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Suikoden III - Review

The Bach to Final Fantasy's Mozart

By: Tony Green


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 4
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 6
   Plot 8
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

60-80 hours

 
Overall
8
Criteria

Suikoden III
 

   The RPG genre is filled with many great series that have had numerous incarnations over many different systems. However, there are also other series which are relatively unknown yet have such a devout following that rivals those of the long running series. The Suikoden series is one of those. A relative newcomer on the scene, Suikoden has long been considered nothing more then a cult favorite, never boasting the sales figures or press that a game like Final Fantasy would. This has all changed. Suikoden III is a masterpiece of the genre and a fitting rival for the juggernauts of the RPG world.

   Those who have played a Suikoden game before will find all the features which endeared them to the series: 108 stars to recruit, a castle that grows as you expand your roster, fast-paced six-person battles, duels, army battles, a flexible magic system, and gobs of hidden and rare items. The duel battles have received a much-needed overhaul. In addition to the standard rock/scissors/paper actions, there is now a duel gauge that will swing in favor of a character based on how well they perform. A character with an advantage in the gauge gains increased power, as well as a chance to possibly completely evade an attack and receive no damage. While the duel gauge adds some variety into the overly simple duel battles, the army battles have suffered greatly. While you still have control over who can be put into which unit like you could in Suikoden II, the units themselves are now formed of these people. The battles feel like little more then extended random battles, only more frustrating because you have no control over your characters and their AI is a little suspect. The other problem is that even a moderately powered-up group is often capable of taking on pretty much the entire opposing army solo. Luckily, the army battles play far less of a role then they did in the previous games, and many of them are story battles that will end in several turns automatically.

   The system for the normal battles is where most of the shakeups happen. Rather then giving commands to all six of your character, they are divided into 3 groups of 2. You give your commands to each group, but you can only command a single character to do an action, such as using an item or a Rune. The other character will then act on an AI scheme based on their skill makeup and combat abilities. This leads to a lot of frustration, as many high level magic spells now effect an area and will harm both enemies and allies. More often than not the AI-controlled character will run up to the targeted monster and give them a good whack, only to be vaporized when the spell goes off.


One weapon you don't want to be on the business end of
One weapon you don't want to be on the business end of  

   In addition to this, characters now have skills derived from 2 broad groups: fighting and magic. These skills influence each character's ability to perform in combat;a character with a low rank in fire magic, for instance, will take a long time to use fire spells and do very little damage and someone with a high rank in continual attack will attack several times in succession. While many of the staple skills are available to everyone, with each Character having a variable degree of effectiveness with each skill, some of the most powerful skills can only be inherent to a character. These skills are learned through leveling, and help flesh each character out individually as a unique person. You'll find that the skill mix is surprising and that many sub-par characters will have a unique skill that makes them worth using.

   Sadly, there is some discrepancy between what the characters' stats say and how well they actually do. While a character might have high attack power, without the right skill you'll find he actually does less damage than a character with a much lower attack power. Magi, because of the AI involved and their already pitiful combat skills, are little more than an extra target when they're not casting spells. Healing items can only be used on a character in a pair by a member of that pair. These changes to the battle system can be very frustrating and give the game a harsh learning curve, but once a player gets the hang of finessing it then they'll fully enjoy how fast-paced the battles are.

   A total of 108 characters can be recruited, with the large majority of those useable in combat. Certain combinations of characters will even unlock powerful combination attacks between them. A staple of the Suikoden series is that each character has a personal weapon that can be strengthened by getting it sharpened by a skilled blacksmith. Spellcasting is accomplished by equipping special Spell runes. Each character then has a certain number of useable spells, separated by level. These spell levels are used whenever a character casts a spell, regardless of what rune the spell originated from, and in addition a bevy of runes can give characters custom commands or powerful skills. The plot draws heavily on what has happened in the past, but clever recaps of the events of past Suikodens are available for those who search. The plot manages to stay away from the 'Destroy the evil empire' theme that has been standard fare in the past, and despite happening in a rather small geographic location you still have a feeling of doing something important.


Eww. Sorry about that. Bad horse, no biscuit!
Eww. Sorry about that. Bad horse, no biscuit!  

   The translation is all right compared to the near mangled mess that Suikoden II was at some points. Unlike its predecessor, Suikoden III is not missing any music tracks and the blurbs of nonsense are nowhere to be seen. The characters speak fluidly, but some of the lines come off a little stiff. New to the Suikoden series is that, as the conversation goes on, not only will the character's portrait (which shows who is speaking at the moment) react to the conversation but the on screen character model will as well. Considering that the previous Suikodens featured little or no animation on the character models this is a huge improvement.

Speaking of improvements, the decision to do Suikoden III in full 3D was a good one. The environments look absolutely stunning as well as being well thought out and immersive. The plains seem to go as far as the eye can see, the characters will pick their way up a rocky mountain, and caves will try to suffocate you with their closed in walls. What's the price RPGamers pay for this incredible visual experience? You'll be re-trekking these dungeons over and over again.

Due to the 'Trinity Sight' system you'll experience the first half of the game from the viewpoints of 3 different characters. Because they'll each be going to mostly the same locations, endlessly repeating the same dungeons can be quite boring. The dungeon design itself is flawed as well, being extremely short and little more then a straight line from Point A to Point B.


Wise words we should all aspire to
Wise words we should all aspire to  

Because of the flawed dungeon design and the ridiculously fast pace of leveling, most RPGamers will likely burn through Suikoden III their first time. However the challenge of collecting all 108 stars, and the reward given, will be enough for many people to play through 2 or even 3 times. A large list of hidden items and monsters will also give those collection-minded RPGamers something to do as well.

In the end, Suikoden III is like a peanut. You'll have to crack its outer shell to see what's inside, but the end result is an amazing game.





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