itís all about being aware of the situation and stipulations.
The two other things that I will mention about the gameplay is that you need to be careful when changing classes. When you change a characterís class they are stripped of all weapons/armor and items they may have been equipped with. Trust me; it is no fun going into battle, only to realize you screwed up when you go to attack. The second is that you can change the button configurations around to please just about everyoneís style in the system configuration menu. Not that you will change them, but itís still a nice option.
Graphically, Wild Arms XF is pretty amazing. I know that this title will surely be seen as nowhere as good looking as games like Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core both in animation and gameplay. To an extent I agree, with what some may say, however the real beauty of Wild Arms XF not in its battles but in its presentation. SRPGs have never been known for their graphical quality when youíre fighting your enemies. These titles depend on a solid story and a strong tactical mind.
The battle fields at isometric and the characters are mere animated sprites, but that doesnít make this tile any less of a gem in my eyes. The beauty definitely starts with the storyboard comic style cutscenes. The images are clear, crisp and feature some pretty cool flash animation when necessary. The story of this fantastic journey is shown during these moments. I would have like to have seen at least one fully animated sequence but Iím still pretty satisfied with it the way it is.
One definite plus for me is that the series return to its western cowboy meets medieval European style. I kind of missed it when having a go at Wild Arms 4. I somehow or another missed on number 5 so it was definitely a welcome change indeed.
The sounds of Wild Arms XF pretty much set the mood of the entirely journey. The awesome western inspired soundtrack blends seamlessly with the action and even during the cutscenes. The battle sounds implemented wer3e also pretty cool. The one thing that bugged me a bit was the English voice acting. It wasnít all that bad but one you hear the fight chants and spoken dialect in Japanese, there is no going back. Well at least for me there wasnít. There is so much more raw emotion out of the Japanese voice acting than the English counterparts.
And as I just mentioned, there are times where the text at the bottom of the screen are spoken. This usually occurs when there is a major story event about to be played out. You can only change the spoken dialog from English to Japanese but you can also control the volume of the battle voices, background music, sound effects and the main story voices as well.
There is also a nice bonus feature for those of us who like bonus material built into our games. There is a US- exclusive inclusion of a Music Library containing 20 select musical tracks form the game itís self that can be accessed at any time from the gameís main menu and the system menu within the game. This is actually a pretty sweet feature for us Americans considering we probably wonít see the light of day of a soundtrack release here in the US.
Wild Arms XF get high marks from me for the value department. Getting 60 hours out of console RPG is pretty impressive, but getting 60-100 hours out of a handheld SRPG is just mind blowing. I can definitely guarantee that you will be playing this title from start to finish for at least that long.
Wild Arms is so difficult during some missions that you will have to do some serious grinding to be able to progress. Iím not talking Sephiroth hard but letís just say I failed quite a few times during a few missions. I meant what I said when I said that this title is definitely not for casual gamers. You just might just find yourself a bit overwhelmed. It took be a solid hour to complete one mission in this game. Not because it was overly difficult, but because it required a lot of tactical thinking.
While I was playing through this gem, I kept saying this title is almost too much for a handheld. Wild Arms XF would transition nicely on a console gameplay wise, but the graphics would be the death of it if ported over. The Sony PSP is quickly becoming the new home for some of the most mind blowing RPGs and I can safely say that Wild Arms XF can join the list of reasons to own a PSP. Wild Arms XF retails for $40.00 dollars and is worth any penny.
Overall, I was very impressed with this title. I had my doubts at first on how switching from the standard RPG formula to a Strategy RPG would affect the overall feel of the Wild Arms franchise. But my concerns were quickly put six feet under, as I fell into a love/ hate relation with XF. Sometimes I felt like throwing my PSP out a window and other times I felt a sudden gratification after finally beating a difficult mission.
I recommend Wild Arms XF to anyone that is looking for a new challenge or another reason to buy a PSP. Strategy RPGs just donít get any better than this. I seriously look forward to the title that beats this one.