For all intents and purposes, the PS1 managed to carry the RPG haven mantle that first originated with the SNES. In the PS1 era, we have seen many RPG games spring besides the more famous ones. Or rather, besides Final Fantasy.
Naturally, the volumes of JRPGs released meant few could stand out, especially when the rules of the genre have started to stagnate.
Enter the Wild Arms series, which managed to stand out from the rest of the pack with its unique setting. While other RPGs usually employ a high fantasy setting, or even a more modern one. The Wild Arms series chose to be influenced by the Wild West and spaghetti western, but be impeccably Japanese as well.
Its like finding a treasure in the middle of the desert
With its combination of quality gameplay, interesting puzzles, unique Wild West setting, and excellent soundtrack, the Wild Arms series managed to hang on with the RPG giants for a while. Even having an anime series at one point.
Yet, the series couldn’t keep consistent interest, and with a final game in 2007 released for the PSP.
Just what the Hell happened here?
The Wild Arms series consiste of five numbered RPG games, and the final PSP game which is basically a very different game.
It has been created by Media.Vision, and largly overseen by producer, Akifumi Kaneko.
All games were released exclusively on Sony platforms, which makes sense as the series started with direct Sony support. It was part of the early agressive effort to build the Play Station library. This relationship apparently stopped with the fourth game, where Sony Entertainment no longer assume publishing duties.
A) The Main Series:
While sharing the name of the world, Filgaia, all numbered games are not related to each other. Elements of the series, such as guns, robots, and the Wild West desert theme are present in each game, but to different degrees.
All critical rating are from Gameranking.com, and commercial performance is based on some research by me.
1- Wild Arms:
The first Wild Arms game was in fact one of the first RPG games on the PS1, and it benefitted greatly from being released before the ground breakinf Final Fantasy VII. In such a way, it managed to stay away from direct comparision and be judged based purely on its merits.
While Wild Arms is not known for it engaging of deep battle system, it tried to engage players out of battle as well. With the introduction of dungeon puzzles, which are navigated through tools specific to each character, Wild Arms managed to become more engaging than the average JRPG out of battle.
Featuring an awkward block 3D style which didn't age well, the game first introduces us to the world with an excleent Anime opening sequence that became a staple of the series, along with an excellent soundtrack. This makes traversing the many towns and cities of the world fun just to listen to the tunes, if not because of the interesting graphics
In all of this, the game tells a story about how technology evolves to both help humanity, as wells used by humanity to destroy. The theme of environmentalisim started with this game, but the focus is mostly on the silet protaginist brandishing a forbidden weapon, and his companions as they fight both gods and men.
2- Wild Arms 2:
The second Wild Arms game might be one of the most ill treated games on the PS1. Being released after the ground breaking Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, the game was criticized from the beggening for not being like them. For having blockier graphics than FFVIII, and for simply not being another Square RPG. Current view of the game is actually much more positive than contemroary reviews.
Personally, I consider this the best game in the franchise, and actually a better game that FFVIII. Featuring an excellent cast of characters, and a story that maanges to be interesting throughout, the game delivers in both plot and gameplay. While I don't remember much of the plot of games I played 16 years ago, Wild Arms 2 had many memorable scenes which I did not only enjoy while playing the game, but influenced how I viewed game plots in the future as well.
While the turn-based battles are nothing major, the game continues using the puzzle-base dungeons of the first game to a great effect, helped by a less annoying random encounter rate. It also improves on the graphics of the first game, and has one of the best soundtracks of the PS1 era.
3- Wild Arms 3:
I didn't appreciate Wild Arms 3 when I first played it in my early teenage years as much as I do now. While I enjoyed it, and finished the game, I thought the game lacking in many ways. First, I disliked the fact that the main protaganist, Virginia, was female. Second, I hated that there was only four characters in the part. Finally, I didn't dig the cartoony cell-shaded look.
Today, I recognize those "flaws" as the game's most pronounced strengths. Virginia Maxwell is by far the best Wild Arms main character, with realistic development and a human side that we manage to emphasize with as we continue the journey with her. As for the rest of the party, they were fixed from the start as four, and continued from on as four, granting the party a better way to develop. Finally, the cell-shading was excellent, and it fit well with the desert world of Filgaia.
Years after the fact, I recognize Wild Arms 3 as one of the best RPGs on the PS2, a system not wanting in that genre. As the final Wild Arms game following the classic style, it was a huge send-off to old school JRPG gameplay and Wild Arms puzzles.
Of particular note though is the final boss, which is annoying as hell. It doesn't have two, three, or even four final forms. Its a battle featuring nine bloody forms to fight through before you manage to see the end credits. Bloody hell.
4- Wild Arms 4:
The fourth game is where the series shifted the most. Not only did the game significantly change its traditional battle system and dungeon puzzles, for some reason it actually changed composers (hence sound style) and adopted a more modern look than the Wild West style the series is famed for. Not to mention the fact that at this moment Sony stepped out of publishing duties for North America all together.
