When the first Wild Arms game appeared on these shores, it was critically well received at the time. Looking back, the dialogue was truly dire, the characters included the obligatory mute, the cocky man and the princess who can't fight but can use magic. It hasn't aged well sadly, despite having an intriguing story and introducing the world of Filgaia to us all.
Now then, pretty much 12/13 years later and here we have Wild Arms XF, the seventh iteration of the series (1-5 + Alter Code F, which wasn't released here...) and the battle make-up has changed dramatically. The battle system has more in common with the previous two installments on the PS2, Wild Arms 4 and 5 save for the larger area of battle. The battle arenas are divided into hexagons, instead of the regular squares for most SRPGs, and each battle has a varying objective, as opposed to the "defeat all enemies" ones. In early examples, you have to press a switch to open the gate but not one of your party members can fall in battle, which is incredibly hard when one of the enemy characters is level 10 with nearly 400HP while you languish on level 3 with roughly 100. And you have a dog on your side.
That's right. A dog.
He might have twice as much HP as most characters but can he 'eckers fight? Nope.
And that's the main problem with this game. It's FAR too hard. In the early stages, you are given objectives that are extremely difficult to fulfill first time and your characters are given zero equipment and very few chances of obtaining new equipment. You get a couple of opportunities to level up your characters but mostly against characters who counterattack and absorb your life energy when you attack them or literally kill you on the spot. They say it's random if the 'auto-death-attack' hits you but random means "always" in most cases and after trying to kill you a few times, on the final try, it somehow manages to work. How peculiar.
In order to totally alienate RPG beginners even further, the characters are given different classes and each time you change classes, you have to equip new weapons and items again. And again. And it's not like the classes are all that useful. The elementalist, i.e. the magician, can only use their magic if they haven't moved. Well, if you move and wait, the enemy will move and attack a character further away and out of the reach of your magic. Whose stupid idea was that? Seriously? It takes too much effort to level up every single class level and novices will feel utterly bewildered by it all.
And yet here I am making the game sound like a pretty substandard RPG that no one will enjoy. And yet there's 3 stars.
There are 3 stars because as an RPG veteran, I have taken to the game a little bit. I dislike the flaws, I dislike the difficulty curve but there's something charming about the game and it's battle system that makes me persevere. The voice acting is awful, the battles can take forever, the chances are I'll moan my way through the game and the character designs are so plain, a primary school child could have added a belt and made them more interesting.
But it's charming. The graphics are charming, the battles are deep and thoughtful and the musical score is excellent. Sure it's infuriating but so are most RPGs. It's simply a case of sticking with what you know.
A warning though, if you're new to the genre, be advised that it's like trying to climb up Mount Everest. Warm yourself up on simpler RPGs first and then try to conquer this one. You'll feel much better prepared and happier that you did.
Standard, occasionally infuriating, but ultimately charming and taxing.