Suikoden Tactics - Review  

Something's Fishy In... Kooluk
by Andrew Long

25-75 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Suikoden series has, of late, come under question by reason of its ever-shortening development cycles and growing gamer dissatisfaction with the offerings Konami has put forth. It was with trepidation, then, that the RPG world received the announcement that a tactical RPG would be coming down the chute, especially since its development time didn't seem to be up any from Suikoden IV. Imagine the relief, then, when Suikoden Tactics turned out to be a pretty solid game. Certainly, it has its flaws - repetitive usage of its music, godawful voice acting, a spotty translation, and a lightweight plot among them - but none of these things can manage to overcome the game's solid mechanics and reasonably endearing characters. While not the greatest tactical RPG out there, Suikoden Tactics manages to put all the pieces together into a solid, serviceable package.

   The game starts with a series of vignettes set five years before the events of the game, during which time a dread pirate of some description menaces the area of Middleport. As it so happens, Walter, a mercenary with a hidden past, is nosing around Middleport at the time, and so he, with his son Kyril and companions Seneca and Andarc in tow, endeavours to hunt down the pirate. Unluckily for Walter, though, he gets pulverized into fish paste by the pirate's Rune Cannon, the very sort of nasty weapon he was in Middleport looking for. This leaves Kyril with the rather daunting task of finishing his father's work, without knowing exactly what it was his father was doing. Andarc and Seneca, while not completely reticent, certainly don't give him any extraneous guidance, and so it is left to the player to guide Kyril through Suikoden Tactics' 20-odd scenarios in search of truth, justice, and some seriously nasty weapons of mass destruction.

Combat takes place on the standard grid-based playing field, with all the usual rules of movement, directional placement, and elevation in effect. The game also features a system of rock-paper-scissors-style elements contending with each other; for example, fire beats wind, but is left sputtering by water. Each character has an inherent elemental affiliation, and depending upon whether they're standing upon territory strong in their own element, or strong in the one that defeats it, they gain either statistical bonuses or penalties.

The rest of the battle system is pretty standard for the Suikoden series, with Rune Masters to socket the game's magical Runes (upon which the aforementioned elements are based), Blacksmiths to level up weapons, and Outfitters to fill out the standard complement of armor, gloves, and miscellaneous items. The only real difference from the series' other titles is, of course, the grid-based action, which seems to borrow largely from Ogre Battle in terms of its mechanics and overall execution. There are also Co-operative attacks, which must be learned by increasing Good Will between characters. This can be achieved by having characters stand side-by-side and using the Talk command, which triggers a (usually inane) conversation. If characters have a series of these conversations, then usually they'll learn a Co-operative attack after a while. Good Will also has other benefits; it can lead to characters assisting each other on attacks and providing defensive help as well. It's a pretty decent battle system, and while there's nothing terribly original about it, there's something to be said for good execution. Not much will be required to beat most of Suikoden Tactics' battles, though; even though the game has a nasty habit of parachuting in extra enemies after players kill off a certain number of bad guys, most battles are largely a matter of perseverance.
-The hotpants, sir? -Aye, the hotpants. Y'arr... we must protect our precious cargo

The game also has a pretty spotless interface, which is easily maneuvered in most cases. The only sticking point comes at the start of battles, where it can be slightly annoying to redeploy characters. This isn't really an issue, however, as the Switch command, usable in battle, accomplishes the same thing and is easy to find. Suikoden Tactics is also very generous to beginners; a full-fledged Help menu is available at all times, even during battles, and for those who have trouble remembering mission objectives, they can be accessed in this fashion at any point.

