Wild Arms 4

Wild Arms 4 is not as bad as it seems at first, but it still is much worse than it should have been.

I really wonder what the designers were thinking. You’d think they’d want to appeal to the people who enjoyed the earlier games, but this game is so different from the others that they really should have just started a new franchise. Of course different != bad, but in this case, almost every difference is either a poor design choice or just a budget implementation that didn’t work out.

I played WA Alter Code F, and WA3, and both had essentially identical game frameworks. A story guides you from town to dungeon to town, but you can explore freely within the limits of your current transport capabilities. Eventually you gain the ability to fly pretty much anywhere, and to quickly teleport all over the world. At early stages of the game there is nothing really to find but the dungeon you’ve been sent to explore, but as the game continues, more and more exploration options become available. As usual, you can go way past the required levels for the next story action, and the various optional objectives are often more difficult than the main story objectives. These two games shared very similar control frameworks, combat rules, etc. etc. etc. though few if any actual assets were shared – probably mainly monster models. Because of the free exploration features by land, sea, and air, the game worlds were rather simple, with only perhaps a dozen textures until a town or dungeon was actually entered.

So they threw all that away for WA4. In this game you are essentially riding on rails for 3/4 of the game with no exploration at all, and you only regain the ability to go more or less where you want to towards the end. There is no 3d game world at all, it’s just a map of points-of-interest to choose from. Almost all the old game mechanics were completely scrapped and replaced with an entirely new system. Oddly, they retain all the old names for things and reapply them in new and often unrelated ways.

What do they add in compensation for the lost features and scrapping the familiar game systems? The locational graphics are superior, and there is a simple hex-grid combat system. On a map of 7 hexes.

Let’s see, what else… the older WA puzzles were always rather silly and out of place, but they were at least sort of consistent. Here they are arbitrary and the rules vary randomly from situation to situation. In the older WA games they made at least the usual token attempt to define the accessible areas of towns and dungeons with visible landscape and obviously impassable features, but here they use random invisible walls for no apparent reason, and often lock you into a 1D path – a straight line – across a screen just to be annoying. In the older WA games you had free camera control, sometimes a problem but usually fine, and here the camera is locked and often does not let you even glimpse apparently interesting locations that should be accessible, but just aren’t.

I could mention a fairly large number of other places where WA4 falls short of WA3 and WA ACF. All that being said, it’s still playable, and not as bad as I make it sound (still better than say Bard’s Tale or Sudeki, IMO) , it’s just surprising it’s inferior in so many ways with nothing really to show for the changes.

WA4 sounds totally unacceptable from what you say…sort of like a xenosaga with lower production values.

I really liked WA3, but have only played the intro to Alter Code due to obviously better games needing to be played. Does it measure up in the long run? I think just changing the graphics really killed me right off the bat.

WA Alter Code F is a superior game to WA3. They cleaned up the UI and lots of minor problems, e.g. the annoying tendency to fall off the blocks puzzles… But it is otherwise very similar in tone and content.

I finished WA4 today, though I haven’t finished various other games with higher production values, such as Star Ocean. It is much inferior to Xenosaga, which I really liked for some reason despite its oddities. I suppose one reason I finished WA4 was it was quite easy and relatively short (more like 30 hours than 60) and another was that I liked WA ACF rather more, and kept expecting to see some of those elements reappearing…

So you don’t miss the graphics even a bit? Just wondering. It just feels almost PS1ish in that it is such a shock to see genuinely primitive 3d modeling at this stage in the PS2 cycle. The cell shading hid that well, I thought.

I finished WA4 today, though I haven’t finished various other games with higher production values, such as Star Ocean. It is much inferior to Xenosaga, which I really liked for some reason despite its oddities. I suppose one reason I finished WA4 was it was quite easy and relatively short (more like 30 hours than 60) and another was that I liked WA ACF rather more, and kept expecting to see some of those elements reappearing…

I couldn’t finish Star Ocean either, mainly because I didn’t enjoy the combat and I really disliked being stuck on the primitive planet for so long. By the time the game finally got me out of there, I couldn’t be bothered to care anymore because Fable had finally wormed its way into my favour, against my will. And then there’s no picking it up again, kind of like what happened to me with Dragon Quest (RE4’s fault, this time).
Xenosaga I enjoyed perversely during, but upon further reflection and a completely scathing review that pointed out exactly what I had permitted myself to endure just because it had a levelling treadmill I hate it. I suspect I will have to resist my impulse buy instinct on WA 4 and stick with trying to get Alter Code going as soon as RE4 extras take their foot off of my throat.
Thanks for clearing that up for me.

