Part 1: Captain Snowe
While there's a lot of complaints I can make about this game, I will not neglect the things it does right. The PAL version generously lets you pick one of five languages...
...as well as your display mode. Add to this the fact that it's actually a damn good PAL conversion - without any of the slowdown or black borders otherwise present even in big name releases, such as Final Fantasy X - and this is probably the best welcome I've ever seen from a video game.
Also on the subject of Shit Suikoden IV Gets Right, the game's intro isn't bad, either.
In fact, you should probably go watch it.
The tune is... different. I didn't like it much at first, but it grew on me.
There's also a bunch of things in here that won't make much sense until later on, in some cases so late that it's in a completely different game. Like, say, the relationship between these two people who are about to slaughter a bunch of faceless generic NPCS.
The pirate lady does have a tramp stamp, but I figure when you kick this much ass, you can get away with it.
We also get a preview of the rune cannons, the main feature of the game's large-scale battles. Rest assured, they won't look anywhere near this cool in the actual game.
No one will remember this woman by the time she becomes relevant, but you should probably try to remember the symbol here...
...because it has a distinct sense of Plot about it.
Another thing I can't fault this game for is the graphics. It tends to be quite pretty.
Unless you're using a guide, there's a good chance you'll play through this game without ever knowing what this scene is about, but for now, it's just another one of those things that will become relevant Much Later.
These, however, are people we'll run into mere moments after starting the game. As you can see, the military makes it easy to distinguish men from women by denying the latter proper pants.
And this is the boat we'll be using. I'm not sure about this filter, but the ocean looks quite nice from here.
(Oh, how looks can deceive.)
Each Suikoden introduces a new kind of animal people, commonly known as a "furry". Suikoden 1 had dogs, the second game birds, the third one had ducks, and Suikoden IV has... this.
Apparently they are "nekobolds"* in the Japanese version.
* Translator's note: "neko" means "cat"
To us, they're "nay-kobolds", which makes a certain amount of sense because they're from an island called Nay.
(I know a lot of people hate this name, but fuck those people; it's the cleverest translation we're going to get.)
I really like this sequence. It would have been easy to copy-paste the animation between all these characters, but instead, they tweaked them so they move slightly differently and out of sync, which makes them seem a lot more alive - and a lot more like they need the practice. Check out ponytail guy's sword in the middle front row there
Suikoden and headbands go together like... things that go together well. Do not question it.
And this is, despite attempts at getting rid of everything that is good about it, a Suikoden game.
These scenes contain voicing, so here's a video.
While I was just praising the graphics not five minutes ago, this is the one glaring exception. See how the water texture repeats?
Suikoden IV is a nice looking game in most ways, but this is what you'll be looking at for a damn big chunk of the game, and it gets old. It gets old extremely quickly.
Look at this guy. Can you tell how bored he is? He has been looking at this texture for hours, every day for most of his life.
Ladies and gentlemen: our protagonist.
Brunette: Get the captain!
Finding something other than the same twenty square meter of ocean repeated over and over is a cause for great celebration.
Nameless Blonde Guy comes running past, but our hero doesn't care because he has finally spotted the anomaly on Lake Repetitive and he is staring the fuck out of it.
This is Snowe Vingerhut. On this ship staffed entirely by trainees, he's the closest thing we have to a captain. Protagonist is quite envious. Not of the position, mind you, but the pauldrons. Maybe a few promotions down the line, we will have some too.
And the game throws us right into our first "war" battle.
Now this is supposed to be the tutorial fight, but I've played this game before and don't need it, and if you're reading this, you're hopefully not playing it at all and as such have no need for it either. To be more succinct: fuck that noise.
I will be putting this guy's name up for a vote at the end of the update, but for now, deal with it.
We could do what they tell us to, but this battle is completely pointless, so...
What am I doing? Making you look bad in front of your superiors, of course!
I'll go over this in more detail when we get into a fight that actually matters. For now, we are completely fucked, so we might as well give up.
Damn it... We lost...
Shit happens. vv
There is a crash.
