RPG Review #66: Suikoden IV

NuMetalManiak
Working our way up the Suikoden ladder, we hit the fourth installment in the Suikoden series with Suikoden IV. This marks a major change, not just in the game itself, but in the production. Yoshitaka Murayama, who had produced the previous games in the series, had quit some time before 2004, which is the year this game was released. In his place was Junko Kawano, a man who will probably be credited as ruining the series by some players of this game. Yes, this entry in the series is often considered the weakest, and why is that? Well lots of things in each of the respective categories can explain that.

Gameplay: I'm gonna do this one differently, just outlining the real positives, the real negatives, and the hits and misses. The rest of the gameplay is usually similar to the previous Suikoden games, and I use this term very loosely.

Positives:
+The duels are back, and a new one-time only option called Full Power allows you to do more damage in a duel.
+Many characters get more rune slots and rune unites are easier.
+The game's blacksmith can now make armor in addition to sharpening weapons.
+The overall length is short. Some say this was a bad thing, but I don't mind a short RPG.
+This is more of a plot thing, but the first half of the game until you get the headquarters is quite nice. Different characters can accompany you and have different things to say.
+You can easily break the game with the Training Hall, which can level up anyone to max.
+The Rush mechanic is an interesting one, damaging enemies using power of friendship. It doesn't make the enemies in battle move either, but requires battles to charge up.
+New Game+ is a feature, although I'm not gonna use it since I usually play through RPGs once.

Negatives:
-Oh boy, what were they thinking shrinking the main battle party size from six to four? This was a bad move. While it makes Suikoden IV more of a standard turn-based game, there really wasn't much point in reducing the size of the battle parties from six to four.
-For that matter, although unite attacks are in this game, it requires at least 10 battles with the characters in the party to actually learn them. They at least can level up more though.
-The majority of the game is at sea, so there's a sailing mechanic. It's actually quite boring.
-When it comes to battles, there's tons and tons of them in this game. The random encounter rate really drives players nuts a lot of times. Worst is if you run into a rare encounter at sea with a low-level party.
-The Jizo Clock item is the reviving item, however unlike the Sacrificial Jizo from earlier games, it cannot be equipped, so it must be used in-battle if a character falls.
-No status prevention gear for that matter is also a minus. Normally in Suikoden games this isn't a problem since those are easily cured, but one character has a Waking Rune permanently attached and always starts asleep, meaning I have to waste a turn to get him awake and thus it's hard to actually train him.

-When sailing from place to place, even if you are like a few meters away from a piece of land (or rocks) sometimes your ship automatically moves when it shouldn't.
-Making new armor at the smithy, new accessories at the atelier, and new clothes at the tailor require materials, which are only won in random battles most of the time. It's almost impossible to get the really good equipment in this game without a lot of farming.
-Upgrading the ships require an item known as an Ocean Rune Piece, which is only found in a few treasure chests, the rest are through net fishing which itself is not that good.
-The minigames are either boring or annoying, and I still don't know how to play Ritapon.
-More of a character thing, but a lot of recruits lack any character development. The ones that have it are great, but the ones that don't really are no one spectacular. This was in other Suikoden games too, but it is really noticable here. Another character thing, the character models for a lot of characters are the same, like how most swordsmen have the same battle poses.

Hits and Misses:
*The tutorials at the beginning basically tell of all three combat mechanics. They aren't necessary but ease players new to the series along (not that anyone would play this as their first Suikoden game though).
*This game is the first to feature voice acting. Hit or miss right off the bat. Some voices are fine, others not so much. What is really bothersome is how, like in Jade Cocoon, the characters don't ever say the main characters name out loud.
*The naval battle system. Obviously, for a game set in the sea, there's ship combat, but it's not large-scale war battles entirely. Customizing who goes where in terms of rune cannon shooters or boarding action fighters helps out, but the battles themselves are mere skirmishes. They are easy to win, but also easy to lose as well.
*Alternate ship parties mean you can have four other members in combat in regular ship travel aside from the main hero. But the problem with this is that you always start with your basic party first, so switching requires an extra option. Thankfully, it doesn't forfeit the turn.
*Having multiple ships following you in the ocean is fine, but doesn't really add anything besides additional allies in naval battles.
*Being able to release enemies is good, but doing so requires characters to be at abnormally high levels most of the time. A certain rune called the Slash Orb can just destroy weaker formations, so it can be used to train unites up and such.

