Suikoden - Retroview

The Beginning of Something Great

By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 4
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 7
   Plot 7
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

17-23 hours



   In the past, Konami had never been renowned as a big RPG publisher. Many did a quick-take when Konami released Suikoden in 1997. While the game surely didn't impress every RPG fans with its shortness and lack of character individuality, its unexplainable unique charm convinced many others. The series' beginning is appropriate - the following games are breathtaking.

   The game tells the story of the war between the Liberation Army and the Scarlet Moon Empire. As the son of Teo McDohl, a famous general of the Empire, you'll be chased away from the capital Gregminster after an unfortunate accident. You'll meet up with the leaders of the Liberation Army and learn your destiny as the Tenkai Star. The time has come to assemble the 108 Stars of Destiny and face the mystical evil forces behind the turbulent Empire in epic battles.

   Battles are an important part of every RPG, but those of Suikoden seem to have been designed to act a second role in the game. Above all, Suikoden is the tale of a group of people woven together by destiny who will surmount the odds to achieve grandiose feats. The fighting aspect is still much present under three completely different forms. Your party of six characters arranged in two rows will have the normal options available, with a strong emphasis being placed on attacking. The best aspect of the battles is their quickness. To make things easier on you, you may select the "auto" command which defaults every character to attacking for a turn. You'll often see two or three of your members attacking different enemies at the same time, making battles very fast pace. Characters can also equip a variety of protective gear and restorative items, but can only do so outside of combat. Much of the difficulty comes from sufficient battle preparation. In the end, battles are simple and efficient, just the way they're supposed to be. The "duels" you'll be faced against are very few, and they consist of a sort of rock-paper-scissors, with hints of your opponent's next action given to you by listening to his remarks.

It may burn your retinas but it will all be over soon.
It may burn your retinas but it will all be over soon.  

   The magic system works with magic scriptures called "runes". Every character can equip solely one rune, and they can use up to four spell levels. One cast consumes one spell point of the corresponding level, and the only way to restore your magic points is to take a good night of rest. One other quirk in the battles is that you have two choices if you don't want to fight the encounter. As well as the normal run command, you may also try your hand at bribing the opponent. It's a clever idea, but chances are you'll never use it anyway.

   By far the most unusual aspect of Suikoden is the opportunity to manage a castle of your own, complete with shops, mini-games, and roaming warriors. After a certain plot event, your party will make their way to the old castle Toran in the middle of the lake of the same name to establish their new center of operation. This element only is what sets Suikoden apart from the usual RPG. Instead of roaming the world looking for new equipment, you'll rather wander around the world looking for new characters to aid your cause. Most characters can be brought to battle, some of them are only merchants in your castle, and others are merely around for "Major Battles". Major Battles are supposed to be strategic in nature, but all they are in actually is another glorified form of rock-paper-scissors. Select charge to beat bows, bows to beat magic, and magic to beat charge. Aside from the first few battles, those fights don't present much of a threat, though they serve their purpose of being nice diversions quite well.

   Arranging your troops can become a major pain in Suikoden. Aside from the fact that each character equipment inventory is quite messy, the abundance of playable characters can make matters even more complicated. You'll often have to change your party, unequip the items characters had in their possession, and re-equip them on the party members of your choice. This process of juggling equipment around has for results of making frequent character swapping much more of a hassle than it should be. Once you find characters that suit your style, you'll probably stick with them for the rest of the game.

   The game soundtrack, arranged by several Konami composers, is one of the most enjoyable and captivating soundtrack ever. From the catchy world theme to the joyful, yet somewhat saddening acoustic guitar solos, every moment stands out in the game thanks to the amazing score. The castle theme is also one of the greatest compositions ever in my opinion, and it's so catchy that you won't be able to stop yourself from whistling it out loud whenever you're in a positive mood. The main Suikoden theme is also a delight to listen too, bringing forth the very soul of the series. However, there are many weak compositions, such as most dungeon themes or some town themes, but the music shines in moments where it really has to, which is the most important thing. Sound effects aren't very noteworthy, as the background music most often mask whatever sound a scene may present. In battles though, the clash of weapons and the casting of spells are accompanied by acceptable sound effects, no more.

Walking around whistling happily
Walking around whistling happily  

   After the events that led to his forceful eviction of his Gregminster mansion, Teo's son (the nameless, speechless hero) will wind up meeting the very group whom he first thought of as his enemy: the Liberation Army. After learning of the true evil behind the Empire's scheme, your mission of gathering the 108 Stars of Destiny will bring you to travel through the entirety of the Scarlet Moon Empire's land. The Hero and his group of rebellious comrades will meet up with leaders of the various land portions to create alliances and to shake the foundation of power of the Empire's Five Great Generals. The story doesn't try to appear bigger than it seems, and the pacing is for the most part excellent. While some sequences will be past over rather quickly, most events have the proper drive and focus behind them, making every one of your encounter special. You'll be able to witness the growth in strength of your army throughout the many Major Battles, and many heart-wrenching scenes will blossom along the way. For a game only 20 hours-long, many plot twists and story elements have been crammed into it to create a very satisfying epic - one of small proportion. If anything, the various battle strategies are interesting to see unravel, and the music always helps touching scenes to stand out.

The script of the game isn't too lengthy, but what there is of it is adequately translated. Many laughable moments will emerge during the course of your playthrough, either because of genuine funniness or a laughable attempt of cited amusement. There's also the big problem that with so many characters, a lot of them exhibit little to no personality at all. The main group of characters express themselves well, and the chemistry between allies is very enjoyable to witness.

The biggest exploration-related aspect of the game is finding the entire cast of 108 Stars. You may very well accomplish that task on your own, but chances are you'll need to rely on a FAQ to help you find some characters you can't decipher. You may also find upgraded versions of the two things that make the game enjoyable to revisit are its short length and appealing charm. It shouldn't take you more than 17-23 hours to complete, which is way below the average RPG.

I'll be back!
I'll be back!  

The 2D graphics did not use the most advanced technology available at that time, but the upsides of that kind of visuals shine through. The world is colorful, sharp, and easy to navigate. Some rooms, be them in dungeons or in towns, are conspicuously empty at times, and most dungeon backgrounds are rather unimaginative. Character portraits are also grainy, though nice to look at, while battle graphics can sometimes be blinding because of their colorfulness.

Suikoden doesn't have the complex story or the strong cast of characters to stand on its own as a great RPG. Although obtaining over 5 new characters an hour may not appeal to many RPGamers, others will simply look upon the game as a great sounding and emotionally intriguing production, forgiving its shortcomings to fully enjoy the beauty of the game. The first Suikoden did nonetheless mark the start of one of the most famous and imaginative series out there, which placed the tables for greater things to come.

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