Wild ARMs 2 - Retroview

Choose Your Words Carefully
By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 7
   Originality 6
   Story & Plot 7
   Localization 3
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Completion Time 45-55 Hours  

What a poker face that guy has!
What a poker face that guy has!
Wild ARMs 2

   As far as RPGs go, the first Wild ARMs offered a very solid experience and convinced many that the small team of developers called Contrail could create great games. Wild ARMs 2 (WA2), which came out in the spring of 2000, was a hotly anticipated game among RPG gamers, and while it did bring forth a handful of innovations over its predecessor, one single aspect of the game succeeded in devaluating much of the game's appeal; the terrible script. The game had other issues in some areas, but the awful localization during key moments stood-out and prevented gamers from enjoying an otherwise complex and gratifying storyline.

   Filgaia is once again on the brink of a terrifying calamity, and it's now up to three heroes, Brad, Lilka, and Ashley to unite their powers and vanquish all forms of evil. A rich and powerful noble man called Irving Valeria calls upon the three warriors to create a peace-keeping rescue team called Agile Remote Mission Squad (or ARMS). Along your adventure, you'll meet three other combat-worthy allies, discover each individual's potential, and uncover some disturbing secrets to a wicked operation…that is, if you can understand what the characters are babbling about.

   Many tweaks have been implemented to the first game's battle system. Magic points (MP) have completely vanished so all you can rely on as your supernatural power if the Force gauge. Acting in battle charges your Force gauge, and there are four attainable levels of force to allow the use of different character abilities. Items like the "mini carrot" and "full carrot" can raise your force level more rapidly. Without enough force, it's impossible to cast spells or use ARMs. Again, Force abilities are at your characters' disposal and unlike ARMs or magic, using those abilities will deplete your Force gauge. Both Brad and Ashley can use ARMs (the same as in the first game) which possess limited amount of ammunition and can be upgraded in repair shops. Battles could've offered a good deal of strategy if they weren't so incredibly easy. Using your Force abilities sparingly is a non-issue, because enemies and bosses alike will most likely fall before you even realize you entered combat.

   Guardians are also back from the first game but play a much more important role in WA2. Equipping Guardians will result in increased stats and available summoning powers but also in special skill. You can use those skills in battle without reserve, but once again you'll never feel the need to do so. Tim, an ally you'll recruit later on, possesses the power to speak to Guardians and needs their strength to learn his various spells. Personal Skills (PS) are another addition to the series' gameplay. Characters gain one PS point per level, which they can allocate at PS shops in almost every town to learn special abilities, like status condition immunities or increased physical or magical prowess. Unfortunately, you can't redistribute your PS points once you've used them, and since the game didn't need to propose more advantages to your party considering the incredible ease, those skills can be ignored all together. Another innovation is the ability to avoid encounters before they happen with the help of a little indicator above your character's head. If your levels are high enough, you can avoid an upcoming confrontation by pressing O, thus greatly reducing the amount of useless and tedious fights.

Here's one of the more intelligible sentences.
Here's one of the more intelligible sentences.

   To discover your next location, you'll have to make use of the new "map-scope", a little scanner used only on the world map. The device adds some fun to travelling around Filgaia, a planet that is actually very intricately designed to allow only certain types of vehicles in certain areas. Concretely, it's a lot of fun to try and find new special dungeons, towns, or hidden items using your various transportation means and your handy "map-scope". Aside from that, your characters will once more be armed with various tools to better explore towns and solve dungeon puzzles, providing more interactivity with their surroundings. It's a very good idea executed marvelously well in the first two WA games, while being a bit too numbed-down in the third installment. You always have a great view on your environments thanks to the good camera, and the menus get the job done while not exactly being models of simplicity. Just for the puzzles and the world map, the game deserves some respect.

