Wild ARMs is fondly remembered as a rpg that came out before Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. When your competition is Beyond the Beyond, it’s not hard to be amazing. The game used 2D sprites for exploration and 3D battles (which while interesting in the day, are now very dated.) The composer Michiko Naruke is closely linked to the series and has written a wide range of Old West style music for it. If you google Wild ARMs, you’ll easily find people posting the opening animation and the haunting whistling song that plays over it.
Wild ARMs came out in Japan in 1996 and a year later in the US. The plot is a pretty simple three against the forces of evil style affair. You have the soldier from a fallen kingdom relearning fancy sword moves. You’ve got a princess avenging her kingdom (which is destroyed at the end of your introduction sequence.) And you have a mysterious loner who can use cybernetic guns (the ARMs of the title.) There’s a complex series of Guardian figures which can be summoned for various effects or used as stat boosts on the characters.
There’s a couple of things the game has that were carried on to later games in the series. The games tend to use items to solve puzzles in dungeons. So the loner, Rudy, can lay bombs for example. The games also tend to emphasize the sheer size of the desolate post-apocolyptic world. There’s often an anime like presentation to the game (each character gets an introductory arc, and there’s an animated opening, in the case of the first game.)
The second game, Wild ARMs 2, came out in 1999 in Japan, and a year later in the US. Most people talking about the game point out that Ashley, Lilka, and Brad can be seen as very similar to the first game’s Rudy, Cecilia, and Jack. That’s usually followed up by a comment on the notably awkward translation. Both of these points are true. While the characters have different personalities and motives, they do still feel a bit like a remake of the first game’s characters. The game attempts to make the world feel more empty by making the player have to find out where towns are. Once you know where they are, you search on the world map to discover the new town. This feels a little silly when your characters are unable to see a large mansion on top of a cliff above a certain town. Still – it’s an attempt to evoke the desolate unexplored world.
The game features better battle graphics, evolving opening animations, and closing animations after a game is saved. Adding into the anime feel is the introductions for bosses, which features an outlined boss posing, and then a title like, “Sealed Monster Weapon, Kalivos.” As for the plot, it feels a lot darker and more serious, compared to the broad strokes of a story in the first game.
Wild ARMs 3 has a female heroine, and shakes up your party structure compared to the first two games. It came out for the PS2 in 2002, and has an interesting Cel Shaded style to the graphics. The world is decaying to the point that healing items are extremely limited until you can create a farm to grow the berries. Again, like Wild ARMs 2, you have to search for places on the world map to find areas.
Wild ARMs 4 is largely considered to be the worst game in the series. It came out in 2005 in Japan, and 2006 in the US. The main plot is the conflict between kids and adults, and it’s emphasized all over the game. Unfortunately, the hero is perky and very chatty thanks to the voice samples in the game. Exploration is done via platforming, which is actually not that bad to control. The battle system is the new Hex system, which focuses on positioning as well as basic combat. Much like Wild ARMs 2, and 3, there’s a significant playable character who’s a powerful woman. That definitely doesn’t mean the game is perfect from a feminist point of view, but it’s an interesting trait through the series.
Wild ARMs 5 feels a bit like a nostalgia trip. Once again, your hero is an exploring kid with blue/black hair. And once again there’s tool usage in dungeons (though it’s changed,) and a mysterious world to explore. The plot aims for depth, since your hero and a certain character have similar beliefs, but very different goals and alliances. Again, goofy over the top elements appear in the game. Previous games featured punching a missile to stop it from destroying a town, and Wild ARMs 5 features pogo-sticking on a shovel. On the other hand, the game ends with a tragic tale of separation and there’s some awkward attempts to talk about racism.
All in all, the series is an interesting mix. It has unique gameplay systems, between the tools, the flavor of the world, and the battle systems. It has a unique setting – a sort of Old West mixed with wasteland kind of feel. It has a comedic goofy plot mixed with somber elements. All of it’s wrapped up in a package that attempts to emulate the tropes of an animated series, giving each game the feeling of seasons in a cartoon series. The games aren’t interconnected. Instead they tend to be revisions and versions of similar words tied to new ideas. I wouldn’t say the game is perfect, but I definitely think they’re worth playing.