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Suikoden III (PlayStation 2) artwork

Suikoden III (PlayStation 2) review

"Minor battles are boring and tedious — winding up as nothing more than bland interludes between plot points. One minute, I’d be watching treaties get broken and villages get torched — the next, I’d be battling bunnies, spiders and beetles. And this goes on for the entire game. Suikoden III’s story was so vast and enthralling to me that the game’s random battles seemed more of a nuisance than a necessity."

Of all the role-playing games I’ve ever conquered, it’s safe to say that Suikoden III boasts the greatest plot I’ve ever seen captured on a console. By far.

From the minute I starting playing, I found myself enthralled with a story of diverse races of people (and demihumans) attempting to overcome long-standing prejudices, unite and defeat a force quite capable of eternally ending all their petty squabbles. On the surface, that might sound like one of a countless number of generic plots, recycled and rehashed for the PS2, but the way Konami carefully crafts each event makes it something special.

The player doesn’t just get to see things unfold from one perspective — they play through multiple sides of the story thanks to the game’s “Trinity System”. Here, three characters, representing different factions, get individually controlled by the player, who gets to see key events from multiple perspectives. Each scenario is divided into three chapters, which allows one to go back-and-forth between those characters.

Chris, the lone female of the trinity, is the captain of the Zexan Knights, a noble bunch determined to protect their people from the “savages” that populate the Grasslands. Hugo is the young, decidedly “non-savage” son of a Grassland chief. Geddoe, a mercenary in the employ of a powerful nation, is seeking information on the whereabouts of a legendary hero. Optionally, players may also go through a scenario featuring Thomas, a well-meaning (but clueless) young man attempting to make a dilapidated castle prosperous — but the bulk of the game’s early going revolves around Chris, Hugo and Geddoe. It is up to players to determine who they relate to the most, because after those preliminary scenarios, a choice will have to be made to determine which one takes command of the others.

While Geddoe’s scenario had its moments (most relating to the hilarious exchanges between members of his grizzled band of mercenaries), in my eyes, it took a back seat to the exploits of Chris and Hugo. The long-standing enmity between the Zexans and Grasslanders provide some of the best moments of Suikoden III’s early stages. Since the player sees these characters through the eyes of each individual protagonist, it’s not uncommon for people that seemed heroic during one scenario to be cast in a different light during another.

Perhaps the best example of this is illustrated during the first chapter of Hugo’s adventure. Sent to deliver a message to the Zexan Council, he encounters Chris and her knights along the way. One, an archer named Roland, contemptuously brushes Hugo and his friends out of their path and delivers an ominous warning, hinting that the lad could easily wind up dead if he even thinks about stepping out of line. However, while playing as Chris, the closest thing to a negative character trait shown by Roland is a certain degree of arrogance directed toward the Grassland tribes — and he is far from the only character to outwardly display negative feelings toward adversaries (the Grasslanders not-so-affectionately refer to the Zexans as “ironheads”).

Like previous Suikoden games, this one includes the 108 Stars of Destiny concept, allowing players to recruit a vast army of characters, the majority of whom can enter battle. Amazingly, a good number of these characters have some sort of significance to the plot. Only a handful show any noticeable development during the course of the game, but very few seem like they were created only to add to that triple-digit total. However, thanks to certain diversions, such as a playhouse, even those less-important characters can at least provide a few good laughs as they utterly mangle their lines in a series of performances.

When beautiful graphics and spell animations are added to the mix, as well as some decent (if decidedly unexceptional) music, it would seem like Suikoden III is as good of a role-playing game as today's technology is capable of manufacturing. Unfortunately, the designers couldn’t create gameplay good enough to match the story.

Minor battles are boring and tedious — winding up as nothing more than bland interludes between plot points. One minute, I’d be watching treaties get broken and villages get torched — the next, I’d be battling bunnies, spiders and beetles. And this goes on for the entire game. Suikoden III’s story was so vast and enthralling to me that the game’s random battles seemed more of a nuisance than a necessity.

Then, when it came to boss battles, it seemed the story got TOO all-encompassing. A high percentage of this game’s key fights were either battles I was supposed to lose or ones I potentially could win.....if everything went well and I got a lucky break or two. While this certainly was a good way to establish the villains as credible threats, all these game-mandated defeats didn’t exactly make me feel all that heroic.

To be honest, Suikoden III is a pretty mediocre game that is carried by an excellent plot. My attention was focused solely upon my television as each new storyline development took place, as I hoped to unravel the mystery behind a particularly cryptic event I’d just seen. When people stopped talking and I had to venture into a forest or cave, I found my attention start to wander as I slogged through bland fights, praying something interesting would happen again.

I usually prefer my RPGs to be heavy on the gameplay and light on the storytelling. With Suikoden III, the story was so much better than the actual game that, at times, I looked at battles as an unwelcome intrusion keeping me from finding out what happened next. This might not be a game for RPG purists, but I found it to be very entertaining — even if most battles were as stale as the story was gripping.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 06, 2006)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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