Monday, 11 April 2016

Revisiting Star Wars Republic Commando

There haven’t been a huge number of first person shooters set in the Star Wars universe, but when they’ve come along, these games have turned more than a few heads. Republic Commando was one such game to do this thanks to its enjoyable, easy to use squad-based campaign. Leading a group of four clone soldiers on a trio of missions, players were often kept quite busy fending off hordes of droids, Trandoshans, and Geonosians as they did the Republic’s bidding, ultimately catapulting the game to becoming a favorite among Star Wars fans.

When it’s functioning as a full-on squad based FPS, the game is a joy to play as one fights the separatists, barks out orders, and does their bit for the Republic. However, any time that the player is removed from their squad, the game loses something. Thankfully, these moments are far and few between, but when they happen the change comes into sharp focus.

As the name of the game suggests, players take the role of a Republic commando as his team go on a variety of missions. They’re in a unit called Delta Squad, so these guys are elite soldiers, usually being the first sent into a hot spot to establish a foothold for the rest of the Republic’s forces, or being involved in some sort of smaller special forces type of operation. There isn’t much in the way of a story. The game takes place during the events of the prequel movies, so one can see the overlap with events from those. What it feels like more than anything else is an adventure that might as well be called, “A day in the life of Delta Squad”. Under different circumstances, something like this would feel sparse in narrative, but it works here. The squad has its orders and need only concern themselves with executing them. None of this is to say that the story is cold and by the book, however, as there is a lot of banter between everyone while undertaking missions. It adds a humanness to each character, preventing them from becoming cardboard cutouts, and showing that these guys have personalities of their own.

This strong focus on the mission also helps to make the level design in Republic Commando feel more appropriate in the greater context of what’s going on. By the time this game came along, the old ethos of creating sprawling labyrinths to be explored was well on its way out of favor, being replaced by far more linear levels that had players jumping from one scripted event to the next. Sometimes this stripped down approach was difficult to swallow with certain games’ stories not lending themselves well to this type of level design, but it worked here since it so well suited to the systematic nature of the insertion missions that Delta Squad focused on. Sure, there were corridors and passageways conveniently blocked off by debris, but special forces units aren’t about bumbling through a maze, hoping they miraculously stumble across their objectives. They go in with useful intel so that they can get the job done as quickly as possible, and hopefully without incident.


Working with the squad as they do this is where the game really shines. It’s very straightforward giving orders to its members, lovingly named 07, 40, and 62 by the Republic. On the first level while attacking Genosia, players are slowly introduced to the members and the basics of squad commands. Everyone has separate landing sites, so you start off on your own and the rest of the team slowly join as you progress through the level. All the while, one gradually gets more and more opportunities to plant demolition charges, splice computers, and setup sniping or grenadier positions.

After a short while, all of these commands go from being quaint to essential as the team’s weapons don’t exactly hit very hard if they’re relying on their rapid fire blasters. It’s very important to assess any situation, and get people sniping and / or tossing grenades, while possibly also pointing out priority targets if a particularly powerful foe attacks. These weapons hit a lot harder and end fights much quicker, preventing the squad from getting overwhelmed. It’s also far more enjoyable taking a lay of the land, spotting optimal spots to snipe from, and learning the most effective ways to deal with enemies. Unfortunately, sniping and grenadier spots are determined by the game itself, with them being made known when your reticule passes over one of them, meaning that players can’t position squad members however they please. It’s not so bad, though, as there are usually a decent number of places where they can set up shop.

Once the game gets going, it’s quite satisfying to bark out orders, clash with tons of droids, Trandoshans, and the like. Things can get hectic in a hurry too with a good dozen or so enemies running around, while some weapon platform unloading on the squad from a distance, and droid dispensers spitting out yet more combatants, all the while trying to provide cover for one of the commandos as they frantically splice into a computer. This is where Republic Command is at its best.


However, as I mentioned earlier, there are times when you aren’t with the squad and things are nowhere near as entertaining. Thankfully, these instances aren’t all that frequent, but when they happen it’s hard not to notice the drop in excitement. Early in the game, it’s all very forgivable as the first few areas are like mini tutorials introducing players its mechanics. Enemies die fast and you aren’t really expecting anything because, well, the game just started. Things take time to ramp up. The problem comes later in that Geonosian assault because things really do ramp up. Droids everywhere. Some rather large and scary. Everyone scrambling to rescue comrades, snipe bugs, and basically doing their best to survive.

Then the second mission starts on a Republic acclamator and the squad each infiltrate the ship from a different area, forcing the player to fly solo for a while. This is where it becomes easy to see just how important the squad mechanics are to enjoying the game, as things taper off considerably until you’re reunited with everyone else. The level of intensity takes a dive as the number of enemies thrown at the player is reduced, which makes sense given that it’s only you and contending with hordes of baddies would have been overwhelming. However, the way enemies attack just isn’t very interesting. It’s usually just small packs of Trandoshans that come running up and are fairly easy to dispatch, especially once you start utilizing the shotguns that they drop.

It’s not very difficult and it’s not much fun either. The only time things get tough is when the game goes for scripted events and just drops enemies on the player out of nowhere which you either react to or die, think “Well, I won’t do that next time…”, get past the obstacle and move on. Exacerbating the matter is that this drags on for too long. It’s a relief once you start finding your squad mates again and can get back to doing more interesting fights, especially by the end of the mission where things really start to pick up, which just shows the contrast all that much more between squad and solo play in the game. The acclamator just feels like a low point in Republic Commando.

That being said, a lot of people still hold the game in high regard. It’s not like you need to run solo very often anyway, and when it comes time to do the final mission on Kashyyyk you’re with your team the vast majority of the time except for a little bit toward the very end. Ultimately, the simple, easy to use squad tactics are very appealing, and nowhere near as in-depth as something like Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. It gives players the simplest of tastes of running with a group and giving them orders so to complete a mission mixed into the Star Wars universe, and that is plenty good for most people.

There aren’t a huge number of Star Wars first person shooters but when they come along they tend to be well done and Republic Commando lives up to that expectation. It pushes all of the right buttons for fans of the franchise while providing a fun, basic squad-based approach to combat. Sure, going it alone is not quite as fun, but it’s something that can be overlooked for the most part.

One thing that is difficult to overlook, though, is the music for the end credits, which is generic butt rock for some reason. It makes no sense after all that Star Wars music in the game. Why is it there? Weird.

That aside, Republic Commando is one more title to slide into the “Good” shelf of licensed Star Wars games. Even now, several years after its release it’s well worth revisiting. If you’ve never played it before, May 4th is almost here, so maybe now’s the time to try it.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter Gameplay Screenshot 1

Having been watching this game off and on since it was announced, I’ve been curious just how Hyper Light Drifter would finally turn out. It has some very eye catching visuals with very pretty pixel art that really helped the game to get its foot in the door, but it’s followed up with a Zelda-inspired experience filled with opportunities to explore and some reasonably challenging baddies to cross swords with.

