Review: Suikoden IV (PS2)


Suikoden IV
Publisher: Konami
Developer: KCET
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release Date: 01-11-2005

*Disclaimer: I, Sarah Graves, could very well have the worst sense of direction in the history of mankind. You should keep this in mind while reading the review.

Suikoden gained popularity as a fun, bright, and engaging RPG on the Playstation. Based on the Chinese legend of 108 honorable bandits, each Suikoden game has 108 characters, many of them playable, and those who aren’t having a special talent to bring to the hero’s army. While they haven’t enjoyed great acclaim [compared to say… Final Fantasy], the games definitely have their diehard fans.

The games enjoy continuing themes, each game taking place in the same world, sometimes in neighboring countries, and with recurring characters. Suikoden II and III wrapped up many loose ends, and IV starts out with a relatively clean slate. Away from the mainland, and into the cleverly named Island Nations, let’s see what they got:



Story

Suikoden IV is a game that makes you think a lot about potential. Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s the potential for what might have been.

It seems that given a fresh slate in the Suikoden world, IV is content to retread the familiar. Very reminiscent of the original Suikoden, but with less coherency, IV also has a hero with a cursed rune. How he gets the rune is believable enough, it’s after that the story gets a little off and loses direction. As a player who loves a good story there were many times I was just dumbfounded staring at the screen. Essentially one scene goes a little something like this:

‘Hey, our friend here was accused of murder, now we’re all exiles!’
‘Great, here, go to our super secret base, then lead the army!’

It’s mildly baffling.

The worst part is, there is a whole, whole lot of potential. Leknaat, holder of the back half of the Gate Rune and guide for all Suikoden heroes, comes to offer some guidance about the Punishment rune on the hero’s hand. She says it’s a rune of justice and forgiveness. Now that’s kinda cool. They could have gone places with that. But that aspect of the rune is never really examined.

The story will pick up and be interesting, and then suddenly you find yourself out of cut scenes with no direction, wandering around the godforsaken ocean.

Story: 5/10



Graphics

Suikoden IV’s saving grace, lovely lovely graphics.

The towns and people are all pleasant to the eye. Movement is fluid, especially in battle. Fighting is natural and nice to watch, some of the runes are rather plain, though considering the amount of battles you get into, maybe it’s a good thing to have them go by quickly. Each character is rather unique, and important ones have the traditional hand drawn Suikoden head shots. You will either fight or recruit the head shots, or they’ll die in a needless sacrifice. Hmm… maybe being random villager isn’t so bad.

Alas, potential comes into play once more. Suikoden IV has a strange habit of going almost all the way but not quite in so many areas. In the cut scenes, instead of having the character’s face show emotion, the little head shot will be yelling or smiling or whatever, and the actual character is just staring ahead. I don’t understand why they would put so much effort into the characters looking so good doing everything else, and then make them so bland while speaking. Oh, they close their eyes sometimes. I guess that’s emotive.

On the whole the graphics are good, it’s just little nitpicks like here and there that keep them from being seamless.

Graphics: 7/10



Sound

I was trying to describe the background music to my roommate when suddenly we both came out with the same thing: Elevator Music.

Suikoden had a really great variety of music, with various European and Asian influences. It had some really catchy stuff going on, same with II and III. With IV… it’s just kind of dull and quiet and there. It really doesn’t stay with you at all.

Away from music however, the sound effects are pretty decent. The battle sounds are fun, lots of sword clanging and grunting and so on- all sounding really good. There is a particular screech from flying rodents that I think will probably haunt some dreams or scare small childrens for a while.

You can choose from two voices for the hero. Too bad he never f*cking says anything. Didn’t gaming get past this stupidly silent hero thing? There aren’t even many options for the player to pick something for him to say, he just stands around and gets accused of murder and all sorts of other nasty stuff’n’such.

Seriously, ‘I’m not guilty’, or ‘Hey, there’s a girl in the cave’, would have worked freaking wonders, and saved me a hell of a lot of time.

The other voices are well done, good intonation, low on the corniness. I especially enjoyed Keneth and Lino En Kuldes. There is rather a lot of voice-acting too in the cut scenes, so it’s definitely a good thing that they came out well. And not like Resident Evil. *snicker*

Sound: 6/10 [the music killed you!]



Control/Gameplay

Oh my f*cking god, the ship. This is not the last you will hear of the horror that is traveling by ship in this game. The ship is a bitch to control and moves slower than paste. I don’t know if they were trying to imitate the pain-in-the-assedness of trying to navigate your ship in real life or what, but damn.

Beyond the ship [oh god the ship, the ship is going to give me night terrors], the control is fine. Getting your character around is easy enough; the commands are simple to understand. And as soon as you learn to dash [R1 is your very best friend, I swear], things pick up a bit.

Uhm.. What can I say? It’s a turn-based RPG, you know, Fight, Flee, Stab Yourself in the Eye Because Your Goddamn Ship is So Slow.

A nice change of pace was the battles at sea. Mini fleets of ships face off against each other using rune cannons and boarding each other’s ships. Those were rather enjoyable.

