When thinking of the term 'RPG', a name that would immediately come to mind would be none other than Squaresoft, a company that's been around for as long as I can remember. From the early days of the 8-bit NES to the present day PSX, Square has always been a leader in the RPG scene with the help of their flagship Final Fantasy series, which was vastly superior to all other RPGs of its time. Among the worthy challengers to their seemingly infinite superiority were Capcom's Breath of Fire & Sega's Phantasy Star series, both of which were pretty good RPGs in their own right, but somehow lacked the staying power needed to throw Final Fantasy off the top. Other lesser known RPGs like the poorly made Beyond the Beyond tried muscling in on Squaresoft's turf but was later given the old size 22 in the butt by irate gamers and never heard from again.
Putting BOF & PS aside, it wasn't until later when Konami unleashed Suikoden, their rookie venture into the seemingly hostile RPG territory, did gamers realize that there were others besides Square's FF series that were actually worth playing. Armed with an emmy-deserving storyline , breath-taking music score & deep character development, Suikoden quickly became a darling among RPG gamers, not to mention converting a fair amount of Squaresoft believers along the way. Suikoden's uniqueness is further enhanced with a combination of elements taken from both medieval European & ancient Chinese themes. And, on top of that, this game is huge! From the stone walls of Gregminster to the eerie ghost town of Kalekka, the sheer vastness of its playing area is roughly equal to that of Final Fantasy.
The plot in Suikoden revolves around Hero McDohl, teenage son of the highly respected Scarlet Moon general, Teo McDohl. Since you get to choose his first name at the start of the game, lets just refer to him as 'Hero' in this review. Sensing trouble brewing in the north, Emperor Barbarossa sends your old man, Teo on a mission to investigate the cause of this ruckus leaving you home but not quite alone - you've got your best friend, Ted, your loyal servant Gremio plus two other household members to keep you company in his absence. Rather than throwing a wild, crazy party like most other teenagers would when their parents are out, Hero decides to go into uncool mode by taking up a little job at the castle, running errands for one of Barbarossa's minions.
As you progress deeper into the game, you'll discover many secrets, one of which relates to your best friend, Ted being over 300 years old who's kept alive by the Soul Eater rune embedded in his hand. Lady Windy, who's currently having an affair with the king ( I shall leave this part to your imagination ), orders your arrest at your refusal to surrender the above mentioned rune, putting your entire household in jeopardy & earning you a spot on the Gregminster's Most Wanted list. Fleeing from persecution in Gregminster, Hero sets his sight on town south of the border ( no, not Mexico! ), teaming up with Viktor, a beefy ex-military, & his blue-caped side-kick, Flik. Together, they form a resistance movement that would ultimately bring the Scarlet Moon Empire to its knees, knocking off King Barbarossa & forming a republic of their own.
I hate to admit it, but I guess everyone would agree with me on this one - graphics isn't one of the better points in this game. There were lots of rough edges screaming for a facelift, an example being the heavily pixelated close-ups during battle sequences. The overall viewing concept is done in 2D, much to the delight of many old-school RPG gamers ( including me ). Character navigation on screen is pretty much like the old FF games on the SNES. Since everything is done in 2D, it's much easier to locate important buildings & seek out hidden objects lying around. In a nutshell, the graphics have a slightly dated, sloppy look on them which brings me to my next point - gameplay.
OK, so the graphics in this game weren't the best thing in the world, but then again graphics isn't the only thing that makes a good RPG. One other aspect that should taken into consideration is gameplay - how the game feels, in other words, how it interacts with the player's psyche. Most RPGs ( with the exception of Beyond the Beyond ) are known to have a deep effect on the player, keeping them glued to their TV sets, isolated from the outside world. Suikoden, being a blockbuster of epic proportions is no exception to this rule. Regardless of how bad the graphics may be, it will always remain a winner in my book, period.
As in any typical RPG, you'll be moving from town to town, talking to hundreds of people, gathering information & fighting off vicious monsters standing in your way. Occasionally you may be forced into a boss battle, which upon victory, advances you further into the story. Additionally, you are also required to fight several large scale battles involving huge armies; keep in mind that the outcome for these battles are largely pre-determined so don't be surprised to find yourself on the losing end every now and then ( it's all part of the story ).
Another all-important factor that makes a good RPG is its battle system. Without a good battle engine, an RPG would be reduced to nothing more than a boring interactive movie that would probably turn off even the most tolerant RPG gamer. Take out the elements that make a good battle system and we'll be stuck with disasters like Final Fantasy 8. On that note, I'm proud to say that the battle engine in Suikoden ranks among of the best I've seen so far. Instead of having the usual 3 characters on screen, Suikoden has doubled that number resulting in double the fun as well. As in most RPGs, your characters take turns at attacking the enemies on screen. Characters with short-ranged attacks should be placed up front as opposed to the ones in the back who rely more on projectile or missile attacks.
Runes can be placed in various parts of a character's anatomy, enabling the ability to use certain magic attack spells during battles ( similar to the materia system in FF7 ). There are also certain runes, which are unique to a character & cannot be removed -your Soul Eater happens to be one of them. Some of these runes are extremely powerful and can be of great help during boss battles. I would suggest trying out the various combinations of runes on different characters to see which ones work best for you.
We're finally getting to the good part here. While the graphics was an obvious weak point, I was totally mesmerized by the music score which serves as a plug to the gaping loophole made by the bad graphics. There are dozens of themes spanning a myriad of cultural influences, from ancient Chinese to medieval Gothic ( Neclord's theme ).
A truly magnificent game from the makers of the old Ninja Turtles side scrollers on the 16-bit.
Demerits: Buying this game might ruin your social life for about a week. Don't say I didn't warn you. Now quit reading this epinion and go search for it on ebay.
Average completion time: 35 hours
Difficulty: Below average
FAQ/walkthrough available at: www.gamefaqs.com
Also known as: Genso Suikoden ( Japan )
Estimated price: $10 - $15
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