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Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 2004 - Japan 2004



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"Yes, Sir!"
 
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"Are you talkin' to me?!"
 
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"Travel by sea, but beware of battles."
 
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"Bottoms up in the bar. No, not that kind."
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Christopher Holzworth
Preview First Look
03/23/04
Christopher Holzworth

Acting in a villainous style not unlike the actions of the series’ deceitful, corrupt political villains, Konami has kept much of what could be known about Suikoden IV under lock-and-key. At every convenient opportunity, a fragment of information would be released in order to satiate the ravenous hunger of curiosity the die-hard Suikoden fans suffered from. Slowly but surely, however, these fragments of information were able to be constructed together to coherently form a rough image of what lies in store for gamers and fans of the series. Despite all the grey, unknown area left undone in the puzzle that is Suikoden IV, what’s been given to us is a decidedly 180 degree turn from the series’ previous direction. Time, setting, environment, even music and art style have become subject to change and reform.

These changes may be the result of a significant shift in the series development staff, particularly due to Murayama’s resignation as executive producer of Suikoden as well as from Konami. As a result, Tomonori Matsugawa was forced to step in and take his place with Suikoden III, and has gone on to head the development of Suikoden IV. Masashi Saruta as co-producer and Junko Kouno, also producing along with character design, complete the lead development team. Many will recognize Kouno as the artist from the original Suikoden. Under the trio’s direction, the current installment of Suikoden is said to be designed to connect to the original Suikoden in the style that II was related to III.

Suikoden IV breaks tradition in several ways in regards to its storyline. It’s a true sequel, the first in the series, and the game is rumored to take place a hundred and fifty years prior to the events surrounding the Toran Republic in the original Suikoden. Due to this fact, many players will not be able to look forward to cameos from their favorite Suikoden characters; however, a handful have been announced, including the enigmatic Jeanne, and the bearer of the Gate Rune, Leknaat. As always, a Silverberg will make an appearance – this time a female by the name of Eleanor, described as being a “drunkard”. Otherwise, a new cast will assume the duty of completing the 108 Stars of Destiny, with the addition of a new race of humanoid cat-creatures who lack a name at this time.

The story will be set in the Island Nations, a locale many fans will recall as being the homeland of Suikoden II’s Amada. The Island Nations are a lush, tropical realm composed of several chains of islands amidst a vast ocean. Primary travel is by boats, which are also used in sea-based battles. The game will be driven by a nameless Tenkai Star as always, breaking away from the innovative Trinity Sight System solely found in Suikoden III. At first a lowly servant, the Tenkai Star comes to be the bearer of the Rune of Punishment, a powerful true rune with a number of severe drawbacks to its use. Aside from leeching away at its bearer’s health/life-force in exchange for its use, the Rune of Punishment also plagues the bearer with fragments of memories from past bearers as if torturing them. It could be suggested that this is what the Rune’s name is derived from. As always, the Tenkai Star’s true rune acts as a catalyst for the cogs of fate’s gyration, and soon the Tenkai Star finds himself thrust into the middle of war, struggle, and the lead role in what shape the future will take.

Although the leap from 2-D to 3-D has already been made with Suikoden III, and a drastic leap no less, Suikoden IV manages to polish this new style with better character model proportions and smoother details. Facial expressions have been given a stronger emphasis, although they still cannot compete with other mainframe RPG series. The game’s environments are particularly striking; the poly-count has been boosted, allowing for the setting of the Island Nations to be given proper visual representation.

Similar to most long-lasting series, Suikoden IV introduces radical changes to the established and refined battle system that was a favorite of many. Suikoden III differed slightly from I and II in how it linked characters by their columns, making three unified sets of attacks as opposed to selecting each of the six character’s moves individually. With Suikoden IV, however, battles will be fought with only four characters to a team, all lined up in one row. The battles will be fierce and fast, and will utilize a system designed to accentuate speed as well as strategy. Despite the lack of information, the game’s creators seem very certain that this shift in how battles are conducted will be accepted by their fan base. Other than commentary involving flashier, more dazzling spell effects when runes are invoked, little else has been announced about the game’s battle system.

As always, wars will be fought with their own unique battle system. Nothing has been released on Suikoden IV’s war system, but it has been said that they will take place on the ocean as well as land, servicing to the setting’s central theme. A plethora of mini-games have been confirmed that include the fan-favorite cooking game, which is said to be one of many the creator’s have in store.

One of the most defining aspects of Suikoden indisputably is its musical score. From the first Suikoden, the series has gained an astonishing measure of praise and recognition from its ethnic-oriented soundtrack. Joining the staff change is Coba, a composer most well-known for his work on the Pokemon series. Although this may seem unorthodox and out of place, the tracks found in the game’s two trailers suggest Coba to be more then qualified to keep to Suikoden’s trademark unique musical style. This observation also seems to be shared by the game’s creators, who have commented on the preservation of the “Suikoden feel” in the game’s soundtrack.

A far cry from being “completely overhauled”, Suikoden IV still holds an enormous amount of promise as far as keeping to the ambiance of the Suikoden universe. With a number of fans dissatisfied with the outcome of Suikoden III, perhaps this jump back to the past will help rally their interest with its return to roots founded in political upheaval, betrayal, and the hardships of mankind. With so much of the original Suikoden’s staff working behind the scenes, it’s hard to assume this installment will be anymore of a departure then the last. Without a doubt, this title will certainly be one of the most eagerly anticipated debuts at this year’s E3. Look forward to a torrent of new information come May.



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