The characters suffice, but they're not exactly "refreshing." Jude, the hero and the kid you play as, is the typical sheltered and misguided youth, who only wants to do good for the ones he loves. Doing what few JRPGs are capable of though, the story introduces a theme of no exact "evil," with both sides having understandable reasons. Of course, your team is stuck right in-between the two and this somewhat coming-of-age story finds Jude having to decide what's right without having black and white thrown in his face... The rest of the cast consists of Arnaud, Yulie and Raquel. Yulie being the most one-dimensional character, I'll start with her. Basically, she's the child with the power to manipulate "ARMs" and some big names are out to recapture her. She's fairly shy and scarred from her youth spent in a facility. She's your typical weak, magic-using RPG female cliche... but she's the entire reason your journey begins.
Then there's Arnaud, the hypocritical "adult." He consistently speaks of what it's like to be an adult and have responsibilities, yet he's typically the one whining like a 5 year old when it comes time to fight. I guess this somewhat serves as a means for comic relief, but it's very modest and low-played, so he doesn't seem like a complete basket case.
Raquel is the strong female sword-fighter, who's apparently going around the world to see if anything beautiful is left. She's supposedly paints. That's about it for her.
The gameplay is a nice play-up for the series. The platforming elements, including sliding, jumping, stomping, the use of random tools, and slow down (think "Matrix") all make the time you play outside of battles fairly entertaining. Incorporating stealth sequences and fun yet not-too-complicated puzzles makes this a tad step above the first three when it comes to dungeons. And instead of re-using the same-old battle system, with a few minor tweaks, there's something new called the HEX system. It's hard to explain in writing really, but it adds a strategic element to battles, without actually slowing them down.
There's also a few elements to the gameplay though, that aren't too great at all. Towns, for one. Every time you enter a building in a town, there's merely a backdrop with a portrait of a townsperson saying something to you. No rooms to explore or barrels to loot for treasure. When it came to this part of the game, it just seemed downright lazy. Then most of the cutscenes are resorted to portraits and text, bar the more important ones. It really gives less of a feeling of being part of the game.
The music and graphics are decent and the character designs are pretty vibrant and fun to look at. Otherwise, everything's pretty by-thebooks. The story, pretty much like the last three, although less spaghetti western influenced, is still about the ruined Filgaia and its future. So nothing new or ultimately exciting there.
I say this one is a buyer... if you enjoy platformers and RPGs without completely boring battle systems, it's worth it, since it's easy to find for 10-15 bucks used. It's really just some good, pretty uncomplicated fun.