Suikoden III - Review

The Rashomon of RPGs

By: Howard Kleinman

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 10
   Plot 10
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Very Hard
   Time to Complete

40-80 Hours


Suikoden III

   For those of you not familiar with Japanese live action film, Rashomon is a film by Akira Kurosawa telling the story of a crime from four different perspectives. Suikoden III takes Rashomon's multi-perspective style and focuses it on an epic story of war, cultural conflict, existential struggle and forgiveness. Ambitious as this story is, the game itself is more than a match for its depth. Longtime fans of the series needn't worry about the game's quality either; Suikoden III is a strong continuation to the story and world established in the first two games and is ultimately a superior title to both. Newcomers to the series will also find Suikoden III an inviting entry into the world of the 108 Stars of Destiny as this game's quality exceeds that of any other RPG available on the PlayStation 2.

   Suikoden III's battle system features several interesting twists. As per series tradition, your party is composed of six different characters. Each character has their own unique, upgradeable weapon and fighting style and up to three equippable runes to give them special abilities like spell casting, hit point regeneration of special attacks. While these elements are all series standard, Suikoden III introduces a few new frills. First, weapon ranges have been largely eliminated as characters can now move freely about the combat map Grandia style. Also in the style of the Grandia series, spell and special attack effects are based on area effects and casting times. In addition to casting times, spell types have also shifted somewhat. The fire spells are the most damaging in the game, but affect both enemies and allies in the spell's field of effect. Lighting is less powerful, but only hits enemy units. Water magic is focused on healing, Wind magic is focused on area effect spells and earth magic is focused on defense. There are numerous other types of spells available as well. Commands are no longer issued to characters as individuals, but as two character units. It sounds strange at first, but before long players will adapt to the new command setup. It doesn't sound nearly as unwieldy as it plays. Suikoden III also features the addition of skill points, which allow you to upgrade your characters fighting and magical abilities. Every character has a different number of available skills to learn and has varying abilities with each skill assigned or added. The additional customizability is welcome.

   Mass melee combat has also returned, this time it plays more like Ogre Battle with several combat units comprised not of hundreds of little men, but of specific units with their own statistics. While you control the movement of the units on a large, chessboard style map, the battles themselves are fought by artificial intelligence. This system is a step up from the mass melees in the first two games as it isn't based on a rock/paper/scissors system like in Suikoden I and there is far less pre-scripting in the battles than in Suikoden II.

Chris Lightfellow:  Silver Maiden of Zexen
Chris Lightfellow: Silver Maiden of Zexen  

   Good as the battle system is, it's the out of combat gameplay where Suikoden III really shines. As is typical for a Suikoden game the world is filled with 108 characters for you to find and recruit to your upgradeable castle. The castle has some fun mini-games like a horseback riding obstacle course and a couple of card gambling games. The best addition is Nadir's theater which allows you to cast various characters in you party in several abbreviated stage plays including the famous balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. As in the past games its fun to watch the castle bustle with more and more activity. However, unlike the past games, the castle itself doesn't grow, but buildings spring up around it. It doesn't have quite the same feeling of growth as in the previous games, but the three dimensional presentation makes up for it.

   Suikoden III is no slouch in the sound department. Suikoden III features no voice acting, but the quality of the music is high enough to give the player a good idea of the affect that the scene requires. The standard battle music is little more than functional, but the boss battle and mass melee themes are fantastic. The location themes have a great ethnic flavor to them. The European-feeling of the Zexen Federation is played out through Medieval and Renaissance music while the Grasslands feature more tribal style drumming and chanting. The music for non-human villages is appropriately fun as well. The game's dungeon themes are a real highlight as they are atmospheric and exciting. Of special note is the music for the game's opening animation, which is simply fabulous, and does a great job of setting the stage for this epic tale. The game's sound effects are also very strong and effectively convey the sounds of a world at war. The little details aren't forgotten either. Pay special attention to the sound of Chris Lightfellow's footfalls when she's in her armor. Little details like that give make for a heavily immersive world.

