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   Wild ARMs 5 - Staff Review  

From the Hand of a Golem
by Shawn Bruckner

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PS2
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
40-60 Hours
OVERALL
4.0/5
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A mysterious girl falls out of the sky in a golem's arm, and the search for Johnny Appleseed begins in the latest installment of the Wild ARMs series. Wild ARMs 5 marks the return of the HEX battle system and draws much more on the roots of the series than did its predecessor, which lacked many elements seen in the games before. It is full of cameos with every main character from the previous games making an appearance, though despite this, it is a game fully capable of standing on its own. While it suffers from a number of flaws, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable experience for fans of the series and is an excellent game for those new to Wild ARMs to get their feet wet with.

   HEX, Wild ARMs 5's battle system, has reached adolescence after its birth in Wild ARMs 4. While it is still the same system with largely the same overall look and much of the same feel, HEX has made some changes, and sadly, not all of them have been for the better. What has not changed is that battles are conducted on a field of seven hexes which characters and enemies can move between during the fight, with combatants on the same side able to share hexes, gaining the benefit of being affected by all spells cast there, but having the disadvantage all attacks being directed against all of the grouped characters here. Thus, despite otherwise being a simple turn-based system, HEX possesses an unusually fluid and unique feel, and circumstances can quickly change in any battle as combatants either gather up or move to separate hexes.

   In this newer version, the ability to move and act in a single turn has been given to all combatants, though this positive note is marred by the rarity in which enemies make effective use of it due to what is seemingly very random intelligence on their part. While this doesn't mean they don't occasionally move and act effectively, when it happens, it seems to happen solely by accident. Another new feature is that the hexes are rearranged in boss and special battles; before, the seven hexes would always be arranged in a larger hexagon, and this remains true in regular battles, but most other battles feature a modified layout, presumably to require the player to shift their strategy. Sadly, it does not work out this way. Boss battles are far more cookie-cutter in this game than they were in their predecessor. There are few bosses for whom modifying your strategy even provides notable benefit, and even fewer where doing so is needed to survive. This is unfortunate since boss HP totals are abnormally high in the later parts of the game, giving these repetitive and much more frequent boss fights more length than difficulty. Another important change is that only three characters are allowed in the battle party this time, though characters on an outer hex can be swapped out for a reserve member at the cost of a turn.

   Characters are also less unique in battle, having only their unique ARMs and a few innate personal skills of their own; the rest of their abilities come from the medium they equip. In general, this also results in characters having fewer overall abilities as well. The statistical curve has also been drastically sharpened, with HP, MP, and attribute increases at level-up being far more similar to other RPGs, where Wild ARMs 4 was quite unique in its much narrower curve. Thus, levels are far more important in Wild ARMs 5. Indeed, if one experiences any significant difficulty in battle, it is almost certainly due to being underleveled. With only a few minor exceptions, including a bit of an unusual spike in enemy levels in the later portion of the game, battles are mostly quite easy. Additionally, the game is rather generous with experience points, so leveling up does not take long in the rare event it may be necessary, and even with the option to purify dungeons by fighting Sol Nigers and thus having the ability to turn encounters on and off with the press of a button, one isn't too likely to fall behind. Overall, however, HEX remains a very fun and unique battle system, but she's suffering from a bit of a troubled adolescence. One can only hope she'll make it through to the next game to become a truly vibrant and versatile adult.

Ever wanted a pair of shiny Swiss Army ARMs? Ever wanted a pair of shiny Swiss Army ARMs?

   Battles are not the only challenge in this game, naturally. As with previous titles in the series, the various dungeons are all equipped with various devices or features that hinder one's progress, requiring the use of tools and puzzle-solving in order to make one's way through. The unique aspect of this title is that said tools happen to be Dean's ARMs, as unlike the other games, this main character can whip out his dual ARMs at the press of a button and let out a flurry of shots. As one progresses through the game, Dean gets different types of ammunition to use in the field, including freeze rays, fire bullets, and even a detector round for finding those pesky invisible platforms and other objects. Most puzzles in the game are not very difficult, though the clues are sometimes quite contrived. The side view areas of Wild ARMs 4 are gone; instead, in almost every area of the game, the camera can be controlled with the right analog stick, and it is often necessary to do so in order for Dean to target the proper object. That said, the game is not completely devoid of platforming. While not extremely common, the need for reasonably precise jumps and good timing is present in some dungeons, though only a few such challenges provide any notable frustration.

   Wild Arms 5 has a very enjoyable soundtrack, much of which has more of the western feel found in the earlier games in the series. There are a few tracks, mostly at the beginning of the game, which can be irritating at first, but repeated exposure seems to warm one up to them. The voice acting, for the most part, is good, and at its worst, it is always tolerable. Voiceovers are present in both battles and in the field; the game allows the player to adjust how often voiceovers occur in the settings menu, but even at the minimum setting before entirely shutting them off, they still get a touch repetitive. Of course, they can be completely shut off.

   Visually, the game has a similar artistic style to Wild ARMs 4, though the Filgaia of Wild ARMs 5 is far more lively and vibrant, or at least half of it is. This description also applies to the various locales one visits during their time through the game. The full-motion video sequences blend in very well with the visual style presented by the game engine, though the effects presented are really nothing new for the PlayStation 2. Still, the game has done away completely with the unusual presentation of most conversations seen in Wild Arms 4, instead making use of the game engine and adding depth through character expressions and body language, something that the few different handdrawn portraits in the previous game could not deliver except in a badly exaggerated way.

   The game generally has a simple to use and smooth interface, though control of the monowheel and the golem late in the game can take some practice, but for those who missed the lack of an explorable world map in the previous game, the fact that they get vehicles to aid in exploring it is no doubt welcome. The search system from the earlier Wild ARMs titles returns, but this time, it is only needed to find hidden items on the map. The locales themselves are not hidden, though they can be difficult to get to. In addition, the fact that nearly every button has a needed function in the field can make for frequent fumbling and confusion, but these are minor issues. The translation and localization are very well done aside from a few minor punctuation issues.

Was that over the top?  I never can tell. Was that over the top? I never can tell.

   Sadly, the game's story suffers from some common cliches, including one near the end that was particularly grating, though some scenes in the endgame help to redeem it somewhat. The interactions between the characters, particularly Dean, Rebecca, and Avril, are particularly enjoyable to watch, with the other three characters feeling as though they are in more of a supporting role, though their conflicts get adequate attention throughout the game. All in all, the game provides an interesting portrayal of a complex conflict between humanity and the Veruni, who have been on Filgaia for only about a hundred years. The dialogue does suffer from a little repetition, but nothing too severe, and the cliches are worth suffering through for an unusually satisfying ending that quite neatly wraps up the story and leaves one with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

   All in all, while a flawed game in many respects, Wild ARMS 5 delivers a solid, enjoyable experience. The return of the HEX battle system is quite welcome, even if this return is marred by some unfortunate missteps. With the return of the world map and the ARM ammo that functions much like the tools of previous titles in the series, it is a game that gets back in touch with its roots even as it carries forward the new features and styles presented in the wildly different Wild ARMs 4. While it doesn't blend these elements perfectly, it certainly does so with a reasonable margin of success, and is likely to satisfy those who missed those absent elements from the earlier games while still satisfying those who preferred the newer, unique style.

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