Review by Happy Matt
"A well designed game, very much better than my expectations"
Similar to Wild Arms, Wild Arms Second Ignition (will be referred to as WA2 below) is a Japanese-styled console RPG. From first look, you can easily tell that WA2 is a much bigger project than the original. The game features two CDs, (both printed in gold and silver), a new graphics engine and many new features in the system.
The game has a new graphics engine that is superior to the original Wild Arms. The field maps and the world map are now drawn with fully renderable 3D polygons. The characters are still in 2D, but their animations are very much improved. In fact, the graphics remind me of Square's Xenogears, but the backgrounds in WA2 are smoother. More importantly, the loading times for individual areas in WA2 remain surprisingly fast. The world map is the only place where you will notice any significant loading time. Battle graphics are also improved in this game. Characters are no longer super-deformed (but they are not full-sized either). The animations of spells and abilities are now quite nicely designed. Personally, however, I think the battle backgrounds are too plain, and the camera is moving too quickly, (but then I may have played too much Final Fantasy VIII).
The music in the game is lovely. The soundtrack is excellently composed, and it suits most of the situations very well. The game has a Western look in its theme and so the music is composed with that in mind. It may have some Japanese style here or there, but they blend together very well.
The developer has kept most of the nice features in the original. The powerful ARMs and the highly customisable Crest Graph Magic system are featured in WA2. (However, the upgrade systems of the ARMs and of the Magic have both been modified.) The Guardians are back. The Guardians can be summoned using the Force Ability Combine and they still give you a boost in statistics, like the previous game. Menus are similar to the original so you can still access the help system by pressing the triangle button. The main menu in WA2 looks very similar to the original, but it now occupies the whole screen and features portraits of the characters instead of their icons. Action tools and ARPG-styled puzzles are back in this game. The use of fully polygonal backgrounds has allowed better design in puzzles and so it is more fun to play. Oh yes, auto battle is back and you can still change equipment during battles.
As well as keeping the good old features, the developer has introduced new systems in the game as well. The MP system is completely gone, and is replaced by a refined FP (Force Point) system. You start a battle with an amount of FP equals to the levels of the characters. Attacking and being attacked by enemies will gain you more FP, up to a maximum of 100. Instead of consuming MPs, Original Abilities (such as spells and ARMs) will require minimum FP before they can be used while Force Abilities will consume FPs.
As mentioned above, Guardians are like the same old summon monsters in the original. In WA2, equipping Guardians will also allow you to use Custom Abilities. These custom abilities are rather like the yellow command materia in Final Fantasy VII. They are useful commands, but they are not necessary to win a battle. Some examples are Throw-Item, Dig Out, Analyse, Hide-in-Shadow and Pick Pocket.
There is also a new Personal Skill (PS) system in the game. In my opinion, the system is basically a character customisation system that allows the modification of characters' statistics. Some PS are permanent and some PS trigger only by particular conditions. For example, HP Up will boost a character's HP maximum at level up, Poison Resistance will give a character better resistance against Poison and Strong Poison attacks, HP Recovery at Condition Green will recovers HP for a character when he / she has acquired 100 FP. Most PS have 2 to 3 levels.
Another new feature is the Encounter Cancel System. Like many Japanese console RPG, you will get random encounters in WA2. However, unlike the others, you will have a choice to fight or run before the battle screen is loaded. If your party has higher level than the enemies, you will get an exclamation mark in a little white bubble above your character's head and you will have 2 seconds before a battle screen is loaded. If you press the cancel button within the 2 seconds, the battle screen will not be loaded and the encounter is cancelled. If, however, your level is lower or if you are ambushed, then you will get an exclamation mark in a red bubble, and you will be forced to fight. This system is very good because it makes the game very much less annoying. After all, there is no advantage of fighting weak enemies when you are at high levels.
The game also features a Search System on the world map. The world map has very little features in the beginning of the game, because most of the towns and dungeons are not revealed. You need to gather information from town-folks and allies for locations of towns and dungeons before you will be able to locate them using the Search function by pressing the tool button. You will also find items on the world map if you are lucky.
The developer has probably designed the game with TV series in mind. The opening movie is played each time you load a saved game. (You can skip it by pressing Start.) Each time you save, the game will prompt you to choose continue or quit. If you quit, you will hear a short Japanese song together with a few hand-drawn pictures of Riruka, before going back to the title screen. In a game, I think this feature is quite lovely.
As in the original game, the game offers 3 playable characters in the beginning, Ashley, Riruka and Brad. Ashley is a gun warrior and his weapon is a gunblade that is rather similar to Squall's in Final Fantasy VIII (but Ashley's looks more classical). Riruka is a Crest Graph Sorceress and her weapon is an umbrella. Brad is a prisoner (formerly a soldier in some liberation army) and his weapon is a Mighty Glove. Both Ashley and Brad can use ARMs and only Riruka can use Crest Graph Magic. As in the original, you will have to play the introduction of each character before they will meet and the game really begins. The characters will then join force to fight a terrorist group called Odessa.
Unlike the previous game, however, Wild Arms 2 has more than 3 player characters. In fact, you will have other characters joining the party when you progress. (There are 6 slots in the main menu.) You can only fight with 3 party members, but all characters will get EXP after fights. Like equipment, you can change party at any time, even when you are in the middle of a battle.
The only thing to complain about in this game is the lack of vibration function. (Analogue function is unrealistic in this game, because of its design.) In my opinion, spells and effects would have been great if the developer has implemented vibration functions in to this game. The game is also a bit too easy for my taste.
As it turns out, the game is very much better than my expectations. The game is very well designed. Graphics are pretty if not as impressive as the ones in Final Fantasy VIII, and it does have a loading time that is about ten times faster than the latter, so I shall give a 9/10 for the graphics. Music is very well composed in this game and so it deserves an 8/10. Story is the usual save-the-world, but it does have enough twists to make it quite interesting, and so I shall give it an 8/10. The game system is very much better than the the first Wild Arms and there are many new and original features, so I think it deserves a 9/10 as well. Overall, I think I shall give WA2 an 8/10 for being a great game. (Well, if I can understand the Japanese language better, I'll probably give it a 9/10.)
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 11/01/99
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