Wild Arms XF
Playstation Portable
Reviewed: 04/16/2008

Wild ARMs XF has, like the two young ladies silhouetted on its cover, a dual presentation. One of the young ladies wants to have fun with the player and take them on an adventure they will never forget. The other young lady just wants to beat them to death with her steel gauntlets.

Wild ARMs XF (for “Crossfire”) is the story of a young girl named Clarissa who is seeking a Drifter named Rupert, the man who stole her mother’s sword, Iskender Bey. Along with her brotherly sidekick Felius, they chase Rupert to the formerly warmongering-now-peaceful nation of Elesius, which is once again consolidating its military strength. Clarissa and Felius stumble into generic political controversy while in the country, round up a menagerie of like-minded individuals, and manage to get mixed up–anime style–into saving Elesius and the world.

The plot is told over five acts and lots of battles. The initial act involves Elesius’ current ruling setup. One year ago the princess who was inevitable to succeed the throne died in an accident. The king has fallen ill and unable to rule. A council made up of nobles and special guests has stepped in to relieve the king’s worries by totally owning his country right under his nose. Despite that even in his weakened state the king could probably beat each and every member of the council to death, he does nothing but sit back and watch them destroy his life’s work. Meanwhile, the princess that died last year? Clarissa looks exactly like her. Clarissa, fighting for great justice, impersonates the dead girl and leads a revolution.

Wild ARMs XF flows somewhat similar to Wild ARMs 4 in terms of storytelling, with its dialogue screen showing character portraits discussing there next move. Also throwing back to Wild Arms 4, these well-done scenes are populated with comic-book style scenes and close-ups as the action.

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XF, like its series elders, shines in its character development. The characters are likeable: Labrynthia comes off as playful and earnest; Clarissa is balanced smiles and vulnerabilities; and the villainous Rupert is a crafty ass through and through. But none of them, especially the villains, ever shut the hell up. Just about every last person in XF talks too much–about ideals, about royalty, about fear, about ruling–and by the end of the game, the player is tired of it. There is no way to skip all of it at once, just piece by piece.

Perhaps it would not have been so bad if the game was not artificially extended by all the running away the villains do. You kill one of them repeatedly. Another runs away at least once per act. One does it once in the first act, and twice the rest of the acts (save three). Act three actually introduces new characters who get defeated and run away after every defeat until the end of act four. The act of the villains running from the group allows the game to open up new areas and progress with the story, but it’s shallow and lacks imagination. Even if the party catches up to the villains, some wild occurrence shunts them out of their reach or the villains call for reinforcements and run away. At least the ending somewhat saves XF‘s story.

The battles are hex-based sex. Instead of the chessboard layout of most Strategy RPGs, Crossfire uses hexagons in its maps. Adding two more sides to the equation actually makes a bit of sense, as enemy units can no longer “hide” in a characters’ diagonal blind spots. The tradeoff for both parties is more unit gangbanging. It’s very easy to get surrounded in the game, due to the player party limit of six versus whatever the computer feels is appropriate. Skills and attacks are changed to reflect this – Felius’ Halberdier class has an attack that hits three hexes in his immediate area. The Sacred Slayer class is the only class that can use widespread magic. Widespread focuses on one hex and hits all the surrounding hexes as well. Unlike other tactical games, this hex system negates facing and critical hits from behind. Placement means nothing to any unit in the game (save for terrain features), so hacking away at a unit’s backside is the same as punching it in the face.

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Enough talking to please anyone big on really, really, really, really, verbose characters.

XF uses a job system similar to Final Fantasy V, with every character having a unit level and a class level. Unit levels go up to level 99, but class levels stop at seven when the last skill is unlocked. Experience is given at the end of each battle, and there is standard experience for the unit level and class experience for the class level. Like previous Wild ARMs games, the better the player fights, the better the experience modifier attached to each value becomes. Story battles are where most of the experience comes from, as there is very little experience to be gained in fighting the free battles. This makes grinding a tedious endeavor that most players might skip out on.

In addition to having inherent effects on stats, each class gives its member unique Original Commands and six support skills to acquire. There’s an equipment skill for every class, but classes differ on the rest of the skills. Some classes have Wait & Heal HP, Stat+25%, and Crisis skills that unlock when a unit gets low on HP. There are other skills like the Grappler’s “Accelerate,” which randomly adds RFX (or speed) to the unit in order to make their turn come up faster. Mastering a class unlocks a seventh support skill that can only be used with the mastered class. These skills are insanely good, like the Secutor’s Retaliation, which reflects physical attacks back at an attacker. Sadly, these final skills are locked to the mastered class and cannot be equipped outside of that class. This renders the skills almost useless, since by the end of the game, the player will probably stick all of their units in the Nightstalker class for the speed bonus, or their original classes (if they have mastered them) for the extra skill slots.

Each unit gains a skill slot every few unit levels that allow them to equip any skill from another class. All original commands take up two slots, while the rest of the skills only take up one. The player has to always bear in mind that changing a unit’s class causes the unit to default back to having absolutely nothing equipped. Everything on the unit has to be reset through three different menus just to make the unit playable in the battle. It is a time consuming process, but the game mitigates some of this by allowing the player to store favorite ‘sets’ and restoring them at the touch of a button. The player still has to navigate the three menus to do it.

