Suikoden is the epitome of a cult favorite. Ever since it came to life early-on in the PS1?s life cycle, it has been picking up fans. However, Konami became impatient, being the proud owner of three incredible games that raked in mediocre sales at best. So, they decided to make Suikoden IV feel like more of a mainstream RPG, instead of holding to tried-and-true precedents in an attempt to expand their fanbase. They shouldn?t have.
The story picks up one-hundred fifty years before the Gate Rune Wars in Suikoden I, seemingly ending the epic trilogy from I-III. The nameless, once again silent, hero is, of course, (un)fortunate enough to inherit a True Rune, one of twenty-seven core fragments of the Sword and Shield that, legends say, created the universe. The True Runes usually grant immense power and immortality to their owners, but also transfer an eternity of terrible emotional baggage along with the memories of death and destruction from all the previous owners. Unlike most of the other True Runes, the hero?s True Rune of Punishment shaves years off his life each time it is used, bringing about an untimely death to everyone who possesses it, then immediately hops to another unlucky host. To avoid spoilers, just let it be said that the hero is betrayed — royally — which necessitates him to cope both with the terrifying drawbacks from the Rune and the emotional issues brought about by the treachery.
The other three Suikodens all used a unique six-member party setup which was different but equally unique in each installation. In this one, however, a simple four-man team is used. This is best defined as generic, casting aside much of the uniqueness found in each battle system in its counterparts. The rune system is still present (thankfully), allowing a character to equip up to three runes and use the preset skills attached to each. To its credit, though, Suikoden IV does offer some new runes, and also has an interesting Rune Combo system, allowing two units to simultaneously use level four skills to unleash particularly strong magic. Suikoden IV, as expected, also features three unique battle styles: standard battles, one-on-one duels, and army vs. army strategic battles, though they aren?t as good as the Suikoden III ones. Most importantly, the ability to recruit the ?108 Stars of Destiny? is still present, and it DOES offer more unique features and more perks to recruiting than in any previous installation. Still, the game can be cleared, with all the Stars, in less than forty hours. There is also a more in-depth trading system, allowing item construction from some of the 108 Stars, which is often the best way to acquire high-caliber armor for your army. Lastly, some of the more purely entertaining features present, like the investigations, the bath conversations and the new confessional add hours of meaningless, but amusing playtime. Bunches of new mini-games are also thrown in, along with some old favorites. However, these really don?t come close to making up for the many shortcomings found in Suikoden IV.
The Suikoden series has never been heralded for its graphics. In fact, they?ve been consistently behind-the-times in that department. Suikoden IV does take a big leap forward from Suikoden III?s N64-style graphics, but they still fall quite short from anything of note. Some good voice acting has also been added, however most of the dialogue is still in text form, which Konami can?t really be blamed for since there are 108 of them, and it is a very story-oriented game. This may frustrate some of the more purist fans of the series who enjoy the reminiscent feel of the series, but everyone else will welcome the change.
As a Suikoden veteran, I have to say that on many levels, I was disappointed. Don?t get me wrong, Suikoden IV is a good game, but it doesn?t even touch the greatness of any of the other Suikodens. The story simply falls short of the epics found in all its predecessors and is, for all intents and purposes, just a ball of clich?s. The battle system lacks the innovation of the weapon-range system found in Suikoden I, or the pair system found in Suikoden III. The constant, time-consuming seafaring that is present throughout the game (even with Viki) is tedious, and constantly interrupted. The list goes on. It was decent as an RPG, however the other Suikodens were excellent. I?d recommend this game to any RPG fan, but if your library doesn?t include Suikoden III, buy that over this one. If you are a follower of the series, I give you my condolences.