Saddle up, partner.
In the Wild West, men were burly, women were lovely, and arms were wild. Crazy, uncontrollable arms that would flail aimlessly at a square dance and knock over patrons in saloons! Some say it was too much moonshine. Others say them wild arms were just trying to cop a feel. Who knows for sure?
Sony, I guess, since they keep making Wild Arms games, most recently Wild Arms 3, the third chapter in a series of western-themed RPGs. Arms in this case are actually guns, not human appendages. Guess it was just a myth after all.
The adventure starts in medias res, as a train carrying an important shipment chugs its way across the desert world of Filgaia. Four strangers find their fates intertwined in a tense moment, guns drawn against one another in a classic John Woo face off. The action freeze frames into a character select. After choosing, you flashback and participate in their individual stories, discovering what dire events have brought them there together. It's a nice, cool way to start an RPG.
In all, the story is melodramatic, very much in the spirit of a pulp paperback western. It adheres very firmly to standard RPG clich's - the distant brooding guy who won't open his heart, the feisty girl struggling with her identity, the big tough fella, and the introspective thinker/sage round out the four.
The combat is a straightforward, turn-based affair without any time-based actions or placement strategizing. Just good classic turn-based RPG stuff like Mom used to make. Instead of traditional MP, characters have FP - Force Points. When members of your party take damage, they accumulate FP. These can then be used for special attacks.
As if to complement the plot, the controls are heavily mired in a distant age. There's still a dash button, which is odd since they started putting analog technology into these games. Nice for history buffs, though I wish they actually used the analog controllers instead of a button.
Some battles can be avoided. When an enemy randomly attacks, a white exclamation point briefly appears above your character's head. You can elect to cancel out of the battle, spending some of your 'Encounter Gauge' points. Run out of points or get hit with a red exclamation point, and it's off to battle you go. It's an interesting system, though at this point we're all a little tired of random battles, period.
The areas of interest in Filgaia are not directly located on the overworld map. Hints regarding dungeon locations will be dropped by NPCs. You then go wandering around the overworld map using the 'search' command, which sends out a dome of radar around you; if a location is within close enough proximity, it will be made visible.
On one hand, this fits with the whole "blaze-a-trail" Western theme. But if you fail to find one piece of critically vital info regarding a location's whereabouts, you are left wandering the plains in confusion. It can be frustrating.
Though the gameplay and story embrace classic RPG themes, the graphics certainly do not. Wild Arms 3 uses a vibrant combination of cel-shading and an image filter, which makes the colors look like a mix of pastels and dry brushing. It's stylistically pleasing and manages to mask the inadequacies of some enemy models. The look of the game is the most standout feature of Wild Arms 3.
In most traditional RPGs, only the important NPCs receive a little image of their likeness at the top of the text box. Everyone else gets a blank 'general townsfolk' icon. A sweet but likely to go overlooked detail of Wild Arms 3 is that every character has his own name and drawing, thus affording every NPC equal rights! We shall overcome!
Still, there's no freedom of speech in the West as there are no voices whatsoever to round out the characters. Otherwise, Wild Arms 3 is rich in Western aural aesthetics, played out with guitars, tapping, and whistling.
Wild Arms 3 plays much more like the first Wild Arms than the less spectacular second entry. Things have definitely improved and the dramatic graphics will certainly capture your eye, but when it comes right down to it, this game embraces more classic gameplay devices than it probably should. Still, it's a solid effort and is worth a look, pilgrim.