When I first heard that Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition was coming to the States, I felt a mix of hope and fear. I was hopeful because I simply loved the first Wild ARMS game and was eager for a new PSX RPG that could make me feel like I enjoyed the game rather than just played through it to beat it. I was fearful because I remembered the last Contrail game I played, Legend of Legaia, which I did not particularly enjoy, and because I have never found a sequel to a PSX RPG that I actually enjoyed. After a bit of fiddling with the disc and after the purchase of a Gameshark to defeat the encryption (mod chip, guilty), I found Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition to be worth the aggravation as it melded wonderful gameplay with above average graphics and music.
Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition (WA2) brings us back to the world of Filgaia, though without any ties to the events of the previous game. The legend of a young girl, known as the Sword Magess, and her battle against the evil force known as Lord Blazer, has been handed down for years. She was a hero, and it was that quality that gained her admiration from the people. Today, however, the world has regained order, though it is a tenuous one. With the discovery of more and more technology from ancient times, people have become prosperous. They have also become dangerous thanks to the discovery of advanced weaponry, and the kingdoms of Meria Boule, Sylvaland, and Guild Galad vigilantly protect their borders and treat each other with suspicion.
The game begins with three short “tutorial” missions for each of three playable characters. Ashley Winchester, the lad around whom the story revolves, is on a mission for the king of Meria Boule to save a hostage in some old ruins. Brad Evans, the strongman of the bunch, must escape the posse trying to capture him for some crimes he committed. And Lilka Eleniak must solve a mind-bending realm called the Millenium Puzzle, and then save a village from a hungry monster. Each of these introductory missions help the player get to know the characters and their personalities, while at the same time getting players familiar with the controls and with puzzle solving.
The main story of the game becomes much more complex and twisted as the three characters meet and are formed into an international military force known as ARMS, whose job it is to counter the terrorist threat known as Odessa. While it seems simple enough, the story of WA2 had enough twists, turns, and startling plot revelations to keep you interested and playing, if only to find out what will happen next. However, I found this desire to be quite paradoxical, as the dialogue itself is very poorly translated. I doubt I’ve ever enjoyed the plot of a game in which the dialogue made little to no sense half of the time. For some reason, what I did pick up of the plot was enough to keep me enraptured and, though not nearly of the caliber of such games as Xenogears or even the original Wild ARMS, the story does keep you glued to your controller.
With that said, I have to comment further about the translation. It was possibly the worst translation of an RPG I have ever seen, with the possible exception of Secret of the Stars. The characters frequently phrase their sentences improperly, use esoteric words which make their dialogue seem out of place, refer to others in the third person, and generally try to convey an abstract philosophical message, an attempt which fails miserably. Whoever translated the game, be it Contrail or SCEA, needs to get their act together because this translation was just plain bad.
Now that I got that off of my chest, on to gameplay. Undoubtedly one of the most important elements in an RPG, Wild ARMS 2 manages to surpass its predecessor’s gameplay in quality. The game is split into the overworld map and dungeons/towns/etc. Simple enough, right? Well, Wild ARMS 2 throws in the twist to the tried and true overworld map, in the form of the search system. Few locations are visible on the map from the start. Most of the locations you must travel to have to be found using the search system in which you press the square button to search the area in a radius around the character. If there’s something there, and if the story allows you to find it, the town, dungeon, etc. will appear and you can enter. You can also randomly search for items and Gella (the cash used in the game). Items appear in specific locations, but finding Gella and how much you find depends on luck. I found this system to be imaginative and fun, though a bit frustrating at times, especially if you don’t have the strategy guide.
The bulk of the non-battle portion of gameplay is navigating through dungeons and solving the puzzles within. Wild ARMS was famous for its dearth of challenging puzzles and the sequel is no different. Each character in your party (and yes, there are more than three, but no spoiling) can have up to three tools with which he or she can hit switches, break boxes, light torches, and generally do things to solve the puzzles. The puzzles range from medium difficulty to insane asylum, the latter probably due to the poor translation of the clues in the game. Even with the strategy guide I found some of the puzzles to be exceedingly difficult and not for the dull-witted. Fortunately it helps that you can rotate the camera to one of eight different angles to get a better look at things. However, since a big part of the fun in this game is solving the puzzles, you’re gonna have a lot of fun, as well as a lot of frustration.
The battle system is also more varied and fun than in Wild ARMS. Most regular battles are random. While you can’t see your enemies on the map, you can avoid them most of the time using the Encounter Cancel system. It works like this: before you meet up with an enemy you’ll see an exclamation point appear above the character’s head. If the bubble is white you can press the circle or square button (or just go into the menu) and you can skip the battle. If the bubble is red, however, you’ll immediately go into the battle. Guess they can’t let you miss ’em all!
The battles themselves are quite enjoyable as well. Like the original, WA2 includes the force gauge, a meter which increases when you get hit by an enemy or hit an enemy, and which allows you to use special abilities and powers. Each character has a set of abilities (i.e. for Brad and Ashley it’s the ability to use ARMS, while for Lilka it’s the ability to use magic) called original powers, that they learn during the game. A character begins a battle with an amount of force points equal to his or her level, up to a maximum of 99 (out of a maximum of 100 force points). Original powers, such as magic and ARMS, need a certain amount of force points to use, however using them does not deplete the Force Gauge. This means that you can use said powers as many times as you want as long as you stay at the minimum force point total. Of course, using original powers doesn’t increase the force point total whereas regular attacks do.
