Review – Wild Arms 5

Let me start off this review by telling a little story I think everyone here knows.

There’s this kid, see – well, maybe I should call him a young man, he’s around 15 or 16. He lives in a small village far from civilization, where he lives on his own (his parents are dead or missing). He is brought up with good values, like honesty, kindness, independence, and obliviousness. Soon after we are introduced to him, an incredible event occurs that sends him on the path to solving many of the problems in the world (almost all of them, if you like sidequests).

Along the way he finds a few plucky characters to join him and his pair of love interests on their quest. As he progresses, he confronts the underlings of evil, finding them variously misguided, ignorant, insane, or all three. He sets the good ones free of their delusions or ignorance, and brings happiness wherever he goes.

I see some space that doesn’t have an overlay on it yet.

I wish this weren’t a summary of Wild Arms 5. I really do. If you do want to play this game, do not look forward to the main storyline.

Now that my main complaint is out of the way, let’s move along. When I started Wild Arms 5, I expected to be disappointed in nearly every way. Its predecessor has annoyingly easy combat, a stupid encounter-avoiding system, a cheesy plot, and is incredibly short. If you take into account that 5 uses the same engine as 4, you might see why I intended to be disappointed right off the bat and planned to lose interest after about 10 hours. To top it all off, this is the first Wild Arms that Michiko Naruke didn’t compose for.

And, in fact, I was disappointed for a while. The combat system seemed too easy (you get fully healed after every battle!), loading for combat takes a while, the puzzles are stupid, the voices are horrible…

And yet, after a few hours, something clicked. It was slow to start, but some small bit of excitement had been planted in me (maybe I should have that checked out). Right around that point, the game stops messing around – boss battles start becoming tough, puzzles get a touch more interesting with each dungeon, a couple of the characters reveal moderately interesting backstories (hey, take what you can get)… things come together somewhat.

The leveling and battle system are the exact same as in Wild Arms 4, but the balances are tweaked just enough that many battles are tricky. Using guns in the dungeon for puzzles felt just like the Tool system had in the earlier games, in a good way. Lots of side quests, hidden treasures, and rare items start to pop up. Badges get interesting enough that they begin to matter. Finally, Masato Kouda did every bit as good a job composing as Michiko Naruke – and I’ve always felt WA’s music was one of the series’ biggest draws. The voices were still horrible, but I figured out you can turn off the non-event ones, which was more than enough for me. The translation is quite good, too (the only constant from WA4 I’m glad they kept).

“Yeah, I used to carry around the soul of an angel and the sins of a priest but they were heavy and not very nutritious. Now i just carry different varieties of fruits and wild berries.”

One of the re-emergent features in Wild Arms 5 is the world map. It’s not like the usual RPG map, though; much like the Zelda games, it is just like being in a really, really big dungeon. Unfortunately, exploration seems punished early on. There’s good treasure hidden in a few spots, but to get there you’ll have to do dozens of battles. It just doesn’t feel worth it. A while into the game, though, you get a vehicle that lets you avoid encounters, and exploring becomes fun again.

It’s the exploration and side-quests that really make this game enjoyable. There’s not much to appreciate about the main plot, but once you reach “that point” (like in every RPG, the best time to explore is just as the villain is about to succeed in their nefarious plan), hours of good, entertaining sidequests and bonus dungeons are available.

Now, I say “entertaining sidequests”, but they’re not really all that amazing. Many involve backtracking, but by the time you beat each dungeon you can turn encounters off. They’re all fairly standard fare – beat this boss, collect these items, et cetera, but I enjoyed them. Part of the reason I liked doing them was that they allow you further interaction with some of the cameo characters.

WA5 came out around the series’ 10-year anniversary in Japan. One of the easter eggs put into the game was the reappearance of all playable characters from the first 4 games. It sounds terrible. Godawful. But it was implemented so well that they seemed no more out of place than, say, if you saw a neighbor at the grocery store. They’re unnamed, with helpful descriptions like “Amateur rocketeer” and “silver-haired drifter”, and are placed as minor characters throughout the game. Personalities are intact, but no context – as a result, for once, it feels like not every drifter is important to the story. Almost all of the subquests involve these cameos, but they manage to feel fairly natural regardless.

If only real life’s problems could be solved by moving crates.

The bonus dungeons are made even better by another minor feature. A hidden shop allows you to trade levels – yes, levels – for items. For example, I would occasionally travel back to this shop and reduce my 3 back-row party members to level 1 in exchange for some nice badges. It makes getting powerful equipment easy and relatively painless. It didn’t even take much effort to max out my levels (for the first time since Super Mario RPG), so I was able to take on most of the optional bosses without too much extra effort.

Wild Arms 5 is an RPG to look into if you don’t mind a weak plot. It has some challenging parts, a decent battle system, some fun puzzles, and is long enough to entertain. I wouldn’t recommend it over, say, Persona 3 – but it is far better than Wild Arms 4, and a fun game throughout.

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16 years ago

Cool. I could use a good sidequest oriented RPG. FFX-2 ranks up there with my favorites on PS2. You mentioned that the story isn’t really at all gripping, but are the characters interesting/charming enough to make the proceedings worth following? Also, any idea if the extra playable characters from the WA1 remake (like Emma) make appearances along with the original cast?

15 years ago

Finally started into this game with my expectations in check and, thanks in part to your honest evaluation, I’m enjoying it. It almost feels like a game that was made specifically to be played by people burned out on JRPGs who are still addicted enough to them that they have to get their fix regardless. All the expected (and somewhat tired) parts of the formula are present, but Media Vision seems to have gone out of their way to humanize the more irritating parts of the equation. Re-exploring dungeons for loot when you have the right equipment isn’t a chore because you can turn off random battles, the obligatory spastic clueless dumbass male lead is still there but the player has Rebbeca’s constant eye rolling and exasperated inner monologues to comfort them- even the old genre swindle of party member sneak-peek appearances looses its sting because you can strip them of useful equipment and you’re always given a clear warning before they part company and take all your gear with them. You weren’t kidding when you said some of the voices sucked, though. Most aren’t that bad, but the little inventor girl (Carol?) makes me shudder.