Suikoden IV (PS2) Review

Suikoden IV Box Art

The Suikoden Series hasn’t made the transition to modern consoles; Suikoden I+II are legendary, mostly because they are hard finds unless you go on e-bay. There are also many Suikoden spin offs on different systems. Konami definitely had, at least until the 3rd installment, a decent RPG franchise. Suikoden 3 made its debut on the PS2 with a ground breaking Trinity Sight system and a moving tale of war and oppression. The game was decent seller, and gained near universal acclaim as possibly the best RPG of 2002. These are awards that the previous two titles never achieved.

Suikoden III is (at least in my eyes) far and away the best RPG in the series and one of the best RPGs ever made. The game changed the mechanics of gameplay a bit, mostly in the exploration department getting rid of the over world map, which in Suikoden III’s case worked well. Some of the old Suikoden fans complained about this so Suikoden IV has reverted back to the old ways with mixed results.

KONAMI’S UGLY DUCK

There are various reasons as to why Suikoden IV is my least favorite game in the five game series, the first being its incredibly LOW production values. I will never forget the amazing animated intro of Suikoden III, complete with a wonderful song. Suikoden IV has no intro to speak off, which leaves us with a wimpy beginning on board a ship at high seas.

Suikoden III had substantially less technically proficient graphics when compared to say Final Fantasy X, but the artwork was pretty good and it carried the day. Now, Konami is known as a highly resourceful company, with games like Metal Gear Solid 3 and Silent Hill one would expect their flagship RPG series to look amazing. Unfortunately, since the early days of the PS1 the Suikoden series has had ugly graphics often bordering on the line of simplistic.

Suikoden IV Screenshot

Suikoden IV will not break that tradition, the character models looked more polished than those in Suikoden III but their design is mostly mediocre, and the environments themselves are pretty flat, if uninspiring. The game has a gray look to it even though there are areas that are lusher such as forests and beaches. The game won’t win any beauty contest, but then again pretty visuals are not what carried the series this far. The plot has always been the saving grace.

A WAR TALE WITH A FEW SURPRISES

Suikoden 3 had one of the best stories ever told. You could see it unfold from three different points of view. One would think that Konami would have built upon that premise in this fourth installment, but they didn’t. Suikoden IV reverts back to the old way of story telling in JRPGs which wasn’t really that great.

Unfortunately, while there are some twists here and there, your silent protagonist isn’t compelling at all, and its surrounding cast is mediocre at best. Snowe is the only interesting character, and only because of a situation that occurs early in the game. The Villains aren’t developed at all and there are no clear cut reasons for why they are doing what they are doing. There is still some intrigue in the game, as the plot isn’t that bad. I have played worse stories before.

However, the story definitely takes 10 steps back from the great strides made by the previous title, which is consequently the only game in this series that I have scored in the 9’s. Suikoden IV has a mediocre plot line, and this is made more mundane by its gameplay.

PIRATE LIFE… A LIFE OF BOREDOM

I didn’t realize how boring sea faring is until I played this game. Sea traveling in Suikoden IV is a long, tedious, and bland affair. Long, because it can take up to one hour (who knows maybe more) to sail from one place from another. Tedious, because there is a random battle every five seconds. Yeah,  you read that right, EVERY FIVE seconds while you are on the ship. And bland, because there is nothing interesting to see in this sea world.

Yeah, there are islands here and there to discover, some have interesting items of course, but it takes so freaking long to get to them that it makes no sense to actually try to find them. I know of people who complained of long sea fairing in LoZ: The Wind Waker, but believe me, Zelda made this mechanic work wonderfully with a variety of locales and things to see at sea. More importantly, the voyages in Zelda were 100 percent faster than they are here.

Of course finding Viki helps, as you can teleport to places that you have been to, but you still have to travel to new places the old fashioned way. Suikoden IV is perhaps the first game ever that I think would have benefited from the total elimination of the world map. Sea Faring is complaint number one with this title.

For complaint number 2: Vague details and descriptions on what to do next. Without a guide in hand is nearly impossible to recruit the 108 characters. I know some extreme gamer out here has done it, but it would take to do so an ungodly amount of time in a game that when it is all said a done is not worth playing more than the 31 hours I spent on it in order to see the credits roll.

Even story related tasks that I had to do in order to move the plot forward, were sometimes accomplished by trial and error than by me knowing what to do next.

The actual combat is for the most part solid, you can have four characters at once on a battle field and you can attack with combo attacks, single attacks and rune (magic) attacks. There is, at least in some boss battles, some strategy involved here and there. However, for the most part, success in battles depends solely on how high your level is, and if you have the best equipment and runes equipped. In other words, Suikoden IV plays it safe as most turn based RPGs on the market have done since the conception of the genre in the 1980’s.

What’s new to the series on this installment is the ship battles which play more or less like other battles in the previous games where you were in charge of entire armies. Consequently, you are now in charge of a small fleet of ships. Some of the latter battles do test this new mechanic with good success as it takes a bit of strategy in order to get through them.

The game does feature a first person camera in which you can walk around in first person view which is good, but since the environments are so bland (where the heck is the sun? and for that same reason the moon?) there is no point in going into that view.

AURAL MEDIOCRITY

Nothing in Suikoden IV soundtrack is memorable at all. In fact, I barely noticed the music there, about the only good melody in the entire game is perhaps the once that plays at the end when the credits roll.

The voice acting is merely decent, and it is a welcomed addition to the previously mute series, but other than that, there isn’t much to write about this department in the game.

WEAKEST LINK

Perhaps the worst RPG in a solid series, Suikoden III was an extraordinary game, which had set my expectations very high for this one only to be let down by its mediocrity. Suikoden IV is not a bad a game, it’s just that Suikoden III took the series from solid to higher plateau of greatness and Suikoden IV brings the series back down to earth to even lesser heights than the two original entries in the franchise.

Gameplay: 6.0- There are 108 characters to collect as always…but it is a drag to do so because the sea faring in this title is the worst mechanic of travel ever used in an RPG period. The combat system is solid and the few times I encountered ship battles I had a bit of fun. TOO MUCH random battling hurts the score a bit.

Graphics: 7.0-Solid looking characters that animate terribly (main character runs awkwardly), bland environments, either my memory fails me or I remember Suikoden III looking better .

Music: 6.5- Not one! Not even one memorable tune…

Story: 7.5 –Konami knows how to tell a war story and how to get you interested. Konami however forgot how to develop characters and the whole mute main character thing has to stop. Suikoden III took 20 steps forwards with its tale, Suikoden IV takes 21 back!

Addictiveness: 5.0-It has a new game plus mode that allows you to keep some of your items for a second playthrough though the game doesn’t merit such replay value.

Overall: 6.5- Mundane describes Suikoden IV best, it is not a bad game but it fails to do anything in any category above average, a disappointment after the great Suikoden III.

Metacritic rated Suikoden IV a 63.

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.