Review by satsukiyami

"The latest in the great Wild ARMs legacy"

The Wild ARMS franchise is one of the crowning glories of the Sony line up. It differs from your average fantasy RPG in that it has a very distinct Western flair that offers a breath of uniqueness to it that no other RPG can touch. Combined that with its small cast of characters, long story arcs that offer plenty of character development, and the fact that guns seem more prevalent than swords, and you have a classic in the making.

In recent years, the Wild ARMs franchise seems to have a new life pumped into it – with quick releases of Wild ARMs 3, Alter Code F – a remake of the original – and Wild ARMs Vth Vanguard in development, Wild ARMs 4 is a middle child of the PS2 releases. With such a long line up of excellence, how does this new addition stack up?

Graphics: 8/10

Graphics are a mixed bag in this game, with an edge on the good side. Textures flit between being richly detailed and bland – after all, the world is a wasteland, and there is only so much you can do with that theme. Some locales are beautiful and ornate, while others seem static and almost generic, often switching between the two in the same region.

The character models are crisp and detailed, with short but sweet videos and moving character faces, though long dialogue scenes are often done in a comic book form of paneled character portraits that are drawn to show emotion. While they are very nicely drawn, and are very expressive, you tend to see the same poses over and over, though it helps convey the emotions the characters are feeling, as you can determine which show shame, happiness, and sadness.

Attacks are splendidly animated, they convey the power of the attacks, and are nice and quick. Some games seem to have overly long attack animations that can seriously drag down the speed of combat, further delaying the pace of the game.

My main complaint about the graphics is the camera – with a little adjustment room, the camera often feels drawn out too far, or too close at times. This is a major problem in the many puzzle rooms, and the odd angles can make things like walking narrow ledges more of a problem than it should be.

Battle System: 10/10

In a world of games where the standard turn based system is over done and every company is trying to make theirs somehow different, Wild ARMs 4 manages to do so beautifully. The hex based system is simple in its design and superb in its execution. Turn based, characters move between seven hexes, three of which are randomly given one of the four cliché and classical elements. Using tactics can be paramount, since even basic enemies can destroy the player's team.

The FP system returns, though rather than be unique to each character, FP is shared among the group, making combos more useful – Raquel, a slow character, benefits from the actions done by the rest of the party, in that she can use her Intrude – an ability that allows extra actions for 25 FP per use. Characters can bunch up on hexes, and any attack that targets the hex effects all characters in the hex – you can use this to your advantage, by forcing the enemies into one hex and dropping high powered attacks on them in rapid succession, or by using spells to gather your allies into one, and healing them all in one fell swoop.

Story: 8.5/10
Plot: 7/10
Character Development: 10/10

Though it is a bit childish, the story is extremely well developed. A couple people I have talked to have called Wild ARMs 4 a coming of age story – it truly is the development of two young teenagers, 13 and 15, and two people on the cusp of adult hood at 18 and 19. Through their adventures, saving the world and the main female love interest, of course, they all learn a lesson in growing up and what it means to become adults.

This is simple on paper, but handled masterfully. The characters are developed with almost a novel quality, changing and growing based on their experiences. Their development doesn't feel rushed, rather, some struggle with their experiences, not sure what to make of certain developments and unsure of how to react. Because of the time spent on each character, its hard NOT to get attached to all of them – and none of them are easy to hate, a rarity in most games.

Individual character morality is called up, and even the bad guys are given more character development than most games would even consider giving them. We feel their pain and tragedy, and what drives them to the desperate measures they take – and of course, we have to foil them. While they don't take that a step further than they could have – the bad guys do the usual Take Over or Destroy the World routine, rather than something morally ambiguous, making it hard for the player to decide which side is really right – it's a nice touch that makes the bad guys feel more alive.

The plot twists are easily guessable, but they're good enough that you wish you could second guess yourself. The main weak point of the plot is how predictable it is, but that doesn't stop it from being an above average take on the standard Save the World routine, and it is very well told.

Sound: 9/10
Voice Acting: 8/10
Music: 10/10

The Wild ARMs series has always been one to show off unique tunes, the Western influence helps solidify that. The OST for Wild ARMs 4 is quite possibly my favorite yet, with each tune being fitting for each zone, and very well composed. Audio quality is crisp and clear, with an appropriate volume.

The voice acting is a mixed, but generally good bag. I only have one major complaint with the voices – Raquel sounds much older than she is, but I can deal with that. Jude sounds like the bright eyed 13 year old he is, Yulie is a fitting 15 year old with a dark past, and Arnaude sounds the part of a brash, arrogant 18 year old who is more full of himself than should be legal. Battle voices, especially monsters, can get both repetitive and annoying FAST. Luckily, you can turn the frequency of them down, making it a bit more bearable.

Characters: 10/10

Usually RPG characters fit into clichéd models – the young swordsman, the female healer, the female mage, and the male archer/swordsman/gunner. Thankfully, Wild ARMs4 shuffles them around into different roles. While the expected roles are there – they belong to what seems to be the opposite. The main character isn't, by any stretch of the word, a damage monster. The big, burly, slow two-handed sword user is a delicate painter female, the cleric is a girl – but one with a dark past that rarely gets associated with one, and the caster is a guy. Not only are the roles uniquely placed, but their designs are different without being over the top. Each character is designed to be special, but not to the point of questioning the sanity of the designers. Some of the named bad guys fall into that category – but its almost to be expected.

Other aspects of the game's characters have already been discussed – development and voice acting, so I won't repeat myself with those. One topic that hasn't been talked about is the character interaction – the dialogue between the characters is wonderfully written, and half of the joy of the game was watching their relationships to each other grow and change as life happens to them.

Summary:
+ Nice graphics
+ Excellent character interaction
+ Excellent plot development
- A bit clichéd plot
- Short, like most RPGs these days
- Woefully easy

A bit childish at times, but a wonderful game over all. Can be very mature, and doesn't leave much to be desired. Well paced, well directed, but short and easy.

Overall – 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/06


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