As you can see, negatives outweight positives by quite a lot. The random encounter rate really does ruin things for this game, as does the sailing. Regardless, I can't outright hate this game, as it is a Suikoden game with tons of characters and other interesting things in it. It's just a boring entry in the franchise at the very worst. Grade: C+

Characters:
#1: Lazlo: Main character, and we are also back to the silent protagonist role. Wields two swords and this game's true rune, the Rune of Punishment. Sadly this rune is mostly bad due to the spells hurting the user at the same time, although story-wise it is probably the most interesting rune ever. Lazlo is this character's default name by the way.
#2: Lino En Kuldes: King of Obel. He doesn't dress like a king often though, just the kind of guy who has a lot to do in the story and looks all beach-ready at the same time. Wields a spear.
#3: Elenor Silverberg: Yep, a Silverberg, and also the first female in this spot. She's actually a drinking hag more or less, retired strategist, but like others from the series she is brought out of retirement to aid in battles.
#4: Ted: Yes, Ted is in this game too. Those who knew him from Suikoden I knew he was the original bearer of the Soul Eater (or he became to be from his grandfather), and in a sidequest, Ted becomes one of the main recruits. His magic stats are off the charts, and the Soul Eater is a lot better than the Rune of Punishment gameplay-wise.
#5: Tal: One of the knight buddies from the first part of the game, likes to fish, and is generally strong.
#6: Izak: I can't remember what he did exactly but he was a two-handed swordsman.
#7: Axel: Son of a village leader in Na-Nal island, also a two-handed swordsman.
#8: Selma: An elf who resided in Na-Nal, and is also a two-handed sword wielder. These three characters have a unite.
#9: Aldo: A wandering archer, he tries to befriend Ted and protect him.
#10: Schtolteheim Reinbach III: This guy's name is a running gag in the series, but in IV he appears for real as a battle character. One of my favorites too, a well-dressed and dashing swordsman. His voice acting is icing on the cake. Also he wields the Red Rose Rune.
#11: Chiepoo: The first character we see of the species of Nay-Kobolds, which actually are cat people. Wonderful luck stat and okay fighter, but his voice actor just had to be a little kid.
#12: Paula: Another one of the knight buddies, and the sole elf among them.
#13: Kika: The head of the pirates, and one of the sexiest Suikoden characters. She wields the all-powerful Falcon Rune.
#14: Keneth: Another one of the knight buddies.
#15: Ramada: Has a lot of story scenes despite not being a battle character. Originally an enemy too, but joins up after hearing about what the Rune of Punishment could do.
#16: Travis: A loner who is one of the last recruits available. No one special.
#17: Snowe Vingerhut: Now this is a character with a lot of depth. He's technically the last recruit, but is met a lot of times in the game. Originally the hero's friend and fellow knight, the two had developed a friendship so good they have a very strong unite.
#18: Rachel: A polearm wielder without a lot of character depth.
#19: Helga: Wields two axes, and is assigned as one of the main character's bodyguards.
#20: Cedric: This guy needs to be caught to get him, but doing so actually increases running speed for the rest of the game. He's said to have been born with the Godspeed rune, but he doesn't use it since he isn't a combat character. He is a support character though.
#21: Keen: An assassin for hire, he opens up a confession booth on the ship so the main character can forgive or not forgive his fellow shipmates.
#22: Gau: A wild beastman that needs to be fought in order for him to join. Lots of strength and HP. Said to be an expy of FF6's own Gau.
#23: Gretchen: Another one of the bodyguards, and a simple swordswoman.
#24: Konrad: A former magic teacher who is good at that, mostly in fire magic.
#25: Jewel: The last of the knight buddies, and she along with Paula, Keneth, and Tal can perform a unite together.
