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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.
Finding and recruiting the 108 Stars of Destiny is always fun, and
this group is as diverse as ever despite the absence of humanoid
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.
The random encounter rate is very high, to the point that itís
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
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