Obviously, the scale of these changes surprised and antagonised the alreay limited fan-base. I cannot understand why Media.Vision didn't just try to implement these changes more gradually, because through Wild Arms 4, they couldn't carry with the continuety that might have happened afer the well-recieved Wild Arms 3.
However, while the changes were jarring, this wasn't a bad JRPG. In fact, the confusing HEX battle system is fun once you get the hange of it, and different enough if you are fatigued form turn-based battles. Ironically, if the game didn't attempt to change so much so fast, this could have been a welcome change to the formula. Instead, it was treated as an agressive side-way step that disregarded the series's identity.
5- Wild Arms 5:
Wild Arms 5 sees the series back to its Wild West roots, while also showcasing all the playable characters from the past games in elaborate cameos to celebrate the series's 10 year anniversary. Since this is the last mainline Arms game to be released, this is one bitter-sweet send-off.
Directly building on the mechanics of Wild Arms 4, the game features a better HEX battle system, and a game environment that is fully scaled. This means there isn't any overworld, as the game's locations are connected as if in one big dungeon. Ultimatley, this marks the final departure of the series from its old school RPG roots, which was along with many other RPGs in the PS2 attempting to modernize.
Still, Wild Arms 5 is a pretty solid game, with the added bonus of meeting your past faovrite characters.
B) Other Titles:
These are basically the two games that are not numbered in the series
1- Wild Arms Alter Code: F:
Remasters and remakes were less common back in the PS2 era, but there were still many examples of both. Alter Code: F, is a completer remake of the first Wild Arms game, transforming that game's cluncky PS1 graphics to the low res 3D models of the PS2, as well as expanding the story.
This is the defenitive version of the first game, as it faithfully updates the graphics while retaining both gameplay and story elements. It makes me wish Wild Arms 2 had such a treatment. At least, that is what it would have been if not for a terrible localization effort and a myriad of technical issues.
Ironically, despite this remake being not such a good job, it might be a central reason on why Media.Vision tried to shake up the series after it. Managing to barely sell 100K units, I doubt the game managed to justify the cost of the remake. Also, it must have sent signs to Sony that the West are simply not that interested in JRPGs and hence this was the final Wild Arms (and maybe JRPG?) game published by SCE.
2- Wild Arms XF:
With a console series publishing a title on a portable, naturally, it thought changing genres would make sense. In the PSP, Wild Arms became an SRPG.
Its worth noting that Wild Arms FX actually is very much a Wild Arms game in terms of story, setting, and style. Ironically, even though the gameplay is widely different, FX manages to pay tribute to the HEX battle system of 4 and 5 by having HEX tiles instead of square.
Of course, being a spinoff of a not so popular game in a not so popular console, the game didn't particularly light the world on fire. Although it was a decent enough SRPG.
When analyzing why any series die, the most obvious answer would be a financial decline. Sometimes, that decline is related to the series itself, or it is related to the developers and/or publishers of the series. Still, it is always interesting to research those exact trends, and learn the reasons behind such a decline. In many way, we wish the gaming industry would actually do this to learn lessons, but we know that they unfortunately rarely actually do so.
Lukewarm Commercial Reception:
The Wild Arms series was never a huge seller. Only the first game managed to reach the million units mark, and barely at that. From that point, the series didn't experience a true downward trend, rather a normalizing in the 500K units line. We could assume that another Wild Arms game will sell around that number.
For a series that is known for reusing assets, and not investing much in production values, we can conclude that Media.Vision probably managed to bring a little profit with what little sales they had.
Consequently, with the number of units being normalized at 500K, what matters more is the budget of each game. At 400K units, and with a game price of 60$, a break-even budget would be about 9 Million Dollars. If making a game exceeds that amount, then publishers will start losing money. And this is without taking into account declining game prices, and the MMRI.
Increased Production Costs with the PS3:
The PS3 simply killed the mid-tier Japanese developer, or pushed them all to portables and mobile. After Wild Arms 5 in the PS2, Media.Vision developed 11 games, only one of them was on the PS3. The complicated demands of the system, as well a the sudden jump to HD, both contributed to significantly increasing the development cost of game. For the Wild Arms series, it simply did not become feasible to make an RPG game with less than a 9 Million budget, especially as the 2008 financial crisis started wrecking lives.
For Wild Arms to be succesful, it would have needed to break that 1 Million barrier at the least, and the history of the franchise meant there was serious doubt in it being able to do so. Other avenues such as portables and Nintendo consoles wouldn't have worked, as the series became synonemous with the PS brand, and the PSP wasn't such a big hit.
Sony Abandoning the Franchise:
That the PS3 basically killed a lot of mid-tier franchises was indirectly due to Sony, that Sony abandoned many of its franchises as it confusingly aimed west is a direct affront. Wild Arms joins a list of franchises like Crash and Legend that were inexplicably left to die (Crash will be afeatured in this series one day). Even before the PS2, Sony showed a reluctance to support their JRPG series. In fact, with their removal of any support from Wild Arms, Sony showed they did not care about supporting the genre themselves.
