Review by Heatmiser
I should probably preface this review- as well as pretty much every review I've ever made or ever will make- with the sad fact that there's not much on earth I love more than a good old-fashioned JRPG. I know, I know, I'm a complete and total geek, I'm the first to admit it. But nothing quite gets my blood pumping as seeing a long running RPG series churn out a new sequel, just waiting to get into my sweaty, eager hands. Whether it's Genso Suikoden, Dragon Quest, Phantasy Star, or even a new entry from the lowly Wild ARMs franchise.
Ah, Wild ARMs. The very name itself is synonymous with mediocrity, always in the shadow of bigger, better RPG series that dwarf WA in nearly every imaginable aspect. And while the sequels have managed to improve on each previous attempt in several significant ways (Wild ARMs 3 actually somehow had a wonderfully robust storyline), Wild ARMs 4 was such an utterly horrifying disaster that calling it "a step back" would be cutting it about fifty-thousand "steps back" too short. As a result, many gamers, myself included, expected the worst with WA5. But I can say, with all shocked and surprised sincerity, that not only does Wild ARMs 5 put the series back on the right track, but it's honestly a very good JRPG in its own right. Wow, those words don't really look historically appropriate when describing a Wild ARMs game, but heh, whaddya know...
You'll be playing as Dean Stark, an energetic young JRPG stereotype who feverishly longs to search out ancient ruins in order to better the world with ages-old golem technology and, well... okay, I'm not gonna snow you. The storyline is a bit cliched, and Dean is not exactly groundbreaking as a main character. If you want new and innovative, the WA series is pretty much the last place you should look. With that said, however, you will definitely find yourself enjoying some of those typically melodramatic JRPG highs and lows on your lengthy 60+ hour quest to break through governmental obfuscation while searching out undiscovered treasures and secrets. Add another 20-30 hours of sidequests (this game has a seemingly never ending supply of extra items, treasures, hidden areas, and bonus tidbits strewn about throughout play, to a dizzying degree particularly at the end of the game), and you probably won't walk away from this title disappointed from a creative or gametime standpoint.
Even better still is the battle system. The only- and I definitely mean ONLY- remnant left from the execrable Wild ARMs 4 is the "HEX Battle System", a battle system whereby your characters start out each fight on a multi-pentagonal field, moving from area to area in hopes of getting the drop on the enemy. Certain areas have hidden treasure chests, some have elemental bonuses that amp up your magic, and others are blocked off completely, forcing you into strategic situations that you wouldn't ordinarily find in your average random-battle-having JRPG. And trust me, with the amount of random battles (hello and welcome back to 1996!) that you'll be enduring, you'll be glad to have a somewhat inventive battle system to mess around with.
The graphics and sound, on the other hand, are strictly of the low end variety. I actually think the cel-shading in Wild ARMs 3 was superior to the bland visuals you'll be seeing in this game that's several years its senior. And cel-shading is never superior to anything. Think graphics on the level of Legaia 2, and you'll be on the right track with this game. Unfortunately. The music is not much better, though the whistle-laden western tracks strewn about WA5 are definitely unique; you probably won't find a country western Jpop/Jrock song in any Final Fantasy games in recent memory. But again, on the whole, the audio/visual aspect of this game will not bowl over any but the most easily amused among us.
So in the end, what is Wild ARMs 5 exactly? Is it full of unfulfilled promise and whimsy, like Wild ARMs 1 and Alter Code F? Is it dark and foreboding and ugly as hell, like Wild ARMs 2? Sweeping and surprisingly majestic, like Wild ARMs 3? Or perhaps just plain dreadful in nearly all aspects but the battle system, like Wild ARMs 4? The short answer: Yes. A longer and much less obnoxiously vague answer: a little bit from each one. You'll laugh, you'll shed a tear, you'll enjoy random battles for the first time in ages, and you might even appreciate the game's unabashedly corny message of hope and determination in the face of adversity. You won't be playing anything at all unique or genre-defining, true, but on the whole you won't be terribly disappointed either. Old-school JRPGs are making a comeback, and I say ride the wave, fellow geeks.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Wild ARMs 5 (10th Anniversary Edition) (US, 08/28/07)
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