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Suikoden (PlayStation) artwork

Suikoden (PlayStation) review

"Once upon a time, when I first bought a Playstation, one of the initial games I purchased was a Konami role-playing game by the name of Suikoden. At first glance, spending money on this game seemed to be a bit of an error in judgement. The graphics looked more suited to a game on the Super Nintendo. More damning was that the plot seemed to be anything but original, as it revolved around a young man beginning his service under the local emperor....only to find out that corruption’s afoot! Yes, th..."

Once upon a time, when I first bought a Playstation, one of the initial games I purchased was a Konami role-playing game by the name of Suikoden. At first glance, spending money on this game seemed to be a bit of an error in judgement. The graphics looked more suited to a game on the Super Nintendo. More damning was that the plot seemed to be anything but original, as it revolved around a young man beginning his service under the local emperor....only to find out that corruption’s afoot! Yes, that was a truly shocking development to get things underway — and it was made worse because the sleazy lackey you’re taking orders from has the stupid name of Crazy (well, it’s spelled “Kraze”, but it’s not exactly a giant leap of faith to make that connection).

So, being the amazing judge of talent that I am, I tossed this disc into my closet and beat Final Fantasy VII. Shortly afterward, boredom crept over me, so I put Suikoden back into my system, determined to give this supposedly lame attempt at entertainment another chance.

So much for me being an amazing judge of talent. Solely because of a lackluster opening and primitive graphics, I put off playing one hell of a game for far too long. It’s sort of amazing how a game that can take a mere 20-25 hours to complete can have such an immense storyline with a number of compelling characters and no shortage of heartstopping dramatic moments.

After realizing how corrupt his empire is, our brave hero doesn’t just wait on the fringes for his chances to strike. As circumstances have it, he’s forced to flee Gregminster (the main city of the Empire) and sneak across the border with the help of Victor, a somewhat disreputable chap you encounter while on the run.

Victor leads you to Odessa, the leader of a resistance group, but bad stuff goes down and you soon are back on the run — a situation that’s not resolved until you liberate an abandoned castle from a monster infestation.

Now, you finally have a home base of your own. The intrigue really picks up now, as you start to assert yourself as a rival to Emperor Barbarossa by taking out his generals one by one. Complicating matters, though, is that your father is one of those generals — and his loyalty is to Barbarossa! As things progress, you start to realize that Barbarossa and some of his generals may be controlled by far darker forces than mere human greed and ambition — a revelation that sets the stage for an explosive climax.

Of course, to reach that climax, you’ll have to gain supporters — just like any upstart usurper would. By traveling through towns, castles and dungeons, you’ll run into dozens of characters who have an interest in joining your revolution. Some do so willingly, while others require you to meet their conditions. While only a few of these characters actually have any sort of real plot significance (and even fewer will likely spend more than a few moments in your active party), a wise hero collects as many as humanly possible. You see, these “Stars of Destiny” have one very important purpose....

Whenever you are called upon to besiege an enemy stronghold, an enormous battle begins. Now, this isn’t one of those standard, generic RPG battles you run into 99 percent of the time in Suikoden — this is a massive army-against-army assault with thousands upon thousands of lives on the line.

The number of characters you’ve collected determines the size of your army for these confrontations and the larger that force is, the more damage a successful attack will perform. Now, don’t get the idea that these battles are some huge exercise in tactics and strategy because they aren’t. Rather, they are fast-paced games of what amounts to “rock, paper, scissors”, only with military units. While these fights can be easy to win, anytime you lose a turn, there is a chance that a non-essential character will die — a truly undesirable consequence. To help prevent that from happening, as you collect the ninja and thief characters, you can have them sneak behind enemy lines and tell you what the enemy is planning, allowing you to prepare the proper attack and really give them a sound thrashing.

To add even more variety to battles, the occasional duel is thrown in to spice things up. These one-on-one encounters have much in common with the army battles, as you have to pick when to attack, defend or let loose with a devastating deathblow. Opponents deliver brief snippets of dialogue each turn, which serve as (vague) clues as to their intention. With some of these battles coming at key plot points, Suikoden truly carries an epic aura.

And that is amazing, as this game is very short by RPG standards. Suikoden does keep things moving at a very brisk pace, though, so you’ll be running from place to place with next to no need to level up. It only takes 1,000 experience points to gain a new level, but as you get stronger, each area’s enemies give fewer points until it is pure foolishness to harvest them — forcing you to move on to the next region. While you have to equip your fighters with armor, each comes with the only weapon he or she will ever need. All you have to do is periodically visit a blacksmith for improvement purposes.

Without having to power-level or constantly customize characters, you’re free to zip through the game and experience the story in all its glory. And it’s a great tale of intrigue, betrayal, sadness and triumph. While there is a fair share of Dungeons and Dragons fantasy-land stuff here (such as a villainous vampire and a den of noble dragonriders), the entire essence of this game revolves around your band of upstart revolutionaries and their attempts to overthrow a once great, but now corrupt, empire.

Sadly, not even this wonderful story can hide the fact that Suikoden does have its fair share of flaws, with the most noticeable revolving around the “108 Star” system. Of those 108 characters, a number of them either serve as shopkeepers for your castle or run minigames, but roughly 70 of them can be brought into battle. The problem is that you have no reason to use most of these folks. Your standard exploration party consists of no more than six people and you can generally count on many of those spots being auto-filled by the game’s handful of major players. Usually, you only have a say in two or three of those spots — a factor that tends to relegate most of those characters to the junk pile very quickly.

To make matters worse, a large number of those lesser lights are worthless in battle. Recruiting chefs might be interesting, but watching them in battle with their impotent offense and inability to master magic is just plain sad. Oh, and this might be stating the obvious, but a majority of the Stars have no relevance to any facet of the plot — seeming to exist solely so you can have 108 characters. And with the main goal (other than beating the game) being to collect all 108 Stars, it just seems kind of cheap to make it possible for some to be permanently killed in the major army battles. I know that occurrence sent me scurrying to hit the “reset” button more than once.

Also, as alluded to early in my review, this game just isn’t that attractive. While most of the graphical simplicity is easy to ignore, the game is fond of zooming in on attacks in battles. All well and good, except that this action can cause things to temporarily become a pixelated mess. It’s the sort of thing that can turn off someone who may have expected the opening salvos of the Playstation to be more attractive than the average SNES role-player.

To be perfectly honest, Suikoden just leaves you wanting more. With only those 20-25 hours of activity combining with a deep story, there just aren’t many places to go. This is one linear game, with no side quests, optional caves or extras (aside from the castle minigames). Most of the dungeons are fairly short and easy to meander through and it only takes a handful of battles in each area to power up your party — making things even less difficult. On the flip side, you could say that brevity plays to Suikoden’s biggest strength — its story. Many RPGs try to tell an epic tale, but get bogged down with so many side-quests and character customization options that by the 40-50 hour mark, one doesn’t know what they’d set out to do in the first place. By keeping things short and simple, Konami insured Suikoden’s story would never lose its impact.

Because of that, Suikoden is a pretty fun game to get lost in for a handful of hours. It has its share of flaws, but (in my opinion) it was the first role-playing game to successfully create a wonderful plot and revolve the ENTIRE game around it. When I first played Suikoden, the story was intriguing enough on its own to make about 22 hours fly by in what seemed like minutes. It’s not a perfect game, but it may be the perfect game for a rainy weekend.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (January 13, 2005)

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

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