   Suikoden III's big innovation as an RPG is the "Trinity Sight System" which basically lets you experience the story from three different perspectives. Each of the three main characters has concurrent chapters to play through and after each chapter, the player returns to the trinity sight to select a new chapter to play. There are also three other unlockable scenarios with the trinity sight system, one of which is easy to unlock, the other two of which require extensive recruitment of Stars of Destiny. Suikoden III also features a few other nice touches like the ability to unlock bonuses from the previous Suikoden game with a completed file. Unlike Suikoden II, however, the bonuses don't add side-quests or additional characters, but add additional goodies of a more benign nature.

Hugo: Child of the Karaya Clan
Hugo: Child of the Karaya Clan  

   Suikoden III's biggest selling point is its phenomenal storyline. The storyline focuses on three different countries: The Zexen Federation in the West, the Grasslands in the Center, and Holy Harmonia to the North and East. Each country is represented by one of the initial trinity sight heroes. Chris Lightfellow is known as the "Silver Maiden" and is the leader of the six great Knights of Zexen. She is a hero to her people and is honorable to a fault. Hugo is a member of the Karaya clan, which is one of the six clans who live in the Grasslands. He is the son of Chief Lucia and as such becomes a bit of a diplomatic envoy to Zexen. Geddoe, the leader of the 12th unit of Harmonia's southern defense force, represents Harmonia. He travels with a likable group of mercenaries and seems to have a past more complicated than anyone in his group cares to admit. The driving forces behind this story are a fractured peace agreement between the Grasslands and Zexen leaving both sides convinced the other is untrustworthy, and Harmonia's search for the Flame Champion, the bearer of the True Fire rune. These two driving forces aren't as separate as they initially appear. Thanks to the Trinity Sight System, the storyline is delivered in a brilliant fashion. In a sequence in the game, a village is under attack. From one character's perspective, the attack is a brutal massacre; to another it is a desperate attempt to make a distraction to allow colleagues to escape slaughter on a battlefield. It is the multiple perspectives provided by the Trinity Sight System that makes these complexities apparent. Each country is corrupt and honorable in its own ways and the misunderstandings that lead to war are examined in a fascinating fashion. Suikoden III's storyline is exciting, complex and moving: a complete masterpiece

Suikoden II long stood as an example of how NOT to localize an RPG. With Suikoden III, Konami has clearly learned from past mistakes. Suikoden III's localization is sharply written with unique styles of speech for each and every one of the hundreds of characters and very little in the way of spelling errors. The localization work for the theater mini-game is especially noteworthy, as each character doesn't merely recite the lines with a Chrono Cross style accent modifier, but with unique and differing versions of the text by character. Chris freezes while on stage, while Viki messes up her lines constantly and Ayame delivers everything as bluntly as possible. This is a quality localization job.

Suikoden III is also quite impressive graphically. While it can't stand up to Final Fantasy X's level of detail, Suikoden III is still one of the best-looking RPGs on the console. The characters are constructed in a highly detailed anime style with great facial expressions and detailed character models. The locations are also very nice to look at and filled with great little details. If there is a problem with the visuals it is the camera, which is completely uncontrollable and insistent on continually changing its angle. Fortunately, analog control reduces the problem's severity. If Suikoden III were an action game, the poor camera would be unforgivable, but as an RPG, it is merely poor.

Geddoe and Queen of the Southern Defense Force
Geddoe and Queen of the Southern Defense Force  

Thanks to the Trinity Sight System, Suikoden III also has heavy replay value. You can experience the story in numerous different ways, and a decision you can make in the middle of the game alters the storyline drastically. The storyline is also so well constructed that you'll want to play through again just to see the subtle foreshadowing work at play. The hundreds of characters and hidden items don't hurt either. The number of party, equipment, skill and rune combinations is nearly endless. The game's considerable difficulty is also a good reason to come back as mastering the battle system's intricacies is a great joy in and of itself. Despite the game's 50 plus hour length, there are more than enough reasons to return to Zexen and the Grasslands.

In summation, Suikoden III is quite simply the best RPG available on the PS2 and needs a place in any serious RPGamer's collection. It is a testament to everything that makes RPGs great and even people who disliked previous installments should give it a look. I despised the second game and am hugely glad I took a risk on the third. Like Kurosawa's Rashomon, Suikoden III is an innovative masterpiece that deserves to be remembered for a long time.

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