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Review - Wild Arms 4 (PS2)

Started by Nightcrawler, May 31, 2012, 01:14:23 PM

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In efforts to erase the bad taste in my mouth from Wild Arms 3, I played through and beat Wild Arms 4. I was very hesitant after my horrible experience with the last game, but I was reassured that this installment went in a different direction. Thankfully, that was entirely true and I'm glad I did play through this one. Wild Arms 4 was very different and pretty good game. A few major corners were cut that made it seem a little low budget, but overall I still had a fun time. Had they not cut corners, it had potential to be a great game.


We get four characters early on and we stay with them throughout the entire game.  This game is character driven and all characters received decent character development throughout. We have two children and two young adults. Each starts the game with a certain perspective due to their life and background and are a bit lost as far as their own self-identity. As the game goes on, the characters learn through experience, evolve, and find their own identity. It was pretty well done with a lot of dialog. There were even some touching scenes sprinkled throughout. I wish there were more of the strong emotional scenes.

Jude is child that literally lived a sheltered life from the world. He is exposed to the real world for the first time near the beginning and his journey of processing and finding his identity in the world takes place throughout the game. He is exposed to the ugliness of war, adults vs. kids, love, and betrayal.

Yulie is another child, although her entire life she was a test subject in a laboratory. As a result, her perspective on life was a bit messed up. She also finds her identity throughout the course of the game as she experiences the world outside what she knew.

Arnaud is a cocky young adult, who while is physically an adult, has not yet grown up entirely mentally. He grows as a person and learns from both the children and Raquel what life means to him.

Raquel is the oldest and most mature adult. She comes from a hardened war torn background and she is a bit cold on the outside because of it. She learns to let people in and find value in life again and is actually very kind hearted inside.

The villains are unfortunately not that developed, mostly because there were just way too many of them. Only a select few had any meaningful development. However, there are no real villains in this story, so maybe that was the point.


The game is mostly character driven and thus the story isn't all that complex or important. However, it does have several interesting areas it covers. The basic story is there was a war. During the war both sides were experimenting with trying to fast-track evolve humans to use bio-mechanical technology of ARMs to try and get the advantage. The war ended and that's where the back-story gets interesting. 

Neither side was the right or wrong side. Democracy was put in place and failed over time due to voting on image alone and lack of participation. The very side that fought to win and put democracy in place now sought to end it and rule via party of dictation. A faction of people who no longer wanted war or any part of any side literally left the world. They built shelter to float high in the sky and live exclusively there, taking their technology and notes with them in hopes to rid the world of the sins they already created in the past war with them.

That's where the story starts. Jude is the only child in this shelter and it is breached from the outside 'real' world. The story is a bit of a slow burner for awhile after that, but it does pick up. Overall, it's well paced and the game kept sprinkling bits of story and character development often. There are a number of twists and turns and it was always interesting enough to want to know what happens next. It exceeded my initial expectations, even though it was somewhat simple in nature.

The only big negative is the story does preach a lot about children vs. adults to the point where they quite literally mention children vs. adults many times in speech. This is a turn-off to many who have reviewed the game, but I was able to look past it and embrace the better theme made clear at the end that children are are future and as adults we hope that they will evolve and become better than we were.

Low Budget Presentation:

Here's where the game got knocked down a few pegs. Nearly the entire story is told via still portraits. You can't enter any buildings, you get stills. All the villains talk in stills. All the characters talk in stills. All the action happens with stills. They are nice portraits and all, but cut scenes have much less impact or emotion when there is nothing but stills. There are a handful of in-game cut-scenes, and they are well done. However, the majority of the game will unfold in stills. This game would have been much better if all cut-scenes and action took place in-game. It really seemed low budget. I have a hard time believing it was a styling choice. Once you play a few hours, you'll understand what I mean.

This was also a no-nonsense type of game. No overworld, no going in buildings, and only 3 towns. It seemed like these things were all cut out. Playing Wild Arms 5 and it's basically the same game with these items included. Although, I must admit it did help quicken up the pace of the game and I found it more of a 'cut out the BS' affair rather than loss of good content. I started to like it.

Save points were very far apart and ridiculously placed. There were times I had to play for near 3 hours without a save point (or shut off the TV and let the PS2 run for hours until I return). In my opinion, that's terrible design and I didn't like that one bit.


