Thursday, February 7, 2008

Suikoden 4

Wow. You know, I'm not very big on Suikoden 5. As I've mentioned before, it rang kinda hollow to me--had all the dressings of a Suikoden, but none of the heart. You'd play it, you'd be entertained for a while, you'd finish it, and you'd slowly start to realize that something was hadn't witnessed anything monumental, inspiring, and/or touching, you hadn't experienced anything enriching or really worthy of much note, you'd just...played a game that felt like Suikoden but was written like a very average RPG.

Yet, from what I've seen, the game was received very well by most fans, better even than the far superior Suikoden 3 was, and hailed as finally being a "true" Suikoden to follow the 2nd in the series. I've always kind of wondered at this...what is it that people found in S5 that they loved so much? Was I missing something? Usually I pass off such differences in RPG appreciation as people generally having lower standards than myself and/or that they all just happen to be stupid and wrong.* But the fan base of the Suikoden series tends to be a slight cut above your average rabble of fantards, so such a dismissal didn't seem right.

But I think I get it, now that I have played Suikoden 4. I understand. People loved Suikoden 5 because, after Suikoden 4, they were ecstatic to play a game with the name Suikoden in the title that wasn't completely terrible.

Now, I say Suikoden 4 is completely terrible. But when I say "completely," I don't just mean that in the usual way of emphasizing that it's very, very terrible. I mean "completely" in the sense that the game is wholly terrible. I mean that its terribleness is complete; it permeates every aspect of the title. This is the most boring RPG I've played in years. In fact, it may be THE most boring, period. I mean, with terrible yawn-fests like Shadow Hearts 3, 7th Saga, and Lufia 1, the stuff in them was so horrible, stupid, and badly-envisioned and/or executed, that it was bad enough to offend the audience at times into actively hating the game. But this...with the exception of S4's minigames, there isn't enough life in this title to spark anything more than bored dislike. Allow me to go into detail.

Graphics: There's nothing especially bad about the graphics, but there's certainly absolutely nothing that will catch your eye. The few special effects are little more than bright, colored lights and generic "This Thing Is On Fire" effects. Probably the best-looking part of the game is the water, and your appreciation for its waves and shine will last for approximately 1/80000th of the time that you'll be looking at it.

The cutscenes are very jerk and disjointed. You'll see something for like 10-30 seconds, usually, of what's going on, and hopefully you'll get the idea, because they won't go into very much detail. It'll start suddenly, and stop suddenly, with a tiny sound clip played. It just...I don't know. It's like someone cut up a movie reel and then glued a bunch of pieces together to form a shorter version of the flick.

Sound: The music is forgettable background noise, the sound effects are dead average, and the voice acting is generic at the best of times, and awkward the rest of time. Even Michael McConnohie, who I've enjoyed in a few previous RPGs enough to look up his name, provides a rather flat performance--even when being generous in considering that, enjoyable voice or no, his distinguishing tone and inflections make him a one-trick pony, it sounds like a tired repeat. The one person who stood out at all was the character of Graham Cray, whose voice actor must have been watching Gargoyles when he was recording, because I could have sworn that it was Keith David (Goliath from Gargoyles) doing the voice. But yeah. In general, this is a terrible showing for the series.

Gameplay: Okay. I'm not going to talk about Sailing here. That gets its own rant. Because it's just too terrible not to be its own topic. Let's just say that the gameplay involved in moving from one place to another in Suikoden 4 is the most mind-numbing activity imaginable. If you can actually think of something that you would find less entertaining than navigating Suikoden 4's map, then congratulations, one of the following is true:

A. You have never played Suikoden 4
B. You must be more manically depressed than Marvin the Paranoid Android.

As for the rest of the time...well, RPG battles aren't usually very exciting or interesting, but Suikoden 4's is even more uninteresting than the usual Suikoden fare in that instead of the standard 6 characters to control in battle, you're brought down to 4, eliminating some of the strategy from it, even if said strategy in the series is usually pretty basic and simple. And the strategic battles? It's sort of like a mix of Chess and Battleship, only with all the strategy taken out of the Chess and all the fun taken out of the Battleship. You aren't even given any incentive to do anything more than a minimal job with it--whether you win with one badly damaged ship left, or don't get hit once, the result is the same. In the other Suikodens, you get rewards of cash and sometimes items if you do well in strategic battles, and of course you've got to be careful because doing poorly can mean the permanent deaths of some characters, but in this one? Nothing. No penalties or rewards, barely any strategy, and certainly no fun. And finally, the one-on-one battles are okay, I suppose, but they lack a lot of the oomph of the other games', and the choreography for them is rather bland.

