Wild ARMs 5 - Reader Review  

by Jeremy Michael Gallen

40-60+ Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A boy named Dean Stark dreams of one day leaving his hometown to become a Golem Hunter like his idol Nightburn. While exploring mountains, Dean and his best friend Rebecca Streisand see a Golem's arm fall from the sky, carrying in its hand a girl who only remembers her name, Avril, and the words "Johnny Appleseed." Thus, the three begin an adventure to find out what the words really mean. Wild ARMs 5 continues the long-running Media Vision-developed series and marks its tenth anniversary. While the fifth installment does have a few issues, it nonetheless proves to be a decent continuation of the franchise.

   Like the fourth installment, the fifth features randomly-encountered battles, though in dungeons, the player can defeat a special enemy to gain the ability to turn off encounters entirely. Battles themselves once more feature the HEX system from the fourth installment, with combat occurring in seven hexagons forming a honeycomb. Up to three characters participate at a time in battle, although the player can exchange them with any of up to three reserve characters if in a hexagon on the edge of the battlefield. A turn order meter, moreover, shows when characters and enemies will take their turns.

   The player's characters and enemies, during their turns, can move into adjacent hexagons that are either vacant or contain allies, but not into hexagons with enemies, with more than one foe able to populate a hexagon at a time. Characters have a variety of commands such as attacking with their ARMs if they have bullets (if not, the character must defend to reload his or her weapon), using MP-consuming spells, using Force abilities that require FP built up as characters and enemies execute their commands (with all the player's characters sharing one FP gauge), or escaping from battle if at the edge of the field (which sometimes results in lost money).

Luckily designed for most of the population The "It" from South Park makes an appearance

   Many of the same rules in the fourth game's battle system apply in the fifth. For one, character and enemy attacks affect all characters and enemies within a hexagon. Furthermore, stat increasing and decreasing magic, in addition to status ailments, affect hexagons rather than characters. All battles also contain three hexagons with elemental affinities, which characters' offensive spells, if available, receive when within them, allowing them to exploit enemy weaknesses if any exist. A significant change from the fourth game's battles is that the hexagons in boss fights will contain different arrangements than the honeycomb shape of normal battles.

   Another significant change from the fourth installment is that each character can equip six different types of Mediums, each determining what kind of MP skills and Force abilities each character can use in battle. As each character reaches certain levels, their Mediums gain additional abilities, with characters also gaining a number of points based on their level the player can use to learn higher-level skills at the expense of fifty HP per point, and at any time redistribute or remove completely. Since many enemies, however, can very easily kill the player, it's usually not a good idea to liberally distribute these points.

   As with most RPGs, the difficulty of Wild ARMs 5 depends on the player (this reviewer personally found a few bosses, particularly the few one-on-one fights, difficult to beat). About half of the Medium types are pretty much useless, with those providing offensive skills, healing abilities, and to a lesser extent the capability of stealing items from enemy (which can be useful since the game can be fairly stingy with money and healing items), being far more useful. It's usually a good idea to match Mediums to characters based on how much Dragon Fossils increase the stats of each character's ARM (attack, magic, and how much additional FP a command adds to the party's battle gauge, the last remaining the same for all characters for each Dragon Fossil used; the player, fortunately, can redistribute Dragon Fossil upgrades any time at save points).

Pippety pop! Kartikeya has fun with his acne

   The battle system works decently for the most part, with battles moving swiftly, especially if the player turns off battle animations (which can be handy since they can bog down late-game battles), although there are some annoyances, such as the fact that swapping characters wastes turns, and the uselessness of many Mediums. Some may also complain that the whole party recovering HP (but not MP) after battles would make the game easier, although it really doesn't given the threat many bosses pose. It's also nice that the game offers players the chance to retry a battle if enemies kill them, although it can be a double-edged sword if the player encounters a tough fight and needs to level up after a long dungeon trek without being able to save. Still, other than the character-swapping and balance issues, the battle system is fairly enjoyable.

   Interaction, though, has its shares of ups and downs. The ups include a generally easy menu system and controls, as well as many puzzles in dungeons requiring the use of guns and different kinds of ammunition to solve. Some may also welcome the return of a fully explorable overworld absent from the fourth installment with many hidden treasures and other secrets, and while it can be a bit tedious to navigate at times, certain forms of transportation accessed throughout the game can somewhat ease travel.

   There are, however, a few downs to interaction. For one, while save points fully restore the player's party and sometimes provide clues on how to advance the main storyline, said clues are sometimes ambiguous and can leave the player wandering aimlessly for a while. The spacing of save points in dungeons, moreover, can be somewhat lousy, since sometimes the game forces players to fight through one or more bosses without the opportunity to do so, although that the game is nice to players when they die in a way compensates for this. There are also maybe a few puzzles whose clues make absolutely no sense and may lead players to use a guide to solve them. Overall, the interface is all-around average.

   The use of guns to solve puzzles is what mainly sets Wild ARMs 5 apart from other RPGs, although it does retain elements from its predecessors to feel like a logical part of the franchise such as Filgaia, a western theme, and the HEX system from the fourth installment. Nonetheless, the fifth installment features enough gameplay changes to generally feel fresh.

Except for the part where you can't do anything Best. Status ailment. Ever.

   The story, unfortunately, is where the fifth installment hits rock bottom. Granted, there is a little development for some of the playable characters and a few of the villains, although most of the events throughout the game are just weird and incoherent, with the plot also moving along at a generally sluggish pace, and the theme of an alien race ruling over humans is also somewhat trite (that said race looks *exactly* like humans doesn't help matters). Overall, the story is more of a repellent from the game than a draw to it.

   The aurals are better, yet not superb. As with most of its predecessors, Wild ARMs 5 uses many western-themed pieces in places such as the overworld and in most towns, which are decent for the most part, although most dungeon tracks are fairly unmemorable. The biggest downside of the aurals, however, is the absolutely atrocious voice acting. For instance, Dean is perhaps one of the most irritating protagonists ever to appear in an RPG, sounding constipated all the time and grunting oddly when climbing ladders and poles, and Carol's voice could easily shatter glass; just about all enemy voices, if present, are equally abhorrent. Granted, the player can reduce the voicework in battle by turning off battle animations, but it could have been far better, and the music, while decent, isn't outstanding.

   The graphics are pretty much what one would expect of a late Playstation 2 game, with believable scenery, character and enemy models (with few noticeable palette swaps), nice coloring, and so forth. The visuals hardly detract from the game, with some of the dungeon scenery shining the most, and sometimes providing the player a sense of acrophobia in the case of tall rooms. There are some shortcomings, such as differing framerates depending upon the situation or location, and some choppiness in battle, but the game looks nice otherwise.

   Finally, the fifth installment can be somewhat lengthy, taking somewhere from forty to sixty hours to complete, with a replay mode allowing for additional playthroughs if desired. Overall, Wild ARMs 5 is a decent addition to the franchise that has a few things going for it, such as a solid combat system and graphics, but also things going against it such as an unengaging story and godawful voice acting. Despite its ups and downs, the fifth game is a decent celebration of the franchise's tenth anniversary, and proof the Playstation 2 still has plenty of life.

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