Wild Arms 2
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Thanks in part to the fact that its first installment came out in North America around the time of the seventh Final Fantasy, most gamers overlooked the beginning of Sony and Media.Vision’s Wild Arms series, combining fantasy, steampunk, and western elements. Its sequel, Wild Arms: 2nd Ignition, released as Wild Arms 2 outside Japan in 2000, and developed in conjunction with Contrail, responsible for Legend of Legaia, also features these elements, and provides an experience largely on par with its predecessor, although it contains some elements that have polarized role-playing game enthusiasts.

One polarizing element is the battle system, which inherits plenty elements from the first game. However, the random encounters of the original Wild Arms are gone in favor of a system where exclamation bubbles of three different colors randomly appear above the active character’s head in dungeons and on the overworld. Red bubbles indicate mandatory encounters, white bubbles indicate encounters that the player can cancel with the O button, and green bubbles only begin appearing after completing a sidequest, indicating encounters with enemies the player has not previously encountered. Red bubbles mostly appear with enemies whose levels exceed those of the player’s characters, while white and green bubbles appear when the enemy’s levels are below those of the player’s party.

Red bubbles also sometimes appear when the enemy has the initiative against the player’s party, or one of the player’s six acquirable characters must fight alone for a few turns before the rest of their party shows up. Normally, however, the player has the initial options of manually inputting commands for each of the three active characters, changing the party setup with no penalty, attempting to escape (which naturally doesn’t work all the time), or changing equipment. Each character, when battle starts, contains a certain amount of Force Points (FP) out of a hundred based on their current levels. Individual commands include attacking normally, defending, using a special skill that may require Force Points to be at a certain level, using an item, or using their equipped Medium’s special ability such as stealing items from enemies.

Once the player has inputted commands for the three active characters, they and the enemies take their turns in a round depending upon their Response stat, with no indication, like in most other traditional turn-based RPGs, of who will go when, although luckily, turn order in most instances seems to be constant. Whenever characters deal or receive damage, their Force Points increase by a certain amount, allowing access to more powerful abilities, with each character ultimately acquiring up to four special Force abilities that require 25, 50, 75, and 100 FP. Reaching a hundred Force Points triggers Condition Green, in which case all status ailments, if enemies have inflicted them with one of the many varieties encountered throughout the game, disappear, although staying at a hundred FP, unfortunately, does not guard against ailments.

Each character also has unique abilities that they can execute as many times as they please so long as they have the required Force Points level, such as Ashley and Brad’s Ancient Relic Machines (ARMs), although in their case, each ARM has a certain ammo capacity. Other character abilities include Lilka and Tim’s magic, with the latter’s acquired by equipping specific Mediums and killing enough monsters to unlock new abilities; one of Tim’s particularly-useful spells is First Aid, which heals all characters for a decent amount and always goes first in a round (or always second if Ashley uses his Accelerate FP power, guaranteeing him the first turn in a round).

Winning battles nets players experience and money, with level-ups happening occasionally. Consumable Lucky Cards can double experience and money earned, best used against bosses with multiple appendages that the player can kill for extra experience albeit at the expense of making the fight slightly harder. Leveling nets a character a Personal Skill Point that the player, at special facilities in towns, can invest into one of many abilities (with PS cost varying at times) with innate effects such as increased resistance against status ailments, with each Personal Skill having three levels. However, even when maxed, increased resistance against status ailments does not guarantee complete protection against them, although there are some useful Personal Skills such as increased maximum HP when leveling, HP recovery whenever Force Points increase, and increased defense against physical attacks.

Special facilities in town also allow Lilka to use Crests to learn a variety of magic spells, and Ashley and Brad to upgrade their ARMs up to ten times with regards to their attack power, hit percentage, and bullet capacity. Players can refill ammunition at these facilities, as well, with a consumable item, the Bullet Load, refilling one ARM’s ammo completely. One primary strike against the sequel’s customization is that the player cannot undo Personal Skill Point expenditure or ARM upgrades, with some players possibly needing to rely on a guide to make the most of Personal Skill and ARM customization. In fact, victory against the hardest bosses can actually depend on Personal Skills, with the skill recovering HP with increased Force Points, for instance, softening powerful blows from bosses. Aside from the permanence of character customization, the battle system helps the game more than hurts.