   Music-wise, Michiko Naruke-san produces another great soundtrack. A defining aspect of her talent lies in the many dungeons themes, which for once actually add energy to your exploration instead of making you reach for the mute button. The opening anime movies present some absolutely wonderful tracks as well as sporting beautiful visuals. Various events and character themes are present and are suitably pleasant, while towns hum nice background music for the most part. The battle themes get a little repetitive, and even though there are some weak points here and there, the lasting impression that emanates from the soundtrack is a positive one. Battles suffer from some weak sound effects though. The sounds of your weapons clashing on an enemy are far too cartoony and ARMs, spells, and summons alike don't sound very threatening at all.

   For the most part, WA2's plot is very intriguing and captivating. The game starts out the same way as the first one, where the three main characters' pasts are presented separately. There are many elements to the plot, such as the Sword Magess, the Guardians, and the terrorist group Odessa, which are laid-out pretty well along the course of the game. Unfortunately, thanks to the disgusting localization, it's quite hard to feel the characters' distinct personalities. The flow of the storyline is very good, and the core of the plot is refreshingly ingenious, but the characters' many revelations and the turning points are almost fully unintelligible. Had the game been blessed with a great script, the plot would have been even more convincing, but as it stands now it was still interesting enough to warrant two playthroughs on my part.

   The localization is totally incongruous and inconsistent. If you play through the game while not paying too much attention to what you're reading, you won't necessarily notice just how confusing certain sentences are. Half of the dialogues are actually very well written, but a great deal of text seems to have been written in another language than English. You won't encounter many absolutely trashy dialogues, but you always get the feeling that the translators somehow used some translation software and forgot to double-check what came out to see if it really made sense. When Brad "finds" himself, when the characters face their own fears, and when Ashley speaks with Anastasia, to name a few moments, you'll just feel totally confused, as if you've forgotten how to interpret the language you've been speaking forever. Because of this greatly inconsistent and head-scratching localization, characters feel completely disconnected to one another, and the plot loses much of its impact. It's hard to describe how disturbing the dialogues really are; you'll just have to play the game and try to understand for yourself.

Ashley sure doesn't show that much expression within the game.
Ashley sure doesn't show that much expression within the game.

   There aren't any points where the plot completely splits up to offer various paths, but there is a good deal of side questing to be found in WA2. Acquiring every Guardians, spells, and ARMs provides ample reason to scour Filgaia thoroughly, and there is also the inclusion of many super powerful bosses for you to test your brains and brawn. The world map itself is filled with items and special locations waiting to be discovered, and there is also the inclusion of one totally optional character in the game to add some replay value. Clocking-in at about 45-55 hours long on a normal run, WA2 provides a meaty adventure for your first playthrough and many optional items and quests for the more hardened gamers.

   The opening anime movies on each CD are absolutely mesmerizing. The quality of those sequences with the vibrant music and superb animations brings a lot of personality to a game that is somewhat lacking in that aspect. The in-game visuals are made-up of sprites reminiscent to Star Ocean 2 and Xenogears on 3D polygonal backgrounds. Considering that the game came out in the middle of 2000, there is nothing impressive about the visual presentation, although it provides enough clarity for easy navigation. The inclusion of expressive character portraits next to the dialogue boxes would have been an interesting addition. Where the graphics truly take a plunge is during fights, where allies and foes are composed of extremely blocky and dated polygons, much worse than the venerable (and honorable) FFVII. It's only a small step up from the first game's equally atrocious battle graphics, and since they had three years of improved technology to work with, the design artists don't deserve much credit. It's also awfully animated to boot, and spell effects don't look convincing either.

   WA2 fails to impress, or even just satisfy, on many accounts. The first WA was a well-constructed production given its day and age, but WA2 doesn't offer enough innovation, or even worse, as much charisma as the first game to stand as a truly great game. The disturbing localization and crummy graphics don't help the game at all, but the amount of fighting stays at a tolerable level throughout the game, allowing you to better enjoy the great music and the interesting plot, which are the two most important aspects of a game in my book. In the end, WA2's greatest problem definitely lies in its awkward choice of words. So, never make Sony's mistake, because choosing the right words can make all the difference.

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