When the world learned that Suikoden IV would once again be returning to the gameplay of the first two installments at the expense of the Trinity Sight System -- I, for one, rejoiced. While playing Suikoden IV, I couldn't help but let it remind me of the greatness that was Suikoden II. In doing so, at times I actually felt as though I was simply playing a reincarnated version in 3D with new characters and a new map.
A hundred and fifty years prior to the original Suikoden, Suikoden IV takes place around the outlying islands that were barely mentioned in the previous games. Unfortunately for the player, with this terrain comes water, and lots of it. With a ratio of approximately 9 to 1 water to land, you'll spend far too much time slowly sailing from place to place. Fans of the series will be weeping for a mode of teleportation and, thankfully, our prayers are answered fairly quickly into the game with the introduction of Viki, the cutest character ever.
It's a saving grace to be able to teleport from place to place with the random encounter rate set as high as it is. There are times on the open seas when one can sail only a few seconds between encounters; encounters which take only a simple "Auto" command to finish. Battles are simplistic and easy, yet extremely numerous. The "combo" attacks return in battle, helping to transform itself into a glorified version of Suikoden II's battle system, a welcomed regression. With four characters and a supporting character at a time, there are numerous combo attacks and rune (equipped magic pieces) combinations to keep the battles fresh as more and more Stars of Destiny are recruited.
As fans would expect, a story of warfare based on the 27 True Runes is present. Exiled from Razril where he trained to become a Gaien Knight, the unnamed Hero and his Rune of Punishment must recruit the 108 Stars of Destiny while on his quest to avoid war. All 108 playable characters will join him as he traverses the seas on his huge ship filled with shops, baths, jails, and bedrooms. For the most part, the character models are fairly stunning and detailed, with the grotesque exception of the main Hero himself. With the looks of a young kid who hasn't had a haircut in years, the Hero runs like a supersonic Hunchback of Notre Dame and walks like...well, not very well. I can only imagine what Konami was thinking during the creation of the Hero's model.
Still, after 4 games, the main character does not talk. The voice acting for everyone else in Suikoden IV is top notch and helps give a sense of character progression the likes of which are some of the best on the Playstation 2. It's surprising how well you will come to know 108 different characters and relate to them as they mature and advance. The music, however, rarely caught my attention and was, if nothing else, only soothing and unintrusive.
A greater degree of the series' trademarks once again return to Suikoden IV, much to my delight. Once again you no longer equip various weapons but instead upgrade your swords and bows to level 16. An expensive task, of coarse, but well worth the effort. Armor, however, is much different. Combine metals and various items to create your own armor or be lazy and buy it; the armor is traditional in that you simply equip your character normally. As a gambler myself, I was thrilled to see the inclusion of various mini games for me to lose all of my money on. From the old dice in a bowl to a mahjong look-a-like and even a cat and mouse game, the mini-games are some of the best the series has offered.
When it comes down to it, if you enjoyed Suikoden III, I doubt you'll enjoy Suikoden IV as much. If, however, you loved Suikoden I & II, then you'll enjoy Suikoden IV immensely. As a fan of the latter, I found myself in love with Suikoden IV and I find no problem comparing it to the second. As the same fan of the series, however, I would love nothing more than to simply throw a 5/5 at the end and be done with it, but, with the move to water based travel and an almost unbearable random enemy encounter rate, I can't do that. If you're one of those random encounter haters, then my only advice is don't bother;it truly does detract from the game. Otherwise, don't buy into the negative reviews, Suikoden IV truly is one of the better RPGs to grace my TV.