Minigames: Suikoden 4 manages, against all odds, to have worse minigames than the rest of the series. The usual dice-in-bowl crap is back, they've got stupid and random top-spinning, and Ritapon...there is no justice in this world until God personally rains fire upon whoever thought up Ritapon.

Little Things That Bug Me: I know this isn't a big deal and all, but dear lord, the way the hero of the game runs. It's know that utterly stupid way that anime girls sometimes run, where their entire bodies sway left and right with every step while they hold their arms against their chest with their forearms folded up and outward, so that the whole process of simply running becomes more clumsy and laughable to see than watching a penguin walk uphill? It's like he's doing THAT. Konami invented a way for an anime GUY to run that way. You have to watch this idiot's ass sway against itself for the entire game as he not so much runs as stumbles quickly.

Characters: The Suikoden series has had some of the most thought-provoking, appealing, deep, and excellent characters in all of RPGs. But in this one...well, it's like the saying "Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink." 108 Stars of Destiny, 0 Good Characters. I mean, for God's sake, they made VIKI boring. If there were laws for how to handle plots and characters when making an RPG, that would be a fucking criminal act. There's not a single character or villain in here that you'll have anything beyond a very mild like or dislike for. They're just...there. Pointless, and there.

Plot: I'm not sure there's enough of one for me to even report on. What's there is meager. Some island country up north wants to expand southward (why, I can't imagine, the combined lands of the islands you visit in this game would barely be enough to make up a county in one of the other games' countries, and none of the islands have very much of note), and it uses a big, unimaginative super cannon and an exceptionally small navy to try to take over the southern island nations. It's up to your hero to lead a coalition of these southern islands, the result of which is a massive fleet of...4 ships all together, against these aggressors at a rather leisurely pace, with the aid of a drunken old hag whose brilliant strategies amount to using very obvious decoys and predictable pincer formations. I mean, I think the only people on the planet who care about this story less than the player does are probably the people who MADE the game. You'd get more satisfaction from a Save The Princess quest.

And while the overview of the plot is very boring, the details of it are either missing or nonsensical. Half the time, you don't know anything about how or why something is happening, and the game sure as hell doesn't seem to feel obligated to let you know. The other half of the time, the plot's moved along by events that just don't make sense. The hero's exile? He's banished for allegedly killing his commander without anyone even stopping to acknowledge his pleas of innocence. I mean, it's not just that they don't believe him (which is odd enough as it is, since the only "witness" is known to be unreliable and the proposed motives for the supposed murder don't make any sense). It's like they don't even HEAR him. It's like, "Hey, we've decided you're guilty. Don't expect a trial, or accusation, or anything like that. Just hit the road. Er, ocean." And then near the end of the game, there's this one character, Ramada? He's fooling around in the enemy base, see. And he gets shot through the chest by a large, pointy, fast-moving projectile which we later find out is also poisoned, see. And after he's been shot, your army begins to sail for the enemy base, and the old booze-swilling bag says it'll take 3 days to get there. So presumably 3 days later, your characters are inside, meet the villain who shot Ramada, and the villain lets loose another projectile. Ramada comes out of nowhere and gets himself shot in the chest AGAIN. While mentioning that it's poisoned. 3. Days. After getting shot the first time. If I were a villain, I'd be using a better poison, as this one apparently can't finish off a mortally wounded man over the course of 3 days.

Now, as much as that doesn't make sense, here's the kicker: after getting shot in the chest and suffering from poison for 3 days, then getting shot in the chest again and given a second dose of poison, Ramada apparently lives. Nice job on the story telling, S4.

At least the plot's short. If it weren't for the endless Sailing and the running around to get the 108 Stars of Destiny, this game would take about a third as long as it does to get done, because so few things happen, and all of them so quickly. Just another example of this thing being boring and terrible.

So yeah, there you go. Do I hate this game? Nah. Hate's reserved for genuinely loathsome games, horrible, excruciating shit like Wild Arms 4 or Final Fantasy 10-2. Would I ever suggest that any man or woman in his or her right mind, or even not in his or her right mind, play it? Fuck NO.

* Yes, I am aware that I'm an egotistical jerk. But the great thing about being an egotistical jerk is that I don't care if you like that or not, so phoo on you!