The game’s control sequence, however, leaves more room for improvement, although it’s superficially decent, with easy menus, shopping, and navigation in towns, on the overworld, and in dungeons. Some players have complained about the dash system, similar to that in the first game and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, although given the ease at points of falling into pits and the default slow movement of the player’s active character, why the developers chose the sequel’s system of running is certainly understandable. Similar to the original Wild Arms, one chief gameplay element outside battle is the use of tools, with each of the six characters acquiring up to three different ones throughout the game, to advance through dungeons and solve puzzles, and element that’s mostly positive, so long as the player can understand clues in the first place when available.

There are, however, things going against the sequel’s control scheme, another polarizing element being the system on the game’s overworld where towns and dungeons by default do not appear on the map, with the player needing to press the square button to emit a circular field that can detect hidden towns, dungeons, and even the occasional item. In these instances, the player must rely on clues from the ARMS headquarters with the “Call” function in the main interface that at least provides a half-decent clue on how to advance. There are, however, some points where finding the next location to advance can be hard even with the clue, especially if the player hasn’t spoken with certain characters. The system, though, becomes more tolerable once the player acquires a certain story character. There’s also an inexcusable lack of maps in dungeons, and in the end, interaction is slightly above average.

A more positive element, however, is the sequel’s storyline, with the player initially and separately controlling three main characters: Ashley, a musketeer; Brad, a war hero turned criminal; and Lilka, an aspiring sorceress. The three ultimately become members of the Agile Remote Mission Squad (ARMS), a group whose goal is to stop the sinister terrorist organization Odessa from wreaking havoc on the western fantasy steampunk world of Filgaia, although the sequel’s Filgaia appears to have little connection to the Filgaia of the original Wild Arms. Even so, the narrative is actually perhaps one of the strongest of the Wild Arms franchise even today, with an endearing and developed cast of characters and a nice twist on the second disc.

One major strike against the storyline, however, is the Blind Idiot Translation by Sony America that really hampers the dialogue in certain scenes, mainly with a pair of supposedly-comical villains, Liz and Ard, whose names the translation team however actually correctly localized, their Japanese names being Toka and Ge, tokage being the Japanese word for lizard. There are plenty of other howlers in the translation such as endless words like “hero” placed in quotation marks for some weird reason, not to mention quite a few punctuation errors. A great shame, especially considering the narrative is otherwise enjoyable.

Michiko Naruke’s soundtrack is also enjoyable, probably the strongest element of the game, with plenty western-themed pieces such as the overworld theme, alongside many other solid tracks of other genres that mostly fit the mood, such as Liz and Ard’s comical battle theme. The standard battle theme, however, can get repetitive, although the sound effects are much, much better than those heard in the original Wild Arms, and ultimately, the sequel is a decent-sounding game.

The first Wild Arms sequel changes visual styles, with most environments being three-dimensional with two-dimensional character sprites, the scenery for the most part looking decent in spite of some jaggedness and pixilation; certain story scenes, however, use nice-looking prerendered environments, more of which would have certainly benefited the game. As in the first game, battles are fully three-dimensional, and luckily the sequel at least improves in this area, even if there is a bit of jaggedness and blockiness with the character and enemy models. The anime cutscenes are perhaps the high point of the visuals, although the rest of the graphics actually aren’t half-bad and even look better than those in a few other titles with similar graphical styles such as Xenogears.

Finally, the sequel is about a thirty-hour game, although some sidequests can naturally boost playing time; the Personal Skill system, given the flexibility, adds some slight replay value, although there really isn’t any reason to go through the game again after completion. Overall, Wild Arms 2 is a solid PlayStation RPG that hits many of the right notes, particularly with regards to its gameplay, story, aurals, and visuals, although it does leave some room for improvement, particularly in relation to its irreversible character customization and translation. Role-playing gamers, moreover, have considered the first Wild Arms sequel to be something of a dark horse in the franchise, and with good reason, given things such as the poor localization, although it’s by no means a bad game.

The Good:
+Solid game mechanics.
+Some decent puzzles.
+Enjoyable story.
+Nice music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Customization is irreversible.
-Some parts are hard without a guide.
-Translation is bad at times.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
A good sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Localization: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Depends on Skills
Playing Time: 25-40 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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