This scene plays out exactly the same no matter how we do in the tutorial battle. Apparently one of the other two ships snuck up on us and rammed us while we were wasting time on the lone vessel we were (supposed to be) fighting...
We're in trouble! They're starting to board us!
So they are!
With that, they throw us straight into our first normal battle. For a given value of "normal", since it consists of us flailing uselessly at a couple of high level characters with more health than we could ever hope to shave off in the few rounds they give us before it ends.
This is the second half of the How To Play Suikoden IV tutorial, and as before, I don't need it and neither do you. If you're really interested, it's included in the video, but there really isn't anything interesting going on at the moment, so I wouldn't bother.
Instead of dwelling on that, we'll take a look at our characters, the nameless hero and Snowe.
The protagonist, much like his predecessors, is a good all-rounder, while Snowe is an excellent physical attacker with bad magic. He also has absolutely atrocious luck, but it's understandable since I don't think there's anything that tanks that stat quite as much as "being the protagonist's childhood friend in a Suikoden game".
The tables show how much they gain for each stat when they level up - for example, the protagonist gets two or three points of strength per level for the first 20 levels, then one or two for the next 40 - and where they're likely to end up. The Ending stat is a target, not an average, so while stat gains are random, if we for some reason actually cared to grind to level 99 (hint: unlikely) we should be seeing stats very close to the listed ones. /
There are also different growth rates, but fuck getting into that; the endgame stats should be enough to judge by. For the record, an ending stat of 60 is the lowest we're going to see, and 219 is the highest.
Snowe sounds like he thinks he fucked up somewhere, but I'm not sure what they expect me to do against three ships with a boatload of trainees, a single cannon and a distinct lack of anything resembling advantageous terrain.
Glen: How easily we boarded you, Captain Snowe!
Had this been a real battle, I could have approached you from behind while you weren't looking and...
(Actually, I probably could take three ships if this tub had more slots for rune cannons, but that's only because of how Suikoden IV's large-scale battle system works.)
Never mind the fact that it was my fault we lost the battle, Snowe covers for me and takes the blame like a bro.
Good. Hey! You, you still seem to be up for more action. How about a little one-on-one?
Glen is kind of a dick. He wastes no opportunity to tell Snowe he's doing everything wrong, but Hey! You is apparently the teacher's pet. Which is good, because it means I get a chance to kick his ass!
Katarina: Hey! You, this will be a good opportunity for you to practice your fighting.
Oh, you are going to regret picking a fight with me. I'm the protagonist, you know.
Watch me beat Glen to a pulp.
The duels are largely unchanged from earlier games. You have a choice of Attack, Guard and Special, where Attack beats Guard (though barely, dealing very minor damage), Guard beats Special (you avoid the enemy's wild swing and counter it), and Special beats Attack (you hit them first and they forget to attack or something, I don't know, don't ask me how this works).
The only thing that's different is that you now have a once-per-duel use of "full power", which can be applied to any move you make to cause it to deal double damage. This has no real strategic use; it just causes your opponent's health to drop slightly faster.
First, I will strike you with all my might!
So much for going easy on us at first!
Before every round, the enemy gives you a line which hints at their next move. Since Glen just said he'll hit us hard, there's a pretty good chance he's going to use "special."
The prediction is right on the money and Glen gets a face full of sword. I don't know if they're supposed to be using blunt blades here or something, but that has to hurt, no matter what.
Let's see how well you can wield that sword.
This is him defending. Each move has a few different dialogue options, but all of them tend to be easy to figure out. We chip off a few points of health with a regular attack...
Now it's my turn!
This is probably the only line you'll have a chance of misinterpreting. It could conceivably mean either attack or special.
It means Attack.
That's what you get.
Fools who have got their shit utterly ruined by a mute teenage boy: I
(I do not actually cut his head off. That would be impolite. Also, probably difficult because my sword is still level 1.)
Commander, the graduation mock battle is wrapping up. After this, we'll return for the graduation speech. And later tonight, there will be the traditional "Knight Initiation Festival."
Quotation marks! Must be semi-important.
