Malik (2/4/05)

Suikoden 4 (PS2)

From Konami

When Suikoden 4 originally came out, I was quite skeptical. Considering how much RPGs of late have deviated from their origins, it's easy to lose faith in this once stoic pillar of the gaming world. However, with a need for a new game to fill the void between the end of KOTOR2 and the start of Xenosaga 2, I decided to hope for the best. 

On one hand, S3 was a vast disappointment to me as a fan of the prior Suikoden games and S4 could just be a further degradation. On the other hand, the people who talked the most crap about S4 are the same ones who seemed to have hated the brilliant original Suikoden game. So, I took the risk. 

For those who don't know the background, Suikoden is a game based off of "Outlaws of the Marsh", an ancient Chinese book about a man who gathers 107 other people of destiny to overthrow a corruption in the government, while remaining loyal to the actual Emperor in their own way. As these people are wronged by the government, they soon begin a life of exile and find their way together. With time, they form a base of operations, a code of conduct and laws, and an army. That's basically the plot of all four Suikoden games in a nut-shell...except S3, which is a little lite on all of this. 

Also, in the Suikoden world, the biggest physical part of this fate and destiny element is the True Runes. Magic and special abilities are gained by attaching a magical rune to one's hands and forehead. With these runes, new magic and special powers are freely utilized. However, these runes that the common people use are merely imitations of the 27 True Runes, which cannot be created or destroyed. Whenever one of these True Runes surface, the bearer ends up being a tool of change in the world. 


In Suikoden 4, the True Rune in question is the Rune of Punishment. This is a rune that drains the life of it's bearer until he/she dies and the rune jumps to the nearest possible victim. 

As the plot of S4 begins, the hero and his friend Snowe (the requisite whiney bitch of the game) are graduating military training to becomes knights. During this time you receive a brief introduction to the world. It is 150 years before the events of Suikoden (the first one, that is), and you are in the southern seas. The land is basically made up of a dozen or so small island states (in other words, a ship will be your primary means of movement). Each one is mostly independent, but most of these islands are on friendly terms. The land you come from, Gaien, is the only one to show a strong military presence. On top of this, there's also the power of the pirates, who are quite common and diverse. 

During your first mission as a real knight, Snowe is to escort a merchant ship to another island, while you serve as his first mate. Since Snowe's father is such an influential man in Gaien, Snowe gets much larger levels of responsibility than his cowardice and inept abilities deserve. So, during your escort mission, pirates attack, and Snowe freaks out (abandoning ship as you stay behind to command). You fight back and defeat the pirates, just in time to have your commander show up to help save the day (and hog the glory). Sadly, this pirate you're fighting is the bearer of the Rune of Punishment. As he dies from the wounds you inflicted on him, the rune jumps to your commander (who shouldn't have been there since you beat this pirate by yourself with no problems). 

A few days later, you commander, who is freaking out from some weird rune related mental stress, is forced to defend your base from another pirate invasion. Your commander then forces all of the knights out of the main keep of your base and tells them to defend the island while he does something suspicious and all alone. During this battle, he blows up an armada with his rune. When you break the rules and enter the keep for no apparent reason (it's the only thing you can do to progress the story at this point in the game), your commander dies, the Rune of Punishment jumps to you, and Snowe enters just in time to witness the last moments of your commander's life. Snowe, being the whiney bitch that he is, decides that you must have killed the commander, so you're framed by fate and found guilty. You get exiled from the knights and sent forth into a world with nothing to your name besides a cursed rune. 

The world and plot of S4 are highly detailed and most small details are fully explored by the plot. Most of the 108 characters who will enter your group are given highly involving and interesting back stories. All in all, the only downfall of the plot is the moment you enter the keep and receive the rune since there's no reason, in the plot, for you to do this. It's the only vague and unexplained part of an otherwise outstanding plot.   Well, that and there's the fact that you'll not find yourself interested in some of the 108 SoDs, but the others (the interesting others) make up for that.

Game Play 

For those who've ever played a traditional RPG, this is something quite familiar for you. Namely, the place where I'll start is; the battles. 

In combat, you control a party of up to four people (and a support character who will help you heal after combat, find more treasure, etc). These four people (I'll just assume a full party) are in a horizontal line in front of the enemy force's line. You can use magic, items, physical attacks, special attacks, run, auto attack (everyone just attacks physically), etc. It's the same stuff we've seen since FF1. In fact, it's like FF1 in how the magic works too. You have spell points per level of spell that you must use for all spells of that level. So, if you have a level 1 healing spell and a level 1 offensive spell and 2 magic points at level 1 spells, then you can cast both once, or either one twice before hitting an inn to refill your MP. 

