Saturday, May 14, 2022


Publisher:Arsys Software
Developer:Arsys Software
Time:50 minutes

Wibarm is the debut game of famed Japanese company Arsys, who would go on to develop the famed Star Cruiser series. The company was formed by disgruntled Tecno Soft employees, and as I understand it this is an advancement of the tech developed in some of those games. However, today we're only interested in the direct ancestor of Star Cruiser, which is this, a side-scrolling platformer/TPS with RPG elements. What's interesting about this game is that there's a DOS version ported by Broderbund, which I didn't start off with, instead trying out the FM-7 version.
The base screen, get used to seeing this a lot

The intro, which was in English originally and then rewritten to be clearer for the Broderbund release, tells us that in the aftermath of a nuclear war, the "big countries" continue to produce weapons. A rebellion breaks out, which I think causes monsters to be released, who then break the communication link between a power plant tower and the power plant orbiting around the Earth. The power plant's orbit is decaying and will soon smash into the Earth and destroy it. Music accompanies this. After that, the game goes straight into a weapon selection menu. You don't know what any of these starting out are, even checking the manual. This could have just left out of the American manual though. (I admit its a bit weird playing the Japanese version with the American manual, but what can you do?) The way they work in practice seems to be that some enemies are vulnerable to certain kinds of weapons.

The overworld, I am traveling in the flight mode, which is faster than the tank and mech modes

When the game starts up its not terribly clear what it is I'm supposed to be doing. Pressing the X key changes me between a flight mode, a tank mode, and a mech mode. None of these seem to do anything and there's no guidance. At this point I find the manual for the American release, because information for a different computer is better than no information. Turns out you select a weapon with a menu used by the ESC key, good to know

The tank mode, which doesn't seem to have any reason for existing
There are a bunch of door things here and there which one can enter with the Spacebar key and then enter. This is the third-person section. Third person shooter implies you get to shoot someone in this mode. Instead its a JRPG-style dungeon crawler. Only instead of randomly bumping into enemies, they're all visible on the "overworld". Bump into one of their icons and then a real fight will begin.

Hello my old friend, level-gating
This turns the game back in a side-scroller. Its one of those side-scrolling sections that's hard to describe, but you know it as soon as you play it. Basically think like of it like a fighting game. You attack with Z and space. Z is a kind of laser weapon attack while space is the secondary weapon. These drain energy, lose all that, or take too much damage, and game over. The enemies inside buildings are invulnerable to damage. Aha, you say, this is a RPG, clearly you just need to grind outside. The team behind Wibarm thought of that too. Each time you defeat a random enemy, you get more points, sure, but the enemy also increases in strength when it respawns. Even better, they're sometimes not even killable by default. Yes, this is going to be one of those games. What is it with Japan and RPGs that creates the absolute worst kind of padding?
Indigo apparently means something different to the Japanese

The intended progression, as far as I can tell, is that the player searches through all the interiors, dodging all the background enemies, while trying to collect as many items as possible. Its through these items that the real progression seems to take place. Unfortunately, since you don't enter these areas outside the exit, you have to find it. And sometimes the exit is going to be behind some enemies. Its at this point I figure out that some weapons work better than others on certain enemies, and you can fly past an enemy. The latter isn't always a wise idea, since entering combat with an enemy sometimes drains the Mental stat, and I'm pretty sure getting it to zero kills me.

An item in the interior stage, note the red icons on my mini-map, which just tell you something is there, not if they're enemies or items
Its at this point that the game pretty much stop responding to my commands if I enter any menu. Even if I restart the emulator. Clearly, I am not going to be doing anything more here. What about the DOS version? Well, that works until I try to actually enter the game, whereupon it says it can't find the path, and makes me retry or quit. I could at this point restart with some other version, its on basically every Japanese computer from the time. But I don't really want to have to fiddle around with every version of this, and let's not kid ourselves, this isn't very good as a shooter. You don't even aim your weapon, it just automatically aims itself towards the nearest enemy.
Some pre-recorded message I didn't bother translating
Having sub-weapons work better against some monsters is a good idea, except that there's no way to find out how that works short of just firing away at them. There's no way to change them in-combat, so you have to get out and return to see if something else works. 2/10

There are some nice graphics for these guys and each kind of enemy has a unique behavior, but they do feel quite a bit samey despite this. 2/10


I don't think much thought was left here. Everything is just sort of placed down. 1/10

Player Agency:
Even before it stopped responding to my commands, the game was never really the best at registering my commands. The ESC key was always loose, and there is no back movement in the 3D spaces. The various modes seem unnecessary, especially the tank mode. Could have just used a single mecha mode and allowed it to fly on the overmap, or simply design it differently. 2/10


Its definitely that Japanese style of sci-fi. 1/10

Make no mistake, while this game looks nice in stills, in motion its not really great. There's that persistent blocky movement that always comes from these early PC free-scrolling side-scrollers. 2/10

The intro story is something I'm still not clear on. In-game there are a few recorders lying around with information on them, but I didn't bother translating it. 1/10

You get some very basic sound effects and then some music. The music is nice...the first time you here it. Unfortunately, it loops, and as I previously mentioned, this is a game with a lot of padding. 2/10

That's 13.

Wibarm's in an awkward middle position where none of the genres its trying to do work well. Its not all that bad, but a harsh opening and having several game-ending bugs will stop many from playing it for very long. We'll see if Star Cruiser shows any sign of fixing these issues.

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