#26: Katarina: Vice Commander of Razril's knights, she later becomes a Star of Destiny and is a simple mage.
#27: Lo Seng: Part of a trio of con-artists who invade hot springs for some reason.
#28: Shiramine: A tough fisherman who runs the net fishing in this game. Ironically in order to recruit him he himself has to be fished up.
#29: Lo Fong: Part of the trio mentioned, also the sole female.
#30: Ugetsu: A fisherman who has, something on his back. He is also tough in battle, and runs the pole fishing minigame.
#31: Lo Hak: The last of the trio, and the sole archer.
#32: Rakgi: A young boy who's father died. He joins up with his mother and also is the person to talk to when getting on the ship at port.
#33: Rikie: Mother of Rakgi, she wants to be close to the Rune of Punishment. Also a healing support character.
#34: Jango: A dirty pirate along with Brec.
#35: Brec: A really dirty pirate who doesn't bathe. These two don't seem like useful characters except in war battles.
#36: Flare: Daughter of Lino, and another archer. She can unite with Ted, Aldo, and Lo Hak.
#37: Tanya: A librarian that wants to study under Elenor.
#38: Jeremy: Another swordsman, one who lost a bet against another character.
#39: Gareth: An artistic guy who makes a statue in the ship.
#40: Jeane: Always the same Jeane, the runemistress. This time she is actually a playable character in battle and is a very strong, but slow mage. She can unite with Kika and Gretchen as well.
#41: Lilon: She's one of five mermaids who run an accessory atelier. She's apparently the only intelligent one.
#42: Gary: His mustache is awesome, and it's said he's an ancestor to Maximillian. He's not a battle character though, just healing support.
#43: Ema: Paired with Gary, does the same thing.
#44: Sigurd: Part of a duo with Hervey. He fights with throwing blades.
#45: Hervey: The other half of the duo. Both are nice-looking pirates and a have a unite.
#46: Micky: He is Reinbach's servant and decides to write stories on the ship.
#47: Nabokov: The appraiser, he joins rather late.
#48: Frederica: An archer, so she can unite with Ted, Aldo, and Lo Hak. She also has some history with the game's main villain.
#49: Mao: He grows mushrooms on the ship. Mushrooms? Weird.
#50: Bartholomew: A spear wielder, very tough, but also the slowest character in the game.
#51: Helmut: A member of Kooluk's forces and Colton's son. He can unite with Sigurd and Hervey. I found out it's possible to miss him if your hidden forgiveness level is not high enough.
#52: Pablo: In charge of the rune cannons on the ship. He's also a battle character, but a rather weak mage.
#53: Bang: Runs the lottery stand, which actually isn't even a lottery game at all.
#54: Liloon: Another mermaid, the last one to be acquired too.
#55: Lilen: Another mermaid, notice the naming trend.
#56: Yu: A doctor. He's actually the best support party member as far as I know for healing support.
#57: Carrie: A nurse I think. Acquired much later than Yu and not as good in healing support.
#58: Dario: He's a very rowdy pirate and somewhat of a funny guy. An axe wielder, and has a hilarious unite with Gau.
#59: Millay: Another one of the bodyguard girls. Said to be wed to Reinbach, although forcibly.
#60: Reinhold: A training instructor and a battle character. The training hall has you fighting your characters in battle and can actually help in leveling up to the maximum, so he's useful for that.
#61: Warlock: An expert in rune cannons, and an exceptionally powerful mage, especially in earth magic. Has a unite with Pablo.
#62: Akaghi: A funny ninja guy. One of my favorites actually. The ninjas in this game don't take themselves as seriously but are fun characters.
#63: Mizuki: The other ninja-for-hire who joins up. She holds the Shrike Rune.
#64: Ornan: This is the guy I mentioned before having the Waking Rune. He's a strong character otherwise, and can unite with Bartholomew and Reinhold.
#65: Manu: Invents an elevator on your five-deck ship.
#66: Rene: A little girl obsessed with treasure-hunting. That minigame actually has good rewards.
