Wild ARMs 4

XSEED's first game is freakin' awesome.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: January 10, 2006
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It's hard to believe the Wild ARMs series has been around for as long as the PlayStation brand. It shouldn't be all that surprising considering the games have been made by Media.Vision, one of Sony's internal development teams, but it's still an impressive feat to have logged.

Long before Final Fantasy VII turned the PSX into the must-have system for RPG nuts, but thankfully right after the abortion that was Beyond the Beyond, the first Wild ARMs at least brought a fresh angle to the familiar Japanese RPG motif that was still admittedly new to most gamers -- and certainly to PlayStation ones. Thanks to a whistled theme song and some very heavy Wild West undertones, the game was unlike any RPG that had crossed the pond.

Perhaps that's why it's so interesting to see Wild ARMs 4 moving away from the stuff that made it so original in the first place. Media.Vision by no means ditched the themes entirely, but they're really only evident in the towns and the clothing on its residents than an over-arching theme. Technology has come more to the fore -- perhaps even more than in past games, and coupled with a new presentation style and battle system, the result is a shot in the arm of a series that has needed it for a while now.

In fact, the addition of a new battle system and heavily platformer-inspired exploration sections of the game make it one of the best RPGs on the PS2 -- and that's despite the absolute throwaway storyline that bludgeons you to death with an inane "what does it mean to be a kid vs. adult" theme that threatens to kill the whole experience. Seriously, the storyline is crap, yet the gameplay so damned fun that it more than makes up for it.

I'll say that again: the battle system and exploration bits that Media.Vision have crafted completely make up for the shite storyline. It's only upon plenty of reflection that both factors have polarized themselves so much in my mind -- though it really shouldn't take much to see how woefully bland the storyline is.

The gameplay itself we dissected and gushed over in our preview, so by all means read that first. It's the fuel that will keep you driving forward through the storyline, but rehashing it here would eat up far too much space when we already laid it all out rather nicely a couple weeks ago.

Instead, I'll just pick apart the bits of gameplay that work and the few that don't. The WA series has always favored a nice mix of puzzle solving to running around and clashing in random encounters, but the addition of a jump (and double-jump) move changes how puzzles are handled. Specifically, the developers ditched using any per-player skills or magic in dungeons in favor of letting you use objects in the game world -- except when you're wielding them, be it a pot, a sword, a bomb or what have you, you can't jump.

That's it.

With some clever level designs, though, it's made fairly plain that you either have to throw the item or use them on or around the same screen where you got them. It sounds simple, but it can make for a few puzzles that require a little bit of forethought, and the balance is such that it never really pulls you away from getting through a dungeon.

Moreover, there was careful attention paid to keeping random encounters low during these backtracking and puzzle solving sections. A good half of the time, if you can seek out a break point where you can save the game, you can usually unlock the ability to turn off random encounters outright.
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