Does it have any totally sweet exploits like the turbo controller farming in WA3 that made the Abyss doable? I really got a kick out of dropping carrots like it was cool. Oh, and how the judicious use of the item multiplier power and the lucky cards/gella cards could make things go crazy in a fight?

I think I prefer ACF graphics to WA3, but WA4 is clearly superior in that regard, for what it’s worth. WA ACF and WA3 made me interested enough to look for the silly hacks that the designers of this kind of game feel compelled to include. E.g. the “finest arts” in WA3 make most of the fights silly. As in Final Fantasy, it felt worthwhile to go the extra mile to look for these things, and of course these two earlier games emphasize exploration, where WA4 does not.

I had the impression that WA4 had such exploits and hidden features too, but I just didn’t bother to look for them. They certainly have an item synthesis workshop that allows you to make ridiculous items, but only if you’ve already farmed various other ridiculous items first, and I wasn’t motivated to scrounge for them.

Things I like about Xenosaga I and II include the graphical design, the humor, the story and characters (though I would like a bit more gameplay with my cutscenes, please), the A/B/C combat system, and the pretentiousness*. I really don’t mind a leveling treadmill at all so long as I ding reasonably frequently and I get new toys to play with as that happens, and I really think Xenosaga is less of a treadmill than many other games including the WA games, because Xenosaga has so much story, minigames, and random other things to do. Consider, for example, the .hack series, which is as close to being a pure treadmill as you can imagine. Pretty much all RPGs are after all leveling treadmills if you strip away all the fun and just look at the numbers, but why would you want to do that as a player?

Not to sound too much like a fanboy, but I think some negative Xenosaga reviewers simply approached the series with disdain to begin with.

*As an aside I note that a lot of the elements of Japanese popular culture that I am interested in, namely games, movies, and anime, is quite pretentious, with many obscure references to science, philosophy, and the arts and letters of all nations, not all of which appear to be entirely understood by the writers and designers who use them. Much as I would prefer some possibly mythical blend of non-pretentious but still intellectually interesting content mixed in with my entertainment material, I find I vastly prefer pretention to the drooling cretinism that most Western sources of similar genre material project at their hapless audiences.

*As an aside I note that a lot of the elements of Japanese popular culture that I am interested in, namely games, movies, and anime, is quite pretentious, with many obscure references to science, philosophy, and the arts and letters of all nations, not all of which appear to be entirely understood by the writers and designers who use them. Much as I would prefer some possibly mythical blend of non-pretentious but still intellectually interesting content mixed in with my entertainment material, I find I vastly prefer pretention to the drooling cretinism that most Western sources of similar genre material project at their hapless audiences.

Interestingly, this is why I found Xenosaga inferior to the ps1 Xenogears. Because as wacked-out pretentious as Xenosaga was, Xenogears was a beautifully insane mix of half-assed kabbalah (before it became pop by a hair!), Gnosticism, McKenna-esque genetic “insight”, and of course giant robots, thrown into a blender, turned into a script, every other page of the script run through a shredder, the shredded pieces put back together in random order, the whole shebang rewritten, then translated sequentially through all of babelfish’s current language support, then transcribed over the telephone as read by an auctioneer and written by scribes who were both hard of hearing and stricken with palsy.

Compared to that, Xenosaga felt downright staid.

Compared to that, Xenosaga felt downright staid.

True enough, in how many games do you get to see a small pink animal crucified?

It almost makes you think you can get away with any damn thing you well please in a Japanese RPG. No one you would cry with moral indignation will ever get to that point. Look at Xenosaga. As mentioned in LK’s review, the rather disturbing fixation of MOMO. We can point to nearly every RPGs’ view of the church; nine out of ten times, it’s evil.

As for Wild Arms, I’m still playing though ACF. Supposed to, by some complex mechanism, to be able to transfer stats and items from ACF over to WA4. I’ve never played a Wild Arms game before. I do like the exploration aspects, it’s sad to hear that WA4 goes for a more linear, FFX like system. I don’t know if I will mind as much, as both ACF, and Dragon Quest 8 before it, have filled that niche admirably.

As for ACF, the story is cliche, the characters standard, but it’s serviceable. I like the music as well.

