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Suikoden Tactics (PlayStation 2) artwork

Suikoden Tactics (PlayStation 2) review

"But donít start thinking that this is just your standard war game, because thatís the kind of thinking that gets your ass kicked. Suikoden Tactics has some surprises."

Before you even think about playing Suikoden Tactics, you need to understand a few things.

If youíre an RPG fan expecting some sort of grand, sweeping epic or a Suikoden fan expecting another chapter of searching for the 108 Stars of DestinyÖyouíre better off waiting for Suikoden V, because Suikoden Tactics has little to none of that.

You donít travel on foot and walk from town to town. You donít go into shops and walk into peopleís unlocked homes and search for the right person to trigger each event. Everything is handled with text screens; you select to go see the Blacksmith, you select to go buy armor, you select to get new spells from a Rune Master. The only time you see the game world is through cutscenes and fights; everything else is just left to your imagination. No exploration. No random battles. Cutscenes lead to fights, which lead to cutscenes, which lead to fights.

Suikoden Tactics is NOT an RPG.

It might bear the Suikoden name, but donít let that fool you, either: Besides the content, Suikoden Tactics doesnít have much in common with its big brothers. In the previous games, you would have spent the bulk of your time searching the lands, seeking out a host of heroes, 108 in total. All well rounded, all ready to fight by your side. If you played the previous games, you might recognize a few faces, even fight along with some of them, but theyíre never yours to go and seek: You meet them as the story progress, they join you whether you like it or not, and thatís that.

Suikoden Tactics is NOT a Suikoden game. Not in the truest sense, anyway.

Itís important that you know this because the back of this game does a pretty shitty job of explaining it; if you just saw this on the shelf and glanced at the back, youíd assume it was another Suikoden game, albeit one with a traditional strategy system thrown in. LikeÖumÖI did.

But thatís not the case; Suikoden Tactics may look the look, but it doesnít talk the talk or walk the walk. And since the story is just another crap-tale about a kid avenging his fatherís death and trying to save the world from disaster in the process, Suikoden Tactics is a strategy game that has nothing going for it besides its strategy.

Which is okay. As a pure strategy game, Suikoden Tactics passes the grade.

From the first look, thereís nothing here that strategy vets havenít seen before; you move each character around the battlefield on a grid system, taking turns based on their speed. Some characters attack head-on, slashes to the face. Some do their work from a short distance, hiding behind other characters and picking the enemy apart with arrows. Some even do their best work with spells, bringing down power from the heavens and punishing anything in a given areasÖeven their own allies, if you donít watch it. Every action gives you some experience, and when a character reaches 1000, he levels up.

But donít start thinking that this is just your standard war game, because thatís the kind of thinking that gets your ass kicked. Suikoden Tactics has some surprises.

While itís nothing new if youíre a Suikoden fan, the skill system throws some spice in the traditional strategy mix. Basically, thereís a list of different abilities you can equip to each hero, things that could sway the battle in and out of your favor. Skills for upping your critical hits, skills for giving you a chance at a counterattacks, skills for evasion; just about every parameter can be increased with the right skill, letting you customize your party in ways most games donít even come close to.

That customization can come in handy, too; your characters are bound to wind up taking blows for one another. Putting two heroes beside each other gives you the chance to let them mingle, chat a bit, coerce in mid-combat and raise their good will. And, while it all happens in the random, the better the terms theyíre on, the more chance theyíll step in to save their friends from death blows or join them to tack on some out-of-turn damage. Petty stuff it may seem, but hear me now and believe me later: Itíll save your ass.

Good will doesnít just have random effects, though; it also unlocks special attacks, team-up strikes. You position your units in just the right way. You anticipate your enemies; lure them into the blast area. And then, with your characters properly primed for maximum damage, you unleash and end-all attack, taking out them out in one glorious explosion, doing in five seconds what might have taken five minutes.

Powerful as good will can be, it isnít the only thing you can exploit here; thereís also an element system to be used. Just donít think itís as simple as the standard Rock/ Paper/ Scissors crap most games would pull out. Pokemon this ainít.

Using magic doesnít just hurt the enemy, it stains the battlefield; residual magic hangs around long after the blow is struck. Use lighting and the blast area fills with electricity, use fire and it fills with flames. Ground for ground, wind for wind, water for waterÖsimple in theory, tricky in action

Anything that steps into a magic infested areas is going to be subject to that magic. If the enemy is strong with that magic, it gives him a power boost and heals him a bit each turn. If heís weak to it, itíll sap his strength and his HP. And before you get all happy and think that you can abuse the system and set a bunch of elemental traps for the monsters, youíve got to keep in mind: Your heroes have elemental affinities too, just like the monsters.

Even a battle in the simplest stage turns into a think-tank, forcing you to consider each movement. You need to keep each characters element in mind, need to move him in ways that work around the harmful elements and put him on the advantage, need to make sure you donít wind up taking more damage than you absolutely have to. Not only do you have to worry about the effects of magic, but most stages have these little elementals floating around, creatures that never attack directly but change whatever area they pass into their given element. They can help you or hinder you, make the stage a healing ground or a deathtrap, and the tide of battle often hangs on killing them early or letting them roam free.

While the skills and the good will and the elements are far from being revolutionary, they do keep things interesting. They turn a standard strategic strut into a tactical terror, get you thinking in new ways; fighting, winning, and losing with added flavor. Buy it for what it looks like and chances are youíll be disappointed. But if you know whatís in store and you like what you hear, Suikoden Tactics is about as good as you'll get.

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Staff review by Zack Little (January 04, 2006)

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