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Wild Arms 4
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Media.Vision/SCEI
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 01/10/06
Japan 03/24/05
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 96%
Sound: 84%
Gameplay: 98%
Control: 99%
Story: 75%
Overall: 90%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Jude, the story's hero.
 
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Jude and Arnaud have a chat, man-to-man.
 
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Behold, the new and improved battlefield.
 
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A glimpse of the new battle system in action.
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Mike Wilson
Wild Arms 4
01/06/06
Mike Wilson

This year is the tenth anniversary of the Wild Arms series. It doesn’t feel like it, but it has been a decade since the release of the first Wild Arms in Japan in 1996. XSEED games is starting the year off right with Wild Arms 4, which is the newest (and strangest) entry in the series. The game is unlike anything you’ve seen in an RPG, and it has taken the series in a bold new direction.

Graphics

Wild Arms 4 arguably has the best graphics in the series. Visually, the game is eye candy. The character models are gorgeous and the environments are full of color. Although the game uses quite a bit of browns, it is never dull to look at and you'll be eager to see what the game throws at you next. One of the cooler areas is an areas is an autumn area where our protagonist Jude must travel alongside a stream. The trees are vividly gold, brown and red, and the stream flows with life. Some other interesting locales are a ruined ghost town and a transparent underwater tunnel in which you can see the fish above.

The game also has stellar animations, from the opening video to the character portraits that are displayed on the menus and dialogue scenes. Every character in the game, including the NPCs, has a distinct look, and they are so full of color it feels like they are going to jump out of the screen. Needless to say, everything in the graphics department blows Wild Arms 3 out of the water.

The only disappointment is the enemy and dungeon design. They can be boring and static. Many of the monsters don't look threatening, and the dungeons consist of a few rooms which are simply repeated. These few flaws aren’t a big deal, but compared to the rest of the dynamic graphics, they stand out.

Gameplay

This is my favorite part of the review to write. WA4 is hailed by many to be an "action RPG." In fact, it feels more like a platformer than anything else. Jude can run, jump, slide, and stomp, which makes the game closer to Jak & Daxter and Klonoa rather than Kingdom Hearts. Don't let that turn you off, though. Wild Arms 4 is an extremely fun game. There is a certain enjoyment in making Jude jump, slide and stomp his way through dungeons, and there's a deep sense of accomplishment when you beat the game.

There is a fair share of puzzles too, keeping with Wild Arms tradition. Jude can use tools, such as bombs or staves to open up new paths. Many of the puzzles include jumping on switches, using dungeon-specific items, and deactivating security systems. The puzzles aren't as mind boggling as WA3's (or the original Wild Arms), which is a good thing. Everything feels just right.

The battle system is another part of the gameplay that simply excels. The battlefield consists of seven hexagons, three of which have elemental qualities (fire, wind, water, or earth.) You can use these to your advantage: by casting a fire spell within a red hexagon, the spell will do double damage to water-type enemies. Also, certain abilities can only be used inside elemental hexes, like Jude’s "Ley Boost" skill, which doubles his attack power if he is inside a red hex. There is so much strategy involved that no battle will ever play out the same. Every battle was a joy to fight, and it is one of the few battle systems that is truly great. The only drawback is that some spells only have a limited radius, requiring you to waste a turn moving closer to your enemies if you want to hit them. While this sounds like a strategic decision, it's quite annoying to have to waste a turn moving instead of healing or reviving your allies, since you have to be right next to them to cast the spell.

Control

The controls are almost perfect. The only issue is the menu layout. It could have been a lot simpler. The hexagon layout was a nice touch, but a traditional layout would have better served the game, since you spend a lot of time in the menus assigning skills, using items, and equipping weapons.

Sound

The Wild Arms series owes a great deal of its popularity to its music, which is composed by Michiko Naruke. Unfortunately, Naruke fell ill during the game’s development and was only able to contribute a quarter of the songs (most of which were battle themes.) Her two replacements, Ryuta Suzuki and Masato Kouda, did a great job of filling in the gaps and the result is a fairly solid soundtrack. Suzuki and Kouda introduce many instruments that Naruke probably never would have used, such as the jazz flute and the oboe. Many of the songs have jazz overtones that fit the game surprisingly well. However, as a whole, it doesn't live up to its predecessors. For a full review of what went wrong, please check our soundtracks section.

On a better note, the game features voice acting for the first time in the series' history (the Japanese version of Alter Code F notwithstanding.) The voice overs are very good, and only add to the experience. The battles are filled with spoken dialogue and there are occasional scenes that feature voice overs. However, with the exception of battles, there are so few lines of spoken dialogue that it should have been left out of the game altogether. I can count the number of voiced cut scenes on one hand. The rest of this dialogue-driven game consists of dialogue boxes. I felt that the voiceless dialogue flowed much better and gave the game a certain charm. The voiced scenes lacked that charm. I grew so accustomed to reading the game's script that it felt weird when the characters began talking during a cutscene. Hopefully next time, the voices will be all or nothing.

Story

WA4's story doesn’t exactly win any awards, but it is good enough to keep you playing. To give you a broad overview, the main character, Jude, meets a girl named Yulie who has the power to control ARMS- destructive weapons with awesome power. Jude accidentally comes into contact with ARM material and it gives him the power to materialize an ARM. A strange organization called the Congressional Knights realizes Yulie’s power and tries to capture her to advance their evil motives. Jude vows to protect her and they rebel against the organization with the help of their two comrades, Arnaud and Raquel.

The story does a decent job of avoiding major cliches, but it's extremely linear. From start to finish, the game holds your hand and tells you exactly where to go next, and I felt like I was a on a children's roller coaster going nowhere. The linearity wouldn't be so much of a problem if the last half of the game didn't feel so rushed. In fact, I daresay the linearity was actually pretty cool at first. But, around halfway through the game, the story starts writhing like a snake and plotholes start appearing up everywhere. Things go from extremely solid to less than solid in just a few hours.

The main characters also suffer during the story. The characters themselves are well done, but they are constantly out of character. The villains are bipolar and angsty with more changes of heart than are humanly possible. The main party (Jude & company) also come up with strange philosophies and new discoveries mid-game that don't make any sense, only to completely jump ship the next minute. Like all Wild Arms games, this game certainly has a message that it is trying to convene, but the story is so overly angsty and so full of plot holes that the message gets lost in the sea of ever-changing emotions.

Final Thoughts

Story problems aside, I really enjoyed Wild Arms 4. It is one of my favorite games in the series, just for the gameplay alone. If you are gamer with a soft spot for good gameplay, then Wild Arms 4 is for you. The game does so many things right that that its problems are forgivable. With stellar action/platforming gameplay and a surprisingly deep battle system, Wild Arms 4 is innovation done right.



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© 2005-2006 XSEED, All Rights Reserved.


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