When Wild ARMs was released 2 years ago, many of us were surprised by the its great 2D graphics, its well composed music, and the sheer fun of its gameplay, which involved you using tools to solve a variety of puzzles as you traveled through the world of Filgaia. While the story was cliched and got bogged down by a horrible ending (still leaves a bad taste in my mouth) it still remained one of better RPGs that came out for the PSX platform.
With this in mind, fans of the original should be pleased that many of the things that made the original Wild ARMs so much fun to play are back, and many of its faults have been corrected as well. With more detailed battle scenes, a total of 6 playable characters, an improved storyline, the return of Michiko Naruke as the composer of the sound track, and more anime FMVs, Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition is not just a rehash of the original game, but the next step in the evolution of the series.
Long ago, in ages past, a great evil threatened the world of Fargaia. This demon, only known as Lord Blazer, waged war against the people of Fargaia and it wasn't until a girl, armed with the mystic sword Agate Ram and her wolf guardian Luceid sealed Lord Blazer from Fargaia and peace was restored to the world. After she disappeared from this world, she became to be known as the "Maiden of the Sword" and her sword was left as a sign of peace on this world.
As time passed, the descendants of the "Hero's" family line saw the need for an international group to oversee and ensure the safety of all people and thus the group ARMS was born. Made up of men who devote their lives to the betterment of others, this group, headed by Irving Valeria watches out for abnormal cases that require their attention.
It is at this time that Ashley Winchester comes to play. Ashley, having proven his skill in a rescue operation for his hometown, impresses his superiors by defeating the renegade monster with his bayonet alone. However, when he goes to the orientation for new ARMS members, he is horrified to find that his fellow comrades, himself included, are slowly turning into monsters. What is worse, he hears a voice within him that offers him power beyond his wildest imagination. And then…
Rilka Elairnic. Another new ARMS member, she is picked when her elder sister falls ill and passes away. As the sister of the "Sorceress of Elairnic", Rilka has lived under the shadow of her sister and has always been doubtful of her own abilities. She misuses a Teleport Gem on the way to Valeria Chateau and finds herself in a strange town, and her quest to find to the way to the ARMS headquarters begins, meanwhile...
Brad Evans, the "Hero" of the Slayheim War a few years ago, is betrayed by his former comrades and is put in a maximum-security prison. As he wastes away in jail as Prisoner Number 666, he waits for a time to prove himself once again...and to live.
The Storyline in Wild Arms 2nd Ignition is set up like an Anime series. While this may be a hit or miss for some players, I found it to be a refreshing change to most RPGs, and this also gives you a framework to play with.
An anime opening plays whenever you start the game, and you also get an ending song each time you quit after saving. The storyline plays out like a typical Anime TV series. It starts off with a few hours of Character introduction, then you'll get a series of missions in which you get an inking of the larger storyline at hand. Near the end, you're hit with the major story, just like hundreds of other anime series that have come before them. Wild Arms 2nd Ignition tries really hard to convey this feeling. First of all, you can only save at specified points in towns and in dungeons, and you can't save in the overworld at all. This means that you can save approximately every 20 minutes, which conveniently comes out to about the length of a typical TV episode. Add in the fact that each boss gets a Boss introduction, just like in your old TV favorites, and you definitely get the feeling that this was a conscious decision, and not something that happened accidentally.
As for the story itself, it is decidedly cliched with the Evil Organization (TM) as its main cause for the conflict. The majority of the enemy characters are given the bare storyline treatment, and while each has their own personality that shines through, their motives for the most part aren't nearly as clear. The only likable characters among the enemies are Toka and Ge (the word tokage means salamander in Japanese, by the way), the lizard duo who serve as comic relief thoughout the game (and they're hard to beat too!). But then again, they're not quite "bad guys", after all, there're no other lizards on this world that can talk, are there? And why do they seem to be moving independent to the group Odessa?
Thankfully, your own characters are given attention throughout the story and they are developed very well. You see Ashley's growing discomfort of the power that is seemingly within him, and Brad's pessimistic view of the fact that "Heroes don't exist if they don't die first, do they?" Each of the characters you play has his or her own personal struggles throughout the game, and this makes each character easier to relate to. The characters that only play a supporting role in the game are given attention as well, such as the anguish Irving Valeria has due to his handicap that makes him a spectator in the cause he so desperately wants to join and fight in. The background story that surrounds "The Maiden of the Sword" is fleshed out as well, and later on you'll be able to appreciate "The Maiden" not as a figurehead, but as a real person.
As an effort to give the feeling of the bigger world at large, you must search for places you have to travel to, such as towns and dungeons, before you can actually get to them. How will you know where that certain town is? Well, you have to find out by asking around of course! You can search at the correct position for hours and get not a thing if you don't know where to look, so it becomes more important to listen to the villagers. Does this system work? Yes and no. While it does give you a feeling of the greater world at large, there are times when the directions to your next destination you have to go are so vague, you'll end up combing the map for a long time before you actually find it. While the majority of the locations you have to go to are a bit obvious (darkened spots on the ground, clearings in forests), there are times when the only direction you get is along the lines of "west to the desert", which only gives you an entire continent to comb *heavy sarcasm*. If it weren't for the fact that you get a radar later in the game to make this portion of the game easier for you, this would've been a major nag point.
