I’m still playing through Wild ARMs on the PSP whenever I have a few minutes to do what I want with my own life. You can accept that as a sign that I haven’t gotten bored of the game’s random encounters and slow, slooow fights yet.
In my memory, Wild ARMs held up, and it seems my memory wasn’t too far off the mark. I’m genuinely enjoying my trip across Filgaia.
I think that’s partially because the game has a unique atmosphere – a collaboration of sound and story that keeps me going. Even though Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia are pals and have vowed to stick together until some metal demon punctures all six of their eyes in a horrific Game Over, Wild ARMs evokes a real memorable sense of loneliness at times.
Part of it is the soundtrack; harmonicas don’t do a lot for convincing a person they’re surrounded by good company, nor do songs called Alone in the World. Oh, and there’s a theme reserved for those rad moments when the metal demons clear towns of their living inhabitants.
But Wild ARMs’ cast serves up loneliness, too. I still feel for the outcast Elw who was sentenced to stay on Filgaia after the rest of her race left the planet. She desperately wants to be friends with her adopted village’s kids, but they won’t go near her because she’s a long-eared weirdo that talks to flowers.
And then there’s Rudy Roughnight, the mute blue-haired protagonist with a baffling surname. His perpetual silence is not a new hero trope by any means, particularly not as far as JRPGs are concerned, but he’s a believable silent protagonist, which is rare.
Rudy is slightly alien for reasons that are gradually revealed through the game’s story. He’s an outcast, and was raised by a fellow outcast who seemed to speak for both of them whenever necessary.
Most importantly, despite Rudy’s silence, he’s not a cipher. When the party happens across a kid tormenting the aforementioned Elw girl, Rudy quietly slugs him. And it’s OK, because he’s 15, so we’re not talking about an adult feeding a kid a knuckle sandwich. We’re talking about good old-fashioned playground justice, Roughnight style.
To me, that one gesture makes Rudy a far more believable silent protagonist than, say, the lead of Suikoden II. I adore Suikoden II, but I can’t believe its lead is an inspirational figure any more than I can believe the game’s kobolds don’t sniff each other’s butts when they think no-one is watching.
In the same vein, I’m perfectly OK with Link remaining a silent protag. Skyward Sword isn’t the collective world’s favourite Legend of Zelda game, but Link’s expressions and gestures said way more than fifty pages of text ever could.
(That fifty pages of text went to Fi.)