One of the many RPG series to have been birthed on the original Playstation then subsequently die with the demise of the Playstation 2 was Wild Arms. They were some of the many RPGs published by Sony back when the genre was in its heyday. The first game in the series had the unfortunate luck of being released the same year as Final Fantasy VII which arguably doomed it to obscurity despite being a decent game. The series as a whole was known for using a Western-type motif complete with the music and a barren-looking world. The “arms” referred to in the title were usually some sort of firearm, though I think in the second entry, ARMS was an acronym for a special task force. At a time when so many RPGs were being released and most of the best were from Squaresoft, it was easy to overlook this series. However, most of them were pretty decent.
A boy named Jude acts as the main character for the fourth entry in the series. He is a completely unassuming kid, growing up in what seems to be an idyllic village. That is, until the village is attacked by a group known as Brionac who is using a girl named Yulie to control what turns out to be an Arm. Jude’s life is shattered as he comes to find out that his village was hidden away from the rest of the world which was utterly destroyed in a long civil war that was now technically over. Those people who are left to figure out how to continue living have all but lost hope. The two kids, along with their new buds Arnaud and Raquel, have taken it upon themselves to figure out what exactly Brionac hopes to accomplish and thwart their plans.
The developers of this game decided to take a different approach to the series this go-around. While every other entry has leaned hard into their fantasy aspects, this one leans decidedly science fiction. I found it interesting when at one point the characters were discussing viral evolution, a scientific theory I only just recently learned about. While this added a new dynamic to the plot, I have to say that I don’t think the story followed through very well on its premise. Though the game was very dialog-heavy, it didn’t feel like the characters said much that was worth saying. They probably could have cut half the lines out, made it more succinct, and trimmed about 10 hours from the game.
I liked that there was a good amount of voice acting in this game. Unfortunately, the acting was often awkward and wooden with a poor script to top it off. Jude’s voice was especially grating and I hope that I never have to hear that actress’s voice again. Between the voice acted scenes, the 2D portraits of characters move around the screen as they speak like a visual novel. Though the dialogue was often a bit boring, this movement made the game much more lively. It did get pretty annoying though whenever a character would start talking about “adults” or “kids” or “growing up”. Yes, I’m aware many of the characters in RPGs are young, but I’ve never seen a game beat the player over the head with it like this one does. It really takes you out of the story, what little there is.
Battles received a massive overhaul with the introduction of the HEX system in which characters and enemies can move around the battlefield. This made battles very interesting and somewhat tactical. I noticed I was using the characters’ Force moves a lot more often than I have in other entries. On the other hand, I found that the system could start to get irritating because there was no auto-fight option. Every battle had to be fought differently because some enemies aren’t affected by direct physical attacks. Sometimes, even if you have been grinding a bit, you can still find yourself in a tough battle in which you will die if you’re not careful.
Leveling up is quite interesting in this game and is tough to describe. As you gain levels through experience, you also gain points that you can allocate to learn more skills. While this seems straightforward, using those points simultaneously depletes that character’s HP and MP. Needless to say, you likely don’t want to use all your points up or you will be much easier to kill in battle. Fighting battles doesn’t typically earn a lot of experience or money, save for boss battles. It’s an interesting system that ensures that your characters will never be overpowered unless you devote hours to grinding. The skill tree is one of the best I’ve seen because the skills your characters learn are mostly useful throughout the game.
There are some other interesting bits about this game, little things that the developers just threw in but that didn’t make much sense or weren’t used much. One was Accelerator, an ability that Jude can use to slow down time and see objects he wouldn’t normally see. Using this ability enables the player to solve a few puzzles, but it is nearly useless in the second half of the game. Tools, having been a character-specific way of solving puzzles in former entries, have been relegated to objects that only show up when needed. Their use in progressing through dungeons is usually self-explanatory. Side-scrolling also made an appearance in many areas. I will admit that these areas made gameplay more interesting even though most were easy to traverse. However, all these aforementioned mechanics seemed very gimmicky since the only reason for their existence was
to liven up otherwise boring gameplay.
What gets irritating is when you start trying to do things outside of the normal flow of the game. I decided at one point that I was going to grind because I was using a guide that suggested being 10 levels above where I was. (Come to find out, that was completely unnecessary as I beat the game with all my characters below level 55 and little difficulty.) The area I was in was rife with enemies that would steal your experience, so grinding became impossible. Nonetheless, I persevered and ended up in a battle with a rare enemy that was some 45 levels higher than me. I tried to run because I knew I couldn’t beat it and, because you drop money when you run from battles, I lost like 10,000 gella which was all I had. Thankfully I had recently saved, so I just restarted my game.
To add insult to injury, toward the end of the game there is an equipment shop that sells powerful items. The catch here, besides them being expensive, is that you need many of the other weapons from the shops throughout the game to be able to fuse them together. Because enemies don’t typically drop a lot of money, this task could take days of grinding. There is an arena about half-way though that may or may not have solved my money issues, but I was so fed up with how the game actively fights you from making progress on this optional content that I just wanted to finish the game and be done with it.
Wild Arms 4 is tough to score because I could see myself liking it a lot more if I’d have played it 10 years ago. I may have even played through a lot of the optional content, fused all the weapons, and fought the hidden enemies and bosses. There is a ton of extra stuff for younger me to find, but older me just wasn’t that interested in searching for it all. Perhaps the problem with this game is that the developers threw too much into it when they should have pared it down to a more enjoyable streamlined experience. As such, the game suffers from being too long winded and trying to fight your progress. While fun to play if mainly for the exciting battles, I can only recommend this game to RPG or Wild Arms enthusiasts.