Suikoden IV – PS2 – Review

Looking back,
2004 was a spectacular year for fans of the role-playing game and seeing as how
games like X-Men Legends and Star Ocean: Till The End of Time
happily lit up our PS2s, fans like myself, cannot wait for this year’s
offerings. You can bet that this girl is really anticipating the arrival of
returning favorites like Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits Von Gut Und
and, having been a fan of the Suikoden series since the second
chapter was released a long while back, cheered when Suikoden IV was
announced. Will this new chapter be the one remembered most? Well, not exactly,
but it’s still a ride well worth taking.

As I mentioned
above, I’ve followed the Suikoden games faithfully, having simply adored
Suikoden II and liked Suikoden III to the point of listing it up
there with the much-loved Final Fantasy VII as one of my favorite RPGs.
You see, while the series revolves around one specific character it also fleshes
out the story of a large number of other characters as well and this doesn’t
just give you an emotional attachment to the characters and their plight, but
makes you care enough to follow the story to the very end. Thankfully, this
fourth chapter is not any different.

Suikoden IV
puts you in
the role of Hero (it‘s a default name so you can change it in beginning of the
game), a young student in the Gaien Marine Academy in Razril who, alone with
many other of his fellow comrades and friends, graduates to full-fledged
knighthood. As knights, Hero and his classmates soon take on missions to protect
the harbor surrounding their tranquil island and the surrounding Island Nations
when they encounter pirates -one of which has been cursed with the Rune of
Punishment. The curse, unfortunately, has the bad habit of draining the life
force of whoever possesses it and when it kills the pirate it seeks out a new
host … Hero. This sets into motion the events the lead the young knights into
a voyage of discovering the secrets of the Rune as the Islands Nations around
him teeters on the brink of war.

The story is an
interesting one indeed, and there are moments when you’ll be drawn in by the
tension, but – unlike the past games – you won’t form any emotional attachments
to the characters. That’s not to say the character’s aren’t interesting, you’ll
find Snow Vingerhut charming and likeable, and you’ll even like the mystery that
shrouds the group’s loner, Paula, but unlike the second and third game you won’t
really feel for them. The cause of this lies in the primary focus of Hero’s
search for understanding of the Rune of Punishment and the fact that the Trinity
Sight System from Suidoken III is a no-show here. Yet even with this
you’ll find yourself wanting to know more about the characters in this game and
thanks to the fact that the 108 Stars of Destiny are back, you’ll have loads of
characters to meet. If you forgot what the 108 Stars of Destiny are, they are
chosen people whose lives and destiny lies with you and so they become drawn
into your journey. Any one of these people might even join you in actual battle
or provide assistance.

You’ll be able
to carry up to four party members with you and, for the most part, this works
out to your advantage especially since the random encounters are extremely
frequent in this game. Yes, you’ll be drawn into battle at almost every step you
take and yes, it can become a real pain in the posterior but with a total of
five you’ll be able to wipe out bad guys in just a few minutes. Making its
return is the Combo attacks that allow you and a compatible character to unleash
a cooperative attack. For example, Hero and Snowe team up to perform a
Friendship Attack that has the two of you slashing into a foe for double the
hit-point damage. There are even Rune attacks, which have five different rune
types like fire, wind, earth, lightening and water attacks. You’ll still find
the occasional oddball enemy too – like the fact that you’ll be fighting
everything from angry seaweed to something that looks like a muskrat.

Replacing the
castle you can build in Suikoden III is a galleon and while I’m wild
about the idea of carrying a boatload of really unique characters, the actual
execution of said idea just doesn’t work out the way I wish it did. You can
expand the ship to make things more accommodating for you and your crew and
you’ll find lots to do on board (such as the always welcome collection of
mini-games – yay, mini-games) but does it have to move slower than molasses? The
super-slow pace of the ship becomes even slower thanks to encounters at sea and
this means plenty of ship battles. That’s right, you’ll be battling against
other ships at sea and as fun as these can be they loose their allure the
fortieth time you get into battle. Ship battles have you firing Rune attacks at
other ships and you’ll be able to counter enemy shot at your ship or risk having
your vessel sunk.


Also making its
return is the one-on-one duels that spice up battles and add more variety to the
combat. While still pretty much the same turn-based deal, skill is needed and so
is strategy. It’s great to see the return of favorite concepts from the past
games and this is but a few of the things that work well in the game. What
doesn’t work well is the fact that the game doesn’t stray from its original
roots. What worked then was fine, but we’re seeing some new changes in almost
every genre and change can often be a good thing.

Suikoden IV
might not be as graphically stunning as Final Fantasy X,
but it does look good enough to admire. You’ll find colorfully detailed
environments and characters that are distinguishable even from afar. You’ll be
able to point out Jewel from a crowd because Jewel is detailed enough that you
can spot her white hair and her choice of attire. Even the anime-styled
character design for each dialogue box looks pretty good. However, characters
move a bit stiffly and the camera can sometimes be your enemy. The game does
sport some decent-looking special effects during battle but it pales in
comparison to the way the screen washes away in ripples when battles begin and
the ocean water is the best I’ve seen in a PS2 game thus far.

As for the
game’s sound, it’s the score that wins points here and it is beautifully
sweeping and dramatic at all the right times, although this time around the
opening theme music isn’t as good as past Suikoden games. That’s okay
because this game has actual dialogue and it’s done really well. Oftentimes the
rough translation might make the dialogue seem a little awkward, but it’s still
delivered well enough. Even the sound effects are pretty good.

Suikoden IV
isn’t the
series’ finest hour but there is just so much to like about this game that fans
of the series will certainly enjoy it from start to finish. While roughly as
lengthy as the third game (and that’s not counting seeking out all the 108 Stars
of Destiny), the story will keep you completely entertained and you’ll even love
the characters, but it just doesn’t stray from its old-school roots (too many
random encounters and the jerky camera is such a turn-off). Still, this is a
game fans new and old will enjoy.

Scoring Details for Suikoden IV

Gameplay: 8.2
The game’s
classic style makes this one easy to grab the controller and start playing
without much instruction. The ship battles are super sweet but why does the ship
have to move slower than a Geo? While the camera can be a bit jerky, everything
else works nicely.

Graphics: 7.8
The character
models and the environments are delightfully colorful and nicely detailed to the
point that you’ll be able to pick out your favorite characters in a crowd of
characters. The effects aren’t of the dazzling variety but watching characters
unleashing combos kind of makes up for it. The game also has some of the best
water I’ve ever seen on a PS2.

Sound: 8.5
soundtrack punctuates each cutscene and makes the battles sound like epic final
matches, but nothing is more exciting than hearing the characters actually speak
their lines rather than reading them off the text box. The performances are
solid and the sound effects do the trick. Great work!

The random
encounters make for many battles but it’s the main battles that will have you
really staying on your toes. Duels aren’t as easy as they seem and the game’s
puzzles will have you putting lots of thought into solving them.

Concept: 7.5
favorites like the 108 Stars of Destiny and duels don’t really make up for not
including the Trinity Sight System but it is a start. There are also loads of
great characters and there are even cat-people and mermaids. Did I mention the
cat-people? They’re offbeat but super cute.

Overall: 8.0
We’ve played
and loved the far-more superior past chapters in this unique series of games but
Suikoden IV is still a fun enough game fans new and old will enjoy. While
the short number of flaws may be too noticeable to ignore, missing out on a game
with great characters and an interesting story would be a shame.