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Wild Arms 2 (PlayStation) artwork

Wild Arms 2 (PlayStation) review

"If nothing else, Wild Arms 2 entertains solely because of how comfortable it is seeking refuge in audacity. In the early going, Ashley Winchester, the lead player in an ensemble cast of protagonists, gets possessed by a demon that once threatened to destroy Filgaia, the world in this series. By the end of the game's second disc, a touch of demonic possession seems as normal as watching the sun rise."

If nothing else, Wild Arms 2 entertains solely because of how comfortable it is seeking refuge in audacity. In the early going, Ashley Winchester, the lead player in an ensemble cast of protagonists, gets possessed by a demon that once threatened to destroy Filgaia, the world in this series. By the end of the game's second disc, a touch of demonic possession seems as normal as watching the sun rise.

This was par for the course in RPGs released a ways into the PlayStation era. Xenogears went from a civil war with mechs to floating cities controlling the populace and god-like monsters appearing out of the blue to destroy the planet — along with a reincarnation theme, a part of a character's mind separating itself to become a powerful adversary and about a million other things I didn't quite understand. Chrono Cross seemingly took pride in getting more confusing and bizarre as it progressed and we all discovered that the world's screwed up because of the computer controlling it, which was in place to keep the dragon gods from turning into a bigger god and, yeah, did they just bring back Robo from Chrono Trigger to kill him off in one quick scene?!?!

Like the two examples in the previous paragraph, Wild Arms 2 also delights in doling out long-winded philosophical lectures. However, I get this sense of amusement lying underneath it all. Almost as if the developers at Media. Vision spent 1999 in their studio saying things to each other like, "Man, no one will know what to make of nuclear weapons really being dragons!" and "I bet NO ONE ever thought of having their heroes fight a sentient, parasitic galaxy before!" There's something beautiful about that. Ashley's fighting to preserve his soul from the most diabolical demon in his world's history and that takes second billing to everyone's angst over what it means to be a hero, as well as some crazy, crack-pipe idea that would stun the MST3K guys to dumbfounded silence! Pure awesomeness!

What's even better is how this living galaxy doesn't even get talked about until you've reached the second disc. Until then, you're lured into thinking it's a normal JRPG with an excess of "what makes a person a hero?" talk. Demon-possessed Ashley and a handful of other characters (each with their own backstory) join the group ARMS. Consider them the Super Friends. Playing the role of the Legion of Doom is the terrorist group Odessa, which is engaged in all sorts of nefarious activity that's taking advantage of how Filgaia's three nations aren't on the friendliest of terms. The entire first disc revolves around this conflict, with your party repeatedly encountering members of Odessa and working to offset the damage they're doing. It's almost normal until you consider how there's no logical way the members of Odessa should be able to co-exist, since one guy is a good fellow who cares about the well-being of his troops, while another is a psychotic sadist and another wants to bring down the group from inside…while their serious facade is mostly dispelled by employing a pair of (awesome) comic relief lizards to handle the "science and technology" branch of the organization. But at least they're entertaining and carry the player through many hours.

What was most entertaining for me, though, was simply observing how the designers bridged the gap between the first and third Wild Arms with this game. You could describe the first one as essentially an enhanced, high-quality 16-bit RPG with crude 3-D battle scenes and a nice cartoon intro. While a lot of the basics were the same by the PS2's third entry in the series, many things had changed. You had to repeatedly press a button to "search" the overworld for towns, dungeons and hidden treasures. Each character only had one weapon, but as you got more and more money, you could upgrade it greatly. Also, the game was dominated by sidequests. There were a few in Wild Arms, but by the third game in the series, you could almost make a whole new game from all the optional puzzles, bosses and activities scattered through Filgaia.

In that aspect Wild Arms 2 could almost be considered the demo version for what was present in 3. Some of the things they implemented that were new in this game worked; others didn't. Perhaps the chief offender was a personal skill system that could either make things much easier for the player…or nearly impossible. For each level a character gains, they get a point. In most towns, there's a store allowing you to trade in those points for skills. A smart player will greatly improve their characters' battle performance by giving them more health, allowing them to regenerate health in battle and improving their attack and defense. On the other hand, you could dump a bunch of points into giving them resistance to status ailments, while allowing them to get a few more critical hits or counterattacks. And then wonder why you're dramatically underpowered and need to spend the next 10 hours grinding just to beat a run-of-the-mill mid-game boss.

