Suikoden Tactics - Staff Retroview  

Who Will Mourn the Fishmen?
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Nifty Suikoden tactical execution
+ Combat remains engaging throughout
+ Large quantity of optional material
- Narrative isn't gripping
- Many characters can be killed with ease
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   In a rush of Suikoden development that was never again to be equaled, Konami released three titles in the series within eighteen months. First came Suikoden IV, which demonstrated that Yoshitaka Murayama's departure from the company was not a good thing. Last came Suikoden V, widely regarded as a return to form for a series that badly needed one. In between came Suikoden Tactics, a title that used the setting of IV to craft an interesting strategy environment. While Tactics is not a great Suikoden or tactical title, it represents an improvement over what came before.

   At a glance this title looks like many other overhead tactical games, sporting a group of characters on two sides who take turns moving around a variety of grid-based landscapes to exchange blows. Some Suikoden flavor is found with a few specifics, starting with the standard experience system of the series which makes characters gain large rewards when taking action against something higher than the current level and minimal otherwise — though certain other noteworthy games such as Tactics Ogre have done it too. Several characters are unable to attack enemies in any way, but contribute some useful function such as finding hidden items or being able to access the group storage during a fight. Several mounts are gained as the game progresses, and they broaden character range along with making some terrain easily navigable in exchange for rendering most special combat abilities unusable. Certain characters can also talk to each other in combat to unlock cooperative attacks and increase the possibility that a friend will step in to cut damage taken or launch an extra attack against a common enemy. These are interesting aspects that give the game a unique feel in keeping with its heritage.

   A critical component of combat is proper Rune use, something that also sets Tactics apart from other games. Each character and enemy has an innate Rune, one of the five that are found in every Suikoden. Most terrain in the game can be set to one of the Rune elements using either magic spells or items, and characters standing on it will receive boosted statistics along with twenty percent HP recovery at every action. The inverse can also happen when landscapes are altered to an element incompatible with a character, and the AI is constantly eager to demonstrate how this can work in its favor. Turning the tables on the enemy is an entertaining pastime, and this mechanic alone makes Tactics a different kind of fight than anything else.

   Another mechanic not seen elsewhere is the ability to switch characters in the middle of battle. The only caveat is that a character who has already been in the encounter cannot come back for the same fight. Otherwise this is a fantastic option that allows players to quickly experience what the large cast of fighters can do, and its implementation in other games with sizable character rosters would be quite welcome.

   Switching is a good mechanic in part because the number of characters who can be brought into battle is usually six or eight, though in a few optional monster hunts the maximum hits twelve. This constantly changing lineup size makes keeping a preferred group together more difficult than otherwise. Even with a good group who can cooperatively attack, getting these useful multi-character attacks together often proves difficult due to the restrictive nature of their range. Rather than being able to freely adjust where a group attack can be used, it is strictly defined based on where the participants are standing, and can only be adjusted by putting at least one of the characters in a different place.

Seneca, how ever did you get to be such a spectacular spell caster without a Rune at your disposal? Seneca, how ever did you get to be such a spectacular spell caster without a Rune at your disposal?

   Someone on Konami's development team seems to have been a Fire Emblem devotee, because character death is a real possibility in Tactics. Characters key to the plot are exempt from this fate, but a sudden unfortunate enemy critical can spell doom to the silent majority of protagonists. While character death is not new to the series, keeping people alive while surrounded by friends in the random battles of earlier titles is much easier than in Tactics. Turning a Suikoden title into the kind of nerve-wracking affair Fire Emblem can be doesn't work when enemies have unpredictable options at their disposal, and without the ability to permanently save during battle a lot of work can go down the drain with one nasty roll of the dice.

   Plowing straight through Suikoden Tactics would probably take less than twenty hours, but copious opportunities to stretch out that time exist. These can be found both by wandering around the available locales to see where ancillary material has appeared, or by going to a quest guild for mission undertakings. The extra encounters opened up expand the playing time considerably and do not simply require a bunch of enemies be slain to proceed, though encounters in that vein do exist as endlessly repeatable monster hunts in several locations. The only problem with quests is that they are divulged from a single spot on the world map, and there is no way to get a reminder of exactly what their completion requirements are without going back to that place.

   Suikoden Tactics' inventory management is time-consuming due to the sheer number of characters who can join the party, most of them coming with minimal equipment to make combat preparation laborious. Someone at Konami forgot to implement use of the shoulder buttons to quickly scroll through characters during this part, which means constantly canceling out of one person's inventory to access another. The only way to figure out if new armor is an improvement, aside from tediously looking at each character individually, is to squint at a menu that shows every character simultaneously, and then cumbersomely buy things one by one to be sure they are equipped.

   The visuals for Tactics seem to outline onscreen characters with dark lines while leaving the rest of their appearance faded, which is unusual but not particularly captivating. Nothing is ugly or hard on the eyes, but Tactics lacks much graphical polish. Most of the music matches the standards of the series in being quite pleasant, and several battle themes heard late in the game are notably catchy. The voice acting that transpires at every mandatory plot point is workmanlike, though having Kyril clearly be voiced by a woman is an odd casting decision.

Did I ask for your commentary, Kyril?  Did I ask for your commentary, Kyril?

   The narrative of Tactics begins seven years before the main events of Suikoden IV, and after a few battles that bridge the years its tale reaches the aftermath of the war between the Island Nations and Kooluk. Its star is Kyril, merely a boy who is scarred by seeing his father turned into a promptly-slain fishman by the power of a Rune Cannon. Dedicating himself to the eradication of Rune Cannons with the help of devoted compatriots Andarc and Seneca, Kyril finds that tracking them down requires a venture onto the Kooluk mainland after their operations have been curtailed around the Island Nations.

   Many members of Suikoden IV's cast reappear here, and since that game had a likable character roster their presence is welcome. The overall story trajectory isn't very interesting in Tactics though, since its main characters don't get to display much personality and their quest proceeds slowly despite its relatively short duration. Moments of interest occur, but they are usually unrelated to the core narrative.

   Renaming the game from Rhapsodia in Japan to Suikoden Tactics elsewhere may have been a marketing decision from Konami, but it only makes sense upon seeing how strongly the game connects to the series. Importing data from Suikoden IV grants a pair of additional characters to Tactics, one of whom possesses extremely useful abilities to help progress. What keeps this from the heights previously reached by this series is the unfortunately uninteresting narrative, still a problem after Yoshitaka Murayama's exit.

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