the hunt in red october

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I started the day wanting to buy an X-Box. I had the money in the bank as well as my problem set done. So I drove to my usual first stop: Wal-Mart! It’s only a mile and a half from my place, and they’re always 3 cents under MSRP. Needless to say, they didn’t have the new Rally/JSRF bundle… so I moved on… to Fry’s. Sadly, they didn’t have it either, and their “knowledgable” salespeople had no clue what I was talking about. I suspect that they were trying to get rid of the old X-Boxes before selling the bundles.

So I moved on to Toys ‘R Us, but got sidetracked because I noticed I was passing Golfland, so I stopped by to check to see if that do have a GGXX machine there. Well, they were closed.

At Toys ‘R Us, I failed yet again. But an ad reminded me of Wild Arms 3, so I asked them about it. They looked at me dumbfounded. I pointed to the ad. They said they haven’t received it in yet. Arggg!

My last resort, of course, is driving an extra five miles to Electronics Boutique. There, when the salesperson was trying to convince me of buying the refurbished X-Box for $150, the UPS guy dropped off a stock of Wild Arms 3. I bought one and drove home. They are expecting to get the X-Box bundle in soon, but with WA3 in my hands, I doubt I’ll be looking as hard.

So how is WA3? My initial impression is that the cel-shading looks awesome. It’s not as high of a polygon count as FFX, but it looks really slick. The lighting effects, like during fire spells, are fabulous. I’m also really liking the sound and BGM. Everything sounds western. One caveat: the singing sucks. I used to not like voice acting in my RPGs, but after playing Grandia 2 and FFX, I’m kind of missing it for WA3. I think it’ll fit well with the whole western theme.

The game plays out in the world of Filgaia, which has been a wasteland for thousands of years since the great war between humanity and the demons. There are people (a la the heros from earlier games) who were “Drifters” who roam the world searching for treasure, family, purpose, or whatever else they expect to find in the wasteland. The game opens on board a train during a robbery attempt, and the four protagonists are caught in the middle. Virginia: the girl in first class. Think Rikku’s personality with high agility/speed. Clive: the guardsman. Think Auron’s personality with high attack/defense. Jet: the treasure hunter. Think Squall’s personality with high evade/hit. Gallows: the priest-in-training. Think Wakka’s personality with high magic. The game then proceeds into a prologue mode playing out each character’s backstory.

The battle system is very similar to Chrono Cross. Each time an attack with an ARM (your gun) is successful, your FP meter charges. FP allows special attacks as well as magic and summons. The FP meter is then reset after each battle. After battle, a separate vitality meter is used to recharge your HP. To last long in dungeons, it pays to heal before killing the last enemy to not use up too much vitality. The enemies enjoy hitting the party with status ailments, and shops that sell recovery are sometimes hard to find, so it pays to stock up on antidotes, etc.

Character improvement is done via junctioning like FF8. Each summon boosts certain stats, like HP or agility as well as provide access to special skills, like “Critical Strike” and “Poison Resist”. Special skills need points put into them, and like Diablo, each character level grants that character one point for use in the skills. More points equals more effective that skill is. Items can be used to teach the summons new skills a la FF8, FFX.

All in all, the game has been fun the play. The random battle system is the best I’ve seen– an exclaimation mark pops up whenver a battle is about to begin, and it gives the player a chance to bypass the battle completely (of course, there is a limit to this). The game is fairly puzzle-intensive, but the puzzles have been more ICO-like than FFX-like, and that’s a good thing.

A few knocks I have against the game are the annoying status ailments, and how it’s hard to tell sometimes what status ailment has afflicted the character. Also, there is a lack of monster types in the game. A few dungeons have had just one type of monster, and it makes combat a bit tedious. The boss battles, though, are fairly challenging.

The last time I played a non-fantasy RPG was FF8, so WA3 is a nice change of pace with its western setting and cel-shading. That and I prefer guns over swords for weapons.

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