The Wild Arms series, in general, is one series that I can easily call as one of the most under-rated RPG series out there, second to none bar the Ys series, and even these days the Ys series has taken a boost of popularity (deservedly so, mind) after it's latest installment on the PSP.
But I'm not here to tell you about Ys, maybe later though.
Now when you mention Wild Arms to anybody, the expected reaction is probably confusion, maybe you'll get lucky and stumble upon someone who played the remake of the original, maybe even Wild Arms 3 or 5, as they are the strongest modern installments out there.
But there was a time when this series chose a very... Interesting way to present itself and it's world, so let's take a look at the original here:
uh-oh. It's gonna be Zelda all over again, won't it?
While the regular towns, dungeons and the over world were displayed in your average, ye-olde overhead shot pixel sprites, the battles were rendered in similarly ye-oldish polygon models:
And you thought slimes were insulting to the early level players?
Now, this was still a year before Final Fantasy had come out and made it a hot trend for high-end RPGs to have cinematic 3D environments all over, so this strange arrangement could be attributed to the cost of 3D at the time and uncertainty whether or not it could actually work to begin with.
But all in all, Wild Arms' strength comes from it's story and character, which can be considered poignant at the very least, if not deep and complex, ranging from the use of weapons of mass destruction and arms races, to the less controversial and more often used themes of prejudice, duty, honor, et cetera, so on and so forth.
also a very unique thing about the series is its masterful use of the western genre, so now when somebody goes on to tell you that the Red Dead (fine games that they are, granted) series was a pioneer in its use of the genre in a predominantly sci-fi/fantasy genre, you can point at Wild Arms with pride.
But wait, you say, weren't we talking about Wild Arms 2? Why yes, yes we were:
The reason for the pre-amble is, quite simply, that while the original Wild Arms was released before
Final Fantasy VII, giving it an excuse not to go one style or the other, Wild Arms 2 came out in the last season of the year '99, so close to the new millennium with games like Final Fantasy IX or Vagrant Story (now that's one game for a future installment), Wild Arms 2 stuck with the pixelated overworld/3D battles route.
Magical girls not girly enough for ya? You can count on Wild Arms to up the ante with a parasol-wielding one!
Just something interesting to note, it may not have much bearing on the game overall, but I like to think that due to budget costs, the developers were forced to seek other alternatives to spice up the gameplay, another thing Wild Arms is famous for is their block puzzle fixation; while RPGs run the gamut when it comes to puzzles, Wild Arms is the only one I know where an entire sub-quest is devoted to the solving of 20 something block puzzles across the world over all of the installments, it's like Square and their card games, yeesh.
I've beaten monsters and demons, explored deadly dungeons, but this... This is pushing it.
Wild Arms 2 is probably one of the least western-centric of the series when its genre is concerned, and falls more neatly into a sort of post-western, magi-punk territories, with giant space stations and flying fortresses powered by crystals appearing alongside steam-engine trains, which prompts it into delving more into political intrigue than it's predecessor's more "war is hell" themes, such as civil wars, cold wars and border anxiety.
In the midst of all of this, we get characters with stories of sacrifice, love, the true meaning of a hero, and the struggles of soldiers and mercenaries in a peaceful world, da-yum!
Now, I'm not gonna mince words any longer and say it outright, Wild Arms 2 is one of my favorite games out there, not just within its own series, but even in my overall best games out there; it's definitely one of my top 5 games of all time, mostly because everything about it works.
The gameplay goes beyond the RPG norm and actually gives a complex dungeon crawling experience, half the game is spent with you feeling like Indiana Jones, throwing daggers to activate out of reach switches, dodging traps and solving ancient puzzles, I've already talked about the story's depth and mature themes, and while the presentation style is somewhat odd with the 2D/3D split, you can't fault it because both parts give you exactly what you need; a deliberate and accurate dungeon solving experience alongside a flashy presentation of the battles, this game is nothing if not skilled at investing you into the mood, and speaking of which, I haven't touched upon the soundtrack just yet:
The game contains many mood-setting pieces were the highlight of many memorable parts of the game, ranging from the triumphant orchestral swells, to blaring rock and jazz tunes for all your bad-ass and action packed scenes, and downplayed tribal themes for your ancient shrines and dungeons.
To me, this game has it all, it can very well be considered a classic of the golden RPG era. and it certainly needs more love.
And that's Wild Arms 2 in a nutshell (looking back, a very huge nutshell), and you can actually go ahead and play it on the PSP or the PS3 for as little as $5.99, have fun!