Set over 150 years before the events of the firstSuikoden, Suikoden IV takes place in the ocean far south of the Scarlet Moon Empire, revolving around the islands that would come to be known as the Island Nations following the events of this game. It tells the tale of Lazlo, a recent graduate of the Gaien Marine Knights Academy on the nation's island colony of Razril. He gets snared in a deadly chain of events involving the Rune of Punishment, one of the most dangerous of the 27 True Runes, and winds up wrongfully accused of murder and exiled. From there, he is drawn into the resistance movement as the islands are attacked by the aggressive Kooluk Empire.Visit the character sheet here!
All There in the Manual: A lot of important details about the plot only come out if the player makes sure to talk to everyone as much as possible, and even then, a great deal was left out. Enter the sequel...
To go into detail, as a True Rune, it desperately wants its massive power to be used. It will do its best to put the host in situations where the power has to be used. And it has the power of pure destruction. But it gets worse. The Rune of Punishment also drains the life force of its host. For in-battle usage, that means it drains some of Lazlo's HP every time one of its spells is cast. For the wider-scale plot-based uses, he tends to be put into a coma for a while. And eventually, it'll drain enough that the host dies. The Rune of Punishment does halt the aging process like other True Runes, but its previous hosts have never lived long enough for that to matter. In the good ending, Lazlo is able to get the Rune to switch from its "judgment" phase to its "forgiveness" phase, allowing him to survive. In his Suikoden Tactics guest appearance, it's revealed that this makes the Rune of Punishment completely broken, it now heals him with every use instead of draining him.
Also used in the final dungeon, when Eleanor insists that she and Lino lead a party into El-Eal to take out Cray. Lino is optional to take; refusing Eleanor prompts her to lock Lazlo in his bedroom until after her events are played out.
Can't Drop the Hero: Averted in the first stage of the final dungeon, where, although Eleanor is directly controlled on the field, your party can be anyone else from the army.
Cat Girl: Played with by Noah, who has cat ears and huge cat paws... which may or may not be a headband and gloves, though she insists she's a Nay-Kobold.
Given that she clearly doesn't look anything like a Nay-Kobold, clearly she's an eccentric human girl who wants to be a catgirl.
She also explicitly states when you recruit her you're an idiot for believing she is a Nay-Kobold (even though you have to have the Idiot Ball to recruit her...)
Clingy MacGuffin: The Rune of Punishment, as is typical of a True Rune, is very hard to get rid of. Graham Cray managed to do it in the past, but that ended badly.
Cool Ship: Your headquarters. A massive, multi-leveled ship with more than enough space to give most of your important Stars individual rooms, as well as hold a roomy lounge/inn/bar where all your MiniGames go, Suikoden's equivalent to a strip mall, a blacksmith, two hot-spring style baths, a training hall, a specially designed room for the mermaids...
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: One feature (for some reason only available in a New Game+) is the ability to switch your onscreen character to someone besides the hero. If you go into first person mode with a variety of different people, you'll notice that this isn't just cosmetic; the perspective actually changes to match the height of the character. It's a surprising amount of effort for a feature most players will never notice.
Mr. Fanservice: Lazlo, surprisingly, has quite a few girls giggling over him. There's Rita, Rene and Noah, and then there's his self-appointed bodyguards Millay, Gretchen and Helga.
And when asked what she thinks of Lazlo, Millay apparently has some Bodyguard Crush.
Cute Kitten: The Nay-Kobolds—feline counterparts to the usual canine Kobolds.
Evil Plan: It seems like the Cray Trading Company wants to take over the Islands but the Big Bad has something else in mind. Graham Cray orchestrated the entire Kooluk invasion in order to get his hands on the Rune of Punishment again. He's notably surprised and upset when the Rune sticks with Lazlo at the end of the game.
Fantastic Racism: Goes both ways between the human and elven natives of Na-Nal. Both sides claim the island belongs to them; the Kooluk's entry into the equation just makes things more complicated.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: See Mass Teleportation. Can you imagine how broken it would be in the middle of a naval battle to suddenly teleport your ships behind the enemy and out of their guns' line of fire? In out-of-battle use of Viki's teleportation, it's made very clear that this is well within her ability, yet nobody ever thinks of it.