Also, with magic, you get these spells from runes that can be attached to one of three body parts (the hands and the head). So, in a strong magic user who is good with runes, you can have three different spell sets, but some people are limited to fewer. As you level, more body parts (of these three) open up for rune attachment. Also, you can put on runes that give special attacks, such as Kika's Falcon rune that deals extra melee damage. As for the main character's Rune of Punishment, that one takes up a slot also and cannot be removed or changed out. 

Lastly in battle, you are give a special attack called "Rush". With this attack, you will deal good damage to the entire enemy line while your hero gets healed a couple hundred HP (like with FF1, hundreds are as high as your HP go). This ability needs to be charged by attacking normally for many rounds. Once it's charged, it goes out of combat order (which means it happens as soon as you select it, and then you can resume the combat order as if you never used it). This, besides limiting your battle party to four people, is the only change to standard combat in S4. 

You also have the other two combat staples of the Suikoden series. The one on one duels are back, and the large army combat is back. In the duels, you have to guess your oponents next action based off of what he/she says prior to his/her next action. Then it comes down to a paper-rock-scissors style of combat. If the enemy is going to defend, you can attack. If the enemy attacks, you should use a strong special attack. If the enemy uses a special attack, you should defend. It's that simple. However, unlike the old Suikoden duels, the visuals on these duels are much improved. You will actually see swords striking off of swords, blades will spin and be used with finesse, and a defensive move will look like the person is trying to defend themselves. None of the old standard run up and something happens and then run back to your position. 

The last type of combat is the one that changes in each Suikoden title. Yes, this is the all out military/kingdom battles. Since S4 is based in a land of islands and seas, the battles take place between ships. Each ship has a captain (who determines the movement and the ability of the ship as a whole), up to four gunners (who will fight by infusing the cannons with one of their elemental runes), and up to four fighters (who will fight when you board the enemy vessel or the enemy boards yours). The cannons are the meat of this style of combat. It comes down to two simple facts; the first being that you can only fire at something on your side (since there are no cannons on the front or rear of a naval ship). The second fact is that each elemental type is weak to another and strong to another (water beats fire, fire beats wind, etc). 

Each time a cannon is shot, the target can counter attack if they are able to. If the elemental forces are the same, neither shot gets through and the attack is negated. However, if one is a stronger element, then the weaker one is destroyed and the stronger shot gets through. If neither are related, then they both get through. Prior to a battle, you will know the enemy's cannon types to help in making the decision of what elements to use on your ships. 

If the battles come down to boarding actions, then the game gets lame. The enemy will almost always greatly over power you and then the losing ship (usually yours) will be destroyed. That's it. In these boarding actions, you cannot do anything except guard and make a melee attack with your defenders/invaders. No running, runes, items, Rush attack, etc. It sucks when the enemy boards you and you're stupid if you board them. 

That's about all there is to combat. It's mostly the familiar stuff from prior Suikoden games, without the lame pairs setup of S3 in normal combat. However, with a smaller number of party members and with all of them being in the front row, you will find little reason to use regular mages when a slightly less magical fighter-mage will take more hits. Also, you will now find far less reason to use all 108 Stars of Destiny when you can only hold 4 at a time. 

As for experience, however, it has remained the same. This is a great thing with bringing new people into your party.  When you gain 1000 experience, no matter your current level, you will gain a level.  However, as you gain levels, the amount you gain from a given enemy will lower.  So, a lower level character may gain 10,000 from an enemy later in the game, while your hero (who will always be high level since you always use him in combat) will gain only a couple hundred.  Then next fight, that lower level guy may only gain 5,000 (since he/she did just gain 10 levels).  This type of pattern will keep going until that low level character is around the same level as your hero in only a matter of 5 or 6 fights.  This has always been the balancing factor in Suikoden games that allows one to use all combat friendly Stars of Destiny without fear of wasting time leveling them up.

As for the rest of the game play...well, a vast majority is like what you'd see in any modern RPG.  You walk around town, you fight battles, you buy equipment, you recruit you new members (sometimes with some weird methods, like bringing them a flower seed, etc), blah, blah.  It's mostly tried and true stuff, and that's definitely not a problem.

However, movement on the world map is done via ships.  On a ship, the navigation is vague, the movement is a little tedious (it's not as slow as most reviews would like you to believe, thanks to the R1/"speed up" button).  There are very few islands to visit, and a lot of water that looks the same.  Plus, until you visit an island, you will not see it on your chart of the ocean.  This means you will have to blindly look for a new land mass in a vast dessert of water.

