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Suikoden IV
Review By: Jared Black
 
Developer:  KCET
Publisher:  Konami
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  3-12-05

Thanks to a release date before Final Fantasy VII (and to a lesser extent Wild ARMs), a starving group of RPG fans (myself included), and a unique style the original Suikoden was a hit despite its quirky nature.  Who wouldíve thought that a RPG based on an obscure Chinese legend about 108 Stars of Destiny could be such a hit in the US?  Each subsequent release in the series has tweaked the formula a bit (most notably Suikoden IIIís Trinity Sight System), yet retained the same basic goal of collecting 108 Stars of Destiny to fight for a common good.  Suikoden IV is no different, and as such it will certainly appeal to existing fans of the series.  Unfortunately, most of the changes made in this installment are not for the better.

As a young Knight of Gaien serving in the island province of Razril, the player takes on the role of yet another nameless hero.  During a fateful encounter with a pirate, our hero unwittingly becomes host to the Rune of Punishment.  This rune is one of the 27 True Runes, and although it possesses enormous power it also eats away at its host with each use.  After being wrongly exiled from Razril, our hero sets forth to find new companions and establish a new destiny among the different island kingdoms.  The storyline itself is easily the weakest in the series, as itís a straightforward tale with no major twists or turns that will seem all too familiar to veteran Suikoden fans.  In fact, other than the setting and a few minor details itís very similar to the originalís storyline.

As always, the 108 Stars of Destiny are a diverse bunch gathered from throughout the island kingdoms.  Some play a significant role in the storyline, while others are merely there to provide support services in the home base.  The important characters are interesting enough, although you canít expect a Final Fantasy-esque level of depth with so many to choose from.  As usual several also provide mini-games such as battling tops, dice, a treasure hunt, etc. that prove to be fun diversions.

The most significant change in this Suikoden is found in the battle system.  Gone are the six person battles, replaced by a party of just four.  While this is fairly standard for the genre, itís a step back from previous installments.  Not only does it limit the playerís ability to utilize more of the combatants in the 108 Stars of Destiny, but it also reduces the number and diversity of combination attacks that have helped make past Suikoden battles so fun.  I like that Konami got rid of the weird pairing system found in the last game, but thatís not enough to put it on par with the first two Suikodens.  Thereís also one-on-one dueling on several occasions, which works just like it did in the last game (a rock-scissors-paper type of battle based on verbal cues from the opponent).

The main flaw with Suikoden IVís battle system though lies in the random encounter rate, which is probably the highest Iíve ever seen in any game.  On several occasions I entered a new area and was thrust into battle before even taking a step, and random encounters in general occur far too often.  When combined with the smaller party size and more straightforward gameplay mentioned above, battles become frustrating and tedious very quickly.

To no oneís surprise, naval warfare replaces the large-scale army battles of the past.  Battles take place in turn-based fashion on a simple grid.  The primary weapons are Rune Cannons, with the six different elements trumping each other based on where they rank in the hierarchy.  For example, if opponents both shoot a fire cannon at the same time theyíll cancel each other out, but if one fires a water cannon instead it will cancel the fire cannon out and strike the enemy ship.  Itís not a bad system; albeit a little too easy as long as the player equips the proper cannons before the battle begins and uses a little common sense.

Much like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker the primary mode of transportation is by ship.   Unlike Wind Waker, ship travel here is slow and boring.  It can take several real-time minutes to sail a tenth of the overall mapís width, and thatís assuming youíre lucky and donít encounter a lot of random battles.  Progress is hard to gauge without pulling up the overall map, since there are virtually no landmarks to look at or interesting places to visit in-between the major islands.  Just waterÖwaterÖand more water.  Where are the out of the way areas, hidden secrets, and unique visual treats that reward the player for exploring?  Not only that, but every island has an invisible barrier around it.  If you miss the port and hit that barrier the wrong way, the game TURNS YOUR SHIP AROUND and forces you to try again.  This, of course, usually leads to a few more frustrating random battles as you reposition the ship. Things get a bit better once Viki is recruited (she has a warping mirror that can warp the player to previously visited areas), but the game still requires travel by ship on a regular basis after that.

Another area where Suikoden IV disappoints is in the soundtrack.  While past titles in the series have soundtracks enthused with catchy beats and Eastern quirkiness, this one is just not that memorable.  The opening, name entry, and closing themes are excellent, but everything else is pretty average.  Itís not horrible, but doesnít live up to the high standards set in the past.  For the first time in the series there is voice acting for many major characters, and that is a welcome addition that adds personality I thought was missing in Suikoden III.

Visually, Suikoden IV is solid but unspectacular.  The character models are the best theyíve ever been, with plenty of detail and decent animation despite the heroís goofy running animation.  The environments have a fresh feel thanks to the gameís islands setting, although the style begins to wear thin by the end of the game and some areas seem unrealistically small.  Spell and battle effects are subdued, although a few of the high level spells are fairly impressive.

HIGHS:

  • Finding and recruiting the 108 Stars of Destiny is always fun, and this group is as diverse as ever despite the absence of humanoid ducks.
  • Itís the first Suikoden to feature voice acting, and that adds a lot to the major charactersí personalities.
  • The mini-games are better than theyíve ever been.

LOWS:

  • The random encounter rate is very high, to the point that itís extremely frustrating.
  • The number of combatants has been reduced from six to four, making all of those random battles duller than ever.
  • The storyline is too predictable, and not nearly as compelling as past installments.

FINAL VERDICT:

While fans of the series will enjoy Suikoden IV despite its flaws, RPG fans have a number of better options to choose from on the PS2.  The storyline is predictable, ship travel is boring and tedious, and combat takes a giant step backwards in this installment.  I never thought Iíd have to give a Suikoden game a score that begins with something lower than a ď9Ē, but here it is.

Overall Score: 6.5

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