Wild Arms is a classic Japanese RPG — a PS1 release from when the console was at the height of its popularity. Unfortunately, at least here in the West, Wild Arms was overshadowed by a little game called Final Fantasy VII, and the property — which would go on to spawn four somewhat divisive sequels and a couple of spinoffs — never really took off in the way that Square Enix's blockbuster franchise did.
The original Wild Arms is still worth playing today, though, even if parts of it are tediously traditional. It tells the story of three main characters, who end up travelling together across an almost post-apocalyptic world. The game has a distinctly 90s anime tone, and its setting combines rather standard JRPG fantasy with some Wild West aesthetics. It's an intriguing blend of genres, even if the game's overall story leans heavily into the fantastical side of things.
Indeed, the plot won't win any awards for originality — not even back in 1996 — but it's told with the kind of directness and charm that's so intrinsic to the identity of old school JRPGs. Compared to modern titles, there's very little dialogue, but characters express their personalities through gameplay details and their actions during important story moments.
In classic JRPG fashion, you roam from town to town, dungeon to dungeon, in search of the next narrative beat. The structure is straightforward enough, but every now and then, actually working out where to go can be a tiresome process. You might have to speak to one very specific NPC, hidden away somewhere in a town that feels far too big. Or you may need to visit a different location first, before returning to the local pub and pursuing fresh dialogue with the bartender. It'll try your patience at times.
And of course, you'll be taking part in lots of random battles along the way. Fights are turn based affairs, rendered entirely in 3D — which was a big deal at the time. At first, combat is basic — perhaps too basic. Initially, you have access to a normal attack and just a couple of special abilities, and it stays this way for a good chunk of the game's 30-ish hour runtime.
Fortunately, combat finally comes into its own later on, when your heroic trio have unlocked a wider range of techniques. Strategy gradually becomes more important, as you utilise buffs, debuffs, and attacks that deal additional damage to certain enemy types. Some boss battles will have you committing to particularly tactical play, although most just require regular healing and frequent use of your most powerful abilities.
All told, the combat system is about as unspectacularly solid as they come, but battles can definitely drag. The pacing of these turn based encounters is slow — especially by today's standards — and when you're running into random battles every 30 seconds or so during an already lengthy dungeon crawl, the experience starts to grate. Thankfully, grinding isn't an out-and-out necessity, although it can certainly help towards the latter half of the game.
Presentation-wise, Wild Arms holds up quite nicely. The 2D overworld and sprite work still look enticing, and the music's full of understated earworms. Even the menus work well — simple in their design and therefore easy to navigate all these years later.
Wild Arms is like a dusty old book in video game form. It's a bit crusty by today's standards and its style of storytelling seems outdated, but there's an undeniable charm to how it's presented, and the creative spine of the experience still holds up. Despite some tedious gameplay elements and a battle system that doesn't truly click until hours into the adventure, Wild Arms remains a classic PS1 title. It's a memorable journey across a uniquely desolate fantasy world.