Review: Why buy new when you can just remake it?
Remakes are a touchy thing in gaming, though they're more feasible than most other forms of entertainment simply because they're technology driven. A few remakes of seminal titles have come down the pipe in the last few years, such as the fantastic Resident Evil recreation and the 'solid' retelling of Metal Gear Solid. Rumors still exist that Square Enix is preparing for a massive remake of Final Fantasy VII as its cornerstone PlayStation 3 release. These games are huge hits and are 3 of the most defining games of the PlayStation generation, and remaking them makes sense, simply to expose them to a whole new generation of gamers. So, fine. But why oh why are we getting a remake of Wild Arms in Agetec's Alter Code F, an old PS1 RPG that might have been top dog when it released, but was eventually rendered forgotten by Final Fantasy VII's role-playing revolution? Sure, it's still a good RPG for those loyal Wild Arms fans, but there wasn't really much of an outcry to remake the game, especially since the far more innovative and fresh Wild Arms 4 is out there waiting to be experienced. As a matter of fact, Wild Arms fans are much better off picking up XSEED's first publishing effort and leaving this one on the shelf regardless, unless you have never seen the beginning of this long-running franchise or simply must have everything Wild Arms.
As this is a remake, the plot remains the same, as Rudy Roughknight (groan) is a young drifter in the world known as Filgaia, which represents a likely fictional view of the old west in America. Along his journey Rudy acquires a handful of traveling partners and the plot begins to take shape as the drifters wind up being vital to Filgaia's future as the party sets out to prevent past happenings from repeating and throwing the world into chaos. Of course, Rudy and crew have access to ARMs, as lacking these wouldn't make it much of a Wild Arms game. For those who have played the original game, you can expect a more sensible translation (RPGs weren't exactly known for top-flight localization back in those days after all), a handful of new areas and puzzles to solve, and of course, updated graphics, but everything else will be familiar. Those who haven't played the original game can expect the usual Wild Arms plot, gameplay, and the like, as the franchise wasn't exactly known for innovation back before they put some effort into 4th Detonator. However the quest is massive as the new additions and old stuff have made the game a dual-layered disc saved for only the biggest of RPGs, like Xenosaga previously did. If you want bang for the buck, you'll get it here.
The traditional Wild Arms battle system is here, so fans will be able to jump right in while those who haven't played can still learn pretty fast. It's your basic turn-based system, where each party member chooses their action and then the battles play out, hopefully in your favor. In addition to basic attacks, there's special 'force' moves that you can execute once you get enough FP (somewhat like an Overdrive or Limit Break), and some magic attacks here and there, but usually it's about shooting stuff with your guns. As always, you have a bullet limit, and have to actually 'reload' by guarding unless you have an alternative means of attack. After each battle you 'recharge' HP by using vitality points, but if those run out you won't be able to do so. On the whole ACF's battles can be tough but usually dealt with by mixing in strategy with the usual turn-based tactics. Alas it's not a whole lot different than it was back in 1997, so it feels a little bit outdated compared to the more in-depth battle systems of modern role-playing games, as it lacks flair and is pretty basic stuff, making it a good choice for an RPG newbie looking to ease themselves into the genre.
Alter Code F retains the usual world map, and while there are random encounters while traveling it, you can directly affect them by pressing Square in time to evade, though if you use it too much the encounter gauge will empty and you'll have to fight. It's kind of odd how Media Vision keeps letting you fiddle with encounters seeing that this game requires a lot of leveling and you can only get stronger by fighting. I suppose it could come in handy if you're in a place where enemies are more of a nuisance than anything. Also, ACF employs the damned annoying location search 'feature' that makes you press Circle while you wander the map looking for something as simple as a town. It's different, sure, but it's also a bit too much 'busy work' for a game that should want you to explore but yet also not be wandering around aimlessly pressing a button to find the next stop. It's one of the reasons why Wild Arms 4 is so much better.
Wild Arms has been known for solid dungeon design in the past, and such is the case here. Not a surprise or anything, because, you know...it's a remake. Anyway, while the requisite dungeon crawl is here, with numerous battles and branching paths, the big deal is the puzzles that usually require use of 'tools' that your characters are supplied with, adding a bit more action than you'd expect from this genre. Sometimes you might need a bomb to blow up a wall, or activate numerous switches at one time, or make use of many other tools. This makes for a bit more involving experience when you're in a dungeon, though quite often they can be tricky especially when you come across a head-scratching puzzle. The new bonus dungeons made for this remake are a welcome addition, as the main dungeons have only been slightly, if at all, changed from its original source material. It's been so many years that it's hard to tell...it's too bad we couldn't have gotten the original game bundled in with Alter Code F for comparison's sake, rather than a short anime DVD.
Visually ACF is rather ordinary, certainly not exactly groundbreaking and even older RPGs like Final Fantasy X (which is 5 years old now) look superior technologywise. Though seeing the Japanese release of this game was in 2003 it's not a surprise it looks so old. The game does capture the old-west, most specifically a beat down, hurting old-west that is dying out, though its also far too brown and lacking much detail, though perhaps by design seeing how Filgaia isn't exactly doing well in this era. It's dingy, dead, and generally just devoid of any sort of positive energy. The characters are blocky anime-style things, though clearly Media Vision does this intentionally as this has been the case for years. The soundtrack is your usual western-styled batch of themes with a good battle theme and plenty of depressing tunes when you're in towns and dungeons. It could have been recycled from an old game, though probably not. In order to preserve the integrity of the original version, Alter Code F lacks voice acting, which makes it feel even more outdated than it is.