Wild Arms 4

Sony and Media.Vision’s Wild Arms franchise isn’t as popular as say, Final Fantasy, although it nonetheless received a decent following outside Japan to the point where the first and second entries on the original PlayStation saw foreign release, alongside the third for the PlayStation 2. Afterward, Sony’s North American branch, which handled the localization of the first three games (although they partnered with Squaresoft to translate the third), seemed to give up on the series to the point where another company, Agetec, localized the remake of the original game, Wild Arms Alter Code: F. Fortunately for non-Japanese gamers, a new localization company, XSEED, arose, and handled the translation of the fourth game, Wild Arms 4, which makes several significant changes from its predecessors and provides an experience on par with them.

When starting a new game, the player can import data from Alter Code: F for bonuses such as increased starting levels, additional money, additional items, additional badges, bonus treasure chests, bonus weapon abilities, and so forth. Despite this capability, the fourth installment bears no connection to F story-wise and takes place in a different Filgaia, and the overall setting of the game is different from previous entries, which bore steampunk and western elements, changed to a milieu almost purely steampunk, with occasional snippets of modern technology. The story itself isn’t anything spectacular, focusing on four adolescents that term themselves “children” despite being beyond childhood (and a kind of conflict taking place between “adults” and “children” throughout the game, and focuses on the aftermath of a great war. The villains don’t have a whole lot of depth, and one of the plot twists towards the end is a tad predictable, although the story is not without its redeeming aspects, such as commentary on the nature of war and good versus evil.

Wild Arms 4 was one of XSEED’s first localization efforts, alongside Shadow Hearts: From the New World, and it shows. Grammatical errors such as a misuse of “it’s” abound, alongside awkward and sometimes loaded battle dialogue on part of both the player’s characters and the enemies, but the script generally contains a higher-than-average level of polish.

The fourth installment, moving on, does well in the gameplay department, with the most significant change being that all battles take place on a grid of seven hexagons, and the starting positions of the player’s four characters, not to mention those of the enemies, are randomized, an initial strike against the battle system since victory sometimes depends on luck (especially versus the final bosses) and initial positions. The player’s characters and the enemies take turns depending upon agility, and execute their commands immediately after input much akin to other RPGs such as Final Fantasy X, a turn order meter mercifully showing character and enemy turn order for several turns and not running out of icons like the turn order meters in the Xenosaga trilogy.

When one of the player’s characters reaches their turn, they have a number of options available to them, including attacking an adjacent hexagon’s enemies with their equipped weapon (with protagonist Jude Maverick equipped with an ARM that can run out of bullets and can reach the far hexagon from his initial position), defending (which reloads Jude’s bullets), moving to an adjacent hexagon (with Jude able to acquire a Personal Skill increasing his movement range) or out of the grid to escape from battle (which costs the player some money), using items, using a Force Point-consuming ability (with the Force Points gauge that builds up to a maximum of a hundred points shared by all characters unlike in prior series entries), or using an MP-consuming skill.

Victory by the player may cause a treasure chest to appear in a random hexagon, although a character must be in the hexagon where it appears in order to obtain the item, or else the player will miss out on it, another negative random element of the battle system. All living characters also acquire experience for occasional level-ups and some money; those characters that died during battle and stay dead afterward, while they recover all their HP as other characters do between battles, experience a drop in maximum HP that consumable Nectars can rectify, alongside touching a Break Point, which is, to say, a save point, that also recovers consumed MP, and where the player may occasionally be able to fight a special battle to gain the ability to turn random encounters on and off in the current dungeon.

If all the player’s characters die in a battle, the player has the option of restarting the battle or returning to the title screen to load a previous save. The option to respawn at the point prior to the encounter might have been nice as well, especially with regards to boss fights, since they typically follow long stretches without save opportunities. The final battles in the main storyline are also somewhat dependent upon luck, though mercifully, battles tend to end quickly in either the player or the enemy’s favor, the former especially if the player exploits enemy weaknesses, which the player can view anytime during one of their characters’ turns. In the end, the battle system is solid in spite of some occasional annoying random elements.

The aforementioned poor placement of save points is one of the biggest strikes against the fourth installment’s control scheme, a step down from the third game and Alter Code: F, where special consumable Gimel Coins allowed players to record their progress anywhere, and save opportunities can be very far apart. In spite of no in-game dungeon maps, a feature that titles from prior console generations such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past had, dungeons aren’t terribly troublesome, and in fact have some okay puzzles, though some may or may not drive players to use a guide. The menus and shopping are easy, as well, although the developers could have certainly given the stingy save system a once-over.

The soundtrack is perhaps the fourth entry’s strongest suit in spite of the reduced role of typical series composer Michiko Naruke, with a nice variety of tracks that always fit the mood, along with some occasional remixes of the main vocal theme song. The voice acting, though, is hit-or-miss, attributable especially in battle due to the sometimes laughable battle quotes, but otherwise, the game is fairly pleasant to the ears.

The graphics look good as well, having a style that’s neither fully realistic nor cartoony, in spite of some bland textures and pixilation on the scenery when viewed close-up, and many cutscenes use static character art to narrate the storyline instead of the actual character models.

Finally, the fourth game lasts about twenty hours, with an epilogue mode enhancing replay value and possibly pushing playing time even higher.

Overall, Wild Arms 4 is for the most part a solid title that hits many of the right notes while leaving some room for improvement. The story isn’t much of a draw, and the translation could have used more polish, but the gameplay is mostly solid, in spite of poorly-spaced save opportunities, the aurals are pleasing, and the visuals look nice. Despite its shortcomings, the fourth installment demonstrated that an RPG franchise can evolve in a positive fashion, and its sequel would follow the same route with hexagon grid-based battles.

The Good:
+Solid tactical battle system.
+Some decent puzzles.
+Nice music and sound.

The Bad:
-Victory sometimes dependent upon luck.
-Long periods without save opportunities.
-Story is somewhat hackneyed.

The Bottom Line:
A decent evolution of the franchise.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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