There have been no lack of games to come along in recent years to go the pixelated route with obvious nods to games of the past. Some of these have been good, others not so much. HLD is definitely in the first camp. It’s visiting a lot of stuff we’ve seen before like the aforementioned Zelda series, but there’s just so much polish here. Combat is fluid and fast-paced, there’s a heavy emphasis on exploration and non-linearity, environments and characters hint at a massive backstory, and the aesthetic of the game is its own instead of just being another pixel art game that looks like something straight off the NES or SNES. This is the sort of game that serves as an excellent example of something that taps into retro games without feeling derivative; at the same time tapping into a lot of modern sensibilities.

Hyper Light Drifter Gameplay Screenshot 2
At its heart, the game has a lot in common with old classic Zelda titles with its overhead view, combat style, and so much exploration. In fact, combat feels smoother and faster than anything I’ve ever come across in a Zelda game. Given what HLD throws at players, though, it’s easy to see this being a necessity. It’s definitely a challenging game. That being said, I think most people’s opinion of this will hinge on how much they’ve played old 8 and 16-bit games of this ilk. If you have indeed played a number of those types of games, HLD will seem reasonably manageable, though still fairly challenging, but those who haven’t may run into difficulty.

Enemies all have patterns and tells to their attacks. One needs to simply pay attention for a moment and watch the baddies do their thing while making use of the dodge button so they don’t get hit. It doesn’t take long to figure out what types of attacks enemies do and what sort of animation they perform before unleashing it so that players have the good sense to get out of the way. It only gets really intense when a room locks the player in and a bunch of enemies spawn at once to swarm the hero. In this case, things do get dicey, requiring some fancy footwork to dodge everything enemies throw at the player. Even then, it’s not insurmountable. The game doesn’t just drop players into these situations. It eases them in. Players are slowly introduced to the different enemies, and only after making it a fair way into a given dungeon do they find themselves in such situations.

Bosses too are a matter of learning patterns. If anything, I found these guys easier than some of the swarming incidents. They have very discernible patterns that don’t take long to learn, and it’s simply a matter of execution after in order to take them down. Really, these were the most reminiscent element of 16-bit gaming in HLD for me.

Hyper Light Drifter Gameplay Screenshot 3
Your character also has a variety of unlockable abilities that can be purchased from trainers in the hub town of the game. While wandering around the countryside, players will gradually gather little yellow tokens and once they have enough they can be exchanged with the trainer for a new skill. These tokens are actually quite rare. They aren’t like coins that can be farmed to one’s heart’s content. They’re hidden in boxes and sometimes drop from enemies, but once they’ve been collected they never respawn. Also, once they’ve been spent there’s no turning back because the game automatically overwrites your last save after purchase, preventing save scumming whereby if players don’t like the ability they can just load up an old save and try something else. That just isn’t allowed here. As such, players need to think long and hard before buying a skill because once they have it that’s it, they’re stuck with it. If they want another they’ll have to head out into the wilderness and figure out where the rest of the hidden tokens are. So, in that regard there are some choices that have consequences in this game.

All the while, there’s quite a bit of exploration to be had. Players start in a hub town situated at the center of the world map with four exits: North, South, East, and West. From there it’s up to the individual to where they want to go. Generally each path leads to some sort of major temple where a boss is waiting to be defeated and some ancient device needs to be activated, but along the way there are no lack of detours to go on. There are a number of smaller power devices and keys that need to be found in order to get to a boss, so players need to wander around and find all of these as well, venturing down different paths. Some of these can be quite hard to find, and actually require you to run your character against the edges of an area. At some point, they may pop into a hidden passage tucked away behind a building or beneath a canopy of trees. They can be tough to see, but once found it’s quite satisfying, especially because they usually lead to useful goodies like more yellow tokens, health packs, or dungeon entrances.

Hyper Light Drifter Gameplay Screenshot 4
As one wanders this world, it’s hard not to wonder about its past. Just from looking at the surroundings, it’s obvious that players are in some sort of post apocalyptic setting. There are ruined buildings, old broken down robots, and dilapidated cannons everywhere, overgrown with foliage, being clear remnants of a fallen civilization. With all of this, though, we don’t get much explanation of how all this came to pass or why we’re doing what we’re doing in HLD. This is a very intentional approach, as the game has no dialogue in it. Any time the player talks with an NPC, they aren't greeted with a text bubble. Instead, a window opens with a series of still images depicting a short story. It’s enough to get the idea across but leaves a lot open to the imagination. While it does leave the player with some questions, at the same time it helps build a sense of wonder about HLD’s world as one tries to fill in the blanks on their own.

Also building this sense of wonder is the game’s aesthetic, as it has some of the nicest pixel art to come along in the last little while. HLD’s graphics very much have a personality of their own in terms of character and enemy designs, environments, and even the color scheme. As mentioned earlier, far too many pixel art games simply mimic things we’ve seen in 8 and 16-bit consoles, but this one does its own thing, allowing HLD to clearly stand out from other pixelated projects available.

The music also helps to enhance the experience. It has a very analogue synth feel to it reminiscent of Blade Runner. The game has the same composer as Fez, so it’s easy to see the similarities between the two. It works quite well here with the generally mellow, whirring minimalism of the synthesizers building the sense of wonder and loss permeating through HLD’s world.

Hyper Light Drifter Gameplay Screenshot 5

In the end, Hyper Light Drifter is a game people who like Zelda-esque action adventures should consider spending some time with. There have been plenty of other games to come along and provide similar experiences, but HLD is so much more polished while developing a personality of its own. The game is fairly challenging, but by no means impossible (if anything, I’d say that the Dark Souls series gives me more trouble than this did). With games like Dark Souls III, Quantum Break, and the HTC Vive coming out about now, there’s a chance HLD might fall between the cracks, but it’s a game that really deserves to be played. It just does so many things right, and looks great doing it.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Strange Product Tie-In Games

Finding new ways to get the word out about a product has always been something that marketers have toiled over. Whether it’s cleverly placing a can of pop in the background of a scene in a movie, flying blimps over stadiums, or wacky publicity stunts, increasing mindshare and getting people excited about their widgets has always been their thing. So, when video games came along, executives in board rooms the world over looked at the technology and thought to themselves, “Hey! The kids seem to like that stuff. How can we use that to our advantage?”

With that we’ve seen a steady stream of games come out over the last 30 years centered around this or that corporate mascot reminding us that their products exist and, just maybe, we should buy some. Obviously, a lot of these were pretty bad, but on the rare occasion one turned out to be somewhat entertaining. One thing is for sure, though, the majority of them raised eyebrows when they came along as people questioned who in their right mind would make a game based on that.

