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   Wild ARMs 4 - Reader Review  

The Renegade ARM
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Medium
COMPLETION TIME
25-35 Hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Jude Maverick is a young teenager who lives in the village of Ciel, living peacefully until cataclysmic events separate him from his home, landing him in the world of Filgaia, which he, and several others, must save from villains. Wild ARMs 4, the third installment of the series for the Playstation 2, marks significant changes from its predecessors, with most being for the better, in spite of a few blemishes here and there.

   WA4, for starters, marks the return of random encounters in dungeons, absent from the series since the very first installment--not to worry, though, as when you reach a save point in the middle of many dungeons, you might just have the opportunity to "break" random encounters, i.e. gain the ability to turn them on and off if you desire. Sometimes, however, encounter breaking is unavailable, and other times, you might have to fight a special boss or group of enemies in order to break random battles. Save points themselves, furthermore, fully heal your party, so liberal use of MP-consuming skills in combat actually isn't a bad idea at times.

Something something, forgot the lyrics... All my HEXes live in Texas

   Battles themselves are vastly different from those in previous Wild ARMs, with your party and enemies laid out randomly in a grid of seven hexagons, with three containing an elemental affinity. Characters and enemies take their turns based evidently on their speed, with a turn order meter at the bottom of the screen (and I wish grave misfortune upon those developers who forget to include one in turn-based RPGs nowadays or do include them in a half-assed manner), showing who takes their turn when. Your characters, and the enemies, of course, can perform various commands during their turns, and can move from one hexagon to another, though your characters can only move to hexagons either vacant or with fellow allies, and enemies can only move onto vacant hexagons or those with fellow foes.

   Each hexagon, by the way, can contain more than one character or enemy (though they can't mix both), and commands such as normal attacks and MP-consuming skills affect all characters or enemies within a particular hexagon, which adds a bit of strategy to combat. Force Points from the other Wild ARMs return, as well; this time, however, all characters share a single FP gauge, which allows them to perform special commands such as combination attacks and Yulie's Mediums. The elemental hexagons, by the way, can change the affinity of certain skills each character has; for instance, Arnaud's Blast magic and Yulie's Mediums will acquire elemental affinity if they're standing in them, allowing them to exploit elemental weaknesses enemies may occasionally have.

   Battles are pretty decently-paced for the most part, being much faster than those in previous Wild ARMs while still adding strategy. One major factor to consider in battles, moreover, is that enemies can very easily kill your characters at times; if your party does die, however, you can instantly restart that battle and try again. If you're not up to a battle, moreover, you can always escape by moving a character outside the HEX grid, though doing so will typically cause your party to drop money, which is somewhat difficult to accumulate early on in the game. Additionally, all HP, though not MP, is restored after battles; though this might sound like it makes the game easier, it actually doesn't, given the difficulty of many battles, although WA4 isn't terribly challenging, either, and is in fact one of the more balanced RPGs to come out in recent years.

Yes, I'm a child of the '80s :P After rising to stardom in The Get Along Gang, Dottie Dog became human, changed her name, and took up swordsmanship

   After battles, your characters gain experience and money, and when they level up, they gain Personal Skill points they can freely invest into various Personal Skills (which include innate effects such as increased elemental resistance and MP-consuming skills), and even adjust if desired, which can in fact allow them to get a taste of higher-level skills. As characters level up, though, the fixed Personal Skill Points of all skills increases, ultimately allowing them to master lower-level skills and thus free up adjustable points for distribution among higher-level skills. Overall, this and the other features make for a solid combat system, with the only real shortcoming being the randomized nature of items gained after battle, which only show up in a particular hexagon, and a character must be within it to acquire that item.

   WA4's interface is mostly spotless, with easily-navigable menus, stackable items, and easy equipment management. Some may take disappointment in the fact that WA4 is far more linear than its predecessors, with the overworld being a simple connect-the-dot map like in Legend of Dragoon (minus random encounters), although dungeons are still plentiful. In fact, the dungeons themselves are fairly entertaining, with Jude able to perform a double-jump and smash down on the ground as well as slide, moves that are often necessary to advance through the dungeons themselves.

