I’ve been replaying Wild Arms 1 lately and have been learning a lot from observing how they handled various aspects of RPG design. One aspect in particular really surprised me – how Wild Arms handles treasure chest rewards.
It’s an age-old RPG design dilemma – how do you make it so that treasure chests are rewarding without throwing the economic balance of the shops out of whack? I’m sure many of us have had the unpleasant experience of spending money in an RPG shop only to feel foolish when we soon find something even better than what we just bought.
Wild Arms solves this problem in a very elegant manner – there’s very little cross-over between chest rewards & store rewards.
From stores, the player buys better weapons and armor. They can buy consumable items but only the basics (heal individual ailments & the lowest tier of healing). Finally, there’s a money sink in the form of upgrading the ARMs (aka firearms/special moves) of one of your playable characters.
From treasure chests, the player can find better consumable items, accessories that can bestow various bonuses, and ways to permanently boost characters (like consumable items that raise a particular stat or lower the MP cost of an ability). In fact, you can even gain all new abilities from chests & exploration (new ARMs, glyphs that increase the number of spells the mage can use, and cutscenes that trigger the swordslinger’s into gaining new techniques).
Since you don’t get weapon & armor from treasure chests (at least most of the time; there are probably some high-end equipment that you can find near the end of the game), you can buy these things from stores knowing that your money is well spent. Likewise, treasure chests remain exciting because they give you new ways to improve characters that you can’t find otherwise and because consumable items are unusually effective in Wild Arms 1 due to one of the main characters starting out with an ability that allows her to target everyone when using an item.
In fact, the only common way that chest rewards tie into store rewards is by giving you money and here there’s no buyer’s remorse – it just gives you the opportunity to buy more rather than invalidate your previous purchases.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to learn something about RPG design from Wild Arms 1 (a personal favorite game, but one that I previously thought was more of a guilty pleasure than an honestly great game) but that just goes to show you that you should keep an open mind – you never know when something will spark an idea or teach you the answer to a problem that had been bothering you.