Today, Sony still owns the franchise, and with the development costs going down with the PS4 as well as a resurgance in the JRPG market, a Wild Arms game can make sense. Except, this is another franchise that Sony probably forgot they own.
If a series doesn't deserve to "live" then we wouldn't be upset when it stops. This is not the case with Wild Arms, a franchise which I think still can offer gamers a unique JRPG experience. Here is why I think the franchise should be ressurected.
Unique Setting in the RPG Genre:
There aren't many game with a Wild West setting, and the RPG genre itself seems the least suitable for that setting. Yet, Wild Arms managed to own that setting, and in the process became the only RPG where we can see characters that would feel at home in a Clint Eastwood movie. Except, in a more Japanese way.
The Wild West of the Wild Arms series is more fantasy oriented. Guns are often ancient weapons of war, and there is always a mystical overtone that involves robots or some other thing. It all combines to give the series one hell of a setting to launch a good story from.
Of course, the setting wouldn't do if there isn't some suitable soundtrack to accompany it. If series composer, Michiko Naruke, comes back to make the soundtrack then we once again can have an Ennio Morricone inspired soundtrack in an RPG.
In a nutshell, a Wild West RPG will not happen outside of the Wild Arms name.
With a soundtrack that bring the heat and dryness of the desert right into your house
We Need Console JRPGs:
At one point, the JRPG was the prime gaming experience. Graphics, sound, and story all combined to make games that had no equel in other genres. As gaming progressed to the mainstream, and people started looking for games takin less of their time, the JRPG either specelised into specific niches or went away all together.
Still, a couple of JRPGs held on, and one of them was the Wild Arms series. However, the rising costs of development made sure that even the strongest mid-tier franchises started dying.
The JRPG genre still thrives, but only in handheld games. A return of the Wild Arms series should gaurntee a quality console JRPG, at least if it is anything like the first three games. Its not a triple A game we are asking for, but a return of the mid-tier game that made the SNES, PS1, and PS2 libraries live on beyond the big names.
Boomerang is a cyborg cowboy, who instead of shooting his gun throws it like a boomerang for some massive damage. Not only is he mysterious, quite, and a basic ripoff of the Clint Eastwood cowboy archtype; he also has is own whistle theme. Simply a badass, Boomerang encompeses the sense of style the Wild Arms series is known for.
With characters like Boomerang, the Wild Arms series managed to create lifelong memories for me using only limited visual and audio cues. Once I fought Boomerang, and that was for a breif moment, I knew I would never forget him. Compare that to other RPGs, where both the game and publishing company hammers their characters into you with merchanidising and a plot that has the subtelty of a jackhammer.
The Wild Arms series never pretended to be more than a welcome adventure in a strange dying world inhaibted by interesting and memorable characters. While at times pretending to be profound, it is not more profound than the average Spaghetti Western. Yet, like those Spaghetti Westerns, the experience manages to be more than the sum of its parts.
Of the many franchises under semi-indefinite hiatus, the Wild Arms series one that is in the midway between unlikey return and forever gone status. Being owned by Sony, it does not look likely to go to any other publisher. However, Sony are known to go back and leverage forgotten IPs in some cases. Any way, here is a possible future for the franchise outside of oblivion.
This is actually a case that is not very likely in Wild Arms case, unlike other JRPGs I covered in tihs series. Mostly because of Sony's ownership, and that's a company that has not shown much interest in the mobile market yet. Even if they eventually do, I cannot imagine them trying to leverage the Wild Arms name in this case.
That's a relief, because Wild Arms trying to fit into mobile wouldn't do. It would be like trying to watch a Sergeo Leone Epic on an IPad scree. Sure, you can do it, but why the fuck would you?
As far as I am concerned, Wild Arms needs to be played on a TV.
But wait a minute, there is something in the winds
Wild Arms Creator Seems to be Hinting at Something:
We should always take these series creators hinting at a revival of their respective franchise with a pinch of salt. Make that a fistfull, because the most we have seen from developers trying to bring back past franchises to life is Kickstarter campaigns for VERY similar games. However, the Wild Arms series is not one that you can basterdize like Mega Man or Castlevania. It exists solely base on the name, and any other RPG not featuring the exact theme of the Wild Arms games would be inadequate. Anything similar and it would bloody plagirisim.
Anyway, Akifumi Kaneko, series creator have hinted something could be done with the IP. This might mean anything from a new game to a re-release, with the latter being more likely. Apparently, Kaneko actually met with Sony producers to discuss how to handle the coming 20th anniversery of the series. Frankly, I am surprised Sony producers are aware of the franchise existence.
So, this might be a chance for Wild Arms to come back in some way, or most probably we are going to get some collection or something like that.
The "Where the Hell is" is going to be a series where I discuss the decline and disappearance of game franchises that interested me greatly, and now are gone. For a series to be covered, it needs to have three or more games, an unresolved conclusion or different storylines, and is a series I somewhat played. Please feel free to give me any feedback or recommendation, as I always try to write better blogs.
And this is Boomerang if you are wondering