Suikoden V - Retroview  

Reach Up for the Sunrise
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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40-60 Hours
+ Enjoyable combat
+ Effective narrative
+ Entertaining cast
- Loading times
- The never-ending introduction
- Some things happen slowly
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   Suikoden V marked the end of a burst of new releases in the series, the likes of which Konami has never returned to. Suikoden IV and Suikoden Tactics were adversely affected by Yoshitaka Murayama's departure from the series, but the fifth game's enduring appeal is a testament to how successful it is in recapturing the glory days. Unfortunately Konami's bottom line was clearly not satisfied, and V now stands as the unintended conclusion to the official series.

   The nation of Falena is a matriarchy, and its current queen's mental state is unstable after she donned and used the Sun Rune two years prior. The Sacred Games, which determine the husband of the next in line for the throne, elapse without significant problems. Shortly afterward however, tensions between the factions of national politics come to a head with the conquest of the royal palace and death of the Queen. With a choice between flight or death, the Prince of Falena joins a few desperate compatriots and gradually marshals sufficient resources to plunge the country into full-on civil war.

   Quite a bit transpires in Suikoden V, which does a very good job of breathing depth into the factions at play. The important personalities are given enough development to make their rationales intelligible, and the events depicted feel closer to a civil war from actual history instead of something cobbled together by overworked writers. Some personalities don't get nearly as much to say and do as they should, and further analysis of numerous events would have been welcome, but the result is compelling throughout.

   Where Suikoden V comes across poorly is the length of time it takes to get things moving. The introductory phase of most games is an hour or two, but here it can take nearly ten before things are finally moving along. An inexplicably slow text appearance rate doesn't help things progress, and as if to emphasize the lethargic pace the player has to be informed individually every time characters enter and exit the party. Eventually the game will get moving, but a high level of patience is required to get there. The payoff for that patience is an extremely involving experience featuring plenty of ancillary activities in addition to moving the story along, and since finishing the plot by itself requires somewhere near fifty hours, the dull introduction can be overlooked later.

Mr. beaver, question!  How are you able to see through your thick spectacles while underwater? Mr. beaver, question! How are you able to see through your thick spectacles while underwater?

   In combat V goes back to the ways of the first two titles in the series, with a party of six characters beating the tar out of randomly encountered enemies in a turn-based fashion. Suikoden III added the idea of having a seventh character who did not participate directly in combat but offered some kind of benefit, and V allows up to four additional characters be in the party's entourage. These can be combat characters to switch in, or limited to noncombatants who contribute various helpful functions such as increased monetary spoils. The efficiency with which the auto-attack option is used makes things proceed quickly, but otherwise combat's essentials aren't noteworthy, just effectively accomplished.

   The plethora of characters eventually made available to select could be intimidating, but V has a high ratio of useful people. Switching between the variety of available fighters to see who works well with each other is an enjoyable pastime, and an effective way to learn a little bit more about characters who don't say much in the narrative. Taking on significant bosses with a thrown-together group may not be wise, but most of the random adversaries are forgiving enough to make victory conceivable with any setup.

   Like previous entries in the series, getting all 108 Stars of Destiny will require a great deal of effort unrelated to the central storyline. Some of them have narrow windows of recruitment, but going through the effort is an excellent way of seeing the most of the game's world. Getting everybody without a FAQ is an extremely difficult undertaking, but this is nothing new to a series veteran. Oddball persons such as Babbage the gear-obsessed inventor and Josephine the fashion diva will only be encountered by going out of the way to find them.

   Suikoden features army and duel engagements to vary the proceedings, and V makes a few changes to both from earlier installments. Duels are essentially the same rock-paper-scissors setup, except there is now a time limit to select the protagonist's move, though triumphing is rather easy against these opponents. The time limit, coupled with the vocal taunts of the opponent, serves the intended purpose of making these engagements feel consequential.

   Army encounters involve moving units on land and sea akin to real time strategy, with similar weapons triangles at play. Some army battles suffer from the lack of control the player has over unit setup, which must be done immediately before the fight, but they're nevertheless entertaining. After the introduction, player forces tend to be outnumbered on a three-to-one basis, which makes the evisceration of the not-too-bright AI all the more satisfying. Keeping complete control gets difficult, as per most RTS titles, but the game supplies a few ways to keep an altercation from going too wrong for the player. As in previous titles, army engagements shake up the proceedings and get quite involving, with V's hectic engagements standing tall over some of what had been seen before.

One must ask whether the Queen of Falena One must ask whether the Queen of Falena's head ever gets tired having to hold up that massive tiara.

   Aside from having an item limit that is easy to fill before a storage method is provided, Suikoden V's inventory aspects are effectively handled. What grates on the player is the need for the game to frequently spend time loading, which is a process of variable length. Entering and exiting battle is the most frequent time for this to rear its ugly head, but transitions between areas also cause it, or placing a character elsewhere on the same screen into a battle party. It is true that the load times here are far from the most insufferable ever featured in a video game, but just because they could have been worse does not make them pleasant to experience.

   Like Suikoden IV, this title features sporadic voice acting for plot events. The performances are fine for these sections, but as they are far fewer in appearance than text-only spots, it is easy to forget what characters sound like. As per tradition for the series, the music is consistently effective and involving. Each town comes with a unique theme and the total number of compositions is large enough to keep repetition very low, while their quality stays strong.

   The character models used in voiced cutscenes look good enough, though the PS2 could handle far more strenuous things. Voiced scenes are uncommon however, and most of the time the game sticks to overhead isometric images that would not have been impressive years earlier. The static camera can be bothersome also, since the angle by which it views the proceedings only changes at set points, leaving pertinent things obscured by corners.

   It's been more than eight years since this game's release, and no Suikoden VI has even been hinted despite several possibilities for new lands to further flesh out the Suikoden world being mentioned here. At this point the odds of Konami bankrolling a continuation of the universe are slim, especially after two underperforming spinoffs. I wasn't captivated by all the games in the series, but after playing through all of them my appreciation for the unique ways of Suikoden has grown, which makes its premature conclusion all the more unfortunate.

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