Control/Gameplay: 7.5/10



Replayability

Suikoden games have been pretty dependable for replayability since the sheer number of playable characters and combos allows for many different teams to play through. For the most part that holds true with Suikoden IV. There is a wide variety of characters, and once you get going collecting them you can come up with a few different combos.

The New Game Plus feature, available once the game is completed, allows you to start a new game with all the spiffy items and gold from the previous, as well as all the map you cleared.

The New Game Plus was a great feature for this game, since to replay it, you would have to forget about the million or so random battles from the first time around.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure it would be that easy for a player to forget the horrific amount of random battles in this game. The background music barely starts and you’re in a battle. Battle battle battle. And not short battles either! I’m talking 5-10 round battles. Over and over and over. Even in towns! But at sea is especially bad.

So, while New Game Plus is an excellent feature in this game, replayability loses like four points for the nightmares you get from battling and the strong possibility you need to get a new controller because your last one just got whipped at the screen.

Replayability: 6.5/10



Balance

This game has a really awful introduction. I mean, there are dolphins, and more dolphins, and then some fighting, two ships, and dolphins again. It’s sort of an analogy to a game that has its priorities in strange places.

There were some things in this game I really loved, a crafting feature, gossipy type newspaper, combo leveling, multiple parties available when fighting on the boat, naval battles, all really good aspects. But the lack of plot direction, long and repetitive [frequent!] battles just wore the good parts down.

The battles, which many time, were very similar over and over, with some areas only having two or three different enemies, really begin to wear. Traveling on the ship takes up 50% of the game. Just drifting s-l-o-w-l-y along, with nothing to look at but blue, and a ton of battles.

I just paid eight dollars to rent the game, and that doesn’t feel worth it. I don’t think I would buy it.

Balance: 4/10



Originality

As was previously mentioned, the basic plot of this game feels an awful lot like the first. The Punishment rune has potential [groan] but doesn’t really fulfill it. On the other hand, the emphasis on the Island Nations, and ship travel [for better or worse] are pretty different.

The Nay-Kobolds, frighteningly creepy/cute cat people are new for the Suikoden series. They live in giant buildings shaped like the Cheschire Cat… can’t say I’ve seen that before.

Personally, this game seems like the series is trying to find its way. Trying to take from the old but be new, since four games in it’s easy to get repetitive. It just… doesn’t really succeed.

The plot is one of the biggest part of originality, and Suikoden falls short here, relying a little too much on the already done. Like, if you share a ‘Friendship combo’ with someone, you are in for noooo good. Betrayal is like coke in these games.

Originality: 5.5/10



Addictiveness

I really wanted to pursue some avenues of the game, crafting, getting characters, finding out more about a couple of the characters I already had.

But, seriously, the constant battles and aimless wandering really really killed it. Wandering turned out to be a big part of the game, be it around city with five levels, a thousand loads, and twisty crazy backroads, or the wide [so wide!] open sea. Beyond that, there isn’t much more to say. It’s a very bad thing when about 70% of the game feels like a chore instead of fun.

Addictiveness: 3/10



Appeal Factor

Well, if everyone says “OMFG SRA! U R A STUPID BITCH AND U SMEL AND U DON’T KNOW NETHING!!”, then this game will have pretty good appeal. It’s probably becoming apparent by now that the score isn’t exactly stellar.

The Suikoden series is highly appealing. Each game leaves questions unanswered, and plenty of mysteries about the characters. Everyone has secrets, some are revealed, some take game[s] to reveal. Some still wonder why everyone is jonesing to mack on poor Jeane [my secret, kind of stupid, guess is that she’s the physical embodiment of the True Love Rune. But it’s sort of completely unfounded. Also, while I continue this ridiculously long bracket, they replaced ‘Ho ho ho ho’ with ‘*seductive laugh*’. Not cool.].

Exploring a new region of the Suikoden world is also kind of nifty. The thing that will probably take away most from this game is the mixed reception Suikoden III got, and the fact that Flik is definitely not in it. Of course, getting panned is a mixed blessing, some people are morbidly curious.

Appeal Factor: 6.5/10



Miscellaneous

This is something that must be said: if your game takes a shitty long time to load every area, don’t make a simple path four loading areas long. It’s pointless. Make it one area. There’s nothing new in those other areas, nothing to see or do [other than a hundred random battles], they just make people angry. Angry and cheap.

The game does get going, and there were definitely parts I really enjoyed. But it took a while to get to them, and they were often few and far between. I was left wondering how many people would stick to it long enough to reap whatever benefits Suikoden IV has to offer. Other times, while my ship was going across the map at a rate normally resolved for molasses in winter, I wondered other things like…

‘I could go make a sandwich.’
‘Well, I could, if not for all these f*cking battles.’
‘God I hate these battles.’
‘But I like sandwiches.’

Oh, and for those who still want to play despite my ship bitterness, Viki does show up. I swear, you’ll be about ready to cream yourself when you realize your ship traveling is cut in half.

Miscellaneous: 4/10



The Ratings:
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 7.5/10
Replayability: 6.5/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 5.5/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Appeal Factor: 6.5/10
Miscellaneous: 4/10

Overall Score: 55/100
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (AVERAGE)