Guide Dang It: The Deserted Island where your characters end up near the beginning of the game is home to two recruitable characters later on. Good luck finding it again without help. Even the official guide doesn't say where it is! It's near the exact center of the map, northwest of Mordo Island.
Heel Realization: Snowe's takes the bulk of the game to come about; he appears to honestly think he's doing the right thing until he's greeted by an angry mob, and even then, he thinks he's just following Lazlo's lead when he gets his own band of pirates.
Intrepid Merchant: Chiepoo. He even attempts to sell Lazlo something during a bath once.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The bare bones of the plot are presented to the player, yet plenty of important details require careful hunting, grilling every NPC, receiving and reading various notes in the comment box, tracking down Old Books to read...
In fact, it's possible that, unless you're previously informed, you won't even know the game is set before the original Suikoden until you come across Ted. Even then you might not know that it's 150 years before...
Mass Teleportation: Viki in other games of the series is used only to teleport your active party around. This time, when she teleports you, she brings the whole fleet with her. A fleet that always includes one huge battleship and up to four smaller ships depending on how well you perform in the naval battles. She does this an unlimited amount of times, with no MP cost.
Meganekko: Rene, a treasure hunter who's just in it for the joy of discovery and lets you keep any treasures you find during her Mini-Game.
Mini-Game: A few, the most notable being Mahjongg Rita-pon.
In case you're wondering, a fall where he hurts his arm causes the character to abandon the ship he is commanding, along with the crew, who are all his friends, to a bloodthirsty, unstoppable pirate.
Though it's rather likely that the character in question, who had been promoted beyond his competence due to political connections and had never seen serious combat before, simply panicked and used the arm as an excuse.
The Quisling: Snowe, who trades vital information, the dissolution of Razril's chapter of the Knights of Gaien, and the use of their island as a hub for the Kooluk's ongoing invasion in exchange for Razril's safety. In exchange, the Kooluk give him a false title and duties, distracting him from how Razril suffers under their control... leading to his immense surprise when the citizens turn on him.
Another example is the chief of Na-Nal, who makes his own alliance with the Kooluk and openly mocks Lazlo and Lino for trying to fight back. It doesn't end well.
Random Encounters: Oh very much so. The rate's just a liiiittle bit high in this incarnation, and it hurts.
Fortunately, you get Viki later on to the point that you can just use her warping abilities. Except for those few times when she won't let you teleport due to story reasons.
Rebellious Princess: Flare, though her rebellion is aimed towards the enemy forces rather than her father.
Millay is a straighter example, though not royalty. Her parents tried to force her into an Arranged Marriage with Middleport's heir—who's twice her age — and when she fled, the local lord sent his Mooks after her. Ironically, Schtoltenheim Reinbach III didn't even know about said arrangements until he helps Lazlo save her, and seems rather horrified by the thought himself.
Start of Darkness: Graham Cray has a surprisingly tragic one: He had the Rune of Punishment once, and cut off his hand to escape the curse—then it jumped to his son. Then his village was attacked by his own superiors in the Scarlet Moon Empire, and his son died using the rune to stop them.
Stripperific: Jeane's outfit this time around is... well. There was a joke theory in fandom that, since she was steadily losing clothes in each game, IV's position on the timeline meant we'd see her in full heavy robes. Didn't happen.
Xanatos Gambit: Happens on Na-Nal. After you injure a few Kooluk soldiers while trying to liberate Na-Nal, their Chief reveals he sold the island out, mocks you for fighting, then forces you to steal an elven remedy from the local Hidden Elf Village, just to piss them off, rub your team's noses in your 'helplessness', and suck up to the Kooluk by helping them heal their men. However, the elven elder predicted he'd do this, and replaced the remedy with poison—so the chief accidentally kills the injured soldiers, and the enraged Kooluk start massacring civilians left and right.
In short the planner is The elven elder. If the humans don't bother them then great, but if they do all they'll get is poison for the invaders.