Today we’ll be taking a look at some of the stranger and more interesting product tie-in games to come along, the vast majority of which seem hell bent on reminding us that things like fast food exist. For the sake of brevity, we’ll be limiting this to console games and PC titles with proper releases. Browser and mobile games won’t be mentioned because we’d be here forever if we tried to wade through the legions dross to show up on those platforms.

Spot: The Video Game

In the late 80s and early 90s, 7Up actually had a mascot. The little red dot on the drink’s logo sprouted arms and legs, slapped on a pair of sunglasses, did cute things, and was suddenly a hit. The thing was plastered across billboards, in magazine ads, and getting into adventures in TV spots.

In time it made its way to video games. Most people are probably more familiar with the Genesis platformer Cool Spot (more on that in a bit), but the first appearance that the little guy was featured in was for 8-bit systems with Spot: The Video Game. It was basically reversi with the little Spot guy being moved around to choose where to play the next chip. The game could be played by up to four people with everyone passing the controller around when it was their turn.

It was a very simple game given the premise, and only took about six weeks to develop, eventually making its way to the NES, Amiga, Atari ST, Gameboy, and DOS.

Cool Spot

Here’s the Spot game that most people probably remember. It was a platformer, and a very good one at that. This shouldn’t come as a surprise when one considers that David Perry and Tommy Tallarico worked on it, two key members in the team that would go on to make the Earthworm Jim games.

It had solid controls, interesting level design, and looked amazing when it came out. As one would expect from the genre, players had Spot run and jump around levels, climbing to hard to reach areas, and shooting fizzy bubbles at enemies. In a lot of ways, it felt like a logical progression from the television commercials that aired at the time featuring the little guy.

Importantly, the game remembered to embrace the cutesy feeling that Spot gave off. He was pretty adorable in the ads, so people had a certain expectation he’d be the same in a game featuring him. This wasn’t really the case in the first game, but Cool Spot managed to pull this off much better with all of the little animation touches that the developers gave him.

Each level was a bit of a collect-a-thon as players had to explore them in search of cool points. Once they had enough, they’d be allowed to leave and progress to the next area. If someone wanted to put a little bit extra effort in, they could keep collecting these points and if they found enough, they would be able to go to a bonus stage.

In the end, this game gave people a bit of hope that video games based on products could actually be good. In hindsight, it’s easy to see things didn’t turn out quite so well, and Cool Spot is more of an anomaly. While it may have turned out to be one of the better platformers of the 16-bit era, other developers didn’t take the game’s example to heart unfortunately.

Spot Goes to Hollywood

A few years later, another Spot game came out. Once again, it went in a very different direction from the previous game. This go around, traditional platforming was eschewed in favor of a game with an isometric overhead view. It was still pretty much a platform game, but the change in perspective threw a lot of people off.

The basic premise was the same as Cool Spot with players hunting down cool points on each level. There weren’t as many to track down as the last game, but they were scattered all over the place, so could take a while to find.

Combat was where players tended to get frustrated while playing the game. Since it was an isometric view, aiming Spot’s projectile attacks could be difficult. This type of perspective can be quite finicky about this, and Spot Goes to Hollywood was a good example of it. Worse still, is that enemies tended to have quite a few hit points, resulting in them taking entirely too long to go down. The viewpoint also resulted in many a player watching Spot plummet to his death after miscalculating a jump while platforming.

The game eventually got ported to the PlayStation and Saturn when those systems came along, but in the end most people just scratched their heads trying to figure out why the developers opted to make the game isometric in the first place. Cool Spot was very good, and most people would have been just fine with more of the same, rather than this.

Spot: The Cool Adventure

While all of these home versions were coming along, 7-Up had their eye on the Gameboy as well. It was becoming popular, and what better way to encourage people to buy their drink while they’re out and about than to have a game based on it that they can take along with them.

This was actually the first platformer to feature Spot, having released a year prior to Cool Spot. It’s very straightforward in that regard and one has to wonder how much effort the game’s publisher really wanted to put into it.

This because the game is pretty much McDonaldLand (aka Mc Kids). The only difference is that the sprites were swapped out to reflect the fact is was a 7-Up based game rather than being a land of hamburgers.

Pepsi Invaders

In the early 80s, it seemed like just about anything would appear on the Atari 2600. In fact, just about anything did show up on that system, hence why the US video game industry eventually experienced a crash.

Helping to contribute to this was Pepsi Invaders, a game promoting Coca Cola. So bold was the company that not only did they place themselves as the hero in the game, but they put their arch rival in as the villain.

As the name suggests, it’s basically a Space Invaders clone, but instead of the usual ship fighting off swarms of evil aliens, players controlled the forces of Coca Cola as they shot down rows that read “PEPSI” with an alien at the end for level after level. While many point at ET as being the straw that broke the camel’s back when the crash came, Pepsi Invaders is a reminder that there were plenty of other terrible games that helped it along.

Pepsi Man

It would be over 15 years before we saw another Pepsi-based game, and, miraculously, it was actually not bad. Developed by KID, Pepsi Man came out for the PlayStation in 1999.

The game was a primitive endless runner where players controlled Pepsi Man as he ran down the street collecting Pepsi cans, dodging all manner of obstacles like trash, falling furniture, cacti, or whatever else seemed appropriate for a given level.

Looking back, most folks who remember the game think fondly of it for its silly, lighthearted style and simply being a product-based game that wasn’t completely terrible. Many have clamoured for a new game featuring the mascot, but given all of the legalese involved with such an endeavor it probably isn’t going to happen. One kind soul did make a mod for Metal Gear Rising that allows players to use Pepsi Man in it, though, which is nice.

Probably the biggest tragedy with the game is that it apparently didn’t sell well, which is a real shame.

Yo! Noid

Depending how old one is, and assuming they grew up in North America, some folks may remember when Dominos Pizza had an annoying red mascot called The Noid. People were reminded to avoid him because he’d steal our pizza. During the late 80s, good luck trying to turn on a TV and not see the thing cackling maniacally while making off with somebody’s pizza.

With him being everywhere, it was only a matter of time before he showed up in video games. Oddly enough, Yo! Noid isn’t the first game that he showed up in, but it’s probably the one most people are familiar with.

Developed by Capcom, the game was a reasonably decent platformer, and a major overhaul of Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru, which it was released as in Japan, with very different art, but identical gameplay. Nobody knew what the Noid was over there, so it made little sense to feature him in the game.

The game was by no means easy with a lot of quick deaths for the unprepared, and even the prepared. Really, folks got mad playing this game. If they didn’t already hate the Noid from all those commercials, surely this would push them over the edge.

