What is your favorite RPG on the original Playstation? Is it Final Fantasy 7? Perhaps it’s Dragon Warrior 7? These big-name titles were backed by a decade of predecessors. Their massive pre-installed fan base almost ensured tremendous sales figures. These games helped define Sony’s flagship console, and they have a rightful place on many gamers’ lists of unquestionable masterpieces. My favorite RPG on the PS1, however, strays just a bit from popular path.
In the Spring of 1997, Sony and developer Media Vision chose to release the first in their premier RPG franchise, Wild Arms (WA). The game launched in the US mere months after Square’s dystopian epic FF7. Compared to its competition, WA emerged already looking like an outdated relic. Without the benefits of unprecedented visual flair, a rabid fan base, and a massive advertising campaign, Sony’s little RPG-that-could was destined to meet less than stellar numbers.
Wild Arms possesses more creativity, uniqueness and spirit than its sales figures could ever indicate. That is why the title is the subject of today’s Exemplary Openings
. WA showcases a fantastic animated sequence that serves as a primer to its special world. Watch the below video, and come to understand how easy it is to inspire life-long love with eight simple guitar cords and the whistle of a warrior:
For those unfamiliar with Wild Arms, the video should fill you in on exactly what makes Sony’s series so darn special. The gameplay features oldschool 2D map exploration backed by a fantastic tool-based system of puzzle solving that is not unlike that of the Zelda franchise. Battle sequences are rendered in 3D, and are fairly cut-and-dry. Where WA truly distinguishes itself, however, is through setting.
WA sports all of the staples of RGPdom; swordplay, magic, arcane technologies, lost civilizations, and headstrong princesses; however, the world that the story takes place in is something new entirely. The planet of Filgaia is a barren wasteland. This is integral to the story. Plants have trouble growing. Food and water are scarce. Survival is tough. Outlaws prey on the weak. The cultures of the more modern civilizations clash with the natural ways of the native Baskar tribes. This is a realm fashioned around the stereotypical American wild West.
The game’s intro sequence is the first true indicator of this inseparable link. Music is the first part of the equation. The video below is the opening credits from the classic 1964 Sergio Leonne film “A Fistful of Dollars.” Pay special attention to the movie's theme track.
It is clear how liberally WA’s composer Michiko Naruke borrowed from the musical school founded by Western legend Ennio Morricone. The whistling and guitar are classic constants of the cowboy soundtrack, and Naruke has done an excellent job of applying them to Media Vision’s RPG. Over the years, the music of the Wild Arms games has become one of the franchise’s most endearing hallmarks. A strange and enthralling blend of Westerns flair with traditional RPG fantasy tunes. This was all spearheaded by WA’s intro sequence.
Aside from music, another stereotype of the Western is the thrill of adventure. The notion of taming a wild unknown with ingenuity, skill, and force if need-be is key to the genre’s popularity. In this realm, the hero/heroine is a person of true strength and grit, willing to face impossible odds and brave innumerable dangers to accomplish what is necessary. The expansive wastelands of Filgaia recreate this feeling of exploration, wonder and adventure. The intro paints this picture perfectly. As blue-haired hero Rudy mourns over the grave of his father, the camera pans not from him to the jagged cliffs that the monument stands upon, but from starts in the valley and moves to him. Again, near the end of the sequence, Rudy struggles to climb up a crumbling face of rock. At the top, he is met by understanding smiles from his teammates.
These images reveal two related themes in Wild Arms. Isolation in an unforgiving wilderness, and the notion that a group of trustworthy traveling companions can provide a bit of comfort in a dangerous land. As exemplified by Rudy’s efforts to scale the cliff, it is through sheer willpower and determination that WA’s heroes can accomplish what they must in a decimated world that is an enemy in itself.
The last topic that makes WA’s intro sequence so special is how it provides with telling looks at each of the game’s three main heroes. Although thorough character development is a must-have feature for any well-crafted RPG, the focus that the Wild Arms franchise places on it is one of its marks of distinction. The original games in the series each begin with a screen where you select which character that you want to play as to start. You will play a small campaign with this character, and then be prompted to choose again.
These small, single-character introductions go a long way toward showing off the characters as individuals. You learn about their personalities and motivations. When all of the characters finally unite, you already have an idea of who each of your party members are, and what their past and personhood will contribute to the present adventure. Without revealing any spoilers, this unique trend of the franchise even extends into the games’ enemies. From the first WA onward, the series has made an effort to humanize even their most atrocious villains and provide the player with insight into their motivations. The way that you may find yourself attached or relating to a Wild Arms enemy at any point in time could surprise you.
(Artwork of WA baddie Boomerang from the 2003(JP), 2005(US) PS2 remake Wild Arms: Alter Code F. If you don't end up with a load of respect in your heart for this fellow by the end of the game, then I don't want to know you.)
In keeping with the game’s character-driven method of storytelling, WA’s sequence makes a point to introduce its three key players in ways that define them. In an interesting choice, the introduction actually shows some images that are pretty pivotal to the storyline. Through this, the scenes serve not only to rope in the new player, but also to hit back with heavy emotional impact for anyone who understands their importance. This assures that the WA fan can watch this sequence over and over again with equal zeal. As I already mentioned, the video shows Rudy in two situations that showcase both the emotional and physical adversity that he is forced to overcome throughout his journey.
Jack, the skilled swordsman with a mysterious past, is showcased only once outside of the sequence’s end. He walks alone and shoots a wry grin at his traveling partner, the wind-mouse Hanpan. His story throughout the game is one of learning to overcome the isolation that he forces on himself, and starting to trust in friends again.
The magic user, Cecilia is shown in two scenes that document her evolution from sheltered princess, to an independent woman of great courage and power. She stands on the edge of a cliff. As a symbol of her renunciation of the chains of royal responsibility, she has just used Jack’s sword to cut off her long, flowing hair. She then releases the strands to the wind. It is a fitting way to represent a step out of the lap of luxury, and into a rough-and-tumble world of danger. Next we see her as a fully realized master of ancient magic arts. She calls upon her pact with the mighty Earth Golem, and levitates an ancient tome to the sky while surrounded by eldritch energy.
(Jack, Rudy, & Cecilia. I friggin' love these guys)
When Rudy arrives at the top of the mountain, after his harrowing climb, the three comrades unite. This mirrors the way in which all three characters come together in the game, after their respective solo campaigns. Now that the player understands them as individuals, he/she can understand the ways in which they can contribute to the team in their own way.
In conclusion, the animated intro to Sony and Media Visions 1997 title Wild Arms is an exemplary opening. Through stellar music, and visuals of the harsh landscape, the sequence draws attention to the conventions of classic Western film that the series is inseparably tied too. By showcasing each of the characters, the video also serves to point out the unique focus on deep character development that has become mark of honor for the franchise. Though Wild Arms is often overlooked in comparison to big RPGs from staple houses like Square-Enix or Namco/Bandai, it has secured its own niche fan base. By showcasing its unique features, revealing its special world, and, most importantly, providing the promise of adventure, the first title’s intro video should show even the most skeptic gamer why.