By Spencer . August 29, 2007 . 8:37pm
One hour into Wild ARMs 5, Dean's shovel breaks, a girl falls from the sky, he gets a set of ARMs that act like shoulder swords and the game begins. You begin to explore the field and start searching for treasures. Remember the scanning system in the old Wild ARMs games? It's back in Wild ARMs 5. When you press square a green aura extends past you. If a treasure chest is nearby it appears out of thin air and you can collect the heal berries or whatever goodies are hidden inside. I imagine the searching system may entice players to search the corners of the world map instead of running directly from dungeon A to dungeon B. It didn’t do it for me though. I wasn’t interested in extra stat boosting badges even though they could have made fights easier.
I've said this before, but I really like the HEX combat system. You have more strategies than standard turn based combat because you have to think about positioning your characters and choosing attacks. If you want to quickly heal your party you can group up all your characters in the same HEX and use a heal berry. However, all the characters take damage in the same HEX if an enemy attacks it. Of course you can take advantage of this too by cornering enemies into the same HEX to end battles quickly. Boss battles are a different story. They last longer and you may run out of bullets. Once you run out of shots you have to guard a round to reload.
Right before the second boss fight you get to equip mediums, metallic bracelets that act like an interchangeable class system. You can give Avril the sea medium to give her healing spells or the sky medium to give her blast, a basic magic attack. Since skills are linked to the medium you can freely change Dean’s class to a magic user or an attacker after each battle. Mediums are customizable too and you get to choose if you want to learn a new spell or support ability.
Getting the mediums couldn’t have come at a better time, since the second boss is resistant against gunshots. The first step in this battle is to block the green HEX so the monster can’t get a wind attack boost. Then you want to start casting blast and utilizing the force meter to do Dean and Avril’s team combination attack. As long as you have characters in different squares finishing the battle shouldn’t be a problem. Win the battle and like any other RPG you’re back on to the field map of Filgala. Wild ARMs 5 marks where you need to go next, so if you put the game down for a week to go to Burning Man you can get right back in it. The save point also gives players a hint of what to do next too. This might be minor for some, but when you’re juggling RPGs these features are a godsend.
Until you get the monowheel the world map is pretty standard. The dungeons in the Wild ARMs series aren’t. They tend to be more interactive with platforming elements and block pushing puzzles. These aren’t brain bending obstacles. Usually, you have to slide kick something into place and you can skip out on some of the optional routes if you don't want to horde treasure. Sticking with the Wild West and guns theme Dean, the blue haired protagonist, can shoot stuff too. Switches can be shot from a distance and invisible purple crystals can be gunned down recharge your mana. Strangely, Dean can also shoot treasure boxes too and receive an intact item from a distance. While jars explode, Dean can’t shoot oncoming enemies since fights are random. If you want to focus on exploring you can turn off encounters. All you have to do is find an orb with a Sol Niger and beat it in fight. Unlike other games random encounters aren't permanently turned off, you can toggle fights at your will.
It’s a good thing that the gameplay elements in Wild ARMs 5 keep players engaged because the story is only so-so. On the plus side the cast is likeable even though you have your traditional, dense-with-a-sense-of-justice JRPG hero and a mature female best friend as the two main characters. There is a kid in the cast too because every RPG needs a genius pre-teen that shoots missiles. The story does start out interesting when Avril falls from the sky without her memory. Right at this moment the sky was the limit, but instead of going for something thoughtful you have a snappy dressed evil group trying to control the world. And I was hoping we would have cowboys versus ninjas. The story doesn’t grip you, but then again Wild ARMs was never known for telling an epic tale. The series is based on lighthearted RPG cross platforming fun and Wild ARMs 5 exemplifies that. Especially after playing so many dark RPGs, Wild ARMs 5 cheerful tone and colorful characters was a refreshing change.
Wild ARMs 5 never takes itself too seriously either. The game doesn't shove philosophy in your face. Instead it infuses humor from Dean's bumbling antics and Rebecca's sarcasm. The change is refreshing.