Well, I thought I'd write about Suikoden IV before I forgot all about it. I finished it around Holy Week, but haven't bothered to go through again, even though I promised myself I would try since I did not get the magic number of a hundred and eight stars of destiny this time around. Curse my pride for not reading any FAQs while playing! Time is short, with work and all, so I should make the most of my games so I don't need to re-play them.
Suiko 4 has big steps to fill. The first two Suikoden games gained quite a following on the PSX, and the third game, while taking things in a somewhat different direction, was pretty good as well. Does Suiko 4 live up to the series' legacy?
Well... no. It's mostly the same as Suiko 1 and 2, but the plot is a lot simpler this time, and quite uninspired. Very few truly moving mments or scenes. The story takes place in the Island Nations some hundreds of years before the events of Suiko 1. Only three characters are here from previous games: Viki (no surprise there), Jeane (WTF? How is she alive at this time? Does she possess a true rune?) And Ted, the original bearer of the Soul-Eater true rune from Suikoden 1. The worst part is I didn't get Ted! Damn it. I shouldn't have rushed the last part of the game.
Having the Soul-Eater would have been good, because frankly, the hero's true rune in this game, the Rune of Punishment, is really lame. Story-wise and gameplay wise. The story of Suikoden games have always revolved around the 27 True Runes... powerful, living artifacts of magic that shape the destiny of the world. Sought after not only because of the immense power they wield, but also because the True Runes grant their bearers one thing men can only dream of: immortality. This game is about one madman's desire to possess the power of the True Rune of Punishment.
In fact, the story follows quite the same trend as Suiko 1 and 2. Hero is a young member of prestigious nation's military arm. Hero is forced to leave his home for some reason. Hero finds a True Rune. Hero gathers together a huge army to lay the smackdown on an evil Empire. When the war is done, Hero fades into obscurity. Really, no spoilers here. So why the plot fall so flat if it's following a tried-and-true formula?
I think it's because of the uninspired supporting cast. The silent unnamed hero of Suiko 4 doesn't have any strong, loyal personalities attached to him (Gremio in Suiko1, Nanami in Suiko2, a buttload of people in Suiko3) Because of this, he lacks a powerful mouthpiece to help drive the plot forward. Also, it has always been the problem in the Suikoden series that since they always have a cast of 108 in each game, many characters are underdeveloped. But in Suiko 4, I find it hard to name more than five "solid" characters that drive the plot. And the Silverburg tactician here is boring here as well. No particularly clever plots or tactics here, don't expect any Matthiu or Shu tricks.
Gameplay-wise, it's pretty blah as well. It's mostly the same as 1 and 2 though, so it's more of no big improvements than suckiness. There is one thing that bothers me though: The dice-bowl gambling game has been given a limit. You can only bet 3000 potch at a time! This minigame was a major source of funds in the earlier games in the series, and with this cap, it's hard to keep up with the high blacksmith prices towards the end of the game.
One last complaint. This game seems to be technically inferior to Suikoden III. Case in point: cut scenes. It frustrates me that a simple change of perspective/camera angles in cutscenes demands a load time (as in, fade in/fade out) of 0.5-1 seconds. It's the same scene, the models are already loaded in memory, why can't it be a smooth transition? As it is, the cut scenes are jarring and feel skippy.
That is all. Will I play it again? Maybe, I really want to use the Soul-Eater again. One nice thing about this game is that for the first time in the series, they include a New game + mode. Not much benefits in terms of carry-over, but one major thing: You can skip cutscenes! But I probably still won't play it again. There are other games to play, and too little time.