On the other end of the spectrum was the awesome way bosses are introduced. A pure red screen, with them bouncing around as a black silhouette over which their name and title appear. And those titles add to the whole "refuge in audacity" deal. Don't believe me? Wait until you encounter foes with names like "Limb-from-Limb Ripping Monster Zolinge" or "Terrible Guardian Monster Manufestu" and see the true genius presented here! More genius is present in things like the bestiary, where there are nearly 350 different monsters and a ton of different designs used to create them. Foes in modern games are much more impressive in appearance than anything you'll find here, but there's a refreshing amount of variety in this game. I was all-but-finished and just running around to grind levels to fight a few optional bosses and still finding new monsters to fight here and there. That's the sort of thing that makes a person want to take their time and explore, as it's cool as hell to find out things like how some insignificant little speck of an island is home to a slew of the toughest non-boss encounters in the game.

Only two HUGE things keep this game from reaching greatness. Let's start with the dialogue — there's a lot of it and the translation is pretty shaky. Moments that should have a lot of impact are diluted because they're accompanied by roughly 10 pages of awkward, long-winded chatter over what it means to be a hero. It reminded me of my least favorite aspects of Chrono Cross and Xenogears — tons of philosophical discussion that apparently is meant to make the player think about life, the universe and everything; but, in reality, just bored me to tears.

A much bigger annoyance was the graphics. While the designers replaced the overhead-view overworld and dungeons with 3-D surroundings, things didn't really improve at all visually from the first game. Battle characters are still blocky and crudely animated, and dungeons range from adequate to ungodly ugly. Early in the second disc, I made my second trip to a place called "Millennium Puzzle" — a dungeon completely composed of bland cubes. This dungeon was separated into five parts and I was in it for a couple hours trying to figure out all the puzzles while constantly getting turned around because every room blended together after a while. I'm not a huge stickler for graphics, especially in RPGs, so when I'm annoyed by a game's visuals, that says something to me. It's like Media. Vision was determined to move on from the first Wild Arms and make their second one fully 3-D…but they just didn't have the technical ability to properly make it work. And when you compare this game to tech-savvy Square's efforts of the 1999-2000 time period like Final Fantasy VIII and Chrono Cross, it REALLY looks primitive and amateurish.

Wild Arms 2 is a solid game that amuses me greatly with how wacky the plot gets. One minute, you have deathly serious conversations over what must be done to save the world; the next scene features two wacky lizards and their incomprehensible ramblings about some giant robotic creature they just created. However, reading insanely long discussions about heroism while meandering through an ugly dungeon doesn't amuse me. At times, I loved this game, but on other occasions, it was a struggle to play it for more than a few minutes. It's at its best when it sends you through large, puzzle-filled dungeons and at its worse when one of those dungeons is followed by 10 minutes of awkward exposition. It's worth playing and has many enjoyable moments, but it's still a step or two behind the first and third entries in the series.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 30, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted March 30, 2012:

How's the enemy rate in this game? What finally killed Wild Arms for me was the terrible battle and dungeon graphics mixed with an inability to speed through them because I was attacked every three-five steps. And it is very weird that this game came out at the same time as FFVII. Really shows you how far advanced Square Enix was in terms of graphics. I guess they still are, but it doesn't stand out as much these days.
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overdrive posted March 30, 2012:

The enemy rate is really improved. To be honest, I'm a bit annoyed by it now, as I'm grinding for optional bosses and it's low enough in most areas that grinding takes longer than I'd like.

And, as long as it's not a surprise attack, you can hit the "search area/use tool" button and avoid combat.
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zippdementia posted March 30, 2012:

What, really? You can just escape?
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darketernal posted March 30, 2012:

In most cases, yes. However, if you do it too often, soon enough you'll get a "surprise" battle where you are attacked by a mob and lose the first turn. Honestly, despite the shoddy translation and awful graphics, WA2 was a gem. If it had better mechanical features, it would probably be the best WA game, at least in my opinion.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 31, 2012:

Great review! I've been meaning to replay this game since it was one of my favorites in the series, and even one of my favorite games on PSX. I don't think I was quite as bothered by the ugly graphics or philosophical banter. I had a lot of fun playing the game, and I was hooked into seeing what else it would do to jump the shark.
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Genj posted March 31, 2012:

The one thing I'll never forget about WA2 was it had that puzzle in the Spiral Tower involving the days of the week that you wouldn't get right unless you were Japanese because their week starts on Monday instead of Sunday. I wasted so much time trying to figure out how I was wrong and became livid when I looked up the solution on GameFAQs.
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EmP posted March 31, 2012:

Our weeks start on Monday as well. The entire worlds do unless you live in North America.

WA2, though, was a mistranslated mess nontheless. Which is a shame because it could have been a great game. Instead, it's forever the transition title where new ideas were tried out and refined in later games.

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