Less wonderful is the game's translation, which while largely adequate, contains some fairly ouchin' lines. Errors are not overly common, but when they do occur, they're in bad places (for instance, one character remarks "Wait! It's too risky! We don't know what is up to!", entirely torpedoing the sentence.) There is also anachronism aplenty, and statements like "after some consideration, she decided to let the empire fall" reveal a certain lack of grace, to say nothing of an understanding of how exactly such things work. There's also plenty of cheesiness; lines like "And curse me. Curse your fool of a father who thought only of the Empire!" or "Hmm. They have the look of a group of strong-hearted rebels. Better stop them here!" belong in B-movies, not RPGs, and it's doubly bad when they're acted by voice talent that is anything but.
Caption Surprisingly not related to SoM's Neko

The game's voice acting is resoundingly bad. Pretty much every character in the game is overacted horribly, and a six-year-old watching Pokémon is treated to better work on most days. Moreover, some of the voices are simply preposterous, and the rest are just the same four or five people who have been doing the same terrible job voicing cartoons and video games since the early 90s. Let it not be said that this reviewer wishes misfortune upon people, but when it is so abundantly obvious that the current crop of voice actors does such a dismal, terrible job, why do developers not take the time to find even one person who can make their lousy dialogue sound convincing? Granted, part of the problem is the equally laughable writing, but is it too much to expect that RPG voice acting be given slightly more credibility than a toddler's cartoon? Whatever the case, the award for worst voice acting goes without question to the game's villain, who sounds like Phil Hartman torturing kittens after swallowing a crate of helium and hams the part up so badly he would put Vincent Price to shame. The worst part is, while it's possible to skip dialogue, the characters still pantomime the accompanying gestures, so even if gamers skip the dialogue, they still end up having to watch their characters flop about like possessed puppets.

   Suikoden Tactics could also have used some improvement with the execution of the game's music. This is not to say that the game's music is bad, because it is actually quite good; however, many of the game's tracks are for town screens, and play for only seconds, because entering any sort of shop triggers a different track. Meanwhile, there are roughly ten different battle themes, but of those, two or three appear most commonly. In the end, though, full marks do go to the composer, who has turned out the usual mix of bombastic battle themes and folk-influenced town music found in any Suikoden title. While some may deride the battle themes as corny, it is my firm belief that the RPG world needs more games with both 70s action music and excessively dramatic orchestrated pieces during battles.

The game offers a mixed visual bag. While much of the artwork is spotlessly done, the technical side of the graphical design isn't really anything out of the ordinary, and some of the decisions, like depicting the characters as, for lack of a better term, lego men doesn't really enhance the game's overall presentation value. That said, the 2D art is quite beautiful, and Suikoden Tactics manages to emulate the ethereal feel of Unlimited SaGa without emulating its ethereal enjoyability. Spell effects are suitably noisy, and the character design, aside from looking as though Zack the Legomaniac had incriminating evidence on the artist, is well-executed.
Caption Andarc demands answers in the controversial "Who Cut the Cheese" fiasco

   Suikoden Tactics is not a terribly original game, which is to be expected in a title meant to serve as a companion to another game (in this case, Suikoden IV). Its basic mechanics are filched from Ogre Battle, and nothing about the story is particularly original, except perhaps for the effect the Rune Cannons have on their victims. The game's plot is utilitarian, but ultimately, it derails somewhat at the end, where it seems the developers were attempting to tie a few too many loose ends together. It gets the job done throughout the game, but ultimately, gamers are left with little sense of the characters' motivations, and those who have not played Suikoden IV may be left scratching their heads (while those who have will be left with usable save data.)

   Ultimately, Suikoden Tactics is an entry-level RPG that manages to hit most of the right notes while still leaving a fair bit of room for improvement. Solidly enjoyable, it nonetheless suffers from a number of flaws that one would hope Konami will address if there is to be a tactical sequel. Depending on what percentage of the sidequests gamers opt to complete (a full-fledged quests-for-hire system a la Final Fantasy Tactics, combined with the ability to hunt monsters at some battlegrounds and a randomly generated dungeon known as the Ruins of Obel serve to provide players with plenty of discretionary playtime) the game can run anywhere from around 25 hours to upwards of 75 for the true completionist. So is it worth picking up? In the end, it is an enjoyable game, and while it's not top-of-the-line, it is a decent way to spend time in the ever-expanding Suikoden universe.

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