Now, you may ask, is there any way that the force bar can be depleted? The answer is yes, and it takes the form of Force Abilities, special powers that you learn during the game at key moments and which take from 25-100% of your Force Gauge to use. These abilities usually combine with original powers to make them stronger or more effective, though there are some that act directly on enemies or allies. However, there is one command that you get, Combine, which allows you to summon a Guardian through equipping a crest called a medium. Those of you who played the first Wild ARMS will remember the guardians and how they worked, and the same goes for people familiar with the Final Fantasy series (just think of them as summon monsters). Even better than the ability to attack with a super powerful spell, the mediums confer status upgrades, such as increased strength, sorcery, defense, or agility. There are a total of 16 Guardian mediums in the game, and I don’t think I found one that was useless.
As far as the difficulty in battles go, however, Wild ARMS 2 offers up extremely easy regular battles, and generally easy boss battles. With the aforementioned FP system, it’s easy to heal up your party numerous times and not be any worse for wear as if you’d had a finite amount of magic points. In addition, when you get more characters you can actually swap them in or out at the beginning of each round of combat so that it’s almost like having a whole second party to fight for you. Add to that the fact that you can change the equipment of any of the characters at the beginning of every round (fire monster? Equip an ice ring) and that Ashley and Brad can kill most enemies they meet in one hit, and the battles just get very easy. Fortunately there are quite a few hidden boss monsters that you can find to fight (if you have a certain character with a certain item) and they more than make up for the lack of challenging battles!
Finally, there is the Personal Skills system which you can use in towns. For every level you go up you get a skill point to spend at a skill shop. Skills are varied and range from increasing your HP every time you go up a force level to protecting you against various status conditions. They range from costing one point to four points and most can be upgraded to level 3. I found the system to be helpful, but since it depends on leveling up your characters you have to really invest a lot of time in order to max out your skills. You’re better off playing to a character’s strong points (forget about upping magical damage for Ashley, focus on physical damage instead).
Moving on to graphics, we find that Wild ARMS 2 delivers choice cuts for the most part. Characters on the map are super-deformed sprites and those sprites are well drawn with a minimum of pixilation during closeups. The overworld maps as well as dungeons and towns are all 3D polygons and, as stated before, you can rotate the camera to get a full view of everything. Most of the texturing is quite passable and the graphics are varied enough so that all the dungeons have their own personal flavor.
During battles everything goes 3D polygon. Enemies are all the polygon behemoths I’ve come to know from Contrail games (the way they animate… there’s just a certain style they have) and, though there are over 340 different enemies in the game, only a few are pallet swapped versions of others. I applaud Contrail for this wholeheartedly. Your characters in battles are also 3D super-deformed polygons with no mouths (what do they have against mouths on SD characters?) and they animate quite well. They can be a bit blocky and pointy at times, but overall well done.
Spell effects are also nicely done. The regular spells and skills aren’t anything spectacular or special, but the summons are beautiful and aren’t too long.
And then there are the anime stills in the game. At certain times during the game you get treated to the sprite characters interacting on matte paintings which are truly impressive. I loved the artwork from the first Wild ARMS and the sequel again drew my eye. Not to mention that you get treated to an opening anime sequence every time you start or load a game, as well as an ending anime sequence when you quit, and that each of the two discs has a different beginning and ending sequence. It’s almost like every time you play it’s an episode of a daily cartoon series, and the animation is quite impressive.
The music in the game is quite impressive as well. Tunes range from western (obviously) to ominous bad guy about to destroy the world to poignant. The only problem I had was that the composers made no attempts to hide the fact that the music was coming out of a synthesizer. The battle music was average, but I did enjoy the various fanfares, as well as Ashley’s Access music. And then there was the music that accompanied the opening anime sequence. There was a big controversy over the decision to take out the vocals during the localization process, replacing them with a trumpet. Now, personally I haven’t heard the vocals from the Japanese version, but the trumpet was just fine in my book. In fact, I think the trumpet fit with the western theme of the game better than any vocals could have.
And last but not… well, okay, probably least, the sound effects. They were not that good and whoever did foley for the game better have been paid by the hour. What sound effects there were, were mostly in battle, and those were mostly just the sound of bashing with an occasional spell sound thrown in. Again, the best effects were possessed by the Guardian summons, especially the wolf howl of Aru Sulato. Overall a mediocre job, however.
As you can see, Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition has its share of problems. A shoddy translation, lackluster sound effects, and some near impossible puzzles don’t help it much. However, the good points seem to come together in a way that almost totally negates all the problems. It’s got a great story, reinforced by solid gameplay and a unique, fun battle system, above average graphics and sound and some puzzles that are just really ingenious. Combine that with the fact that the game is long (2 discs worth at about a total of 55 hours play time) and secrets till next Thursday, and you’ve got a game with replay value that will keep you busy for a long time. But do yourself a favor and pick up the strategy guide or get a faq, because Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition will tease your brain to no end.