An original take on the classic turn-based RPG, music is diverse and memorable, save file can carry over to affect sequel. Even by the standards when it was released, graphics a little dated, a little too short.
It’s hard to surprise me on my video game journey, especially when I decided to play some retro games that I had missed when they were released. I thought I knew what to expect. These were generations that I lived through and had seen the beginning and end. But then someone told me about Suikoden, an old RPG on the PSOne that was “one of the best” he had ever played. I was intrigued, because I had initially pegged this guy as another Final Fantasy nut. So I started my search.
Of course, I started on eBay. And was surprised. A video game I had never heard of was about $150 in good condition. Compare that to black label Final Fantasy VII, a much more popular game with a stupidly large fanbase, that you can get today for $100 in the same condition. Now, Suikoden was released in the U.S. in 1996, and around that time, I was more a Nintendo and Sega fan. It’s very possible that this game made a huge splash when it was released, and I just didn’t notice. Whatever the case, it was pricey. About a month after starting my search, I managed to find it used at my local game shop for $90. The case was in good shape, and it came with the booklet, so I bought it then.
A Unique Combination Of Battle Systems
There are a lot of things that this game did differently for its time. The most obvious is the battle system. There are three types of battles that you’ll run into: one-on-one, your typical team based combat, and army vs army. Yeah, that’s a pretty big range. None of these are particularly amazing on their own, but together, they switch up the pace of the game before the random encounters drag on, and in a classic RPG, that’s important. The one-on-one and army based are the most interesting, and are big (or small) games of rock-paper-scissors. In a duel, you can attack (rock), defend (paper), or perform a heavy attack (scissors). In a big battle, you can charge, attack with bows and arrows, or attack with magic. Regardless of what you do, you’ll lose troops or take damage, but if you choose the option that’s stronger than your opponent’s, they lose a lot more.
The team based combat operates about how you’d expect, with the exception that team members can combine their attacks for different effects and greater damage. This is limited to specific party members or types of spells, and is something you’d have to find out on your own. Honestly, I found that to be a fun addition. I’d have to know the interactions and relationships between party members, and experiment with changing up my team for different effects.
A Huge Team Roster Offers A Refreshing Challenge
And there’s a lot of changing up to do. Guess how many characters your average RPG has. Anywhere from 4-7. Suikodenhas 108. One. Hundred. Eight. That’s a lot of characters. Granted, only twelve or so are important in the story at any one time, and those that are cycle in and out until you finish the game. But you don’t just run into all of these party members. You have to find them, and convince them to join you. It gives the game a Pokémon-esque feel that was addictive for a while, and frustrating afterwards, as there will doubtlessly be one or two characters that you’ll scratch your head trying to find out how to get them. It turns out there’s a special reward for “catching them all” by the end of the game, but that involves major plot spoilers.
An Emotional Plot And Moral Choices Combine Well
Speaking of plot, it’s better than expected. You spend the first couple hours being convinced that you’ll be spending the game a certain way, and then get thrust into the exact opposite position due to circumstances you can’t control, and have to fight against what you used to fight for. It’s a story that’s based on betrayal, revenge, and family, and has a very classic feel to it. That’s probably because it’s loosely based on a classic Chinese novel, Shui Hu Zhuan (or “Water Margin”). Whether it’s the source material or some good ideas by the writers, I sincerely felt for the main character.
The main character (whom you can name, of course), is a particularly effective part of the game. He’s one of the silent protagonists that was common in RPGs of the era, but this time, there’s a level of personalization available; you reflect yourself upon him. Throughout the story, you’re given several “yes or no” moral choices that can affect many things: whether or not you get one of the 108 characters, whether you go into battle or sneak behind enemy lines, or, sometimes, nothing at all. Whatever the case, they’re weighty decisions, and I like them. Am I a forgiving person, an example to the increasing number of people who call me their leader? Or am I revenge-seeking, too hurt by my betrayals to spare a life? Your imagination can run with it as you travel through mines, mountains, forests, castles, temples, and anywhere else you can expect to find yourself in an RPG.
There’s A Great Soundtrack, But Disappointing Environments
While you’re travelling through those locales, you can expect to be treated to a great musical score. It’s beautiful, changes based on your location, and sometimes, based on the mood of the story. It’s much more varied than other games from the period, and it’s definitely refreshing.
Of course, no game is perfect. Compared to other games released alongside it, the graphics of Suikoden are a little subpar. The environments, while being pretty, are repetitive. The levels compared to each other are varied, but within themselves, anything but. The repetitiveness actually got me lost in one level. The world map is also quite flat, and is easy to get lost in, even when you’re given directions in-game to your next destination.
Now, a great job was done making the character sprites for all of those characters distinguishable, and the character portraits have a great amount of detail in them. The battle animations are pretty good, too, with a dynamic camera moving around the battlefield to give a pretty nice organic feel. So all in all, the graphics of Suikoden aren’t bad, just not great.
Not Enough, But There Is A Direct Sequel
Suikodenis a short game. If you don’t go running about all over the place getting all the characters, you’ll be done in about 20 hours. It’s a real shame, but at the least, the game is satisfying, with an unexpected ending, too. However, I found out that there are several Suikoden titles. The latest are nothing special, butSuikoden IIis a direct sequel, and uploading your save file from one to another apparently has some effects on the game. No opinion on it yet, because it’s even more expensive than it’s predecessor. I’m probably going to wait until I get lucky at a garage sale.
Suikoden is a great game. Worth the price? I think so. As long as you’re into classic RPGs with a huge cast and an engaging story, and are willing to look past the graphical slips and short length, you’d have a hard time finding a better game in the generation.
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