Wild ARMs 4 - Staff Review  

ARMs of Mass Destruction
by Cortney Stone

30-40 HOURS


Rating definitions 

   The Wild ARMs series has not seen advancement since 2002 when Wild ARMs 3 appeared on the PlayStation 2. Now the PS2 has another detonation -- Wild ARMs 4: The 4th Detonator -- and the game deviates greatly from its predecessors in the series. This is both good and bad; some of the new elements give players a fresh way to explore Filgaia, while others may make fans of the series yearn for a return to the old-fashioned ways.

   XSEED bills Wild ARMs 4 as a coming-of-age story, and it truly is. The main character is Jude, a young boy who has lived his entire life in a peaceful village called Ciel. His easy life is disrupted when some soldiers raid his village and discover a hidden ARM -- a weapon composed of nanomachines that resemble fine sand. Jude is able to synchronize with them and form a gun, which misfires and destroys some machinery. Suddenly, his world comes crashing down, for in truth, it was an environment contained in a sphere floating high above the war-torn world. After crash-landing in an escape pod, Jude sets out on a journey through Filgaia, a sad landscape covered with dying vegetation, remnants of tanks and war mecha, and struggling human beings. He grows, changes, and copes with harsh reality with some help from his friends Yulie, Arnaud, and Raquel. All four characters are fairly well-developed and quite likeable, particularly Raquel, the heavy melee who crushes everything, including female stereotypes, with her powerful sword and graceful style. Combine these four great characters with a story that focuses on the themes of good and bad in wartime, struggling for peace in a hurting post-war world, and the threat of remaining weaponry, and it would seem like a recipe for a great role-playing story. It actually is, until the end. The story draws a deep breath, pulling the player in with bits of intrigue, character development, and post-war ethical questions. Then, at the end, the story sputters into awkwardly executed out-of-place plot twists -- a subpar ending for a story that showed promise from the start. At least there are some redeeming bits right before the credits, but these do not completely compensate. The localization, however, is one of Wild ARMs 4's strong points. The text is very clean and well-written. Clearly, XSEED is competent at localization.

   Fighting is one of Filgaia's harsh realities, and Wild ARMs 4 introduces a new kind of battle system to the series. When characters jump into a battle, seven hexagons appear on the field. Three of them have random elemental properties, while the other four are neutral. Characters and enemies execute one turn at a time, and they can move to different hexagons or use their elemental properties for special abilities. These hexagons also force the player to strategize; characters can spread out for safety, surround an enemy and beat it down, or group together on a single hexagon and unleash powerful combo attacks. Status effects and stat-boosting spells are bound to the hexagon itself, and not the characters, so moving into or out of a hexagon changes a character's or an enemy's status. In all, the hexagon-based battle system is enjoyable; it adds a challenging tactical dimension to battles and serves as one of the finer parts of the game.

Raquel racks up the damage. Raquel racks up the damage.

   Another fine aspect of Wild ARMs 4 is its visuals. Sadly, its remarkable CG is marred by poorly executed cutscenes, the building blocks of the story. Whenever a cutscene begins or the player talks to an NPC, the screen blurs, and a text box pops up with the character art. Conversations consist of bits of character art separated by bold black lines; the art changes to reflect character emotions and sometimes actions. Walking away, for example, is simulated by a character's art sliding off the screen. Early in the game, this isn't too much of a bother. Eventually, it becomes irritating and disruptive, especially in action sequences, when the game switches between blurred-screen character art dialogue and action CG every few seconds. The few cutscenes that are rendered entirely in CG with text subtitles are real treats. With beautiful graphics and animation elsewhere in the game, one must wonder why Media Vision felt compelled to play out cutscenes in a cheap fashion.

   One huge change for the series is in exploration. First, there is no actual overworld, just a map with a cursor to move to different destinations. Second, dungeons and outdoor areas are mostly platformers. Some are locked into side-scrolling, while others are open and 3D. While the platforming element is a fun addition to Wild ARMs, something has been drastically altered for the worse: the Tool system. In the other Wild ARMs games, each character had an arsenal of quirky gadgets to help the player solve intriguing puzzles in every deep dungeon in Filgaia. In Wild ARMs 4, there are no tools other than what Jude can find lying on the ground. Sometimes a tool will need to be carried into another room to solve a puzzle. As Jude has to drop the tool he's carrying in order to jump, tools can only be carried so far. One can never tell if and when a tool will be needed later, so the player may have to haul a tool halfway through a dungeon without needing it, or backtrack looking for a needed tool. This does not happen often, as there are relatively few puzzles in WA4, which is a mixed blessing. There are few tool irritations, but also not enough puzzles. The platforming element helps keep things interesting, but a few areas are boring, straight paths with only a few obstacles to jump over. The rest are platformer's dreams with a couple of puzzles mixed in for good measure.

Can you get me out of here? These cutscenes look awful! Can you get me out of here? These cutscenes look awful!

   Wild ARMs 4 is a mixed bag in music and sound. The music is largely average -- nothing to get excited about -- with only a few quality tracks. The lack of Michiko Naruke in most of the music is a disappointment, especially after enjoying the excellent soundtrack of Wild ARMs: Alter Code F. Sound effects are really good, starting with the gunshot sound when the player presses the start button at the title screen. There is a lot of voice acting as well, mostly for the four main characters. The acting is not quite on the same level as Dragon Quest VIII, but it's still quite good and rarely suffers from being corny or overacted. Characters shout things at each other and the enemies in battle, and abilities have a few different voice clips each, so using the same ability over and over does not mean hearing the same line over and over. Even random enemies will shout curses and insults in battle. Jude also makes comments in the field. For example, he will reassure the player after missing a jump and starting over, "Let's just pretend that didn't happen!" For those who dislike the voices, their frequency can be adjusted so that they occur less often or not at all.

   Completing Wild ARMs 4 will take about 30 hours of a player's time and not too much effort. The game is quite easy, and it is very linear -- almost as linear as Final Fantasy X. Bosses and even a few random enemies can wipe the party out; fortunately, the game allows for continues after dying in battle. There are no Gimel coins, just free and never-ending continues. Dying is quite possible, but recovery is a snap. Almost every boss can be cleared on the second try once the player knows what to do and where to move. To make things even easier, characters' hit points are fully restored after every battle. There is, of course, an epilogue filled with extra bosses and challenges for those who want more of what Wild ARMs 4 has to offer.

   Wild ARMs 4 has more than a few flaws, but overall, it is an enjoyable game. The tactical battle system and platforming action are great features, and for some, the drawbacks of odd cutscenes and a mediocre ending will not matter. It is not the best in the series, nor is it the worst. However, as XSEED's first localization project, it proves that the company is competent at localizing a game, even if the game itself is not outstanding.

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