(If it were really important, they'd have used [ brackets ].)
Understood. Let's return to our posts. Snowe, I'm counting on you for tonight's "Kindling Ritual." It's an important rite for everyone.
Yes, sir. As a representative of the Gaien Marines Academy graduates, I shall do my best to conduct myself with grace.
And that's it. We're given control of Hey! You on the ship's deck with a handful of people to talk to. Most of them are uninteresting, but...
Did you know the armor that official Knights wear is different from ours and can't be taken off easily? They say it shows their resolve and if it ever comes down to it, their lives are with the sea...
...this stands out as some of the dumbest shit I've heard all week. Hey! You is seriously considering requesting a transfer to a less retarded company, but decides to hold off in case he gets saddled with something even worse, like getting a mysterious soul-sucking artefact of doom attached to his body or something.
There is also a cabin on the ship with a save spot inside. It's not important, but it's there, in case you get really scared at the thought of facing Glen by yourself.
(You shouldn't be, since much like the naval battle before it, the game continues even if you lose - though you're going to have to make an effort to see it.)
Tal: Whew... I'm hungry... I say we dine like kings tonight!
Most of the people below are generic, but here's some people easily recognizable from the intro - our first companions, in fact.
Tal and Jewel are rather laid-back - especially Tal, who makes no secret of the fact that he'd rather be a fisherman and take it easy all day.
Keneth is probably the smartest and most professional out of the lot, probably to compensate for the missing N in his name.
Really? Isn't it still pretty far off?
No... I've watched this sea every time I've passed by here. No doubt about it, it'll come into sight.
There's a slight pause, and:
Wow... It seems you'd make a better scholar than Knight, Keneth.
They show the ship sliding along, but...
...we can't see anything but ocean yet.
Snowe, are you worried?
Worried? What are you talking about? I've been waiting all my life for this! Finally, the time has come for my abilities to serve Gaien...
Given your position and luck score, I wouldn't make any plans for the future.
We regain control, but there's really no point to it; we just have to talk to these guys again to continue.
Hey, do you know where Paula is?
She wasn't at her usual spot? ...Come to think of it, I haven't seen her in a while.
Again? Really, whatever an elf thinks is beyond me. I guess she likes being a loner. Well, today is our last day...
Elves, man. Fucking elves. I was rather disappointed to find that even in the middle of the goddamn ocean, I still couldn't find a way to escape those pointy-eared bastards.
Oh yeah! Snowe, you'd better nail today's "Kindling Ritual"! After all, you're representing us.
Oh, that... Don't worry. I'll make the ritual something you can all be proud of.
Ooh! How inspiring, Snowe!
...I wish you wouldn't make fun of me.
Sorry about that. Honestly, that's how I feel. Don't get mad.
Prepare to disembark! Once you are safely ashore, please assemble in the training hall. Commander Glen has a graduation speech for you, so don't be late. Understood?
Yes, ma'am. Understood.
Getting ready, ma'am. But man, I'm hungry... I'm gonna have to stuff myself tonight.
We pan up the ship's mast...
...just in time to see Paula getting mauled by birds
Paula is the last member of our little group, and there's not much to say about her. She's quiet, and she's an elf. A pro and a con, I suppose.
Anyway, we're heading into port, and I'm going to recommend watching the video.
(More lensflare. Always the lensflare.)
The music playing here is quite nice, I think.
The visuals aren't too shabby either. This neat old fort is where we live.
Eh. It's not as if they're going to start without us or anything.
Hahaha... Thank you. You guys keep un the hard work, too.
Snowe is pretty chill.
There's not much of interest here, though, so we might as well go do what we're supposed to. But if we're going to listen to one of Glen's speeches, I'm going to need a small detour first.
Mmm. Can't get through his rants without a small snack.
(Also, there's a Water Orb in here but Hey! You can't eat it so he doesn't particularly care.)
The blue thing on the left is a save crystal, and speaking of which, I'm going to cut it here so I don't have to replay too much of this after I rename the hero.
So: Name this guy.
We actually have quite a bit of space, ten whole characters, so have fun with that.