Wild ARMs Alter Code: F is not only an update of the original game that started it all, but a chance for a new group of fans to introduce themselves to the series as well. Wild ARMs Alter Code: F has something for everybody, if you give the game a chance.
It's a hard thing to do as well. Wild ARMs contains a very simple plotline, even though the script has been rewritten and added to since its original release. Rudy, a wanderer and ARM wielder, teams up with Cecilia, a princess as well as a Shaman of the Guardians, and Jack, a treasure hunter looking for Absolute Power. The trio (well, quartet if you count Hanpan, the wind mouse) depart from the city of Adlehyde on a mission to restore life to their world, Filgaia, as well as stop the demons from destroying what is left of it. Along the way they meet many interesting individuals and do battle with unsavory characters, with bits of their past coming back to haunt them. But the story probably won't be the reason you play the game. It's a nice way to tie things together, but let's face it: the plot is basically just there to provide glue for the fun parts.
I was heavily reminded of Final Fantasy 9 (and a little bit of Final Fantasy 7) when I first started to play Alter Code: F. Traveling around the world map, exploring towns, and even some aspects of the battle system screamed out to me. But Wild ARMs is still quite different.
The game's battle system is very easy to master. It constantly provides helpful tutorials on how to use new moves and options as they become available, in or out of battle. This way there is no need to panic when you receive a new ability or a bizarre item. Fights are just as easy, and a lot of fun. Special objects and destinations of interest are also pointed out with glowing yellow lights to help you figure out what to do, but just hitting the hot spots in a room won't get you all that far.
Each character has their own unique abilities. Though some may seem the same as others, every available character in the game has an original set-up. Rudy uses ARM abilities, Jack uses his sword, and Cecilia can cast magic as well as call upon summon beasts. The player must harmonize all of these abilities to see success in battle. Now, mind you, the battles are nothing to worry about, especially early in the game. You almost have to try to get yourself killed if you want to see your characters die in the beginning of the game. Most enemies and bosses are easy to figure out, and can be rid of quickly with the right battle combinations. Even counterattacks are not much to get nervous about. If things do become hard to deal with (or just plain annoying), you can cancel a demon encounter, provided you have enough levels in the gauge on screen.
Weapons are automatically equipped and always available, and the only thing you need to actually equip onto characters are PS Skills, much like the AP abilities in FF9 but different in some aspects. PS Skills boost good battle effects and reduce the bad ones, so it's good to have as many equipped as you can (provided you have enough PS points to house them). For example, one PS Skill makes you character receive attacks aimed at another, while another reduces your chance of getting poisoned by 20%.
In each dungeon, Tools become your best friend. Tools are abilities available for use out of battle that make dungeon crawling, the most challenging part of the game, less of a hassle. Most of the time they are a necessity to continuing on your path. These special abilities allow you to set explosives, scan rooms for secrets using radar, talk to animals, light objects on fire, cross canyons with a grappling hook, etc. Not only are the Tools essential, but they're a lot of fun to use. Its always fun to receive a new ability and go back to previous areas to unlock secrets once kept out of reach.
Wild ARMs gets another bonus point for replay value and side quests. When you've completed the game, you're nowhere near done. Even after the story is over, there are still plenty of bosses to defeat and lots of secrets to unlock. Some of the side quests include solving Puzzle Boxes, tending a secret garden, and helping rebuild Cecilia's home town of Adlehyde. Players will also want to attempt in collecting Ex File Keys, which are hidden all over Filgaia and carried by some enemies. The Ex File Keys allow the player to unlock special goodies from the game, like sound clips, an extra game with stats carried over, and an art gallery. And like many other RPGs have done in the past, Wild ARMs has its share of secret characters, which can be recruited, provided certain conditions are met. The more you have, the more you'll get to see and do.
There is little other to gripe about, other than some confusing moments in the game where text ran together and sometimes off the screen. It's hard to catch sometimes, but you'll go back and realize that what you just scanned over didn't make any sense at all. It's also a pain to have to speak to the townsfolk to get destinations on the map to show up. Even if you know you're standing on top of a new city, you won't be able to reveal it unless somebody tells you that it's there. The maps can also be a bit confusing, and if you don't scour hard enough or look at all angles of the map, you'll miss a lot of stuff or be stuck for hours. In the background you are treated to a soundtrack that seems to fit well with old western movies, but it's appropriate, what with all this talk about ARMs and wanderers. Sound effects are great, though sometimes delayed.
It's tough to pick Wild ARMs Alter Code: F over some of the other RPG contenders that are out now like Dragon Quest 8 and Magna Carta, but it honestly deserves a shot. I'd also suggest it as a good 'starter' RPG, if you're new to the genre. It's truly a classic, and now it has shiny new bells and whistles to go with it.
And nobody has to know that you ditched that other
game for Wild ARMs. What they don't know can't hurt them, right? Right!