Pros:Interesting gameplay, epic, sound design and music, graphics
Cons:Very easy at times and complicated at other times
The Bottom Line: I can't say I'm surprised about how much I enjoyed this game. There's a reason this is a game talked about fondly in the J-RPG camp--it's great.
Suikoden was a game that I had see around the water cooler growing up, but had never actually played on the Playstation. Now through the magic of the Playstation Online Store I didn’t have to track down a physical copy, but literally just bought the game and downloaded it for $5.99--making the J-RPG nerd inside me super happy.
Originally released in 1996 on the Playstation, Suikoden is an epic turn-based role-playing game based on the old Chinese text, Shui Hu Zhuan. You are in the role of a hero who’s the son of a general in the Scarlet Moon Empire. He finds out he’s part of the wrong side and sets off to join a liberation group--in the process by default becoming their leader and trying to enlist 108 members to up rise against the empire and bring peace to the tumultuous times.
To be honest, the story is rather simple and pretty shallow especially considering how many hours you spend with it, but what I like about it is that it’s not extremely predictable and doesn’t follow the same guidelines of other RPGs with the whole ‘young hero saves the world’ vibe. I completed my game in about 22 hours and the ending felt really amazing because of how much development went into the characters.
You basically enlist 108 stars to aid in your struggle. Through various fetch quests or simply asking them for recruitment, you have them join you in your castle--yes, you have your own freaking castle, which you can also name. You don’t have to ‘collect ‘em all’, but that’s one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of the game where you can choose to track them all down--and they are actually playable characters you can develop any which way you want.
The gameplay is very interesting, but the battle system is hit or miss. You can have six people in your group at a time, which you think would make battles easier, but something which you’d be wrong about. Through the attachment of runes you are able to use special abilities and magic that level up as you wade through enemies and gain experience. Pieces of runes can also be attributed to weapons, which carry an elemental value.
You don’t buy weapons, but simply sharpen them at shops (or at you castle where you have a staff of blacksmiths at your disposal). Switching out runes and seeing what works for you is part of the fun, but at times gave me headaches as there were moments where I was caught without them equipped or simply had the wrong ones attached for what I needed. The bother of going back to your castle and going through your inventory was a major task. However, most will probably like this mix and match nature, which definitely is interesting, but confusing for the first few hours.
You don’t strictly just play in the standard turn-based way, either. There are several sections in the game where you lead an all out war, which plays out very similar to rock-paper-scissors. You can either lead a charge, which defeats bow attacks, lay waste to magic attacks with bows, and so on--strategically figuring out what your enemy is going to do and stomping them into the ground. Occasionally there are these one-on-one fights, which are restricted to only attack, defend, and desperate attack that gave me a few headaches, but it’s a welcome diversion.
Now, for the time these graphics were pretty amazing. It’s definitely an early Playstation game, which is only a leg up from some of the stuff you’d see on the Super Nintendo, but they’ve aged really well and still look bright and beautiful--even on a HD television, which seems to show some of the tarnish of the era. There aren’t any full motion videos or colossal spreads of landscape for you to feast your eyes on, but battling looks very pretty and the locations are original and organic looking. There are tiny little effects here and there that show the quality of the production, but are nowhere near the type of polish you’d see on a Final Fantasy title.
The same could be said for the soundtrack. The sound design itself is one of the biggest factors in what makes this game really good since it’s perfectly keyed up to the emotional value of the story. The soundtrack was a collaboration between Miki Hagashino, Tappi Iwase, Taniguchi Hirofumi, and Hiroshi Tamawari and features some really elaborate scores that are quite beautiful. The only real problem I found was that some of these scores are really driven home far too often and played so much that it defeated the purpose at times. However, there’s some really interesting themes that easily got stuck in my head for days.
One of the weirdest things about this game is how screwy the difficulty is. On one hand, the game can be complicated. There were times where I was wandering around trying to figure out what I was supposed to do and had to pay extreme close attention to the events of the game, which grew thicker in melodrama as I progressed. This did help with my leveling up progression because of all the grinding I did, but it was a frustration at some points as was the task of finding 108 stars--which is easier said than done without a guide. Either I was too leveled up or the game was a big easy in regards to bosses and general dungeons. There was only one boss fight that gave me any trouble and, really, there weren’t too many boss fights in the game at all. The ending was much easier than I anticipated and actually through me off guard.
It’s really hard for me to get into a lot of Japanese RPGs that aren’t Final Fantasy-related because I’m a big fan of that franchise and haven’t been too let down by many of the games. Suikoden is one of those series’ that’s talked about in the same breath and it truly was a joy to finally play through it via the Playstation Network. I can see how it was a classic on the original Playstation for its originality and epic appeal. I mean, this game is epic--you lead a war against the empire! That’s Star Wars type stuff right there! For what it’s worth, this game does have some bland moments in it, but overall I really got a kick out of the experience and for six dollars this is a great deal especially if you’re a fan of the genre and have never played it before.
© Jason Haskins, 2012
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