This year marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the original Wild ARMs, which gained popularity as one of the first RPGs on the Playstation before Final Fantasy dominated the system. The series is known for its “Wild West” influence and comedic elements. Unfortunately, the failure of the follow-up title, Wild ARMs: 2nd Ignition, stopped the momentum of the series, and the third and fourth installments received less recognition than they deserved.
Wild ARMs Alter Code: F is a remake of the original Wild ARMs. The story begins on Filgaia, 1000 years after a demonic invasion devastated the planet. Since then, the “enlightened” and technologically advanced Elw race, instrumental in the successful defense against the invasion, has disappeared, leaving behind their advanced technology, including massive golems and automated machine weapons (ARMs) designed to battle demons. It’s now up to humanity to fight against a second invasion led by the demonic “Quarter Knights,” who want to claim the planet as their own. To stop them, players must once again control three main characters from the original Wild ARMs: Rudy, a gun-toting adventurer capable of using the ARMs; Jack, a treasure hunter looking for “absolute power”; and Cecilia, a princess who has the unique power of communicating with Guardians, who are gods that watch over the planet and whose powers are waning as a result of the demons’ attack. The story is not very deep, and the main highlight of the game is actually the background of the Quarter Knights, which is explored in almost the same depth as the main characters. It’s a shame to see such a large world with 1000 years of history covered in such shallow detail.
The translation and localization jobs done by Agetech also get in the way of the storytelling: “Through” is mistyped as “thru” on several occasions and there is one instance where “his put himself in harm’s way,” which should have been caught. The characters spout every RPG cliché imaginable, and Rudy doesn’t utter a single word throughout the game. The dialogue is overly simple, which did not fit with the epic story of battling demons and saving the world. The simple dialogue does give way to simple jokes, however, which I found amusing.
Wild ARMs Alter Code: F plays like other titles in the series. While exploring the world of Filgaia, the X button enables the selected character to dash, making for quick movement throughout the game’s locales. In villages, players can get information from the townspeople, read books about the history of Filgaia, and obtain ARM upgrades for Rudy. Unfortunately, funds are usually pretty scarce in Alter Code: F, and upgrades are typically very pricey. On the world map, players can make use of radar technology to scan the surrounding area for new dungeons and hidden treasures. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of guidance is given throughout the game. Oftentimes you are asked to look for something that you may have seen briefly near the beginning of the game, and are required to remember where it was that you saw it. Be ready to do a lot of backtracking and exploration with the radar in search of the next dungeon.
The main focus of the gameplay is on dungeon exploration and puzzle-solving. Characters obtain different sets of tools throughout the game and employ them to solve numerous puzzles. For example, Rudy can use the bomb tool to blast through walls, while Cecilia can use her wand to communicate with animals. Players will often have to switch between characters with the use of the L2 button to access each character’s individual tools. The tools can be used at any time, and they’re fun to play around with even when they don’t have a specific use, bombs especially. The diversity of tools (four for each of the three main characters) makes for interesting puzzles that require some serious thought.
Players will face random encounters at every turn. Fortunately, there are a few innovations that reduce the annoyance of random encounters. A “migrant meter” has been added to the game, which allows players to opt out of battles by pressing the circle button. Doing so drains the migrant meter, and when it empties, random encounters are unavoidable. The migrant meter is recharged upon resting at an inn, and migrant seals, which reduce the cost of each use of the migrant meter, are found throughout the game. Nevertheless, the encounter rate is so high that players still face random enemies far too frequently. To top it off, a large majority of the dungeons contain only two unique enemies, leading to monotonous battle after monotonous battle against the same enemies. Another change made to the battle system is the vitality meter which is used to recover hit points at the end of each battle, reducing the amount of time spent healing characters.
The highlight of the battle system is facing off against the Quarter Knights. They usually present a serious challenge, and require a sound strategy to defeat. The large variety of different attacks and strategies, exemplified in Rudy’s different ARM bullet types, Jack’s various sword techniques and Cecilia’s spells and summoning of Guardians to aid in battle make boss battles a fun learning experience. In storyline terms, the demons initially toy with the main characters, letting them survive each encounter by the skin of their teeth. However, as the game progresses, the heroes are actually able to defeat them, striking fear and regret into their black hearts. This is a very interesting progression that helps define the personality of the individual characters and villains.
Unfortunately, the graphics of Alter Code: F don’t really do the conflict justice. While they are definitely a vast improvement over the ten-year-old original, they’re mediocre for the end of the Playstation 2 lifecycle. The world of Filgaia is overly muddy, with earthy browns and lifeless grays covering most of the world. This might have been done to represent the decaying state of the planet and to enhance the “Wild West” theme, but it makes for a truly unappealing visual experience. The FMV sequences are also largely mediocre. The only highlights are the anime-based cut scenes and the colorful character design, especially the diverse and detailed demons.
Thankfully, the mostly-faithful recreations of original themes composed by series veteran Michiko Naruke are nostalgic and appropriate. However, while I usually complain about low quality voice acting in RPGs, I believe Alter Code: F is hurt by the fact that there was no voice-over work. Despite the character movements being clearly expressive, the comedic nature of the title would have lent itself well to voice acting, or even bad voice acting. Characters often move their mouths and shake their fists, looking almost ridiculous as text scrolls across the screen.
Alter Code: F is packed with extras. While the main adventure can take anywhere from 30-40 hours, there is easily two or three times more content to explore: optional dungeons, powerful techniques, nearly-impossible super-bosses, hidden characters to recruit and countless treasures. There are a number of side quests (gardening, collecting books, exploring the entire world map and much more) which reward players with “Ex File Keys” that can unlock special features accessible outside of the game, including an image gallery and FMV sequence viewer. The amount of extras found in the game is staggering, and will definitely challenge those who love to explore every nook and cranny of a game. Alter Code: F is also packaged with a DVD of the anime series for those who are interested.
Nostalgia may spark an initial rush to the buy this game, but many of the flaws that would be tolerable ten years ago are now unacceptable when compared to today’s refined RPGs. The extras and a few thoughtful design choices are wasted thanks to the frequency of random encounters, the lack of guidance, and the skin-deep plot. Series fans will appreciate the update and many extras, but those who are unfamiliar with the series would be better served by staying away.