Wild Arms Advanced 3rd

   Sony's Wild Arms series has always been a solid series that has stuck steadfastly to the middle road. The first game was an American success; released early in the PlayStation's lifecycle, it benefitted greatly from a near-total lack of competition. Time, however, has brought its generic design and implementation issues to the forefront. The sequel improved on many of the original's shortcomings, but found itself somewhat overlooked in a far more competitive sea of RPGs. With Wild Arms Advanced 3rd (Wild Arms 3), Sony has taken advantage of the power of the PS2 by refocusing and reimagining the series' aesthetics nearly from scratch. The result is a creative, evolutionary step forward that continues the series' upward trend.

I really like the way it feels
I really like to ride the train

   The most immediate and striking change from previous titles is the complete overhaul of the setting and graphics. Previous Wild Arms games have flirted with themes and elements from the American West, but Wild Arms 3 places these elements front and center. Steam train robberies, horseback battles, Native Americans (er, Filgaians), and wandering desperadoes are present; each of the four main characters fits a standard archetype (or is that stereotype?) of the classical Western. This design carries over to the interface, which uses sepia-toned backgrounds and a block-serifed "Wanted poster" font.

   The background graphics are textured 3D environments, while all of the game's characters have a clean, cel-shaded look. The game uses a unique filter to create the illusion of "texture" on the cel-shaded characters, as if the polygons had been filled in with the parallel strokes of a colored pencil. The overall effect is fairly striking, and gives the game a unique, anime-style look that sets it apart from other RPGs on the market.

   Unlike previous series games, which starred three initial characters, Wild Arms 3 gives the player four. These are Virginia Maxwell, ARMs expert and leader of the team; Jet Enduro, a taciturn young treasure hunter with a mysterious pastTM; Clive Winslet, a cool-headed bounty hunter; and Gallows Caradine, a Baskar tribesman and amateur shaman.

 The raging sparks are flying
Strangers on a train

   The game starts on a dark and stormy night, the camera panning down through clouds and lightning to a steam train crossing through the wilderness. Inside one of the cars, Virginia dozes half-heartedly. An off-camera disturbance in one of the other cars shakes the train, and Virginia bolts awake. She jumps up from her seat and rushes past the protesting conductor to investigate. What she finds in this secure car is the train's special cargo: a small chest containing an unseen glowing object. Suddenly, Clive, Jet, and Gallows leap out of the room's shadows, draw their weapons, and enter into a three-way Mexican standoff with Virginia in the middle. The game freezes, and the player can now select a character.

   Each of the four characters' scenarios flashes back to a few weeks before the fated train ride. We see each character's hometown, meet some supporting characters, and learn what circumstances brought them on board that train. Jet is a treasure hunter searching ruins for a flower with mysterious powers; Gallows is guardian of his tribe's sacred artifact, the Arcscepter; Clive is trying to capture the bounty on a poisonous bird; and Virginia simply wants to leave her sleepy village in the wildlands and see the rest of the world. After completing the four prologues, the quartet discusses their mutual goals and decides, for the time being, to work together.

Oh, to catch a thief
Once again somebody was up to no good

   Working together means exploring the world of Filgaia, delving through dungeons, and fighting battles against enemies. The overworld map features the "search" ability first introduced in Wild Arms 2; towns, dungeons, and other locales are invisible on the field map until they are "uncovered" by using the search ability nearby. WA3 has signposts to help pinpoint missing locations, as well as hidden bonuses that appear while seeking out objects, making searching more tolerable. Exploration is similar to previous Wild Arms games; the dungeon environments have progress-impeding puzzles that are solved using character-specific items (in this case, bombs, a freeze ray, fire arrows, and a boomerang). Both the overworld and the dungeon maps give players a gauge to avoid enemy encounters. Just before an enemy encounter, an exclamation point appears over the player's head. Pressing "X" will cancel the battle and reduce the avoidance gauge by one or more units; initially, the gauge holds ten units. More difficult enemies require more units; extremely difficult enemies can't be avoided at all. Fighting battles gradually refills the gauge.

   The battle system is a refinement of Wild Arms 2's, balancing ARMs attacks, magic, and special abilities through a Force Point (FP) system. Each turn, the player can choose to attack, defend, cast magic, or use a special ability. Attacking or being attacked are the only two actions that raise the FP gauge. Defending reduces damage and reloads the character's ARM weapon with ammunition (each ARM can initially hold between two and five bullets). Arcana, Wild Arms 3's magic, can be cast once a certain FP level has been built up. Interestingly, spells do not consume FP; they merely have a certain level of FP as a prerequisite for use. Skills, however, do consume FP. These include special abilities (use an item on the entire party, a powerful "lock-on" attack, etc.) as well as a summon that can be used at any time. Summoning a large Guardian creature reduces the FP gauge to zero and deals proportional damage.

 Let's get lost in the magic place alone now
Feel the fire

   Many of Wild Arms 3's abilities are bestowed by equipping characters with Guardian creatures. The first and most obvious benefits are the Guardian summon ability and access to that creature's elemental Arcana. The next is "Personal Skills." Much like Final Fantasy IX's ability gem system, Wild Arms 3 lets players assign "Personal Skill Points" to a Guardian's innate Personal Skills. These abilities include things like increased elemental damage, increased chance of a counterattack, and so forth. Finally, Guardians can equip special pieces of Gear that expand their repetoire of available Personal Skills.

   The final result is a battle system that forces players to balance physical attacks that raise FP with magic spells that require FP and special attacks that consume FP. Though the implementation is different from the traditional MP system, the end result is reasonably balanced. The battle system also offers an automatic setting with variable AI, as well as a "Turbo" setting that reduces unnecessary idle animations and speeds up random encounters.

   New to Wild Arms 3 is the "ASK system," or "Approach to Selected Keywords." During conversation, certain words will occasionally be highlighted; the player can "select" these keywords to receive more explanation and possibly affect the flow of conversation. Though ultimately little more than a gimmick, the system does allow at least the illusion of some control over the direction of discussion.

And the music was like wind in your hair
The moonlight caressed your silhouette

   Though much about it is improved over previous series games, Wild Arms 3 still has a few notable shortcomings. The music and sound effects are unquestionably disappointing; they reheat generic, poorly synthesized tunes and are garnished with a bare minimum of environmental sounds. A more difficult to pinpoint but pervasive issue is a spotty lack of polish throughout. The overworld, at least in the early stages, feels hardly implemented, and the invisible towns still don't make any sense. Staircases are clunkily realized, jerking the camera awkwardly as the player moves up and down. The battle system, though an improvement over the first two games, still feels untapped and too traditional.

   None of these problems alone is enough to discourage gamers, but the cumulative impression is of a game that could have used a month or more two of balancing. Nevertheless, Wild Arms 3 is a great improvement over the first two games, sure to satsify series fans while turning a few new heads.

Preview by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
Wild Arms Advanced 3rd
Developer MediaVision
Publisher SCEI
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium DVD (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation 2
Release Date  03.14.02
Contrail announces Legend of Legaia 2, reveals Wild Arms 3
32 introduction screenshots and 120 screenshots
Main character designs / 2 character montages