Avoid the Noid

The first Noid game and was released on the Commadore 64 and for DOS in 1989 and it made a lot more sense than Yo! Noid did. Players took on the role of a pizza delivery boy who had to deliver pizzas, answer the phone, and basically do what the game told them to right on the box: Avoid the Noid.

It wasn’t a very long game, and was quite simple, but the spectacle of it all was a pretty over the top. Your character could dive out of the way of danger, and with good reason, seeing as there were rockets flying around trying to blow him up. The Noid traditionally took pizza theft quite seriously, and the developers made sure that this game reflected his zeal.

In the end, Avoid the Noid fell between the cracks as far as product-based games go, but it’s still worth remembering for being the first Noid game if nothing else.

Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool and Wild Wild Quest

Cheetos seem to be something a lot of people associate with those who play a lot of video games. I’ve never been one of them, because it just doesn’t make sense. Cheetos are one of the worst things to eat while playing video games because your fingers get all messy, and before long so does your controller. It’s disgusting and wrong. Who in their right mind does such a terrible thing? Usually people have that one friend who does that, but they quickly learn to never let them near their video games.

Nonetheless, we got two games featuring the things’ mascot during the 90s, Chester Cheetah, with Too Cool to Fool in 1992 and Wild Wild Quest in the following year. Both were extremely uninspired platformers that looked like a quick money grab by the developers to make something quick and easy.

Neither were worth wasting one’s time on and before long people knew to treat the games just like the people who ate the terrible product they were trying to promote and didn’t let them anywhere near their video games.

Kool Aid Man

A game featuring the Kool Aid Man sound like something that should work. Something aggressive with destructible environments. Just give us a game where we bust down walls and give kids sugary, vaguely fruit flavored drinks, and no sense of responsibility for such wanton destruction. It would perfectly encapsulate what Kool Aid is all about.

Unfortunately, the game came out in the early 80s for the Atari 2600 and a number of other systems during that time and technology just wasn’t ready for something like that yet. Players would have to settle for moving a juice jug around the screen and catching other jugs as they wastefully poured their libation to the evil Kool Aid Man god.

It was a very colorful game, though, so that was nice.

Global Gladiators

While McDonaldLand was alluded to earlier, the McDonald’s game that we really want to focus on today is Global Gladiators. This was a sneaky one because first and foremost the game was promoting environmentalism rather than fast food, which, of course, will set off all sorts of alarm bells for anyone who is remotely cynical at corporate attempts at altruism.

The game runs on the same engine as Cool Spot and Aladdin seeing as it was developed by David Perry and his team at Virgin Interactive. As such, it was actually pretty decent on the whole. Players controlled a couple of kids who were going around stopping all sorts of toxic shenanigans while taking orders from Ronald McDonald.

All the while, images of the McDonald’s logo were pasted across the screen, reminding folks that the company existed because non-stop TV commercials and locations just about everywhere apparently just weren’t enough to solidify the fast food chain’s place in the public’s mindshare.

Burger King Big Bumpin’ and Sneak King

Not to be outdone, Burger King also had a could of games come out in recent years. On the whole, these were a lot creepier than anything McDonald’s ever put out, but given how unsettling their mascot at the time was, someone dressed as a king with an over-sized head, this probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

It all started innocently enough when Big Bumpin’ crept into the Xbox 360’s library. Players whizzed around bashing into one another in bumper cars. Sure, the king was their in all of his creepy glory, but the game was good clean fun, and refreshingly not crap, so not much to complain about there.

However, Sneak King was another beast altogether. Here players controlled the king as he snuck up on unsuspecting people to surprise them with a present: a hamburger. (Although given his attire, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking the present might be something pervy instead). It was like a high cholesterol Metal Gear Solid with tights. Folks enjoyed it, but at the same time it’s hard not to think the whole thing is a little unsettling.

Yoshinoya

Most people in the West likely have no idea what Yoshinoya is, although they apparently have a few locations in the US. It’s a chain of beef bowl fast food restaurants from Japan that are quite popular over there when someone wants to hop in for something to eat quick on the cheap.

In 2004, a game based on the chain was released for the PlayStation 2 in Japan. It was basically a restaurant manager where players oversaw a location, filling orders, serving customers, and generally making sure that everyone was happy. On the whole, the game was pretty decent as it was a reasonably well put together manager game at its core.

Unfortunately, it never left Japan, which is understandable given that it doesn’t have a huge presence outside of there. Nonetheless, it would have been nice to see it come West even if it got rebranded as something more recognizable for audiences there.

Darkened Skye

The Gamecube got a very sneaky product tie-in game about a decade ago. At first glance, Darkened Skye looks like a very straightforward action adventure game in a fantasy setting. There are monsters, forests, warriors, the usual stuff. However, upon closer inspection someone can see something is wrong. What could it be? Wait a second… Magic is powered by Skittles?

Yes, that’s right, Skittles. The little sugary fruit flavored candies that get stuck in one’s teeth and are the bane of fillings everywhere is an integral element of sorcery in the realm of Darkened Skye.

The game’s developer had made several games based on M&Ms which were largely forgettable being quickly cobbled together platformers and kart racing games. This one largely sticks out simply for being based on Skittles. People know what the things are. Some even like to eat them. It just seems so out of left field that of all the candies out there, this is what was selected for a game.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

An Early Look at StarCrawlers


About a year ago, StarCrawlers slinked its way into Steam's Early Access and since then has been getting regular updates as it makes its way to becoming shipshape for a full release. In a world where science fiction themed RPGs are vastly outnumbered by ones with a decidedly fantasy shtick, this one certainly got me to raise an eyebrow when it came along. Moreover, it's a dungeon crawler, and as such had me instinctively reaching for my wallet. Of course, with it being unfinished, this excitement could have been premature if playing it revealed a game needing much more time in the oven. After pouring a fair bit of time into the game, that's certainly the case to a degree, but thus far it seems to be more a case of sorting out some of the text in conversations than any game breaking bugs.

This is a first person dungeon crawler with procedurally generated areas, so, right off the bat, one can see that exploring, fighting baddies, and collecting loot will be a big part of StarCrawlers. While there is an actual main line of quests with a story, most of one's time can be spent wandering futuristic corporate offices, derelict space ships, monster-infested mines, and the like without paying it much mind.

Players have a space station referred to as STIX that they use as a home base between jobs. It has basic amenities to help aspiring crawlers do their job better. There's a shop for buying, selling, and upgrading gear, a medical bay for patching up badly injured party members and resetting talent trees, there's a black market for playing a lottery to get gear of varying degrees of quality, and, most importantly, a bar.