The graphics in Wild Arms 2nd Ignition, for the most part, are very good. However, its in-battle graphics remain to be some sort of an enigma. While the characters and enemies are fairly well detailed, with some monsters making heavy use of textures, the battle camera sometimes zooms the screen out to the point where the quality of the graphics becomes even worse than the original Wild Arms. Thankfully, as the battles become more complex (and as you get used to the battle graphics), the camera zooms in more often, and from different angles, so this problem alleviates itself somewhat.
The battles themselves are well thought out. Before you actually get into any battles, you'll notice that it is preceded by a white or a red exclamation mark. If you see a white exclamation mark, it means that you have the initiative and you can avoid the battle by pressing the search button. This is a 2.5-second delay, long enough for anyone to press the button if they wish to avoid fighting, otherwise you'll go into battle with the initial attack. This puts less stress in the leveling up portion of the game, instead stressing more on the adventuring and puzzle solving aspect. In fact, you can beat the game with character levels in the low fourties (which I did)!
Wild Arms 2nd features the return of the FP system, though a revised one at that. FP, or Force Points, are the MP of the world of Wild Arms 2 and works quite differently than MP. For one thing, the number of FP you start out with is dependent on your level. You start with 1 FP at Level 1, 10 FP and Level 10, and so on, with the highest FP you can achieve being 100 in which you'll enter "Condition Green" which will alleviate all your Status Ailments as well as giving you access to your highest Force Skill. Each of the 6 characters in this game have 4 different Force Skills, Lev 1 being accessible at 25 FP, Lev 2 at 50 FP, then 3 at 75FP, and finally 4 at 100. Each character has radically different Force Skills. Only Tim can access the power of the Guardians to help them, while all of Kanon's Force Skills revolve around "Gattling", in which she performs a combo version of a Special Attack she has. What is interesting about the FP system is that your FP only goes down if you use your Force Skills, so as long as you just use your regular special attacks, you can do it every single turn with abandon. This makes for interesting gameplay since this is one of the only RPGs that doesn't penalize Magicians for using magic.
The way each character learns new skills is different for each as well. Ashley must find new ammo cartridges to fire different types of ammo out of his bayonet, while Brad must find Heavy Arms to use. Rilka learns magic by Crest Graphs, while Tim must learn it by equipping Guardian Mediums and fight until the guardians share their knowledge with him. Kanon learns her skills by mastering her old skills until she learns a new one, and Mariabel steals enemy skills for her own. This makes it a challenge for the players to learn new skills for it doesn't give you new skills just by gaining in level. In fact, it's entirely possible to beat the game with a character with almost no skills to their call.
Rounding out the battle system is the Personal Skill System. You get 1 Personal Skill point per level, which you can invest in new skills for you character. Do you want your character to have a high chance of counterattacking? How about making him invulnerable to status changes? The Personal Skill System allows tailoring of your characters and it aids in you defining the role that you want them to play while you're playing the game.
Unlike the multi-party system in most RPGs, the one featured in Wild Arms 2nd Ignition is a true full party system. While only 3 can participate in a battle at anyone time, you can switch people in and out of the battle at ease. And if you ever get back attacked, the people fighting in the battle will be replace by the ones that are not in your forward group (main party). So if you get into a battle and a party member dies, you can easily replace him with someone and its even possible to have a person cast a single spell and then rotate that person out for a fighter.
There were puzzles aplenty in the original game and this time is no exception. Each character has three different Goods (Tools in the US) which you can use to solve puzzles. The puzzles for the most part are fairly easy, and except for the occasional stumper, most people should have little or no problem. The number of hard puzzles is very small compared to the original, so it shouldn't deter anyone from finishing the game (unlike Alundra). What's best of all, is there is lots of optional stuff to do in the game, such as finding out the rest of the guardians and trying to defeat the insanely hard bosses near the end of the game. This way, Wild Arms 2nd Ignition, which originally takes about 35 Hours to beat, may take well over 50 to get the prestigious "Perfect Game".
The Music in Wild Arms 2nd Ignition for the most part, are very well done. There are a total of 5 Vocal songs, all of which are excellent. Furthermore, the soundtrack is composed by Michiko Naruke who also did the soundtrack in the original game. The Music, while having a western flair, is very well composed and some tracks are truly unforgettable.
The worst part of Wild Arms 2nd Ignition by far is in the Control. While control is not a major factor in most RPGs, the puzzles in Wild Arms 2nd Ignition demand precise control in order for you not to fail countless times. The Directional controls are a bit stiff to say the least, and the fact that while you can turn the screen 45 Degrees at a time, there are times when the correct direction you should be facing will not be obvious no matter how many times you do it is no help. While you'll get used to the controls after a few hours of playing, get prepared to fall down often in the first few hours.
Overall, with great gameplay, an unforgettable final battle, and great music, Wild Arms 2nd Ignition is one of the best RPGs that was released the latter half of '99 thus far. Now all I have to do is figure out why I only have 58% in my monster library.