The graphics were a big upgrade form the previous installment. The world is brought to life with a good amount of lighting, detail, and variation of areas. The characters were just as vibrant and detailed. There were few towns, but the towns that were there was very large and expansive, and felt like towns.

There was no world map in the game, but there were 'dungeons' of which had no purpose but to travel from point A to B and see the land (and fight).  At first I didn't like that, but it really gave a better experience. You got more immersed in the scenery, felt like you were truly traveling and seeing the world much more than you would have with the traditional over-world.

One big flaw was no camera control. It was difficult to find hidden passages or treasure or really see the paths in some dungeons. Other than that the game was a very good graphical experience. I'd say it was above average for the PS2.


The music had less of a western feel in this game, and instead was more up-tempo and adventurous. This is presumably due to different composers than the other games in the series. It worked for me. I enjoyed most of the tunes. There was quite a different mix of music from place to place and there were a few emotional pieces for some key scenes. Unfortunately, none of them were really so melodic that I they got stuck in my head or got me humming along. I do find that typical in the age of digital music compared to the systems of old.

One thing of note is the third form of the final battle actually had a vocal track in the background, which was very cool. It really felt like we were building up to a grand victory and just about there. I can't say I've ever played a game that did it quite like this.

Voice acting was pretty solid. Nothing great, but not terrible. You could tell the secondary characters were low budget and more poorly done, and variations of the main actors. Voice acting isn't that important to me. I'd rather have sub-par English than Japanese.


There are a number of new concepts here that make this game fresh and different. One thing I've always liked about the Wild Arm series is it meshes together several elements from other genres into the JRPG mix. This one gets it right again. The game takes a shift to much more platforming sections than ever before. There were some frustrating parts and long section requiring full restarts for any failure, but what platformer doesn't have that issue at least sometimes? There's no penalty for failure, so it's not a high stress situation. You can retry until you succeed. They improved the controls, so for the most part, this was a fun addition. Jude can also slow down time, which adds a cool element to a variety of sequences with lasers, giant fans, and what not.

Puzzles are back, but a bit different. There's no character tools. Instead, you find items inside dungeons that you can use. Swords, bombs, magic canes, cloaks, etc. Puzzles can extend across the dungeon and they are not limited to a single room anymore. This makes for some interesting puzzles and some challenge (or annoyance) to carry the proper tool with you from place to place. The catch is you cannot jump while carrying a tool limiting how you can get places. It sounds difficult, but they made up for it by making relatively easy puzzles. No puzzles are seriously hair pulling frustrating like the previous game. I approve.

We have a new hex grid based battle system here. It's similar to strategy games. You move from hex to hex and choose actions. The new concept here is all status effects, spells, attacks etc. apply to a hex space and not any specific character. If you poison a space, just step out of it (or cure the space). When you attack, you attack the space, so if all monsters are in the same space, they all get attacked.  In addition to that, there are elemental spaces and force abilities that work differently depending on what color hex you are on.

The next thing is the level points and skill system. It's very simple, but flexible. You have a list of skills for the entire game. Each skill has a number of points. For each level you get one point. When you are on a high enough level, you learn the skill permanently, but here's the fun part; You have a point bank and you can distribute points to learn whatever skills you want early. However, for each point you use, your HP decreases. It's a risk and reward system. You determine if the risk is necessary or worthwhile and what skills you want. You can make changes at any time and get your points back. It's a nice system.

There are badges that enhance you in various ways which you can equip, but the game never lets you equip more than one for most of it (eventually get more, but only at the very end). So, I never got to really enjoy it. There's also item synthesis, but I beat the game without ever being able to synthesis a single weapon or armor because I never had the steep requirements.

These things combined with a number of other smaller features I haven't discussed make each battle a strategic one. Strategy is in each battle. You can be defeated at any given battle depending on random starting placements and choices made. It makes it challenging. Sometimes, even a bit frustrating as you're wiped out immediately without a chance. However, they allow you to retry failed battles and no two battles ever play out the same. That's a saving grace.


All-in-all this game has very solid gameplay, likeable characters, good development, and a decent plot. I enjoyed the fresh new features. I would consider nearly all the changes to be for the better compared to previous game. I'm happy to know that Wild Arms 5 shares much of the same systems and look forward to it, especially knowing they addressed the presentation issues I didn't like. - The central hub of the ROM hacking community.