Eight years ago, Konami started what would become a series that, today, has a rather large cult following. That series was indeed Suikoden; and Konami is set to release the fourth chapter, Suikoden IV next week.
The game opens at sea, 150 years before the events in the original Suikoden. Snowe Vingerhut and the hero, who is named by the player, are receiving final Oceanic battle combat lessons from commanders Glen and Katarina. This will not only serve as a means of introducing characters, but also will give players the chance to get used to the battle interface. The story then follows Snowe and the hero back to their hometown of Razril as they prepare to graduate and become full-fledged Gaien Marine knights. Before the graduation, Glen gives a speech in hopes of giving inspiration while also explaining why they have pushed the recruits so hard. Seven years ago, Glen led a team of knights against Razril's sworn enemy state of Kooluk and were totally decimated while Troy, the Kooluk Fleet Commander, was never even injured. Glen, since that time, has sworn to push all knights to extreme levels to make sure that they are prepared the next time.
A big portion of exploration time is spent traversing the open seas. Players are given a boat, a map, and a compass to help them along in their journey. Waypoints may also be set to allow for the use of an auto-pilot, creating an easier way to travel the world. For those who dislike the default overhead view, players will be given the option of three different camera angles in which to view the game. While on the boat, players may drop anchor so that they may save, talk with other shipmates, or just explore if they would like.
Battles take place during random encounters which occur at a frequency just higher than that of Suikoden III. Random battles while on a boat are full naval battles between the player's fleet and the enemies. Players must allocate ships and place men to run the ships. Each battle is turn-based, but requires strategy due to the fact that each turn the player must keep an eye on movement points, character attributes, and the range of the rune cannons. The larger the army the player commands, the less maneuveribility they have to move the ships around on the grid. However, having a smaller army gives the player more movement points to move around. This creates a highly strategic battle system for players to utilize. Losing a battle can occur if the player's underlings are all killed by a cannon attack or by losing a duel once being boarded.
The team-based two-player attacks from Suikoden III have been replaced by a basic turn-based battle system where players can attack, bribe, and cast rune spells. There is a combination attack where two players can attack together to create one special attack. This combo attack can level up independently of characters. Weapon upgrades will not only show up physically when you attack, but each weapon will also have a different appearance, which is a first for the series. Players will be able to enlist the aid of up to four party members in battle, as well as one additional character for support.
Konami has raised production values this time around and it shows with the added progressive scan support as well as voice-overs for characters during cutscenes. Graphics-wise, the same basic game engine that was utilized in Silent Hill 4 was also used in Suikoden IV, though it is more realistic in appearance and includes a larger attention to detail.
The camera can be controlled using the right analog stick and if the player so chooses, the game may also be played in first person perspective. To add to the customization of being able to choose the hero's name, the player also has the choice of what type of voice the hero will have in-game.
Konami seems to have made quite a few changes to the game in hopes of creating a new look for the series to build on. There's only one way to find out if everything that they have done will work out in the end, and that is to purchase the game when it's released in North America on January 11.