Interesting, interesting. Thanks for the feedback. I think I am about to get this Capcom monkey off my back thanks to the frustrating Mercenary missions, and ACF is definitely due its turn. I waited so long for that game to come out, and then nothing…it’s almost like with some games the anticipation is better than the real thing.

Oh yeah, I love levelling treadmills, don’t get me wrong. That is, so long as they stop short of just being a pure grind and hack (admittedly often a subjective line).

But even if we ignore the many, many obnoxious plot and taste issues that Jsoh brings up in his review as a huge Japanese grain of salt, there were just an excess of choices made that I didn’t enjoy. For instance, I don’t like it when new powers are easily dwarfed in effectivity by old powers that have simply been upgraded a great deal more. A lot of RPG’s seek to circumvent this with different applications for those powers, bizarre enemy resistances that require diversified attacks, etc. Xenosaga did…nothing, and thus doomed me to watch pretty much the same (interminable) animations from beginning to end.

Another thing that I recall really pissed me off: if you’re going to force me at gunpoint to use characters that I despise in a limited party combat system, you had better find a way to level them that isn’t needlessly menial. I mean, I’m cool with playing through their intros with them, or even bonus sidequests or some such nonsense. But don’t ever make me play as Jailbait and Blondebot again as part of the main story arc. It’s like multiplying to the nth degree the frustration one would feel after carefully tweaking and equipping an NPC only to have them leave before crucial fights/die/turn on you etc. It’s one thing if it is an unexpected plot twist or a even just good development of the story, something else entirely if it just feels like contrived attempts to force you to use all the crap they programmed.
But, hey, Xenosaga is just one of them things you either hate or feel pressed to defend in ambiguous terms out of a sadomasochistic attraction to it, rather like MGS2. It just gives me a good point of reference for ignoring WA4.

Not to sound too much like a fanboy, but I think some negative Xenosaga reviewers simply approached the series with disdain to begin with.

To be sure. That does not change that many of their criticisms are legitimate if the hyperbole is properly taken as satirical, and most of the defenses of the game are made in vague, sweeping platitudes that are almost entirely rooted in the fan’s preconceived notions rather than the game itself. But I don’t mean to totally derail the thread (appearances to the contrary) or insult you, it’s just easy for me to forget that some opinions of games are less than universal.

*As an aside I note that a lot of the elements of Japanese popular culture that I am interested in, namely games, movies, and anime, is quite pretentious, with many obscure references to science, philosophy, and the arts and letters of all nations, not all of which appear to be entirely understood by the writers and designers who use them. Much as I would prefer some possibly mythical blend of non-pretentious but still intellectually interesting content mixed in with my entertainment material, I find I vastly prefer pretention to the drooling cretinism that most Western sources of similar genre material project at their hapless audiences.

I’m right there with you in many respects, but I think you are reaching a bit in your condemnation of the western canon. I think it is far too easy to mistake the mainstream pop additions for the sum total of the product, just as I think it unfortunate that it appears to be a similar ratio for Japanese exports. It’s really a huge divide filled with tentacle rape and crappy robot futures that separates the big ticket quality products from the niche good stuff.

Hear, hear. It’s not all Kino’s Travels and Abe Yoshitoshi.

Also, I actually started playing WAACF yesterday more seriously, and thus far it is much better than I had thought the first time. For one thing, my tv is now a lot better than the one I had before, which actually exponentiallly improved the game’s graphics. They are now high end 2nd generation PS2 versus the gen 1 I had thought them before, and way better looking than other RPG’s I have enjoyed a great deal.
Then again, maybe I am just thrilled to not think DRAGONBALLS! everytime I boot up my ps2.

Either way, the game exhibits all of the traits I love about 3, down to the incredibly exploitable combat system. Already I was able to boost Cecilia’s exp modifier to 9.9 on her prologue boss with minimal strategy…that’s the kind of fruity trick that keeps me coming back for more. Wait til I get my garden going.

I’m only just starting out with the combat system, and I like its variety a great deal more than WA3. We’ll see how it works out in the (no doubt riciculously) long run.

Nice to see you agree ACF > 3. I was wondering if I had gotten them backwards or something, as they are after all very similar games.

“It’s almost like with some games the anticipation is better than the real thing.”

Only some? I thought it was more like 75%?

I should have specified. “some games I buy”, of which some remain relatively unplayed after long periods of anticipation.

Yeah, it really was the fact that I’d played WA3 on a totally sweet TV at home, and I’d only tried ACF on a relatively crap 20 inch. Much more accessible on a good tv. It’s pathetic, but that really was what was holding me back.