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Class changing.

Battles are standard strategy fare. Terrain affects unit performance much the same way in other tactics-style games. The three additions that stand out are combination attacks, the turn roster, and Vitality Points. Combination attacks come in two flavors; Formation Arts and Combination Arts. Formation Arts function as the name implies–set formations inflict more damage. In a hex-based setup, there a three ways to accomplish this: opposite sides of an enemy, a triangular attack with the enemy in the center, or the six-person gangbang to the face. Combination Arts are a little different. It does not matter where the character attacks from, so long as they can attack the target. Instead of attacking, the player chooses the “lock-on” feature which puts the unit on hold. The held unit waits until the next party member attacks the target, and the two of them unleash a powered magic-based attack on the enemy. The player can do this with all six characters and unleash some hell. Between the two Combination attacks, Formation Arts tend to be better to use, as Combination Arts rely on wasted turns to accomplish an attack when one unit has a distinct speed advantage over another. It should also be noted that enemy units can only use Formation Arts, not Combination Arts.

Vitality Points (VP) are the third consumable stat each unit has, right under Hit Points and Magic Points. VP drops every time the unit acts, and should VP drop to zero, the unit will suffer physical damage every time his turn ends. Skills and items can negate this, but until there’s access to them, the player can either suck it up or use equipment that has less weight (and typically less defense). The tradeoff to limit VP drain is not worth it. Enemies very rarely lose VP either and there are few skills that target that specific attribute in the game. The system should not even be in the game, and stands as one of XF‘s major flaws.

Many of the maps are fairly large and take a little navigating. It’s uncommon to fight on just a flat plain, and the times that does happen there are obstacles put in the player’s path. The smaller maps that exist in the game tend to be given units that can strike from anywhere on them in order to up the challenge. The maps are good and the fights enjoyable, but their size quickly wears down the VP of the party, and towards the end of the game the party will be fighting on the same maps repeatedly.

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An exciting field.

There is a wide variety of missions to accomplish in XF. There are few escort and stealth missions in the game which help break up the fight this/kill that monotony. There are missions that require puzzle-solving to work, like hitting switches in the right combination to open a sealed door. These missions are mostly welcome distractions and many times help teach the player how to use new classes. No random battles are present in XF either. If the player wishes to fight, all he has to do is enter any dot on the world map. The battle automatically begins after selecting “Yes.”

The biggest problems with the battle system are tied to its story presentation. Reinforcements are called all the time, stretching battles on longer than what is really necessary. Every act is broken up into scenes, but not every scene is one battle. Too many times, the player has to fight through two or three battles in a row before saving. While the PSP system has the feature to pause the game and turn the system off at the same time, it does not equate the mid-scene save feature that should be there. Three battles in one scene also means that there is no item restoration to be had. The player can re-equip items between battles, as well as change class, skills, and equipment, but the ability to restock or purchase new weapons/armor for a class change is gone. In chapters three and four, this is especially bad, since many scenes do not allow the player the opportunity to go back to the world map afterwards. XF is a game that teaches the player to stock up all the time and to get the best weapons as soon as possible. The worst part about these battles is that most of them are fluff. There is simply no reason for them to be present, and the game drags because of it.

Its graphics service the game very well, particularly the maps. They look great and have tons of color to them. They appear cel-shaded 3D and can be rotated to check out hidden units or treasures. The sprites used for the characters are good, and each character has a few unique animations. The in-battle animations do suffer from lack a variety, though. It would have been nice to see more and different attacks, though watching Clarissa perform a jump kick is fun. Clarissa also gets special note in the graphics department, for all her many sprite changes. Finally, the portraits are well done and fans of the anime style will be impressed by some of the art used in the game.

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A battle about to begin…

The music is good, but nothing truly memorable remains after the system has been shut off. The battle themes do fit when they are used, and the sound effects are decent. One of the game’s extras is the music library, which features all the background music in the game except the two vocal tracks. The voice work is decent and adds to the character’s personalities. Ragnar and Labrynthia’s voices stood out from the rest of the group in particular.

The remainder of the extras seems a little slim when compared against its immediate predecessors. There are extra quests to undertake, but they were rarely encountered along the journey. The game features an item synthesis system, but the weapons found or bought with the multitude of cash earned in the game suffice for the main quest. There is a new game plus feature that allows items and weapons to carry over, and adds experience modifiers to make leveling easier. The player can also choose to hear the voice work in Japanese or English. There are no galleries or cut-scenes to unlock like the previous games.

Wild Arms XF is a long game. The clock read 59 hours with 19 minutes and change when the game clear data was created. It’s not a bad game, but the artificial expansion of game time through the poorly paced story battles and extensive amount of talking can wear thin on a player’s patience. Most of the game, even the menus, seems designed to eat time. This is a shame, because the actual battling is quite good and lives up to the measures set by other tactical games. Hex-based strategy titles should be more common in console gaming. The skill system utilized adds another layer of strategy, and having more mission variety adds to the gameplay. These features are Wild ARMs XF’s redeemers. It’s a shame that the rest of the game did little more than be long and suck up time.

Like this review.

-Russ Ritchey

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Good
Story Below Average
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Below Average
The Verdict: 6