Wild Arms 2
Wild Arms 2 seems to have many things going in its favor. It’s a late-generation RPG published by the mighty Sony, so one assumes there will be a plethora of eye candy. Unfortunately, the only eye candy is in a couple stunning anime cutscenes. At least there’s a bunch of sidequests, but when the main quest is so boring, what’s the point? “What’s the point?” is a question that’s raised far too many times throughout Wild Arms 2
The storyline is initially presented in an interesting manner. The three main characters are given a brief introductory mission that can be completed in any order. You’ll quickly learn about the do-gooder mercenary Ashley Winchester. Brad’s fall from war hero to fugitive is also shown, as is Lilka’s girly personality and developing magic skills. These introductions do a great job of introducing the characters, but as the game progresses it’s hard to maintain the same amount of interest.
As fate would have it, a group of terrorists hell-bent on conquering and/or destroying the world makes their presence known. Ashley and company are assembled to take down the threat and find an occasional character or two to join the squad. There are a couple nice plot twists along the way, but the absolutely horrendous dialogue ruins the storyline. Pretentious philosophical arguments are made about the definition of a “hero” on a regular basis, and the weak translation makes it especially hard to endure. It doesn’t help that there is such a huge amount of text with so little actually said. By the time the painfully long finale started I was begging for all of the characters to shut up.
At least the gameplay takes a more interesting route than the failed storyline. There are many, many dungeons and they don’t follow the dull “run from screen to screen” formula. The camera angle must constantly be manipulated in order to find objects, and there are plenty of puzzles that need to be solved. The most common puzzles are ones where you have to switch to a certain character and use one of their “tools” in order to advance. Think of it as something like a simplified Zelda. There is a grappling hook, magic spells, bombs, and many other items that have to be used in certain situations. The other puzzles are the kind where you’re given a vague clue and then have to rotate/move/select objects in a certain order. I was surprised at the difficulty of some of these. I’m a veteran of PC adventure titles, so I’m used to tough puzzles, but a couple still had me stumped. It was a refreshing change from stupid puzzles in many other console RPGs. The only problem with exploring the dungeons is that there is no analog support. Wild Arms 2 is practically begging for it since it’s a 3D game, but for some reason we’re still stuck with a less effective directional pad.
The battles are fairly basic, but there are a couple unconventional twists. They’re turn-based, but instead of traditional magic points to use special moves, the character must either attack or be attacked to build up the power to use these skills. It makes the battles last longer, but it adds a bit of welcome strategy to Wild Arms 2. The other somewhat different aspect is that characters can be switched on and off at the start of any turn. It’s almost like a 6-man tag match once every character is recruited. Although swapping characters mostly useless in normal battles, it makes for some hectic times during some of the boss battles.
As solid as the battle system is, the lack of balance is noticeable. Bosses seem to suddenly vary in difficulty from mind-numbingly boring to ass-kickingly powerful. Usually there are long stretches of no challenge whatsoever, then a couple tough bosses, and then another batch of weaklings. Ashley and Brad’s special moves eventually become useless towards the end of the game since using beefed-up physical attacks does more damage. Some balance would have made for a more better time, but considering the dialogue is so bad I’m not sure if it’d make Wild Arms 2 worthwhile.
Wild Arms 2 makes a couple whole-hearted attempts at innovation, but the results are mixed. The fresh approach towards random encounters mostly succeeds. When a random battle is about to occur an exclamation mark appears over the character’s head. If the exclamation point is white, then the battle can be skipped with the press of a button. If it’s red, then the fight can’t be avoided. It’s a nice idea that works well, but since most of the battle are unavoidable it would have been great to seen it taken to a higher level with more chances to evade the fights.
Where innovation totally fails is in the obnoxious world map exploration. Towns and dungeons are invisible on the map, so repeatedly hitting the sonar button is the only way to find these vital locations. Of course, vague directions are given to aid the hunt, but it’s still annoying. Most frustrating of all is that if an NPC never gave you directions then it’s impossible to find the location. You can be using the sonar at exactly the right spot, but it won’t do any good. Later in the game there’s a skill automatically obtained that points out locations, but by then it’s hard not to be annoyed at the unnecessary exploration.
For a late generation PSone game published by a first-party, the graphics are surprisingly poor. The animated sprites look good on their own, but the fully 3D environments look weak in comparison. Not only are they simplistic, but they’re also very repetitive. There’s little to distinguish a few of the dungeons from each other. A few cutscenes feature hand-drawn backdrops that look far superior to the 3D backgrounds, but making everything 2D would have severely limited the gameplay of the dungeons. The music also suffers from repetition. It’s not uncommon to hear the same music in more than a handful of the dungeons and towns. Fortunately, a couple of the tracks stand out, namely the final boss theme, so it’s not like there isn’t anything good here. Just a little more variety would have been nice.
Wild Arms 2 manages to provide some decent gameplay, but the miserable dialogue makes it hard to fully appreciate the game. The battle system is tolerable and the dungeons are fun, but none of those matter when you have to endure such bad writing. Honestly, it’s worse than the writing in some of my reviews. If you’re looking for a pretentious game with lots of dialogue, try out Xenogears instead. Not that I can fully recommend that game either…