Suikoden IV PS2 Review

Many genres live or die based on how well the game plays, but RPGS on the other hand sink or swim on the basis of their storylines and character development. Gameplay is of course important, but comes secondary to an elaborate plot and memorable central characters. Simply put, if an RPG is bad in these areas, it’s defined as an average game by the aficionados such as us. RPGS are a funny old genre and the Suikoden series is a pretty good example of this, not an exceptional playing game by any means, but lifted into the stratosphere by its incredible storyline and decent gameplay.

We regard Suikoden II as one of the finest RPGS ever and nothing could match our disappointment, when Konami decided to forgo releasing Suikoden III in Europe. The widespread acclaim in the USA, further added to our depression, almost forcing us to invest in an import machine solely to play the game. We feared the same thing would happen with the fourth instalment, but fortunately Konami has seen fit to release the game in European countries this time around and we couldn’t be happier.

The game takes place 100 years before the first game in the series and sees you controlling a young knight, which by a chance encounter with a pirate, becomes cursed with the rune of punishment: one of the 21 true runes, which slowly steals the life away from its bearer. As with series tradition, you’ll eventually lead an entire army and seek out the 108 stars of destiny, which is almost a game in itself and often both rewarding and addictive. For the first time ever, the game features voice acting for the characters and it’s actually brilliant and adds to the story rather than takes away from it, though there is the occasional ear shattering Minnie Mouse like voice that brings this otherwise impressive aspect down a notch.

Suikoden IV takes place out on the sea, which is a first for the series and a pretty good idea at that, but unfortunately not executed as well as it should have been. For starters, the ocean is a bland and boring setting here, lacking anything of interest until you reach a town or an island. You can seemingly be sailing for miles without anything in sight other than water and the constant interruption of random battles won’t sit well with a lot of people either. It’s obvious inspiration: The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, might not have been perfect, but at least its ocean had plenty of things to see and do along the way.

The new setting, means the large-scale army battles are no more, instead replaced by naval battles. These are a more than worthy replacement, feeling less like a device to move forward the plot, where the outcome was often contrived and instead more like an actual gameplay event where a win or lose result is for the most part entirely possible.

Fans of the series will be glad to see the return of the paper, scissors and stones like duels. As the name implies, these have the hero facing a usually important character in a one-on-one duel. On every turn, your opponent will exclaim some not too pleasant words and cleverly this is a hint of their next action allowing you – with a little bit of guesswork – to choose the right action to counter their move. These are an extremely rare occurrence with less than five for the entire duration of the game, which is disappointing to say the least, but they’re at least used to good effect at key moments of the story.

It’s mildly disappointing that Suikoden IV features random battles. It’s about time that this method was eradicated and completely replaced by the less frustrating and more sensible approach of roaming enemies, which allow you to pick and choose your fights whenever you see fit. It’s a blessing that the encounter rate is for the most part tolerable here and at least the battles are largely quick and visually exciting, which providing your characters are at a sufficient level can be won by a simple press of the auto command, leaving the ever trusty CPU to do the rest and keeping button presses to a minimum, but unfortunately leaving enemy encounters devoid of any real challenge and strategy.

Apart from a few minor differences, the actual battle system is largely the same as the one featured in Suikoden II. The biggest change is the fact that you can only ever have four characters taking part in battle rather than the usual six. This does take a little away from your combat options, although on the brighter side you can have up to three parties to alternate between whilst out on the ocean, which results in levelling up your many party members a lot less of a painful process then it might have been if it had lacked this useful feature. Another appreciated touch is the fact that characters that are lagging behind in levels will level up at a quicker rate, thus allowing your party to nearly always be a well balanced one.

Suikoden IV is by no means an equal to the marvellous second instalment, what it is though is a fantastic RPG, which has a slightly inferior story to said game. Series fans should find much to enjoy here and due to its easy to grasp gameplay, RPG beginners are also advised to try this game out. Please just buy it, even if just to avoid a repeat of the Suikoden III situation, if you don’t we may consider gathering our own 108 stars together to teach you a lesson, so buy it.