Suikoden III (PlayStation 2) review
"Few things stir feelings more then the concept of nationalism. The idea that certain ethnic and religious groups are nationally entitled to a vague political boundary based on centuries old barriers is a constant factor in wars in the present day world. No country is immune; the United States prides itself on being the “best” in the world, yet the mere thought that another nation can have a bigger arsenal of weaponry then causes us to hurriedly develop weapons of mass destruction that would gi..."
Few things stir feelings more then the concept of nationalism. The idea that certain ethnic and religious groups are nationally entitled to a vague political boundary based on centuries old barriers is a constant factor in wars in the present day world. No country is immune; the United States prides itself on being the “best” in the world, yet the mere thought that another nation can have a bigger arsenal of weaponry then causes us to hurriedly develop weapons of mass destruction that would give Saddam Hussein wet dreams.
Nationalism is also the chief driving force behind all motives in Suikoden III. Seemingly inconsequential gaming events correlate creepily to real life events. Are the programmers clairvoyant, or did they realize beforehand what a volatile situation nationalism presents? In any event, the story of Suikoden III reeks of real life influence, and the cryptic ending offers a somewhat dismal look on society as a whole.
In Suikoden III, there are three perspectives, each from a differing nation. Hugo is the son of the Karaya chief, Lucia, and draws a parallel to the middle east. The ways of the Grasslanders, the region where the Karaya clan lives along with rival and ally clans, are constantly brought into question by the Zexens. The Zexens can be seen as our relatives. Concerned primarily with profit and political boundaries, everyday activities suffer due to the overbearing bureaucracy. The leader of the Zexen knights, Chris, is a gorgeous silver haired maiden who constantly struggles with being the hero that people envision her as, and along with questions of duty and personal feeling. Finally, there is the mysterious Geddoe. He has a mysterious past that nobody can penetrate, not even his closest mercenary friends; however, the question must be asked, why is such a great warrior working a meaningless mercenary position for the despotic Harmonia, a nation to the far north? Despite their differing backgrounds, all three are searching for the Flame Champion, a legendary hero who saved the Grasslands from invasion fifty years before, and who is rumored to be endowed with the true fire rune.
These three perspectives intertwine in chapter installments selected from the main Trinity Site. Each chapter varies a bit in play time, but roughly coincides to the same story time. This system is one of Suikoden III’s strengths. Major events are often seen through three different sets of eyes, and with the background and companions of each main character, offers dramatically differing vantage points. What may be seen as an act of brutal rage from one character could be considered self-defense to another.
While the Trinity system is unique and inventive, the actual story itself languishes sometimes. It’s interesting to see the same event from another character’s eyes, but the same things tend to be repeated again and again and again by the participants. Like another long RPG, Xenogears, I feel that a lot of the dialogue could have been eliminated without the story suffering. At the very least, the pacing would have improved dramatically.
The gameplay of Suikoden III is straight out traditional console roleplaying, with the customary tweaks in the battle system. A maximum of six fighting characters and one support member make up a party, which harkens back to the glory days of large RPG parties. The combat is on a round by round basis, with characters taking turns based on their speed. Character stats, levels, and most interestingly, customizable skills, effect what happens in combat.
The aforementioned customizable skills are probably the best innovation in Suikoden III. Each character has certain default skills, such as swing, damage, heavy damage, water magic, fire magic, etc. These skills can be powered up with ability points gained after each successful battle. Each skill is graded, from a low of E to a high of A+, or in especially skilled characters, an S grade. There are restrictions on each character though; don’t expect your best magic user to be able to level up a lot in fighting skills, and your knights probably aren’t a good choice to learn fire magic.
Other nice features are sprinkled throughout. The auto battle system is a lifesaver for combat; your characters do nothing but attack, and make smart decisions. This option alone saves a lot of time. A sliding experience scale also helps; beating level sixty enemies with level forty characters will cause you to sky rocket through levels quickly, while the converse will barely cause your experience to nudge. Even at the highest levels, it only takes a few levels before you “cap”, effectively ending the need for gaining experience and level building.
However, not everything is peachy about the main battle system of Suikoden III. The effectiveness of runes, attached equipment which allows special attacks and magic, has been severely decreased. Despite being a central plot point for most of the game, fire magic is worthless, and there’s a definitive lack of attack enhancing runes that do not cause you to lose a turn. Therefore, the best runes are almost always those that give status enhancements, or allow you to heal your characters.
