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Wild Arms 4 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Wild Arms 4 (PlayStation 2) review

"Wild ARMs 4 is the latest entry in the Wild West RPG series, though you'd never know it from all of the changes that were made. Though a few new gameplay elements have been added to the mix, WA4 fits solidly in the console turn-based RPG genre. You control a small, rag-tag group of youngsters that takes on a horde of monstrous enemies. Each character specializes in a different area, like fighting, magic, or support skills. As you beat enemies, you level up your power, gain new abilities, get mor..."

Wild ARMs 4 is the latest entry in the Wild West RPG series, though you'd never know it from all of the changes that were made. Though a few new gameplay elements have been added to the mix, WA4 fits solidly in the console turn-based RPG genre. You control a small, rag-tag group of youngsters that takes on a horde of monstrous enemies. Each character specializes in a different area, like fighting, magic, or support skills. As you beat enemies, you level up your power, gain new abilities, get more powerful weapons, and go off to the next dungeon.

This time around, you start your adventure as Jude, a plucky young go getter from the secluded and peaceful Ciel Village. You're the only boy in the village, with a loving mother, a stern martial arts trainer, and a town full of old people that love you. Naturally, that whole world is destroyed in the first hour of the game. You'll eventually learn that you’re a "gene driver", a person with the genetic makeup needed to control weapons known as ARMs. Once you start packing heat, you'll go off on a whirlwind adventure across the desolate world of Filgaia. Filgaia is still recovering from a war that ended a decade ago, but left the planet a dead and dreary place. Of course, you'll eventually get wrapped up in a plot to destroy everything and will fight your way to those responsible and save the world. Does any of the above sound remotely original? It shouldn't, because this is the plot to every RPG ever made. RPGs need a good story to keep you going for 30+ hours. Unfortunately for this game, WA4 just doesn't have one. It has the same old world saving story, and it isn't even done well.

One major problem is the poor overall presentation. While Wild Arms 3 had a unique cel-shaded Wild West look, WA4 goes more for a standard anime feel. The characters have huge eyes, big mouths, wild hairdos, and ridiculous weapons. Every time you enter a conversation, the game switches to anime-style character portraits rather than show the text box in game. It's a jarring transition every time it happens, and the same few portraits are used throughout. The dialogue is also always along the line of "adults don't understand kids" and "kids don't understand adults" or "I fight for peace". It's boring to read, and with no decent graphics to go along with it, it quickly becomes a chore to go through a dialogue section.

When you do have rendered cutscenes, they don't look good at all. It's as if they used the in game engine to render it, then dialed-down the resolution. This makes me wonder why they didn't just use the in-game engine instead. The characters' mouths are obviously moving to sync with the Japanese voices, which means that the English voices pause awkwardly to match up with the mouths. This is common in anime, but just looks odd here.

Speaking of voices, WA4 has to have some of the worst voiceover I've heard in some time. Jude has quite possibly the most irritating voice of any main character in an RPG. The main bad guy sounds like a surfer instead of a military captain, and a few of the bad guys' acting is so over the top it's funny.

The battle system in WA4 is its strongest feature. This is a big relief, since the encounter rate is pretty high in this game. At the beginning of battle, your characters and the enemies are positioned randomly in a set of seven hexagons, three of which have elemental powers attached to them. So, instead of lining up against your enemies and just picking from "attack, magic, special, item, defend", you have to pick a strategic position to strike by moving within striking range of your target. This adds some depth to the gameplay, as you'll usually want to control one of the elemental hexes, but not spread yourself out or get surrounded by your enemies. Also, status effects (haste, poison, magic resistance) are planted on the hex, not the character, making it an interesting tradeoff of where to put your fighter. The system works very well, but you'll find that you move to a standard deployment and stick with it throughout the game except for certain enemies. For instance, putting your melee fighter in the middle, your ranged fighter behind her, and the two magic users on the elemental hexes flanking them is almost always the best strategy that you can employ. After the battle, a treasure chest may appear on any of the hexes. If your character is standing on the hex with the chest, you get the item. If not, you miss it. Post-battle, your characters gain experience multipliers based upon what they did in battle. So, if you countered an attack, you'll get 1.2x the experience. If you finished off the last enemy, you'll get 1.7x. If you did both, you'll get 1.9x, etc. This means that your melee character levels up faster than the others, since she was a counterattacking, critical-hitting, enemy crushing machine. In any case, there's a lot going on in battles, and you'll find yourself trying new skills and arrangements to better stay on top of your enemies.

Another thing that WA4 has going for it is the amount of customization that you can do to your characters. There are a number of different customization options, but the skill system is by far the deepest. Each character has a list of skills that they can learn. This ranges from attack abilities, healing spells, stat boosts, or other various abilities. As you level up, you'll learn these skills automatically. However, you also get a growth point each time you level up. These can be applied to your skills so you can learn it earlier than by leveling up. However, keeping growth points in reserve boosts your HP and MP. It becomes an interesting tradeoff between acquiring skills and keeping your character strong at the same time. The nice thing about this is that you can readjust all of your skills and growth points on the fly, so you're never locked into a bad setup for your character. You'll be rewarded for playing around with your skills when you match up against enemies that are weak to the abilities that you've chosen.

Those two great features don't make up for the rest of the gameplay. You'll spend most of your time getting from point A to point B by moving across large linear expanses, 2-D platforming areas, and through some very boring puzzles. When running around the map, you have the ability to jump on ledges, stomp on crates, climb up pipes, and pick up tools to get through the next section. This could have been interesting, but you'll mostly just be running in a straight line all of the time. Every now and again, they switch it up by having you run in a straight line across 2-D space. It's kind of a mix of Super Mario Brothers and Japanese-RPG, but it's implemented poorly. These sections are always tedious, as it just takes too long to get through them. You can put yourself in "Accelerator" mode to find hidden gold or to slow down obstacles, but this doesn't make the running any more fun. Neither does the set of puzzles that you'll have to solve to get through the dungeon. There are a lot of switches to be thrown, torches to be lit, and platforms to scale. While the puzzles themselves aren't so bad, they're totally nonsensical. Why would you have to light torches to get through a door of an orphanage? Why is there a switch to move platforms across molten lava in a temple? Why do they use disappearing blocks in a tower? All of these elements add up to create an awful gameplay experience outside of combat.

Wild Arms 4 is such a step in the wrong direction for this series. The developers can be commended for tossing RPG conventions to the side in favor of some new ideas, but they just don't make up for the glaring problems in this game. After about 20 hours, you'll want to forgo sidequests and power leveling in favor of beating it and putting it down, because the game feels more like work than fun. Wild Arms 4 should be avoided, even if you're a fan of RPGs and especially if you're a fan of the Wild Arms series.

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Community review by skrutop (August 16, 2006)

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