By Rolando . March 12, 2008 . 8:09pm
Wild ARMs XF is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the game does a good job of taking the Wild ARMs series into SRPG territory by offering a unique outing and a bit "unorthodox" yet rewarding approach to battles. At the same time, though, the game doesn't bother holding your hand when reaching battle objectives or engaging in combat. To say the game is undeserving of your attention would be an understatement. If anything, Wild ARMs XF is more of a seasoned SRPG fan's kind of game simply because the game focuses a lot more on strategy and timing and places the stapled archetype of the collective genre (grind to level up and become powerful) in a corner where it's no longer important. The reason I say grinding does no good is because it really doesn't.
Instead, the game forces you to really take advantage of all the strengths each of the game's classes has and apply them to a vast majority of battles. As a matter of fact, most battles have an objective that require the use of a certain class(es) to get through; and if you'd rather not bother using the class(es) in question, the odds of you having a hard time getting through the battle and surviving are really, really, high. If that isn't convincing enough of its challenge, then perhaps knowing each of your characters have Vitality Points that deplete per turn can make you consider how important strategy and timing are to the game. Whether the use of Vitality Points can be attributed to poor design or clever design is really up to you and how you approach SRPGs; but for me, VP is smart. It not only makes you keep an eye on your characters and more aware of the flow of battle, but it consciously makes you aware that the time in battle is not infinite and that victory needs to be achieved before your entire party dies out.
Despite these challenges, Wild ARMs XF can be a rewarding experience if given the time to fully understand how it works. Prior to the beginning of battle, you will always receive a report (called D.E.R.) that will fully explain the current battle situation and make careful recommendations such as the necessary use of certain classes and what things you need to do with those classes to ensure victory. After reading the report, you have the ability to change character classes on the fly and equip skills and equipment, set up your desired team of heroes, then begin the battle. If you're wondering if the game makes full use of the HEX system made famous in Wild ARMs 4 and 5, you can put your mind to ease knowing Wild ARMs XF doesn't fully use the system.
The HEX system is only limited to actually being able to attack enemies on your corners, something that I'm sure many people have actually been wanting to do instead of manually positioning your characters to a straight line and attacking the enemy, and initiating Formation Act attacks (increased damage) when two or more of your team members are on opposite sides of the enemy. Other than that and being able to move and attack diagonally, battles are of typical SRPG fare with enemy and player movements shown on the turn order bar to the right of the battlefield.
Character customization is another rewarding feature of the game. Unlike other SRPGs that feature a job system that don't allow customization, Wild ARMs XF allows you to equip learned skills from other classes and apply them to whatever new class you choose that has a unique skillset of its own. As mentioned earlier, grinding in the game does no good in raising your level and increasing your stats to help you literally breeze through the game; however, because all your party members have both a regular level and a class level, grinding only importance shines when you need to level up your class level and learn new skills to increase the many advantages you may have in battle.
Of course changing classes also strips your character of his/her current equipment, so manually going back to your inventory and re-equipping equipment can be a bit of a drag. Other small things to mention are the ability to purchase party members (aptly titled Drifters) from a bar as well as the usual purchasing of weapons and armor from shops. Grinding character class levels can be done in free zone areas, and making use of synthesis shops to create useful items comes in handy as the latter missions become increasingly difficult.
In providing a story about Clarissa whose objective changes from pursuing a man to saving the kingdom of Elesius from a looming threat and, eventually, saving all of Filgaia from turning into a barren wasteland, Wild ARMs XF does what it does best; provides the player with omnipresent challenges that never offer a dull moment. Perhaps the challenging aspect of the game may turn off a lot of people who'd rather breeze through a game; but for the lot of you who fancy mastering a class and enjoy having challenges within a challenge, then Wild ARMs XF might just be your cup of tea.
Just know what you're getting into before you consider it. Timing and strategy are valuable assets in this game that cannot be abused or taken for granted.