Also, except for one spell which you receive VERY late in the game, there is no way to revive characters while in battle. You can get around this a bit by equipping an item which automatically revives your character, but the item isn’t cheap, and it doesn’t restore all your hit points. Sure, all your characters will revive with one hit point after the fight, but that doesn’t do you any good if you have concurrent battles, which there are many, or if your entire party is wiped out.
Did I mention concurrent battles? Ah, how could I forget? There’s a *lot* of story advancing battles, usually with cannon fodder type opponents. Not really hard on their own, but after defeating them, expect to face some larger boss, with reduced hit points, since the game gave you no opportunity to restore. And woe to those who can’t manage to beat the boss, which means you have to go through the painfully slow dialogue beforehand again. Not that this is a common problem. Suikoden III is not a difficult game, as long as you level up normally, and keep plenty of healing magic on hand.
Longtime fans of the Suikoden series will be glad to know that the appeal of past games, a huge cast of secondary characters that can be used for combat, are not missing. In fact, they have been significantly enhanced. There are less “worthless” characters; except for a rare few, all are useful in combat, or in your castle. In addition, non-combat characters can be put in the support function for your party. With their special skills, you can receive discounts from stores, find more items after battle, and even more. Suikoden III still remains every console stat freak’s wet dream with 108 characters in total to recruit.
The other popular elements of past Suikoden games also remain - strategy battles and duels. Strategy battles are Risk style terrain match ups, where you use your own characters as battle units. Duels are one-on-one fights between characters. Depending on what the other fighter says, you pick an option (defense, attack, or deathblow) in order to best him. Both modes are fun, and a welcome change of pace, but occur far too infrequently. Most of the strategy battles in the game are incapable of being won and the outcome of the duels usually don’t matter.
The presentation values of Suikoden III are impressive, and definitely a step in the right direction. Konami could have decided to just improve gameplay, as Enix did with their venerable Dragon Warrior series, and neglect the presentation values, since hardcore fans would buy the game in either instance. However, they bucked this trend altogether, and significantly made a step up from the earlier, grainy graphics of Suikoden III’s predecessors.
Lush three dimensional graphics portray the beauty that is the Grasslands, Xeven, and other locations. The game has a bright tint to it, as crystal clear character and background models are used. A small cartoon feel is the result of these graphics and characters; despite going through some dark dungeons, there’s never really a feeling of doom and gloom.
The music and sound effects also contribute to the “cartoon” feel. A cheery, airy theme is present while in towns. Dark and foreboding describe dungeons. The clang of metal can be heard while in combat, along with the burning of a raging fireball. Basically, Suikoden III isn’t going to impress or disappoint you in the sound department. It’s fine if you want to listen to it, but for a lot of gamers, myself included, your CD player is probably going to be used in conjunction with the volume button.
Although Suikoden III is on a next generation console, do not confuse it with a true next generation game. Full motion video is kept to an absolute minimum, although there are several extended cut scenes with video in them. There’s also absolutely no voice or speech. Depending on your vantage point though, this can be a blessing or a curse…
There are several extras that are unusual for a game. If you beat Suikoden II, then you can use your saved game file from that game to unlock a few extra items and scenes in this installment. Likewise, it’s assumed that a saved game file from Suikoden III will also unlock areas in a future game. If you manage to recruit all 108 characters in the game, then you’re treated to a special bonus chapter which really is worth the trouble, and which sheds some light on one of the most interesting characters in the game. There are also other optional chapters, focusing on Thomas, the castle master whose castle you habitat, and a dog who you can control as he wanders around the castle. Not required, but certainly fun for a bit.
If you’re looking for a great playing roleplaying game, with incredible amounts of characters, storylines, and dialogue, then look no further then Suikoden III. Even if you haven’t played past installments, chances are you will want to once you’re done with this monster of a game. However, if you didn’t like Suikoden games in the past, then this game will do nothing to change your mind. If you’re still teetering on the edge, deciding whether to get this game or not, then just take the plunge. Few will ever be disappointed.
Community review by sgreenwell (January 08, 2003)
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