The only other downfall to the game play of S4 is the actual game progression.  You can expect to be confused a few times on where to go next to progress the plot.  You will never be told, after the tutorial part of the game ends, to "GO TO THIS PLACE!".  Instead you will have to trigger an event by just guessing where to go.  This is a pain in the ass until you manage to collect a certain member from all prior Suikoden games, who will give you the means to transport to any major location in an instant.

Overall, the game play is well produced, but there are a couple of flaws.  The flaws aren't enough to ruin an excellent game play engine, but they will be enough to get a reaction every few hours of playing.  Also, as for those who complain about the massive number of random battles; they are quick and not a real hassle once you realize that they exist.


I've also seen a good number of reviews complain about the mediocre visuals...sigh...this game is freakin' beautiful.  The water effects, in particular, are amazing.  Every time you enter a battle, the transition from travel to combat screens involves a water ripple effect that, if you realize what it is, will make you feel a nice sense of awe at these tiny details.

However, beyond the effects, this game is still loaded with vibrant and amazing visuals.  Characters look nicely realistic, the monsters have a good level of detail, the ships look like ships.  It is all well put together and amazing.  The only real lack of detail is found in the loading screens, which are an obvious nostalgic experience put in place for fans of the original Suikoden games.  Take a look at the loading screen and you'll see the only poor looking graphics, but they are still great looking considering what they are there for.

For those of us who remember the Suikoden games from the beginning, you will especially appreciate the improved visuals in the duels.  In a duel, you will see both the offensive and defensive characters acting in response to each other actions.  Unlike the prior Suikoden games which simply had the character with the advantage act while the other remained stoic and unmoved, everyone involved is full involved in the visual aspects to the duels.

The only real downfall to the visuals is not in their quality, but their quantity.  Since this game takes place in a land of water, you will see mainly water.  This will be some really nice looking water, but it will be a big amount of water with nothing else to it...except also you'll see your ships.  It does grow tiresome, after a while, but fortunately you can stop relying too heavily on ship travel after about 10 hours of playing the game.


The sounds of Suikoden have been greatly improved in this latest game.  The first thing you will notice when you put in this game is the crisp and clean sounds to the music.  The music, while less inspiring than that of the prior 3 games, sounds wonderful.  While it doesn't live up to the overall feeling that was invoked in the prior Suikodens, it is still beautiful on it's own.

The second thing you'll notice are the sound effects.  You'll especially notice the world sounds like a beach.  I don't mean it sounds similar to a beach, I mean it sounds like the real deal.  While the world may look plain with the lack of land masses, there are plenty of sounds and audio details to keep your mind happy.

The final change from prior Suikoden games in terms of the sounds is the voice acting.  In prior Suikodens, there was a complete lack of voice acting, and this was a good thing.  In most games, it's hard to find a good voice cast of a dozen people, but with 108+ main characters, a good voice cast would be a miracle.  While there are a few annoying voices, like Cheipoo (one of the characters who is with you from the beginning, sadly) with his squeeky voice of annoyance, there are some really brilliantly acted parts.  In fact, as a whole, the voice cast deserves a good solid B grade.  Some of the voices, especially a majority of the main characters, are flat out brilliant, and of a quality not known in video games.  Considering how a good 60% of the game's dialogue is spoken, this great acting definitely helps to make Suikoden 4 an even better overall experience.


This game is not perfect by any means.  However, unlike the majority of reviews would like one to believe, there is definitely a good game in this package.   This game, also, is not for RPG gamers who are anything less than serious about their pursuit.  If you are a gamer who plays RPGs that SquareEnix brings out with an un-yielding devotion, this is not a game for you.  If you got into Suikoden 3 and not a single other Suikoden perked your interest, then look elsewhere.  However, if you are a fan of the old Suikoden games, and the RPGs that don't need to rely 100% on eye-candy, then you will feel great with this game in your hands.

The travel by ship mechanism may be tiresome at times, and the actions you need to take to advance the plot may be vague and confusing, but beyond that, Suikoden 4 is a piece of art to the lost art of RPGs.  So, despite having two minor flaws, I cannot find any reason to give such a fun game as Suikoden 4 anything less than a solid 9.0 out of 10.


Our brave hero needs a hair cut badly

For us fans of nostalgia...isn't it pretty?

Fans of Suikoden 1, enjoy this mini-spoiler

Above and below you'll see your's a ship

Beyond your base, you'll also have a fleet of smaller ships to use in battles

Like I said, a lot of water and very little land

Above and below, naval battles

And the duels...