The first two Suikoden games in the series laid the foundations for a landmark third instalment. Konami could then have built on the success of this triumph in the fourth edition. The newest game however appears to be a slight step backwards in the series, with a few irritating quirks and in my opinion, defects.
This game is set more than 100 years before the previous titles in the series. You play a young knight trainee, whom you name. Despite being the main character, you are completely silent. This is a factor carried through from the 2D Suikoden games although now this game is in 3D, and all major characters are voiced, it does not work as well and breaks any sense of realism.
Having just graduated as a Knight, the main character bumps into a pirate who happens to have the Rune of Punishment - a magical weapon that slowly drains the life of its user when deployed. Through a run of bad luck, the rune becomes grafted into the hand of our young Knight. As the game progresses, the dark secrets of the rune are revealed while you simultaneously attempt to guard your nation against an impending war.
As with many RPGs, much of the interesting gameplay consists of battles.
Battles take place at sea, in ships, or on land. Naval battles are entertaining - closely resembling a 'Battleships' style of combat. The battles on land however are somewhat tiresome. They consist of a maximum of four people, two on each side, taking turns in making a move. For some reason, the number of participants has been reduced from a true battle-like six to a measly brawl-like four. During a battle, a number of different fighting styles can be deployed such as team attacks and the use of runes. These skirmishes are entertaining for a short while, but as a result of their sometimes- unrelenting frequency they soon become a serious annoyance, and slow down an already slow pace, considerably.
The gameplay stays slow despite a fast running plot. This is because of the numerous interruptions for a battle, each of which takes at least 30 seconds and the combination of a slow character having to transverse an overly large map. The main new feature that slows down the game is travelling by ship. Because the map is a network of islands, one must travel by ship to access them. It is unfortunate therefore that the ships move about as fast as a three-legged tortoise looking to have a nap. Travelling from one island to another can take up to 20 minutes. As if that's not bad enough, when you approach too fast on arrival, you can be turned round and pushed back out to sea.
The map is extensive, and features some good 3D scenery. The landscapes do not attempt to be extremely detailed, or photorealist, but they nevertheless provide interesting and believable backdrops to the game. The music attempts to unobtrusive, but due to its repetitive nature like the battles, soon becomes wearing.
Taken as a whole, Suikoden IV is a good new RPG for the PS2. It does not quite match the standards of its predecessors but yet provides interesting and entertaining game play. Suikoden IV has a short learning curve and so is ideal for those used to First Person Shooters who wish to try something new without giving up on the instruction manual just remember to pack a book when the gameplay slows to a stop.