Wild Arms – Alter Code: F

Remakes are a tricky business in the world of entertainment. Hardly a safe bet, most remakes automatically fall under the scrutiny of an established, dedicated fan base. As high-profile film remake duds such as Psycho, Diabolique and Alfie demonstrate, there is no easy formula to recreating the magic from successful source material. Videogames also share the dilemma, in that some games simply lend themselves to better remakes than others. Sid Meier’s Pirates recently revived a 15 year-old classic to largely critical acclaim, while simpler action games tend not to benefit as much from a modern facelift. The middling reinventions of Atari-era classic arcade games Centipede, Asteroids and Missile Command attest to this.

Wild Arms – Alter Code: F finds itself in a curious situation. It is based on the original PS1 game Wild Arms, still young enough that it has yet to celebrate its 10th anniversary but is fondly remembered as one of the earliest major PS1 RPGs. It also happens to belong to a series of fading fortunes, the sales numbers having plunged for each successive installment in the USA. Stopping the downward trend will be one of the largest challenges for publishers, Agetec, who have taken over the localization duties this time from Sony CEA. Agetec is unlikely to get a demo onto a Jam Pack disc like Sony did for Wild Arms 3, but with their tighter resources they may be able to better focus the marketing on the appropriate niche.

The first noticeable change here resides in the graphics engine. Gone are the 2D/3D hybrid of the first Wild Arms and the cel-shading of the third installment in favor of a more conventional-looking fully 3D environment. The result is that Alter Code: F sports the most realistic look for the series yet. The graphics and animation look pleasant if not spectacular, and considering the series’ inherent Wild West flair, it’s astonishing that the visuals lack a further distinctive edge. The musical composer from the first Wild Arms game returns, and the soundtrack should be pleasingly familiar to longtime fans.

Alter Code: F’s battles are a mix of the old and new. There is still a limit of three characters in a battle and the combat options remain essentially the same as in the first game, but this time there are six total characters to choose from to fill the three slots. Characters can be switched in and out of battle, although it remains to be seen if characters outside of the battle slots will be able to figure more directly during battle. Alter Code: F also adapts two significant features from later Wild Arms games: the ability to avoid random battles entirely, and the radar system for discovering the game’s towns and dungeons.

Three of the six characters in Alter Code: F are returning principals from the first Wild Arms: Jack, Rudy and Cecilia. Emma, Calamity Jane and McDullen – NPCs from the first game – round out the new motley crew. The game’s script is being rewritten, so the roles of the latter three characters could be expanded to accommodate their increased participation. It is unclear whether any of the game’s puzzles will be redesigned as well, but Alter Code: F is certain to have its dungeons populated with their fair share of brain teasers, in any case.

Perhaps the following feature is available because the game was released over a year ago in Japan, but Alter Code: F makes use of Sony’s all but officially abandoned HDD. There aren’t any extra in-game features with this accessory, but rather the entire game can be copied to, and played off, the hard drive. This will definitely save some wear-and-tear on the PS2’s DVD-ROM drive, although one has to wonder whether this is a veiled admittance that the game’s load times will be all-too-noticeable for players without the HDD. It will also be interesting to see what kind of copy protection is used to ensure gamers won’t be able to keep the game for merely the price of a rental. The game will be pressed on a dual-layer DVD, so players who had problems with previous dual-layer releases like Xenosaga and Champions of Norrath should be forewarned.

Agetec has two main challenges with this game: to impress existing Wild Arms fans and to carve out a new audience for the series. The improved features and bells and whistles combined with the persistence of the game’s core mechanics could be enough to appeal to older fans. Finding a new audience will be the more difficult part. Normally there isn’t much competition this early in the gaming year, but Alter Code: F is scheduled for release within a couple of months of rival RPGs such as Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga and Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. From the looks of it, though, Wild Arms – Alter Code: F should be a strong contender and RPG fans are well advised to give it a closer look over the coming months.

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