Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review #392: Suikoden IV

 I pirate I was meant to be.
 So, it was Suikoden's fourth entry, so they had to do what any franchise has to do when it reaches its fourth entry, just ask Assassin's Creed, so they took to the seas. It's... it's an interesting experiment, although not an entirely successful one. So did this JRPG series survive their adventure into the seas?

 Sadly, we're back to a silent protagonist, whom we'll call Lazlo. Lazlo is training to be a knight alongside his friend Snowe and a few others. What should've been a simple patrol goes wrong and the True Rune of Punishment makes its way into Lazlo's hand. But Lazlo, being a silent protagonist, is more or less an accessory to this story of war, pirates, high seas and political intrigue. It's a decent plot, with a rather quirky pacing which will probably have a varying degree of success. Y'see, the game does a few... interesting things. For instance, the first 4-5 hours of the game are spent stranded on the sea, jumping from ship to ship and being a victim to the quirks of fate. It fits the story, but it won't appeal to everyone. Then there's the scene in which Lazlo and company are left stranded on a deserted island, and you must survive for three or four days... which means repeating the same mundane task of gathering food and supplies. It's not even hard, you just have to walk from place to place. FOUR TIMES. It's repetitive, it's kinda dull and it kills the game's pace... but it fits perfectly, since your characters are stranded, and instead of turning it into a cutscene of 'some times passed' you get to play it. I liked it, but your mileage will vary.
 The game's set on the 'Island Nations', about 12 Islands or so separated from each other by sea. Instead of having a traditional world map, your means of transportation is your ship, and you must travel from Island to Island. It sounds like an interesting setting for a JRPG, and it is, but the ship moves VERY slowly, even while holding the R1 button, and random encounters are very plentiful. Early in the game you'll come across a character that can transport you to Island you've previously visited, but every now and then you'll be forced to sail manually since the story demands it. In order to enter towns you must touch the vicinity of their harbors, but it's kinda wonky and it's easy to be repelled and sent sailing sideways due to annoying invisible walls. It's hard to describe without you playing it first-hand, but it can get pretty vexing.

 Another issue comes in the form of the size of the world. It's kinda huge, and thanks to the sailing speed, it takes a while to explore... but it's as huge as it is barren. There's only about 12 Islands, and they are very, very small. Some consist of only 2 different screens, which is kinda disappointing. When it comes down to it, deciding to design the game around this very naval theme was an interesting idea, but they couldn't pull it off just quite right. Exploring the waters of the Island Nations is kinda fun at first, but you'll grow bored of it halfway through the game.
 Strategic battles have been changed, no longer are they boards, and no longer are battles automatic, now you fight with ships! Before each fight you can outfit your ships with different characters to enhance their resistance or change the type of cannonballs they carry. Certain elemental cannonballs beat other elemental cannonballs, so you don't receive damage and they do, the same elements cancel each other and elements without direct-relation ignore each other and both combatants receive damage. It's really fun, although you ought to be careful since characters might die on this battles, and that would lock you out of the true ending.

 Despite all the focus on sailing, you will have to go through small dungeons every now and then. Sadly, you are restricted to four-man parties, which is kinda disappointing considering the huge amount of playable characters. Battles work more or less just as they did in 3, but without skills. They follow the traditional turn-based scheme and characters can equip different runes, which translate into the spellsets they will bring to battle. There're also combo-attacks between related characters and a new 'Rush' command that heals the leader and performs AoE damage. All in all, it's fun, if nothing out of the ordinary. You'll also engage in 1 on 1 duels every now and then, which work like rock-paper-scissors.
  As per usual, if you want to, you can gather up to 107 different characters to join your cause. Some will aid you in battle, some will give you perks inside your ship and some... do nothing. In this front, the game feels rather weird, since every now and then you'll be able to recruit characters in bulk, a lot of them are given to them for free, and some of them don't do ANYTHING at all. It's as if they didn't know what to do with them or how to spread them. It doesn't help that the game is very short, if you don't indulge in sidequests, you'll probably be able to finish it in under 20 hours.

 Suikoden IV is rather... quirky. It has some very fun moments, it has some quirky moments, it has some weird design choices but it also has some original ideas... it's a mixed bag of elements that don't mesh too well together, but when they work, they work. Some of its worst features try to drag the game down, but it's better parts make it fun to play despite it all.
 6.5 out of 10

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