The bar is where StarCrawler's main quest line advances and where players can find the job board to accept new missions to go on. Jobs are divided by difficulty and can be told apart by their color coding. Gray jobs are of a low level and will be very easy for your team to complete, green are also easy but not complete pushovers, yellow are slightly challenging with enemies a level or two above your party, and red are hard missions with much stronger enemies. As one would expect, pay and experience gets better and better the harder a mission is. Your reputation with various corporations will also impact what jobs are available. Obviously, if you've pissed off a particular faction, they aren't going to be offering you work. Also, most of these companies are trying to screw one another over constantly, so completing missions will put you in some of these factions good graces while steadily increasing the ire of others.

It's also possible to recruit new members for your team at the bar. These are actual individuals that are being hired, though, and not a class of character that can be recruited again and again. For example, once you hire Bob the Force Psycher, he's your Force Psycher. You've made a commitment to this guy. It doesn't appear to be possible to have multiples of a particular class in a party. Given that each class has talent trees with three branches this also means that one can't have two of one class in their group with each character accentuating a different branch of the tree, which is a bit unfortunate.

The classes themselves are pretty neat. More or less they follow typical RPG party rolls with tanks, damage dealers, support, and the like. However, there doesn't appear to be a bonafied healer. Protecting characters is performed more through covering them in shields and other buffs or just getting a soldier to tank harder, rather than belting out some sort of curative ability from time to time in order to replenish an injured party member's health. There are health packs one can carry around with them and use as needed, though, should traditional healing become necessary.

So far, there are eight different characters available. Players can recruit all of them eventually, but they must choose four to go on any given mission while the rest stay behind on the space station. Since the different recruits have three different branches to their talent trees, they can serve a variety of roles. Depending on one's disposition, some pretty adventurous builds can be had, but they also have some fairly traditional progress paths as well. For instance, once I saw that soldiers have a lot of tanky options to them, I chose to accentuate that rather than fiddle around with heavier damage options. Similarly, cyber ninjas can be very good at dishing out damage, so that's what I've been focusing on with that class.

The roles that have caught my attention the most are ones with support capabilities and the caster classes. For the former, engineers and hackers have struck me as the most interesting. Engineers use spare parts like a resource (think mana) which they use to issue orders to their pet robot. Her talent tree is divided such that different types of robots will be made depending on which branch players spend points in. This can lead to a tank-oriented robot, a damage dealing robot, or a support robot. The nice thing about this is that as a result players can add more units to their party in the form of their robot while out in the field. Hackers, on the other hand, are very much a support class. Most of their abilities in battle are either damage over time attacks, crowd control / debuff skills, or applying various buffs to the party. These characters don't hit very hard, but over the long haul can be very helpful in a fight. As their name suggests, they can also be quite useful when hacking into various terminals and trying to disengage various security systems.

Looking at the casters, these are divided into two types: Force Psychers and Void Psychers. The former has powerful attack abilities and can shield party members. However, they have a very finite amount of force points available to them so battles need to end quickly or their usefulness begins to trail off quickly once they run out of force. Void Psychers are known for being slightly insane and have an enrage mechanic to play off of. Most of the abilities they use build up a void meter that counts to 100. Once it gets over 50, this character becomes increasingly unstable and there's a risk that they'll lose control, releasing a massive explosion of void energy that inflicts damages on all enemies and all allies alike. However, they also have abilities that consume this energy, bringing the meter back down. With that, players need to manage it, letting it go up and risk losing control so to unleash these abilities. It's a particularly dangerous situation because many of their best abilities require quite a lot of void energy to hit hard or even use in some cases. At the moment, I'd argue that Void Psychers feel a little bit overpowered. Once they get going, they absolutely demolish enemies, especially once they start getting to the strongest abilities in their talent trees. Even with the risk of running wild, as long as players are mindful not to get their meter all the way up to 100, the chances of this happening generally aren't that bad.

About the only major problem that I've run into while recruiting new members is that they come in at whatever level the rest of your party is at the time of the hire. So, if you recruit one and wait till later to get more (because these guys do cost a fair bit early on), once you recruit the rest and feel like using them as a B-Team the early recruits will be falling behind in levels. Worse still, random mission assignments match the average level of your group, so if you do have one or two characters that were recruited early, but kept on hold till later, they can become a liability on these missions since they're so far below the recommended level.

That being said, if the group is of a recommended level, the game does feel a little bit easy so far. My main team consists of a soldier, hacker, force psycher and void psycher, and these guys are demolishing everything that the game throws at them. About the only trouble they've run into are some of the more advanced security units that either hit really hard or constantly summon robots into a battle. Even then, the void psycher's miasma ability is a powerful area of effect damage over time ability that usually hits every enemy on-screen. Meanwhile, all of my party members have very good weapons and armor, so they can hit like a truck even when not using abilities. In fact, my hacker has a pair of blades at the moment that inflict a DoT of their own, plus her own DoTs, plus the miasma ability, so each turn enemies often take over 100 damage without my party even doing anything once all of those are up. With that, pretty much everything melts in front of this group. I've yet to come across a truly devastating foe in the game as a result, not even some type of boss, resulting in the game feeling like a bit of a pushover at the moment, even when doing missions of the hardest difficulty.

Loot in StarCrawlers has an easy to understand color coded system which has become prevalent in RPGs. Grey is common, green is somewhat rare, and blue is the rarest. As one would expect, the rarer the gear, the more powerful it is. There are only four slots on each character, so there isn't a huge amount of stuff to go around, just weapons, shields, armor, and accessories. Also, some attribute slots don't do anything at the moment since the game is still in development and just have the acronym NYI, which I assume stands for "Not Yet Implemented". By the looks of things, though, the developers do want loot to be a draw for the game as people hop into dungeons again and again in search of better gear.

If players are going to be replaying areas constantly, the levels and enemies better look good, and they do here. There are a decent mix of environments to explore, though it is recommended to read the description of a mission before hand to get an idea of where you'll be heading. Failing to do this could result in players going to corporate offices or mines constantly, and getting bored of seeing the same environments over and over. The levels themselves have a nice atmosphere to them with dim lights, various bits of furniture, computers, and equipment appropriate to their settings. They don't have a huge level of detail, but they get the job done. Enemies also look good, but their variety is a bit lacking at the moment. I've fought legions of the same types of robots, space mites, worm-thingies and the like without much deviation from this limited range of baddies. Hopefully we'll see more added by the time the game is complete because as it stands, things could get redundant if more enemies aren't added.

Given that the places players go to are procedurally generated, there's a bunch of variety in that regard. A lot of art assets are obviously the same, but going around the levels, watching out for traps, hacking into computer systems, and just generally exploring is good fun. There's a mini-map that plots everything out as you go, and it can be expanded to show everywhere the player has been, so it's easy enough to figure things out. Basically, it gives a nice, quick means for people who like first-person dungeon crawlers to get their fix and be on their way. I haven't come across a dungeon that's taken more than 30 minutes to complete yet, so it's a very in and out experience.

