The first two games in the Genso Suikoden series were well received due to their quick battles and large cast of characters. One hundred and eight characters, to be precise. Suikoden III will take gamers back to the world of Suikoden, this time in full 3D.
One of the nice things about this series is that the places and situations actually carry on from game to game; Suikoden III takes place 15 years after the events described in its predecessor. This time around, the player gets to choose from three main characters: Hugo, a Grasslander who is preparing to leave home; Chris, a Zexen knight who has just returned from a costly battle; and Geddoe, a mysterious foreigner. After playing through a prologue for each of them (Wild ARMs style) the chance arrives to make a more permanent choice regarding whose quest to follow. The characters meet up on several occasions, but it will take more than one play through to experience every quest. It is also possible that this game will allow fans to import their Suikoden II Memory Card saves, which would allow previous characters to make an appearance.
Although sometimes it seemed like the graphics on the PlayStation Suikoden games could have been managed on the Super Nintendo, this installment takes advantage of what its console can offer. The anime-style characters float smoothly along the beautiful, often massive, landscapes. All the field graphics are a sight to behold, and only the battle animations are a bit stiff. The spells, however, are quite impressive with excellent effects.
More often than not gamers won't have the time to notice. Suikoden battles have been traditionally fast paced, sometimes lasting only a few weapon strokes. This might seem a bit pointless, but it is certainly preferable to the other extreme. When Suikoden III does slow down, it gives players a chance to think of strategy. This game features something called the "Free Position" system, which means party members can move or advance after attacking. Having an advantageous position could mean splitting up the enemy party or being able to blast foes at a distance. Since six fighters are in a party at once, it might get a bit wild with everyone moving all around, but Konami has put in a way to organize strategies: each character has a "buddy." If a close range warrior is paired up with a mage, for instance, then the fighter will block damage directed at the mage so that spells can be cast in peace. This is also how the classic Suikoden combo/unite attacks will work this time around, so the two people who are involved in the attack must be buddies.
Of course, the above only refers to the common place, run-of-the-mill battles that occur in every RPG. Suikoden is not so limited, offering one-on-one duels as well as large scale military strategy battles. These last two have undergone a facelift so they resemble less that classic non-video game, Rock-Paper-Scissors. The duels now feature a Duel Gauge which effectively makes things worse for the loser. The gauge is placed between the two HP bars and moves closer to that of the losing duelist. As the gauge approaches, the victim's accuracy and speed drop. The choices of Attack and Defend as commands are still there, but Desperate Attack has been replaced with Special Attack, which has a chance of canceling the opponent's attack. The large army battles have built on the developments of GS2 to involve unit movement, with allied unit placement a key factor. Reportedly there will be 10 army battles in the game.
Impressively, Konami has resisted the temptation to use the huge cast as an excuse for a dismissive experience system. The character customization is supposed to be top-notch and is further improved by more pairing up. Characters can be assigned to a riding beast, such as a horse or something equally fantastical, which boosts their speed and other appropriate attributes. Also, in addition to the normal advancement by weapon forging and runes, new skills can be learned from skill points earned in battle.
In most other respects fans can expect a return to the gameplay they're familiar with. The castle to house your 108 characters is back, as are the gambling mini-games. Several music tracks have also re-appeared, but the catchy Overworld theme is not among them. At least, it won't be played on the Overworld, because Suikoden III doesn't have one, having followed the recent trend of seamless area-to-area travel.
The original Suikoden appeared at a time when there were virtually no RPGs on the PlayStation, but now that the PS2 market is saturated with that genre, will Suikoden III succeed? Those who like deep, varied games with lots of characters may think so. We'll find out for sure when the game comes out on the 22nd of October.