Thursday, May 9, 2013

Early Thoughts on Wild Arms V

Early Thoughts on Wild Arms 5 (aka Wild Arms: The Vth Vanguard)

    I haven't played much of Wild Arms 5 yet, but I'm really enjoying it so far, and I didn't want to have to play for another 25 hours at least before I had the possibility to say something about it. When I finish it, which is likely to not be for a very long while for any number of reasons, I'll try and have a piece about it. Anyway, some thoughts so far. They're a bit out of order.
  • I have never played a Wild Arms, save the first hour of the original about a year ago, and it didn't leave a terribly strong impression other than me thinking that the intro was cool.
  • I was interested in Wild Arms 5 because of this review written by Tim Rogers, a writer who, frankly, I despise, but also recommend (read everything he's published on Action Button.) What caught my eye was what he had to say about the first dungeon of the game, the Celestial Cliff. Check it out.
  • The idea behind the Wild Arms series is that it's a JRPG based in a "Western" setting. Characters are designed in stylized western attire with bright JRPG colors and use cool-looking anime handguns in battle. In case I'm not making this obvious, that is fucking awesome.
  • Similarly, the music in the Wild Arms series, which in this game was written by series torch-bearer Michiko Naruke as well as Masato Kouda, and Noriyasu Agematsu, bears more resemblance to Ennio Morricone than Nobuo Uematsu. The weepy strings have more conviction, aided by an equally brawny mix of flutes, whistling, harmonicas, and the echoey, dry, sharp, so-distorted-it's-clear-as-day electric guitar. Here, for example, is the first track you hear when you start up the game, "The Vth Vanguard". It is excellent.

  • Perhaps the worst thing in this particular genre of video game is when the battle theme, you will hear by far the most, are bad pieces. It is, to me, absolutely crucial to the enjoyment of a JRPG that it have not an average, not a good, but a great battle theme. (I personally believe that one of the major reasons Final Fantasy VII is so fondly remembered is that it has by far the greatest battle theme ever written for a video game.) Wild Arms 5 has exactly that. Hear below, "When the Heart Ignites", the regular battle theme.

  • When you press New Game, it offers you up all of the options that you, JRPG connoisseur that you are, would futz with as soon as you got access to them anyway. For the one 7-year old kid whose playing a JRPG for the first time, all of these options will confuse the hell out of them, but people who've been playing games like this their whole life will appreciate it. Or at least I did.
  • When you're done doing that, the game has already plopped you right outside the first dungeon. To me, storytelling is by far the most important things JRPGs do. That said, good game design dictates that you not inundate your player with text for two hours before letting people play the damn game. I'm looking at you, the entire Star Ocean series.
  • JRPG battles involving only one character are a hard thing to do well, and if the system is completely turn-based, they should be avoided entirely. Thus, Wild Arms 5 does not have battles in the opening dungeon, and waits up until you pick up Rebecca in the first town to expose you to it's very interesting battle system.
  • Speaking of the battle system, holy shit Rebecca is overpowered.
  • Instead, the opening dungeon shows you that this game will have light platforming elements, and puzzle solving. The first "puzzle" (which is simply stepping on something to open a door), is a particularly effective setpiece that teaches you how to use the camera and has a light reward in the form of three coins you can pick up, which you will most likely pick up after solving the puzzle.
  • When you return from the first dungeon, the shop is not yet open in town. This. Is. Genius. Making players worry about what they buy before the first real gameplay challenges have appeared is horrible game design, especially if it isn't likely to affect the outcome, or worse, if it does.
  • Also, this game has coins lying around, singular units of the game's currency, gella, that so far have been used as light hints about what paths lead to progress (marked with coins) and what paths will lead to anything else. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this yet.
  • By my standard, the game looks pretty damn good, though the models have that "tubey" look that's particularly anime and is a constant reminder that you are indeed playing a video game. Of particular note, on the world map a light mist has been hanging about that moves gently. These are the kind of small details that can make a world really feel like it breathes.
  • I'll have to play the whole game to make further conclusions, but so far, the battle system is excellent, a brilliant mix of Final Fantasy X's turn-based system that tells you who's up next, and light tactical movement-based elements.
  • The game actually tells you how much damage you're going to do when you attack. I'm also not sure how I feel about this, but it sure is nice in comparison to Xenogears and Xenosaga, where cutting off attack strings early was both crucial to the strategy and also kind of a crapshoot in terms of knowing if you've killed the enemy or not.
  • The cutscenes in this game that are voice are shown in a cinematic widescreen that blacks off the top and bottom of the screen, which is a nice nod to the films it loves. It also leaves plenty of rooms for subtitles. I think that's pretty clever.
  • When you first meet the character Avril (yeah, I know, I also don't care,) who falls from the sky in the hands of a weird robot thing (yeah, I know, I also don't care,) it's implied to some degree that your player character, Dean, is crushing on her a bit, which sets up a horrifically cliche love triangle, but I'm willing to see where it goes. Immediately after the cutscene that sets up this implication, Dean performs a task for her, saying, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." I hate that particular phrase, but I thought it was interesting that a character used language that made a note of their gender and sexual identity in a moment where one could argue they were mildly aroused or infatuated. That's smart, one of the first signs of intelligence I expect from a game written by a published novelist.
  • After you leave the first village for the last time, this plays. To be fair, I like the song.
  • I like anime a lot. Video games are not anime. Don't treat them like anime no matter how "anime" your story is. If you want your game to be treated seriously as a game, don't make them as close as possible to something else. That is a little piece of wisdom I like to call the "David Cage Principle."
    Anyway, that's everything so far. Soon enough here on Haptic Feedback I'm gonna be giving you an in-depth analysis of Postmodernism in the original Metal Gear Solid. Thanks for reading!

- Austin C. Howe, 5/10/2013, Maryland.

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