Saturday, September 17, 2005

Genso Suikoden IV

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation
Credits: 2004 Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, Inc. Screenshots courtesy of Amazon.

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Cover Description:
The Rune of Punishment has passed through the ages cursing its bearers with great power, but at the cost of their lives. The rune finds a new host in the form of a young knight from the Island Nations. Uncover the mysteries of the cursed rune and search out the legendary 108 Stars of Destiny in the battle of a lifetime on the high seas.

It was fun while it lasted, but what next>>> by thundersenshi
There’s no doubt that I enjoyed Suikoden IV while I was playing it, but for every fan of the series, the real question is: did it exceed expectations set after the success of Suikoden III? After all, the end development of III and the beginning of IV was shrouded with enough controversy that would surely keep people talking.

And why wouldn’t they? Consider this: Maruyama, believed by many fans to be the genius behind Suikoden, resigned as chief director of the team just before the development of Suikoden III was finished. For the development of the next installment, Suikoden IV, Junko Kawano was called back in to head the production and character design. This may explain why IV smacks of the very first Suikoden game, as Kawano was the character designer for that as well.

However, Suikoden IV’s backtracking did not end on this note. The whole story takes place in the Island Nations, 150 years before the first game’s setting. It goes even more traditional as the trinity system is nowhere in sight and it focuses on a—once again—silent, singular hero. The artwork is simply a more refined version of the first game.

Even the plot has reverted to something remarkably simpler. The political struggles that have been so prominent in its predecessor are now a mere backdrop for a predictable storyline. Not to say that there’s less politics in this one. After all, Suikoden wouldn’t be Suikoden without warring nations, people or tribes. But playing as the hero, one merely gets the feeling of being thrown into a chain of events without any real direction of your choosing, unlike the leads of Suikoden III who each have their own solid reasons for staying decisive in their chosen paths. Suikoden IV plays it safe and linear, not without twists, but then again, they weren’t something for which I really cared. No surprises here.

What did surprise a lot of the series’ fans (and perhaps, in outrage), however, was the new battle system. Gone are the six-party teams of old—you’re reduced to a 4-man party, but it’s not entirely without perks. While you’re sailing on the ship and open to enemy encounters, three parties can face those pesky sea monsters. That’s right, three parties, and each with four people of your choosing. They can be switched in-between battles, too, but only the party who kills the last enemy gets the experience. Useless? Not at all, when it can work to your advantage by letting your stronger allies weaken tough enemies and letting the lower-leveled allies finish them off. You can also work on strengthening joint attacks of your characters, as the more they are used, the more powerful they get. (Note that these joint attacks sometimes fail...but you get an extremely funny sequence when they do!) But the three-party battles are only applicable so long as you’re on the ship, not on land.

Speaking of that blasted ship...well, that’s exactly what it is, a blasted ship! The thing is tedious to navigate from one island to another, and it wasn’t until five or six hours into the game did I discover that pressing the R1 button would make it go “faster”. And believe me, “faster” isn’t much better than the ship’s originally constipated pace, R1 button or no. Sure it has auto-pilot, but it still hasn’t helped to make you any less sleepy. At least you get something from net fishing while sailing. This also allows you to leave your game for short periods of time for snack breaks and the like as net fishing doesn’t require ship movement, just as long as you’re in the ship.

Ships are also used in battles in the form of firing rune canons. This feature I especially liked, even though in theory, it’s not so different from the old games’ army battles where wins and losses are much like playing rock-paper-scissors. In fact, old battle systems aren’t just limited to your own fighting characters. Fans of Suikoden I will probably get a kick out of the mint-and-mushroom army battle/mini-game that is exactly like the army battles of the first game except that...well, instead of people, you’re working with mints and mushrooms.

There aren’t as much interesting mini-games in this one, aside from the mint-mushroom growing, fishing and the confessional box. Mints and mushrooms can be grown as medicine that can recover HP/MP (and deal other effects besides). In fishing, you can also cook whatever fish you get, although the menu is terribly limited. I was hoping for something like the extremely enjoyable cooking contests in Suikoden II, but sadly, this hope went unrecognized. There is something new in the confessional box, and this idea would have been especially interesting, had the characters been a bit more revealing, or if they had anything juicy to reveal at all. Such characters, unfortunately, are few in Suikoden IV.

Ah, finally we talk about characters. Stupid ship aside, I don’t find anything terribly wrong with Suikoden IV...why then have I managed to forget about this game right after finishing it? Truth be told, after seeing the credits end for Suikoden IV, I had impulsively taken out Suikoden III and played it again. It made me realize that, in terms of visuals, Suikoden IV was certainly an improvement. Well, I still prefer Suikoden III’s 2D-animated opening sequence to Suikoden IV’s 3D, but in-game (of SIV), the characters’ polygons have finally stretched to their full height and the loading time is less. Why then did I feel like I had to play Suikoden III again after it? Was it so unsatisfying?

When I was done and over with Suikoden IV, that was it. No more Hero prancing around in short shorts. I had no urge to replay scenes, or see characters again. I wasn’t even that curious with the characters to begin with. I liked the game while I was playing it, but I find that it was a bit forgettable. While I am active in certain Suikoden fandoms, I was aghast to realize that I couldn’t recognize names of some Suikoden IV characters. I had only played and finished the game this year. I played Suikoden I and II years and years ago and yet I rarely forget important characters from them. Aside from the recurring characters Viki, Jeane (who you can finally use in battle!) and one other (secret!) person, there’s not much else the game has to offer in terms of comprising a unique, unforgettable and motley crew. There’s Lino En Kuldes, I suppose, and the kick-ass lady pirate Kika. And if we’re after unforgettable, then there’s no better candidate than Rita with her stupid Rita-pon game (here’s one girl I’d like to shoot with a rune canon). There aren’t as much interesting relationships and interaction among the people of Suikoden IV, compared to Suikoden III. Hell, I, for one, missed the raunchy bath sequences and the hilarious theatre plays in the latter where you just make fun of your characters. The closest thing you can get to that kind of fun would be the confessional...but as I have already mentioned earlier, the characters aren’t even cooperating much or are just not interesting to begin with. Which is a shame. Suikoden has always been about the 108 stars of destiny, and somehow, throughout the years, they’ve managed to make the most of them well-designed and memorable enough to inspire legions of fans writing a million fanfictions or drawing doujinshi. Suikoden IV is far from a total failure, and surely if this is your first experience of Suikoden then it’s not bad at all...but after the shining success of Suikoden III, one can’t help but expect more.

RATINGS: Gameplay 7; Battle 7; Story 6; Visuals 8; Characters 6; Sounds 7; Replay Value 4

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