Nestled in the shadows of much larger fare, the neoclassic RPG series Wild Arms is getting set to celebrate its 10th anniversary (http://www.wild-arms.net/). Known for its mix of Western and Eastern elements, Wild Arms hasn't reinvented so much as re-engineered already tried-and-true components into a long-running and successful RPG series.
The original Wild Arms sports one of the finest 2D-animated openings in PSX history. It offered 3D graphics and everything else to a level much beyond what was expected. Fast-forward to now, and Wild Arms 4 is still boasting the charm and humor that made it so unmistakable almost a decade ago. For fans only? Not in my book. There are rough edges, but make no mistake, this game is worthy of your time.
After the disappointing Wild Arms 3 and Alter Code F, I had pretty much given up hope for a series that offered so much replayability and style with its first 2 entries. But the struggling of Filgaia, which began in the mid-1990s, has come full-circle. In 4 you will return to its desperate, war-ravaged exterior and from there, participate in a new journey, no doubt compelled by a familiar story you will have no choice but to finish.
Putting the "A" in ARMs!
Despite all my attempts to counter the mainstream argument that Wild Arms 4 is average at best, its fate lies in the way the essential pieces come together to form a cohesive RPG experience. At the very core of that experience is the battle system and everything that surrounds it. Wild Arms 4 throws in vast armies of mechs, mercenaries, monsters, and badass bosses to deal with. Your very first heavy hitter is the Gatling gun-toting, spikey-haired merc Jeremy; from there, all bets are off. Thankfully, the difficulty and enemy encounter rate—make-or-break elements to any RPG with random battles—are spot on.
The clunky encounter system (and that nagging bar that lets you briefly avoid battles) started in Wild Arms 3 and carried over to the Alter Code F remake is long gone (and let's hope it never resurfaces). In Wild Arms 4, encounters never interrupt the flow of the story. Heck you can even turn them off in many areas—very helpful for the puzzle-solving levels! Difficulty feels on target as well. Boss enemies can kill you within seconds and likewise you can handout beatdowns just as quickly, that is if you move through the story at a decent pace; power-leveling will obviously shift the odds even more strongly in your favor.
What the "Hex" Are you talking about?
If battle is the only reason you may want to play Wild Arms 4, you're better off going with Grandia III or Tales of Legendia. That being said, there's still plenty to feel good about when that random Gob mob surrounds you. From the get go, you'll notice a major difference from previous Wild Arms. A spanking-new hex system offers a somewhat fresh take on turn-based combat. This means that characters and enemies are no longer your target, but rather hexes.
Status and elemental effects are now specific to hexes, so poisoning the upper-left hex means that anyone or anything in it may be affected. Attacks play out the same and so does support magic. I don't want to bog down the review with too many specifics, but certain hexes can give you an advantage depending on what spell or technique you use. It all relates to "ley points" and their elemental status—such as water, fire, and earth, which can alter damage dealt and taken.