Wild Arms 2 Review

For PlayStation

Rating: Good
   As a huge fan of Wild Arms, I was disappointed to find that Wild Arms 2 
is just another RPG that's good, but not great.  The game still excels in a 
lot of areas, but it never approaches the classic level of the original.
   It's a shame, too, because Wild Arms 2 seemed to get a lot more pre-
release attention than the original game.  While the original was lost in 
the pre-FF7 shuffle, all eyes appeared to be on the sequel.  The biggest 
innovation in Wild Arms 2 is the way you can avoid battles whenever you 
want to.  Right before you enter into a battle, an exclamation point 
appears above your character's head.  If the exclamation point is red, you 
have no choice but to enter into the battle.  If it's white (and it usually 
is), you have the option of quickly pressing O and avoiding the battle
   This is a brilliant addition to the standard RPG gameplay formula 
because it decreases the drain of constantly getting into standard battles.  
It also encourages you to complete more side quests because you can say to
yourself, "I'm going to do this side quest, but it won't be a hassle 
because I'll avoid most of the battles."  You can choose to get into as 
many or as few battles as you want, and even if you never cancel out an 
exclamation point to avoid a battle, the encounter rate is still lower than 
it was in the original Wild Arms.
   The FP system is a refreshing alternative to the standard MP system.  It 
also adds a layer of strategy to the combat that isn't there in many RPGs 
(it's a small layer, but it's there nonetheless).  For example, choosing 
the "defend" option is actually a viable option for once because it allows 
you to build up your FP while also temporarily increasing your defense.
   The Personal Skill system is also well done.  In a nutshell, it lets you 
give your characters new abilities using points that are gradually acquired 
in combat.  This simple addition goes a long way toward solving the RPG 
genre's character customization problems.  Some RPGs don't let you 
customize your characters enough, and others (like Final Fantasy 7) let you 
do it too much, thus losing all of the character individuality in combat.  
This game's Personal Skill system offers the best of both worlds: It grants 
you a decent amount of customization, while still not changing the fact 
that every character is different from one another in combat.
   I was excited when I heard that Wild Arms 2 was switching to a polygonal 
graphics engine, but I was disappointed to find yet again that polygons are 
not the be-all and end-all of video game graphics.  Believe it or not, the 
original game's 2D sprites are actually more detailed than the sequel's 3D 
polygons.  Marketing executives might argue with me, but I don't think it 
makes sense to have polygonal graphics just for the sake of having 
polygonal graphics.  Some people might look at 2D graphics as being 
outdated, but I think good 2D graphics look a heck of a lot better than 
average 3D graphics.
   The music in Wild Arms 2 is just as disappointing as the graphics.  The 
majority of the music in the game is just "pretty good," as opposed to the 
original game's excellent music.  There are very few great tracks in the 
game, and there are also some that are annoying.  The music that plays 
during standard battles is just a little bit too repetitive, but still 
decent overall.
   There are some very creative puzzles in the game's many dungeons, but 
also some frustrating and maddening ones.  Either way, it's much more 
involving than the typical RPG because it's never just a matter of walking 
from one end of a dungeon to the other and nothing more.  The puzzles could 
have used some more work to make them less abstract, and the presentation 
of the game could have also used more work.  It's distracting to have one 
text box close and another open up every time a different character speaks.  
On the other hand, it's easy and convenient to buy, sell, and equip things 
because it can all be done on one screen.
   The main problem with Wild Arms 2 is that its story doesn't deviate from 
the RPG norm.  The basic outline of the story could be used to describe a 
large number of RPGs: There's the troubled main character who is battling 
his own inner demons, the larger male character with a rough and tough 
attitude, and the childish female character who sees the world from a naive 
point of view.  And of course, they're all trying to defeat a group of 
terrorists who are trying to take over the world.
   There's even a love story that seems to have been thrown into the game 
just for the sake of having a love story, and of course, a magical sword 
that can only be controlled by the game's main character.  Without anything 
to separate the game from the hordes of other RPGs on the market, you never 
really get emotionally attached to any of the characters.
   Maybe "life after Lunar" has given me higher standards of what I expect 
from an RPG's dialogue, but I found Wild Arms 2's dialogue to be dull for 
the most part.  You will still run into dialogue that's either well-written 
or funny every once in a while, but most of the dialogue is neither well-
written nor funny.  Some of the dialogue that tries desperately to be 
sarcastic and funny is just stupid (like the dungeon with the lizard-men 
Liz and Ard, for example).
   Even the combat isn't enough to compel you to play the game for hours on 
end because it's way too easy.  I understand the logic behind making the 
first few bosses in an RPG easy, but not the first couple dozen.  There 
wasn't a single time during the game where I ran around getting into 
battles intentionally for the sake of building up my characters, yet I 
still wasn't even remotely challenged by a boss until I had over 15 hours 
of gameplay.  The boss designs also leave a lot to be desired (get used to 
seeing a lot of generic, dragon-like bosses).
   Wild Arms 2 is a lot like SaGa Frontier 2 in that they're both solid 
games that could have been much better.  Wild Arms 2 is still well worth 
playing all the way through, but only if you're a hardcore RPG fan and 
you're already finished with the classics like FF8 and Lunar.

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