Wild Arms: The 4th Detonator Hands-On

The Western-themed role-playing series is undergoing a dramatic transformation in its fourth installment. Find out how.

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TOKYO--While Wild Arms: The 4th Detonator didn't seem to receive much attention from the press, the general public attending the Tokyo Game Show was clearly interested in this next installment of the unusual Western-themed role-playing series, judging by the volume of people waiting in line to try out the game. We were right there with them and discovered from playing The 4th Detonator that, in some ways, it seems to be a departure from the series' roots.

As the game's developers hint on the game's official site, Wild Arms 4 plays (and looks) quite different from previous installments in the series, though fans of the series should rest assured that the changes seem to be for the better. For starters, the characters in Wild Arms 4 wear costumes that look more modern--and less like the Wild West outfits that have previously been on display in these games. The main character is a boy in a brown jacket and short pants named Jude, and the heroine--who hasn't really changed her looks since a year back when the game was first announced--is named Yulie. There's also another girl in a long black coat named Raquel, and there's a slick-looking guy in a white jacket named Arnaud. The characters seem to look much better in this game than those of Wild Arms 3.

The first thing we noticed when trying out the demo was that when traveling out in the field, Wild Arms 4 seems to play a lot like an action game. Aside from being able to run or pick up objects like in Wild Arms 3, you can also crouch, slide, double-jump, and stomp on the ground when you land. There's also a system called the ACG, a Max Payne-style effect that allows you to slow down time around you while you continue moving at your normal speed. Using the ACG system in the game's town, we slowed down a small kid who was running on the streets to a crawl so that we could easily outmaneuver him. That was kind of fun, but the ACG will prove essential in places such as puzzle areas, where platforms might disappear too quickly for you to step across normally. Note that you won't be able to use the ACG indefinitely, since it's based on a recharging energy meter.

The demo at the show started out in a town where you could talk to people and learn about the game's basic controls. Similarly to Wild Arms 3, the game features different portraits for each of the non-player characters. From the town, we were able to jump to three sample areas that explained how the different actions in the game would be used, in addition to the new battle system in Wild Arms 4.

In one of the samples areas, we were able to check out a place where you'll get to jump around a side-scrolling screen that has steel-pipe scaffolds. It's here where that double jump will come in handy. Another area in the game allowed us to try using the stomping and sliding functions to break wooden boxes, carry them, and then drop them on devices to open up gates. The much more action-oriented gameplay certainly seems to differentiate Wild Arms 4 from other console RPGs.

The battle system in the game is completely different from Wild Arms 3, because it plays a bit like a strategy RPG, although it's not as complicated. The battle area consists of a number of large hexagonal cells that you and your characters will fight on. When attacking an enemy, you'll be selecting the cell that it's on rather than the enemy itself. The distinction sounds subtle, but it's actually pretty significant, since the game allows more than one character to stay in a single cell. And sure enough, when you attack a cell containing multiple enemies, you can inflict damage to all of them in one shot. It's the same when trying to heal your characters, since you'll select whom to heal by the cells they're standing on. So if you move all your characters to the same cell, you can heal them all with one spell or item, although having all of them in a single cell also risks the chances of sustaining heavy damage from enemies. Also, some cells have special attributes. So, for example, your attacks may gain a fire attribute if you're on a red cell, which may be doubly effective against certain foes.

Based on what we played of it at the Tokyo Game Show, Wild Arms: The 4th Detonator is looking promising. The game is slated for release in spring 2005 in Japan and will probably hit the States later on as well, considering that Wild Arms 3 was released and Wild Arms Alter Code: F is slated for a North American release later this year. For more updates, be sure to check GameSpot's coverage of the Tokyo Game Show 2004.

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