This is where the appeal will come while playing StarCrawlers: hopping in for a quick mission or two and hopefully getting some snazzy loot. It's quick and to the point with straightforward dungeon crawling and combat. My only real complaint right now is the potential for neglected characters to get left behind and have difficulty catching up level-wise unless players bring them one at a time on missions until they've gained some levels, which could get tedious in a hurry. As it stands, there aren't very many first person dungeon crawlers on the market, and certainly not any with a science fiction theme. StarCrawlers could be the game to fill that void.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The History of the Wild Arms Series

Wild Arms Characters

When the original PlayStation came out, it was an exciting time. People were belting out technical jargon about polygons and 3D graphics, getting ready to kiss 2D sprite graphics goodbye and embrace the future. One game on everyone's mind was Final Fantasy VII. It would be the latest installment in one of the biggest JRPG series out there.

But what does this have to do with anything? This article is supposed to be about Wild Arms, isn't it? That's the thing. People were becoming very eager for an RPG on the PlayStation. Obviously, Final Fantasy VII was at the top of their list of must have games, but in the meantime fans of the genre were hungry for something RPG related to fill the void as they waited for Squaresoft's title to come out. Given the amount of time that it takes for such a game to be developed, pickings were slim early in the PlayStation's life.

Folks were desperate for an RPG on their shiny, new Sony console, which would help to explain all those copies of Beyond the Beyond that were sold. More sensible people who actually took the time to read some reviews before buying games made the smart choice, though, and grabbed themselves a copy of Wild Arms. It was something a little bit different from a fairly new, unknown developer calling itself Media.Vision. The game wasn't fully 3D but gave players a glimpse of things to come as this new technology established itself. Moreover, the thing had an Old West theme to it. An RPG and cowboys in the same place? Now there's something you don't see everyday.

From there, what many viewed as a stopgap to pass the time until Final Fantasy VII came out became a well established series that would run for the next 10 years, with future installments making their way to the PlayStation 2 and PSP. In the end, Wild Arms would become one of the most popular, longest running Wild West themed series to appear in the world of video games.

Wild Arms 1 Box Art
WILD ARMS

As was mentioned above, early in the PlayStation's life there weren't very many RPGs available. They're a type of game that tends to take quite some time to develop given all of the content crammed into them. So, when a new system comes along its often the last genre to grace its library in large quantities. Sony was anticipating this and wanted to get an RPG onto the PS1 in a timely manner so that people could see what the company's very first console could do with the genre.

With that, they got a hold of Media.Vision who hadn't even made an RPG before. By this point, the studio only had two games under their belt, Crime Crackers and Rapid Reload, both of which were run-and-gun affairs. With Akifumi Kaneko and Takashi Fukushima heading the project, production got underway and by 1996 the game was shipped.

While the game was intended to give people an idea of what the PlayStation was capable of, it didn't go full bore with the 3D graphics. A lot of Wild Arms was still a 2D, sprite-based game. Walking around town, exploring dungeons, and wandering around on the world map were still done in the traditional overhead view that had been common to JRPGs since the 1980s. It was when battles broke out that things would change, with players being thrust into a 3D polygonal environment. The whole thing was very simple, as enemies and the player's party were far from detailed, but it was enough to whet people's appetite when it came to this new approach to graphics. If Wild Arms was capable of this, what would future games look like on the system?

Looking at how battles transpired, they were very traditional as far as JRPGs went. However, to help spice up the gameplay, Wild Arms included a number of puzzles for players to solve, which could sometimes be quite challenging and would become a regular feature of future games in the series.

Wild Arms 1 Battle
The game's story was straightforward enough. 1,000 years in the past the world of Filgaia was attacked by some sort of robotic civilization intent on making the planet their own. The humans of Filgaia managed to win the ensuing war, but were unable to completely destroy their leader who continuously regenerated. So, the only option was to seal her away, containing the threat. Of course, like any self-respecting RPG trope, that ancient evil isn't going to stay sealed up forever. It's either going to find a way to free itself or some of its minions are going to do the deed. In the case of Wild Arms, it's the latter. The only hope of stopping all of this is a 15-year-old boy named Rudy who happens to have something called an ARM, a weapon from the war 1,000 years earlier. As he stumbles into his destiny other join his group, and they set off to try and stop another war from happening.

Granted, it wasn't the most original premise for a story to ever appear in a JRPG, but many found it to be a fun ride. It was made all the better since Wild Arms had an Old West setting. It's something that doesn't happen a lot in video games. Even now, 20 years later, there just aren't a lot of games that embrace that aesthetic. This game was different and stood out from the crowd because of this. As a result, Wild Arms did pretty well for itself. It wasn't a runaway hit, but the game managed to become popular enough to warrant making a sequel. The game even got a remake a decade later on the PS2 with Wild Arms: Alter Code F.

Wild Arms 2 Box Art
WILD ARMS 2

A couple of years later, the game got a sequel, sometimes referred to as Wild Arms: 2nd Ignition. It wasn't a huge leap over the original, but it was a sign that Sony wanted Wild Arms to be more than a one-off.

Right from the get go, one could see the similarities between the two games. The story, while having different characters, followed a very similar premise as the original Wild Arms. Another evil from 1,000 years ago was threatening Filgaia. It was a totally different evil that required a totally different hero, but one couldn't help but wonder what was up with that world. It's like all of Filgaia had its heart set on becoming some cyclical JRPG trope. Players were greeted with a new cast of characters, not to mention a larger cast besides. It helped give the story a little more flavor, but a lot of folks felt like Wild Arms 2 was treading overly similar ground to its predecessor. What really hurt the story was its translation, as it was sub par at best. There were many instances where people playing the game had no idea what it was trying to reference or were stuck muddling their way through an awkward passage of text.

There were a variety of minor tweaks to the game. Exploring the world required a radar unit to find different areas, as the map would be blank initially. The radar would need to be used to alert the party of locations to visit and even then they'd need to be informed by others that these places exist so that they had some idea what to look for in the first place. It was an interesting departure from the legions of other RPGs with a world map smattered with icons representing towns, castles, caves, and the like, and added a sense of mystery as players ventured into the unforgiving frontiers of Filgaia.