#67: Ameria: Another swordswoman. Can unite with Kika and Jeane.
#68: Nico: The ship's main lookout. I don't know what else he does though since he's not support or battle character.
#69: Wendel: The girl who wants to follow Nico. She is a battle character though, but I don't use her since she joins late.
#70: Tov: The main engineer and shipwright of the ship. You can customize the main ship with him.
#71: Phil: He's the tailor, but I never had any use of him.
#72: Eugene: A spear wielder and can unite with Lino and Rachel. He has a permanently equipped Firefly rune.
#73: Mitsuba: Works with Reinhold into conning other people into dueling her so she can gain money. A two-handed sword wielder, can unite with Selma.
#74: Lilan: Another mermaid, this one is actually fished up by net.
#75: Nataly: Allows you to change the text windows.
#76: Nao: In contrast to Mao, he grows mints. Two really weird scientist guys.
#77: Etienne: A servant of Reinbach's he plays back the game's music tracks.
#78: Viki: You know about Viki already, she's your main source of teleportation which becomes really useful in this game. Also a battle character as usual with the Blinking Rune. She SNEEZES at foes for a regular attack.
#79: Kate: Another ninja, this one is adept at magic and is one of my most used characters.
#80: Charlemagne: Another narcissist type character. He has a unite with Reinbach.
#81: Rita: She has this game called Ritapon and I don't know how to play it still. Also a battle character wielding a giant hammer, has a unite with Viki and Millay.
#82: Oleg: Invents a camera and witnesses a tragic event. But after he joins he really doesn't do anything else.
#83: Perrault: Writes the newspaper for the ship.
#84: Deborah: She's a fortune-teller by trade or something. Helps out with recruiting others.
#85: Agnes: Elenor's right-hand girl, quite whiny.
#86: Trishtan: Always passes himself off as a sick man, and gets help from Yu. Can unite with Travis and Jeremy.
#87: Noah: A thief girl who pretends to be a Nay-Kobold. For a support character she can help in finding more money. Also runs some sort of card game.
#88: Adrienne: The blacksmith. Also I didn't realize she was a girl.
#89: Setsu: The Obel attendant, a senile old man.
#90: Nalkul: A Nay-Kobold with an adult voice. Also a thief of sorts.
#91: Champo: A very kiddish Nay-Kobold who can chase mice in a minigame. He along with Chiepoo and Nalkul have a unite which heals them.
#92: Funghi: With a head like his he sure looks like a mushroom. Actually he's a regular cook who provides food.
#93: Pecola: She's an interior designer for designing a certain room that actually has no relevance whatsoever.
#94: Maxine: Now here's one of my favorite characters. She's a very sinister witch, and you fight her twice before recruiting her. Very powerful mage, especially in wind magic.
#95: Basil: Can help you find money, or you can play some lame top minigame with him.
#96: Igor: Originally owned a hot spring, this weird guy now plays a coin minigame while also looking a bit like an idiot.
#97: Lilin: She is actually the first mermaid seen in-game. All five mermaids run the same service.
#98: Karl: A standard monk-type character. Can unite with Helga.
#99: Gunter: Runs the Suikoden standard Chinchirorin minigame (now known as Triple Toss).
#100: Desmond: He's an attendant and is the person to talk to when changing party members.
#101: Louise: Innkeeper and bartender. Also allows you to change members, and to rest.
#102: Kevin: A cook who joins up.
#103: Pam: A cook as well, and Kevin's wife.
#104: Taisuke: Makes the hot spring in the ship. Also is found naked when you first meet him.
#105: Nalleo: Dario's son, though not by birth. Is a support character.
#106: Haruto: Ship's main navigator but I don't know if he does anything important.
#107: Oskar: A whiny character who whines a lot. He sneaks aboard once you recruit Deborah. Actually he isn't that bad because he has the best treasure find in support.
#108: Chadli: Wears a funny helmet, but is the item shop and armory at the same time.