   Additionally, instead of each character having a set of tools like in previous Wild ARMs, tools are occasionally found scattered in dungeons to help solve occasional puzzles, which are actually far less punishing than in previous WA games. Jude can also go into "Accelerate" mode where the scenery turns blue, all moving objects slow down, and hidden money and hourglasses that refill the Accelerate gauge become visible. Aside from the somewhat lousy spacing of save points at times (though that the game is nice to you when you die somewhat compensates for this) and slight tedium of jumping puzzles at a few points, WA4 is just as enjoyable outside of battle as it is in battle.

   WA4 just screams inventive, especially with its battle system, action outside of combat, cutscene system, and so forth, though it does retain some elements from its predecessors, such as the world of Filgaia, item names, and such, yet is still mostly one-of-a-kind.

   The story, though, is probably the weakest part of the game. The pacing is pretty decent, though most cutscenes really struggle to get to the point, and the plot itself can be fairly difficult to follow if you miss a cutscene and/or overlook dialogue. Character development, despite the presence of some backstory, seems a bit scant, as well, and the story seems to exemplify the "power of friendship" theme present in a few other RPGs. Moreover, couldn't they have had dialogue that didn't contain the words "adults" and "children" in every other sentence (which is sort of ironic since most of the main protagonists are beyond childhood)? There was also a story twist I pretty much saw coming well ahead of time, and most of the villains are fairly unmemorable and interchangeable. Overall, the plot really isn't really a reason to play the game or a driving factor throughout.

Ho ho ho, hee hee hee! Little brown jug, how I love thee!

   The soundtrack is also somewhat disappointing, though to a lesser extent. Michiko Naruke takes a backseat to other composers, though she did contribute a few tracks of her own. Much of the music, though, is rather subdued and unmemorable compared to that of the game's predecessors, although there are some good tracks, like the Port Rosalia theme, a few of the battle themes, and the two main songs, sung in English no less. WA4 also features voice acting, which is largely hit-and-miss, and with some corny battle dialogue such as "Wanna test my razor-sharp intellect?" and "Don't underestimate my self-taught style!" All in all, the music certainly won't drive you to go out and buy the game soundtrack, and there are plenty of other games with better voicework.

   There's been a lot of noise about WA4's visual style, especially with respect to its cutscenes, which, instead of getting up-close and personal with the character models and scenery, instead blur out the graphics and use black lines to separate still character portraits for dialogue. I personally didn't mind this cutscene style, since most 3-D graphics tend to look a bit ugly close-up, and it actually reminded me of some animes that use similar methods of storytelling, though some still scenery around the characters, in addition to a bit of portrait animation, would've been nice. The 3-D graphics themselves are a slightly-enhanced version of those found in Alter Code F, with decent character models and scenery, though as I've said, they can look somewhat blemished up close, which makes the aforementioned cutscene style understandable. Oh, and there are anime cutscenes that play when you load your game and during the ending. Overall, a decent-looking game.

   Finally, WA4 isn't a terribly lengthy game, taking around twenty-five hours to blaze through straightforwardly or up to thirty-five hours if you wish to have fun leveling up or fight the extra bosses. Overall, Wild ARMs 4 is a solid addition to the series whose aspects, except maybe its story, hit most of the right notes. If you enjoyed one or more of the previous Wild ARMs games and are expecting the fourth installment to play like them, however, don't--Wild ARMs 4 marks a significant evolution in the franchise, and if you don't adjust to change that well in RPG series, then it'll likely disappoint you. On the other hand, if you easily embrace the winds of change, you just might be in for smooth sailing, and if you're new to the franchise, it might be a decent starting point, as long as you don't mind linear gameplay and strategic battles.

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