Wild Arms 2 Gameplay
Next, the battle system got a major work over. Fights in the first Wild Arms were pretty straightforward as far as JRPG combat went. The sequel tried to bring some new ideas to the table. This was achieved by doing away with magic points. Instead, each character had something called a Force Power meter. As they gave and received damage this would fill, capping at 100 points. This would be used as a resource for accessing various abilities that required a predetermined amount of points to activate. It made players strategize how to manage this in order to be most effective in battle, as opposed to a traditional magic system whereby one simply dealt with a mana pool that declined as a character cast spells. Also, if someone didn't feel like getting into a fight it was possible to avoid many battles. This was a time when random encounters were still a thing, so games that gave players a means to skip them were always welcome.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Wild Arms 2 graphics made a much more pronounced shift toward 3D. Environments were now in 3D, though characters remained 2D, and battles were 3D just like the first game, though they looked a lot better. Really, the game was a graphical improvement over everything one saw in the first Wild Arms game.

Unfortunately, the game didn't review very well in the West. Outside of dedicated RPG outlets, a lot of the more mainstream magazines and websites didn't seem too interested in Wild Arms 2, meanwhile Japan gave the game a much warmer reception. One has to wonder if Wild Arms 2 was largely overlooked when you consider all of the other high profile games that came out around that time. There were a lot of big name JRPGs that came in the summer of 2000 with games like Chrono Cross, Legend of Mana, Vagrant Story, Legend of Dragoon and Valkyrie Profile all hitting North America in rapid succession. When one considers that Wild Arms 2 released in this maelstrom of top tier games that would go on to become classics, it's easy to see that the game had its work cut out for it.

Wild Arms 3 PS2 Box Art
WILD ARMS 3

By the time Wild Arms 3 came along, we were on to the age of the PlayStation 2, a system that became a bottomless pit of top quality JRPGs. Eager to keep up with the competition, Media.Vision made a number of improvements for this game.

Obviously, the visuals were a lot better, not just from a technical standpoint, since new hardware was in play, but also in terms of artistic choices. Cel shading was becoming increasingly popular during this period for its ability to make characters and environments look more cartoon-like while still retaining a 3D polygonal sensibility. Games like Jet Set Radio, Sly Cooper, Dark Cloud 2, and a slew of others were helping to popularize the art style, and Wild Arms 3 would be one more game to take advantage of such an aesthetic. On the whole, it worked out well. Characters and enemies looked good and it helped to better define the game visually, becoming a hallmark of the series as its developers improved upon the art style with each new game.

Also benefiting from an overhaul was the battle system. From the very late 90s, one could see that JRPGs were making more of an effort to move away from the static battles that were so common to the genre. More games were trying things like having characters and enemies move around the battlefield, rather than just standing still. It made the whole thing feel a lot more dynamic than simply looking at some portraits of your party and the enemy while selecting actions from a menu. Instead combatants kept swirling around for a more advantageous position to land their attacks. With this game, we saw Wild Arms start to tap into such an approach to battles as well, as players watched their characters move around the screen while enemies did likewise when combat broke out. It wasn't hugely meaningful how everyone scrambled about, leaving some to consider the whole thing a bit of a gimmick since all of this movement didn't serve an actual purpose, but some enjoyed it for at least attempting something different.

Wild Arms 3 Gameplay
As new and fangled as the visuals and battle system may have been, the story retreads themes of previous games, and the genre in general. It focuses of a quartet of drifters, basically treasure hunters, who explore Filgaia in search of relics and adventure. Once more, it turns out that in the distant past a conflict between humans and a great evil erupted, and now, centuries later, it looks like trouble may be brewing once more. While this is certainly becoming a very well tread narrative for the series, it's increasingly obvious that the journey is what makes these games work. Getting to know the characters and following their adventures towards a final encounter with Wild Arms 3's big bad is what makes the story enjoyable. Interestingly, the game included a degree of dialogue branching when talking to people. It was a noticeable departure from the typical JRPG where players tended to feel like a spectator watching the conversation unfold, instead having more input in the direction it would take, though this didn't have any major impact on the story as a whole.

Thankfully, this game received a much better localization than its predecessor. In Wild Arms 3, everything made sense, and there were no weird situations where players were left scratching their heads trying to figure out just what happened. The game also had an interesting feature when loading up a saved game where one would be treated to a little anime sequence bringing things up to speed on what's been happening in the game so far, and it changed as they hit different progress points while playing. It was a nice touch for getting people back into things when returning to the game.

On the whole, the game was very well received, and considered by some to be a high point in the series. At the time, it was certainly viewed by many as the series getting back on track after Wild Arms 2. If nothing else, it got fans of JRPGs excited for more games in the series to be developed for the PlayStation 2.

Wild Arms 4 Box Art
WILD ARMS 4

A few years later, those people's wishes would be granted with Wild Arms 4 releasing on the PS2 in 2006. As a neat bit of trivia, this marks the first game in the series that wasn't published in the West by Sony Computer Entertainment America. Instead, XSEED handled the game's Western release. In fact, this was the first game that the company actually put out after their inception.

With this installment things felt quite different than previous games. In some ways it almost seemed like Wild Arms 4 was trying to become some sort of action platformer. When wandering around the various areas, there was a fast, fluid sense to everything as players guided their party down corridors, interacted with the environment, and solved puzzles. Like so many other games, the party was represented by one character on this map, which gave the game this platformer-like feel as they ran, jumped, and bonked things around them.

Meanwhile, Media.Vision spent some time fleshing out the combat system for this game. While characters and enemies were able to run around the battlefield in the previous game, it almost looked like chickens running around with their heads cut off. In Wild Arms, 4 we saw a hexagonal grid superimposed on the field with everyone having the the ability to move to difference grids and because of this positioning was something that mattered more, especially when one wanted to use magic. It wasn't all that elaborate, and certainly not on par with what one can find in strategy RPGs, but it added a greater layer of depth to combat instead of just being something for show like what we saw in Wild Arms 3.

One thing that almost came as a pleasant surprise with this game was that it took a step back from the very cliched story premises that had been so prevalent in the series up to this point. At it's heart, this was a coming of age story for Wild Arms 4's cast of characters. They were all in their teens and spent a lot more time learning about what it meant to become an adult while fending off a group calling itself the Congressional Knights who were rather intent of kidnapping one of the main party members, Yulie. Sadly, with all these young'uns running around, many felt that the story got a tad whiny as the game railed against adults and how they ran the world. So in some ways, despite ditching the "ancient evil threatening the world" shtick of the last three games, the story here was viewed as a bit of a missed opportunity.

Moreover, this game was probably the least Wild West themed entry among the Wild Arms games. So, to some degree, one of the things that helped set these games apart from so many others in the genre was slowly being stripped away in favor of a more traditional fantasy / sci-fi setting.

Unfortunately, this installment in the series didn't see much input from composer Michiko Naruke. She had taken ill during its production, so only contributed about a quarter of the songs found in the game. However, Masato Kouda, who had previously contributed to many Capcom soundtracks, and Ryuta Suzuki came along to fill the void. The end result was still quite good, but one could hear a slight difference in the general feel of the music.