So there, loads and loads of characters, par for course in a Suikoden game. However, there's barely any with any character development. The few I remember that have lots to do with the game plotwise are Lino, Flare, Setsu, anyone from Razril, Kika and the pirates, Chiepoo, Elenor, and Schtolteheim Reinbach. And that's only a handful. Whereas Suikoden II and III had almost half the cast in on the plot. Grade: B.

Plot: Not much to say here. I did mention the first half was the best, but it sort of falls apart once you get the main headquarters. So Lazlo (I'll use the default name), along with Snowe, Tal, Keneth, Jewel, and Paula, are all knights in service of Razril, under Commanders Glen and Katarina. They are knighted, and on a mission they fight off pirate Brandeau, who wields the Rune of Punishment. He uses the rune and dies, while Commander Glen ends up taking the rune. It's not long before the rest of the pirates invade, where Glen uses the rune again, but this kills him. Things go horribly wrong from here. Snowe, up to now has been Lazlo's friend, but to the commanders he is mostly a whiny brat, only getting to the knighthood because of his aristocratic father. Upon Glen's death he blames Lazlo for it, and Lazlo ends up with the Rune of Punishment and exiled.

Two of the four knight buddies are also with him (by player's choice on the first mission, I had Keneth and Tal) as is Chiepoo. They end up confronting Colton and Troy, then are defeated and cast away to a deserted island. The game can end prematurely if you want to stay here, but to continue, they must make materials to make a raft out of here. They also meet Lilin as well. This time, a ship by Obel picks them up, and they are granted an audience by King Lino. More info about the true rune is spilled, as recruits start to become available. Eventually, the player is tasked with finding Oleg, who witnesses a catastrophe done by Kooluk, and later on, the kingdom of Obel is invaded by Kooluk, although Lazlo's group along with Lino manages to escape in the hidden headquarters, which is an enormous ship.

From here, it's all about making alliances. First up is Kika and the band of pirates, then it boils down to other places. It's actually optional, but you can ally with Middleport, the home of the illustrious Schtolteheim Reinbachs. And then there's the deal with finding a strategist, Lady Elenor Silverberg. Together they all form to get the remaining Island Nations to ally with them. From Na-Nal to Nay, then Razril itself, which had previously fallen to Kooluk after Snowe had sold them out. He ends up being a pirate too. Interestingly, you confront Snowe as an enemy plenty of times, it is better to spare him so he can be recruited later. Eventually, Obel is retaken, Colton is captured, and for 108 Stars of Destiny to be recruited, Snowe, now a castaway himself, must be recruited.

Elenor comes up with the plan to invade El-Eal, the Kooluk fort where the main villain, Graham Cray, is stationed. He is of course defeated, both by a detachment party sent by Elenor herself as well as Lazlo's group, who fight, a giant tree. Really easy if you used the training hall before. Also Elenor has some history with Cray, and snides him. When Lazlo returns, he duels the last remaining Kooluk man of importance, Troy, who stays behind to sink with his ship. Fort El-Eal explodes, presumably taking Elenor and Cray with it, and Lazlo, for the last time, uses the Rune of Punishment to save everyone. At the end of it all, everyone celebrates the victory and the birth of a new federation, though Lazlo himself is absent after using the rune. Depending on how many stars are recruited, he either lives or dies. Certainly one of the more tragic endings, in which the Suikoden series has been good about. Again, the plot is pretty decent, at least the first half, but it falls a bit by the wayside: Grade: B

Music: Well it's pretty good, thankfully. General town themes are nice, as well as the several or so battle themes, though those get old after awhile due to the frequent encounter rate. I like a lot of it though. Grade: A-

Overall Grade: B

I can't outright hate this game, as it still holds some Suikoden charms to it. But make no mistake when this is the worst in the main franchise. Junko Kuwano taking over for it may have been a factor, though from what I heard, he may have improved. Still, there's quite a lot of negatives about this, most of it boils down to how it can become rather boring to play. Now, it's worth getting all 108 Stars of Destiny just for not just the New Game+, but for Suikoden Tactics as well, in which the save bonus helps in getting characters there.

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