The Wild ARMs series is known for combining the elements of the traditional Japanese RPG with those of the Wild West and steam punk genres, and has had a decent success rate. While never really reaching the popularity levels of the likes of Final Fantasy, they've always managed to be successful enough to justify sequels. However, the latest in the series, Wilds ARMs 4, has taken a more science-fiction route, which may annoy fans of the series.
The game starts out with young hero Jude Maverick having his town of Ciel destroyed by a military squad sent to retrieve a mysterious weapon known as ARMs. Arriving at the town just in time to accidentally activate and use the weapon against the invading force, he and his friends are too late to save the town from destruction, and must evacuate along with the town's other residents. After this we learn that Ciel is actually a floating village, sealed off from the rest of the world to protect the secret of the ARMs from the various factions of the war torn planet below. But now, separated from his family and only three friends to help him, Jude must use the ARMs to save his family and friends, defeat the evil empire after its power, and discover the power deep inside of him, which somehow revolves around killing random monsters mercilessly.
As you can see, the story is pretty much ripped out of the 'Beginner's Guide to JRPG Plots', which is one of Wild ARMs 4's biggest problems. In all but a few ways it is a pretty standard cut and dry JRPG with little to make it stand out. The four playable characters are pretty standard archetypes: the hero in a world he doesn't understand, his shy female love interest, the headstrong maverick, and the serious warrior. Yes you only get a grand total of four playable characters. Adding to the problem is the lack of overall character development, as the characters never really get to progress much during the story. It's very hard to call the characters likeable, or even unlikeable, because I didn't care much about them at all due to their barely one dimensional personalities. Also, as mentioned previously, the Wild West and steam punk theme from the previous Wild ARMs games has all but disappeared; meaning one of the few things that make the series unique is no longer present. In fact, the only thing that looked vaguely like it belonged in Texas was a few desert backgrounds, which thanks to the average graphics engine don't look that impressive.
Still, Wild ARMs 4 does at least try to do a couple of things a little differently when it comes to actual gameplay. The first such difference from the norm is the addition of platforming sequences. During the exploration stages, where you'll wander around until generic RPG monsters attack you, you will sometimes be asked to solve a simple puzzle to continue or traverse a set of gaps and ledges by way of a double jump. It's mildly entertaining at first, but definitely feels included as a desperate attempt to add some variety.
The other, more important, change from the norm is the series' new battle system. After meeting the required lizard monsters, which look exactly like the lizard monsters in every other JRPG, you'll be transported to the battle stage. The battles take place on a set of seven hexagonal tiles, and take place using the HEX system (you see what they did there? Oh those witty game developers). The basics of this system are thus: enemies can't occupy the same squares as your party and vice versa; multiple characters of your team can occupy the same tile, and the same goes for your enemies; attacks are directed at the tile, rather than an enemy; and most attacks can only target one tile at a time. Also, certain tiles have certain properties that affect your attacks, such as one tile adding damage to fire-based attacks. That's pretty much it, as other than this there's little difference between the HEX system and the standard turn-based system that we all know and love - or despise. The back of the box tries to make a huge deal out of this new 'innovative' system, but it really doesn't change things that much.
Essentially Wild ARMs 4 is an average RPG that half-heartedly tries to add a couple of new ideas, but these additions aren't done well enough and don't change the RPG formula enough to warrant much attention. Fans of the series may find something to enjoy, but more likely they'll be slightly annoyed that there's little here to actually qualify this as a Wild ARMs game.