Ultimately, most people seem to have enjoyed Wild Arms 4. It reviewed reasonably well and fans have fond memories of it with many citing the battle system as a real high point of the game. Thankfully, after this one players wouldn't have to wait another three years for a sequel. In fact, the next game would be just around the corner.

Wild Arms 5 Box Art
WILD ARMS 5

In the summer of 2007, what would turn out to be the final installment in the mainline series was released for the PlayStation 2 with Wild Arms 5. Compared to how long it took for part four to come out, this was a very quick turn around. Considering how similar 4 and 5 are, this probably shouldn't have come as a surprise.

Instead of continuing with the steady process of evolving the series with tweaks to the battle system, dungeons, graphics, and the like, which was a common thread throughout Wild Arms' history, Wild Arms 5 took a lot of what the previous game did and improved upon it. As a result, it was a game much more about polish than bombarding players with a cavalcade of new systems that they had to acquaint themselves with.

Dungeons once again had a more platformer-inspired approach to them with players running around, jumping off of things, and solving puzzles. Traditional tools present in previous games were absent, however, but to make up for this Dean, the main character, could use his ARMs to interact with his surroundings.

Wild Arms 5 Gameplay
Meanwhile, battles saw the return of a grid system that emphasized positioning in order to do well, although greater effort was made to provide a variety of layouts to the hex grid this go around. On top of this, a combo system was implemented whereby characters could work together to really pummel an enemy. The ability to move and attack in the same turn was also added, something absent from Wild Arms 4 that turned into a point of consternation for many.

Just like pretty much every other game in the series, Wild Arms 5's story wasn't going to turn a lot of heads. Players followed the adventures of a young man named Dean who was an amateur archaeologist searching ruins in hopes of learning more about golems, giant mechanical beings from ancient times. While doing this one day he has a run-in with a girl named Avril who has amnesia. This leads Dean and his friends going on an adventure to help her remember her past and figure out who this Johnny Appleseed she keeps going on about  is.

With all of the improvements over part four many were quite pleased with what they found in this game. With all of the polish to various gameplay elements and a reasonably entertaining story, things were looking good for Wild Arms 5. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for the series, as no further sequels would be made.

Wild Arms XF Box Art
WILD ARMS XF

In 2008, one final Wild Arms game was released for the PSP. It was meant as a spin off, going for a tactical strategy RPG approach rather than being a full on JRPG like the previous games in the series. Given the use of a basic hexagonal grid battle system in Wild Arms 4 and 5, perhaps this was the next logical step for these games, embracing a much more elaborate approach to such combat as the series rubbed shoulders with the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, and the like.

Once more the game takes place in the world of Filgaia and once more it's a desolate wasteland that was once lush and green in the far off distant past. Players take on the role of a young woman named Clarissa Arwin and her half-brother Felius as they pursue Robert Dandridge for the murder of their mother. As this unfolds, it becomes obvious that the world is facing its own threats, especially the once tranquil Kingdom of Elesius, and before long the pair are swept away in a web of political intrigue.

As stated earlier, this was a strategy RPG, and thus something quite different from the other Wild Arms games. Players had a maximum of six characters in their squad at a time for fighting enemies with, but could have many more in reserve for later. These included main characters that were integral to the story as well as hired mercenaries. Outside of combat it was possible to change anyone's class (except one character who was a dog), so we saw something more akin to Final Fantasy's job system here. More importantly, as these different classes got stronger it became possible to learn more and more skills pertaining to it. Once a skill was permanently learned, things got particularly interesting because characters could still have it equipped even when switching to a different class, which resulted in the possibility for a lot of customized hybrid characters.

All of that being said, Wild Arms XF gained a reputation for being quite challenging. Opportunities to gain experience points were sparse, so it wasn't really a viable option to grind out levels to overcome tough fights. Players would have to put on their thinking caps if they wanted to get past these obstacles. As a result, some were turned off by the game, abandoning it after only a few hours. Those who stuck with it found the game to be an interesting take on tactical RPGs, and a unique addition to the franchise, resulting in the game largely being looked at as an intriguing curiosity in the Wild Arms series.

MANGA AND ANIME

Wild Arms Manga and Anime

From time to time if a video game becomes popular enough in Japan it winds up getting an anime or manga spin off. In the case of Wild Arms, it got both. These things can be risky, as the quality of such products can be all over the place ranging from being an absolutely terrible cash grab capitalizing on the popularity of a game to a show or comic that turns out to be quite good.

The anime of Wild Arms wound up being somewhere in the middle, turning out reasonably entertaining, but certainly nothing great. Titled Wild Arms: Twilight Venom and originally airing in late 1999, the game loosely took place around the same time as Wild Arms 2. There are even vague references to some of the characters from that game in the show. Revisiting Twilight Venom now, it is very obviously a product from a bygone era in anime. The art, music, and structure of the story screams of the 90s, which some people today, more used to modern anime may not be keen on. Moreover, the series suffered from quite a few filler episodes which hurt the show's overall pacing.

On the other hand, the two separate manga series based on Wild Arms are considered to be pretty good. First there was Wild Arms Hana Nusubito, translated as Wild Arms: Flower Thieves, released in 2001. It was unusual in that the story took place on Earth rather than Filgaia. The terrain and general theme were the same as ever, with the planet being a desolate wasteland after a battle between humans and demons 1,000 years earlier, but it was unexpected that our own planet would be dragged into things instead of just having it take place on Filgaia as Wild Arms always had up to this point.

Several years later, coinciding with the release of Wild Arms XF, a manga based on the game also came out. It focused on Clarissa and Felius, giving readers a little more insight into the characters, and made for a nice companion to go alongside the game.

LEGACY

It has now been almost a decade since a new Wild Arms game has been made. Media.Vision has moved on to other things, having created the Chaos Ring series of RPGs for mobile, last year's very well-received Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, and just recently announcing their next project, Valkyria: Azure Resolution. By the looks of things, Wild Arms just isn't on the books for them. There was a bit of speculation back in 2014 that a new game might happen, but since then things have been quiet. 2016 does mark the 20th anniversary of the series, however. Wild Arms' creator, Akifumi Kaneko, as well as the games' composer Michiko Naruke have been in meetings with people at Sony to do something for it, but as of now we don't know what this might entail. Kaneko has told people not to get their hopes too high, but if something could help rekindle people's interest in the series, that would be most welcome.

As it stands, not a lot of games get released that have an Old West setting when compared to all of the fantasy and science fiction offerings that there are to choose from. Wild Arms marks a very rare case where not just one game embraced it and managed to become popular, but an entire series. In the end, that is definitely something to be commended.