Wild Arms Alter Code: F Preview

The Wild Arms series returns to its roots in this remake of the original PlayStation game that started it all.

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Back in 1997, in the PlayStation days of yore, months before anyone on these shores was captivated by Final Fantasy VII's steam-punk siren song, the original Wild Arms was released. The role-playing game featured 3D battles (brand new, at the time), a mix of traditional turn-based random battle fare with Zelda-esque puzzle-solving, and a unique Wild West-flavored setting. The game has become something of a cult classic, and now after producing two sequels, Media Vision has created the cryptically named Wild Arms Alter Code: F, a retelling of the original adventure. We took some time with a preview build of the game to tinker with the new battle system and to see what else has changed on Filgaia after seven years.

Rudy, Jack, Cecilia--the old gang's all here, but this time you've got some help.
Rudy, Jack, Cecilia--the old gang's all here, but this time you've got some help.

The most significant alterations to the game stem from the fact that the roster of playable characters has expanded from three to six. The original Wild Arms centers around the tale of three companions fighting to save the planet Filgaia from the ravages of the Metal Demons, who like all good villains, are hell-bent on the destruction of the world. The three characters are Rudy, a young man who wields a form of forbidden technology, the ARMs; Jack, a swordfighting treasure-hunter who travels with his blue rodent companion, Hanpan; and Cecilia, a young princess trained in magic who has the ability to communicate with creatures called Guardians.

This time around, you can also control three additional characters who were cast in the original game but weren't playable. Emma is a brilliant scientist who researches and repairs the ancient ARMs; she fights with a strange, gunlike contraption and is able to "download" abilities from enemy creatures in battle. "Calamity Jane" Maxwell is a feisty (and greedy) young woman with a penchant for treasure, and she also happens to be a skilled gunfighter. McDullen is Jane's faithful butler who patiently tries to temper her mercurial nature (and largely fails), supporting her in battle with his prowess at swordsmanship. We weren't given any details on how the storyline will be expanding to incorporate these new characters, but the game's script has been reworked, so the adventure should be expected to go through a bit of an evolution.

Due to the new six-character party system, Wild Arms' battle system has also gone through some changes. The options in battle are still much the same as in the original game; you'll still be able to choose either a standard melee attack, one of the special attacks (or magic) that are unique to each character, or use force points that accumulate during battle to use a force ability (which will let you do things like increase your accuracy or summon a Guardian). However, when you have more than three characters with you, you'll also have a switch option available. This option lets you switch out one or more characters in battle for characters that you have in reserve, much like Final Fantasy X. We only got to play around with this in an early dungeon, so it will be interesting to see what, if any, effects this ability has on tactics and difficulty as the game wears on.

Wild Arms Alter Code: F also borrows a feature from Wild Arms 3, the migrant system, which is essentially a meter that fills as you fight battles. So long as your migrant meter isn't empty, you can avoid the random battles in the game's dungeons and overworld by pressing the X button whenever a white exclamation point appears over your character's head. Doing so will take a section off the meter, so you won't be able to avoid battle indefinitely, but it's a helpful way to avoid pesky battles while you're jogging around or working on solving a puzzle.

All the 1997 uglies have been ironed out in exchange for some nice, upgraded visuals.
All the 1997 uglies have been ironed out in exchange for some nice, upgraded visuals.

Visually, the game has been brought into the modern day--gone are the sprites and the chubby, superdeformed character battle models of yesteryear. The graphical overhaul brings the characters and their world into fully realized 3-D life, and the result looks pretty good. Fans of the original Wild Arms in particular will appreciate how the models of Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia now closely resemble their artwork, down to the ever-present bandage on Rudy's cheek. The dungeon we were able to explore was a simple one, but the flat original was exchanged for a nice, craggy cavern with depth and shadow to it--a large improvement. The battle music is likewise an upgraded, more layered version of the old tune.

Fans of the original Wild Arms game should be in their comfort zone when they get to reunite with the old gang, and fans of role-playing games in general, as well as this series in particular, should keep an eye on this revisited, refurbished classic. The exhaustively titled Wild Arms Alter Code: F is expected to make it onto store shelves late in 2004.

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