Suikoden (PlayStation) review
"No, this game does not span multiple discs. No, the graphics arenít 3-D. Ok, ok, the box art is horrible. And yes, Iím not exactly sure how to pronounce the name either. However, none of those things mean that Suikoden is a bad game. Suikoden is actually a delightful little gem that never exactly reached a wide audience. Hidden beneath the horrible box art and crude graphics is an admirable RPG with plenty of heart and emotion, not to mention enough characters to sink a battleship..."
No, this game does not span multiple discs. No, the graphics arenít 3-D. Ok, ok, the box art is horrible. And yes, Iím not exactly sure how to pronounce the name either. However, none of those things mean that Suikoden is a bad game. Suikoden is actually a delightful little gem that never exactly reached a wide audience. Hidden beneath the horrible box art and crude graphics is an admirable RPG with plenty of heart and emotion, not to mention enough characters to sink a battleship. This game is a welcome reminder that RPGs donít need to span multiple discs and contain scene after scene of FMV to tell a great story.
Suikoden focuses on the young man named McDohl. Since he is the son of one of the most respected commanders in the empire, McDohl has a big pair of shoes he has to fill. The emperor himself is looking forward for the chance to see him in action, so he assigns our hero and his friends on a few basic missions to test their skills. All goes well until McDohl and his posse is wrongfully branded as traitors by the empire. Eventually our heroes realize how corrupt the monarchy is and decide to overthrow it by joining the Liberation Army, and recruiting up to 108 characters. French Revolution allusions aside, the plot is easy to follow but still remains effective. Some of the scenes contain plenty of drama, tackling such weighty issues such as redemption, revenge and ultimately forgiveness.
The plot reminded me more of an epic movie than a traditional RPG game. While there are no cinema-quality cutscenes, the engaging scenes and strength of the characters kept things consistently interesting. The only downer I can think of is the occasionally spotty translation issues, which fortunately donít hinder the fun as much as it could have. At least the plot never drags on during its 20-hour entirety, which is rare considering most recent RPGs have had me dozing off towards the end.
With 108 characters, it can be hard to imagine that any of them can have depth or personality. Fortunately Suikoden mostly succeeds in sidestepping this little problem. Obviously some characters are much more fleshed out than others, but most characters have an interesting background story and personality. A couple characters are unexciting redundant, but most are humorous and engaging.
The 108 characters is definitely the most rewarding part of the game because each person you recruit adds to you base of operations. Your base starts off as nothing more but an old abandoned castle, but the further you progress in the game, the more impressive it becomes. Most of the characters you recruit actually add something to your base of operations, such as setting up shop, creating a big tub your party can chill in (donít ask) and some even let you play minigames, which is the best way to earn cash.. A few of the characters just sit on their lazy bums and contribute nothing, but the more populated your castle is, the more impressive it becomes.
Konami proudly advertises 3 different types of battles, and two of them are a blast to play. The first type of battle is the traditional turn-based battles which allow parties of up to 6 characters at a time. While the battles seem a bit simple, a smidgen of strategy is involved. Since there is a front and back row of your party, some characters can only attack if they are in the front row of your party. Choosing people capable of long range attacks are necessary. Also certain characters can perform a powerful ďuniteĒ attack if they are fighting alongside one of their buddies. Choosing which characters to bring into battle requires a bit of thought, something lacking from many other RPGs. On the downside, having to use a certain character you neglected throughout the game is a drag. It costs a fortune to buy armor and upgrade the weapons of a low-level weakling. Fortunately leveling up only takes a few battles for characters that are a bit behind the others.
Random encounters still persist, even in such a great game as this. Random encounters usually prevent me from enjoying a game as much as I should, which is unfortunate. Luckily the battles in Suikoden move blisteringly fast and never get to the point of being an annoyance. Even boss battles go along quickly while still being challenging.
The 2nd type of battle is the 1 on 1 duel that occurs a few times throughout Suikoden. Donít expect the exciting duels you have seen on movies to be emulating into Suikoden. The duels are nothing more then an awkward version of rock, paper, scissors. The person you are facing then says something like ďFeel my swordĒ or ďStrike me downĒ and then you have to choose whether to block, attack or pull of a desperate attack. Sometimes the duels just boil down to being lucky. Overall the duels are bit dull, but since theyíre used sparingly so they usually end up being mildly entertaining.
Easily the most entertaining type of battle is the full-scale wars. While this is based on rock, paper, scissors like the duels, itís a lot more engaging. Maybe itís just something I have for big, epic battles. Seeing a hundred little guys screaming and rushing towards the opposing army always bring a smile to my face.
The only real gameplay flaw is the tedious inventory system. Each character can only hold a certain amount of items, and they can only equip the items they are holding. This causes some unneeded frustration when it comes to equipping your party. Luckily, you can unequip people who arenít in your party with relative ease.
If graphics are your bag, then sadly youíll have to stay away from Suikoden. I have seen superior graphics in SNES games then I have here. The game is hand drawn, with barely any ď3DĒ things at all, which of course isnít the problem. The problem is the pixelization. The characters are the worst offenders of this and to top if off they lack decent animation. For the most part, there is barely any animation to begin with. Not even streams or rivers are animated. Most of the characters have a little portrait of themselves that appears whenever they speak. The portraits are well drawn, but itís hard to discern a few charactersí gender. Iím still not sure whether a few characters are male or female. How confusing.
The music fares much better than the graphics, though itís not perfect. On one hand the music is often stirring and memorable. The ďsadĒ theme is by far one of the most emotive songs I have ever heard in a game. On the other hand, the normal battles music could have used some more punch because it sounds like it is in mono. Also the music for the full-scale wars sounds awfully choppy and disjointed. At first I thought the disc was skipping, but it turns out this is how it is supposed to sound. Sound effects are kept to a bare minimum. Most of the sounds are only heard during the battles, and even those few sounds are a bit peculiar. When you hit a bad guy with your weapon, it sounds like someone smacking jello. Now Iím no expert on sound, but when you hit someone in armor it isnít supposed to sound like jello being wailed with a stick. In general the music is good enough, but sound effects mostly mediocre, at best.
Beauty is only skin deep, and the same can be said about ugliness. Beneath the ugliness of the visuals and box art is a beautiful game that I just want to hold all night and caress and...I mean it has a great plot. The battles move fast, so not a lot of time is spent beating up birds and raccoons, and more time is spent on advancing the plot. Since there are 108 people to recruit, the replay value is strong for an RPG game. Suikoden is a definite purchase for RPG fans who think true beauty is on the inside.
Community review by djskittles (February 28, 2005)
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