|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Media Vision||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Xseed Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 11, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Branden Barrett
Cult-followed role playing games are everywhere these days. Whether it is the long forgotten Breath of Fire series or the quirky, anime presentations that encompass Disgaea, under-the-radar RPGs have always been either a love or hate experience. Wild ARMs falls under this category as well, with its unique western style being a strong focal point for gamers over the years, despite multiple gameplay faults that have given it mixed impressions amongst game journalists (i.e. not being able to get 100% completion in Wild ARMs 4).
Taking a different approach this time around, Wild ARMs XF (crossfire) is an attempt to give the series more of a strategy texture, similar to that of Final Fantasy Tactics. Hey, with the trend of releasing strategy RPGs on the PSP these days, should this come as any surprise? No. What may come as a surprise though is that Wild ARMs XF just doesn't do enough to truly stand out amongst its SRPG brethren, though that doesn't mean that there aren't any truly fantastic moments. To be honest, it's somewhat of a mixed bag.
Part of what has always made the Wild ARMs games so intriguing is their varied plots. XF continues that trend with the introduction of Clarissa and Felius Arwin, as they leave the safety of home to search for a family sword. Apparently, a drifter (the game's version of mercenaries) named Rupert got a hold of it, which didn't sit too well with the rest of the family. As they get past the early towns and venture into the world, the two are drawn into an even bigger quarrel that could affect the entire land. This land is the Elesius Kingdom, which is currently being controlled by an evil senate (Star Wars anyone?). Along the way you will come into contact with a group known as the Blanquizel Knights, and together with several other protagonists, you will try to reclaim the kingdom under siege. While this plot seems a bit unoriginal, the way it is conveyed is quite impressive. XF's script is full of great dialogue, with vibrant cutscenes that move the story along at a pace that is neither too quick nor too slow.
As mentioned before, Wild ARMs XF combines strategy with role playing, utilizing the hex system that Wild ARMs 4 and 5 brought to the table. The mechanisms of this setup revolve around moving between these hexes on an instanced playing field. What makes the hex system unique is that it takes place on a 3D plane, thus allowing you to control camera angles and reach terrain that would be impossible in a 2D setting. After you finish moving, you have the option of attacking, defending, using magical spells, grabbing an item or passing. Combat moves in turns, with initiative going to characters that possess a higher speed attribute; go figure.
Another notable stat is a character's VP, or vitality points. These points are affected by what armor you are wearing (strength), as well as how far you traverse in a particular battle. Though they can be recovered, it is far too easy to run out at an important moment in the fight. After running out of VP, your HP begins to decrease, which definitely isn't fun when you are on the last leg of a boss fight. Looks like the developers didn't learn their lesson after witnessing the abomination that was Lunar: Dragon Song.
Another issue with the game comes from an entirely different source: objectives. We should all be familiar with how strategy RPGs work. You go into battle with one or more objectives that usually revolve around clearing out all enemies on the stage. However, Wild ARMs XF definitely separates itself from the rest of the crowd by issuing a lot of sub-missions as well. This turns out to be both a strength and a weakness. On a positive note, it is good that the creators of the game were trying to be diverse and give the player other play alternatives than just brawling. Some of these "objectives" can range from defending a certain point to escaping from a group of guards unnoticed. For example, while in Creedmore Prison, you will be forced to move your characters from point to point. This is easier said than done because while you are doing this you will need to keep an eye on the moving patterns of each individual guard. These non-combative missions are a nice break from the action and the pace of XF is both steady and balanced.
Sadly, what isn't balanced is the difficulty, and it is Wild ARMs XF's greatest bane. Okay, let's talk about patience for a minute. How long have you ever had to repeat something before it became so tedious and frustrating that you threw a controller or punched a hole in the wall? Now, I don't know about you, but I've had to replace more than my fair share of gaming merchandise over my gaming career. XF brings back those fond memories by its implementation of an unintentional game approach known as "trial and error." This assessment is most evident in several of the later missions where virtually everything has to go correctly to pass an objective. This can range from having to protect someone by placing them in the best position on the gaming board to making sure not one adversary gets to your side of the field. I can't count how many times I had to replay a mission because of something minor like that, meanwhile twenty minutes and a little bit of my sanity had gone fluttering out the window. So now that we've cleared that up, it's time to talk about the other side of that trial and error approach: the class system.