Wild Arms 2 Preview

Wild Arms 2, for better or for worse, looks to continue Contrail's signature development traditions.

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Contrail is the master of the middle road. Its previous two PlayStation RPGs, Wild Arms and Legend of Legaia, have been packed with quests, subquests, battles, boss battles, heroes, villains, and hours of gaming goodness. Unfortunately, they've also been notably devoid of innovation and inspiration, and both delivered a strictly "by-the-numbers" RPG experience. Nevertheless, the titles' scope and subdued charm often overwhelmed their less-inspired moments, creating role-playing experiences that were well-liked by genre fans everywhere. Wild Arms 2, for better or for worse, looks to continue Contrail's signature development traditions.

Gamers returning to the world of Filgaia will find a few changes; the world is now rendered in full 3D with sprite-based characters, and you can control and position the camera. Battle sequences are still in 3D, but the fetus-inspired character design of the first has been replaced by more ordinarily proportioned heroes. Screenshots of the battle sequences suggest that the original's "force power" system has replaced magic entirely. Sprinkled throughout the game's two discs are copious anime clips; let's hope these will live up to the standard set by the first game's introduction.

The character designs for Wild Arms 2 are lifted straight from the previous game; sure, the heroes have different names and are supposedly "new," but it's doubtful that even the original characters' mothers could tell this new crew from their own offspring - when Contrail made Wild Arms' characters, it cryo-froze the mold. There's Ashley Winchester, the ostensibly male 19-year-old hero. Ashley is a "gun warrior," not unlike the first game's ARMs master, Rudy. Ashley's mastery of ancient technology makes him the perfect freelancer to save a group of hostages from the ruins. When he's not using his heavy weaponry, he's slashing opponents with his sword. The sassy Cresh sorceress Liluka fits squarely into Lolita's peer group; this sweet and innocent 14-year-old magician is sexy in Japan but jailbait in the US. When she's not posing at charity events as Cecilia's double, she's off on fantastic adventures; armed with her powerful parasol, she's prepared for both mighty foes and inclement weather. Rounding off the trio is the enigmatic Jack. I mean, Brad. An ex-solider (but not ex-SOLDIER), Brad left the army five years earlier expecting a hero's welcome. Instead, he was unceremoniously tossed into prison. A loner, he now roams the world in search of meaning, armed with a rifle and rocket launcher. Brad has also outfitted himself with a weapon of his own devising: a headband that is also a bomb he can detonate at a moment's notice. We think this headband may be a wee bit too tight, as Brad seems oblivious to the consequences of detonating a bomb strapped to one's forehead. Perhaps he's trying to stun his enemies into silence by the stupidity of the weapon; perhaps he still has a bit of the ol' kamikaze spirit in him. But whatever his reasoning, the weapon works: You just don't mess with someone unhinged enough to strap explosives to his own skull.

Like the original, Wild Arms 2 has all the parts necessary for success. But while the original Wild Arms was released into a vacuum, Wild Arms 2 will face a more crowded, less forgiving domestic RPG market. Contrail's RPGs always seem built from bits and pieces of other games. Here's hoping that when Contrail puts Wild Arms 2 together, the company won't forget the most important piece of all: originality.

Ike Sato's Hands-on Impressions:

Wild Arms 2nd Ignition starts off in the world of Filgaia. Although the world has the same name as the world in the first Wild Arms, it is actually a completely different universe. You pick from one of three characters: Ashley, Liluka, or Brad. In this playable demo, you could only pick Ashley. In the final version, you'll be required to play each character's opening scenario, which will later converge into one main scenario. The field map is now rendered in 3D polygons, and you can rotate the field map every 45 degrees using the L1 or R1 buttons on the controller. This allows for finding traps in dungeons or hidden treasure chests in a village. Battle is in the typical orthodox RPG style, and sometimes it can become quite a drag. The good thing about this game is its "encounter cancel system," which lets you avoid battles whenever you want. The playable demo offers only a peek into the game and feels a bit dry in the beginning. Despite that, the story is quite compelling.

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