Suikoden - Reader Re-Retroview  

Outlaws of the Marsh
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

Easy to Medium
10-20 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The son of General Teo McDohl of the Scarlet Moon Empire has come under service of his homeland, and at first works loyally until he witnesses firsthand its increasing corruption, which soon lands him as leader of the Liberation Army to overthrow it, with a friend also giving him control of the powerful Soul Eater Rune, one of the 27 True Runes, which the imperial sorceress Windy seeks. Konami's Suikoden was one of the first RPGs for the Playstation, which still holds up nicely even today.

   Suikoden features three different modes of battle, the first of which is the random encounter. Battles feature six of several dozens of the game's playable characters, with each having the commands of attack, defend, rune magic, item, or a unite attack with another character. Rune magic requires a character to equip a rune, with some having physical effects such as increased damage upon use, and others having magic requiring four different levels of MP. Unite attacks require specific characters to perform, and can be useful, especially if they attack all enemies in battle. Players can also bribe enemies with money to get them to leave, try and run from battle (if the party's levels are high enough, the Run option becomes Let Go, which guarantees retreat from certain fights), or let all characters automatically use physical attacks against the enemy for a round.

   Whatever the player's options, random encounters are fairly quick, especially since commands sometimes execute simultaneously. There are certain challenges to combat, however, such as the lack of items to revive characters in battle (with only one item allowing a character, when killed, to revive automatically once with some HP; outside of battle, though, players can use normal healing items to revive dead allies). Normal fights late into the game can also be fairly taxing, although having a character that can use healing magic can make things a bit easier. All in all, normal battles are fairly enjoyable, and can have decent variety, especially given the number of playable characters.

The woes of arthritis "...which is why I never forget to take my aspirin!"

   Another mode of combat is the Major Battle, fought sporadically at key moments during the game, where the Imperial Army and Liberation Army square off. Both sides have a certain number of soldiers, with the player using various battalions led by up to three playable characters to use charge, bow, or magic attacks to try and reduce the Imperial Army's forces to zero (alongside other battalions that can do things like predict the enemy's next move). Major Battles play like rock-paper-scissors, with charge attacks beating magic attacks, bow attacks beating magic attacks, and magic attacks beating charge attacks. If the Imperial Army bests one of the player's attacks, there is a chance that one of the characters in the battalion used (which subsequently becomes unavailable for further use in the battle) can die permanently. Major Battles sometimes require a bit of luck to win, although they're otherwise nice diversions from normal battles.

   Rarer are one-on-one duels, again using a rock-paper-scissors formula, where, in their instance, normal attacks beat enemy defense, defense beats desperate attacks, and desperate attacks beat normal attacks. Whatever the player's opponent says before the player executes a command dictates what move the opponent will use, with the player needing to match words with actions to triumph. Like Major Battles, duels are a nice diversion from normal battles, with all three modes of combat, overall, being solid.

   The interface is clean for the most part, with easy menus, shopping, and such, as well as a decent idea at most points on how to advance the main storyline. A certain character and item, moreover, ultimately allow the player to teleport to visited areas and instantly return to headquarters, and Escape Talismans allow for instant egress of most dungeons. Though each character has limited inventory space, moreover, the player does gain a depository at headquarters where he or she can dump excess items, and inventory management actually isn't too serious of an issue. Things can get somewhat hectic if the player wishes to experiment with every playable character, and dashing requires a certain Rune (or character), but otherwise, interaction doesn't detract too heavily from the game.

   The first Suikoden was fairly original in its time, having features such as 108 characters, six-person parties, different modes of battle, and so forth, although the series is loosely based on Chinese literature, and the idea of multiple levels of MP came from the original Final Fantasy.

Caption Should've brought some bugspray...

   Given the large number of characters in Suikoden, one can't expect thorough development for them all, and the game more emphasizes the conflict of the story than the characters. There are in fact many conflicts in the story, such as those between the Empire and the rebels, General Teo McDohl and his rebel son, and so forth. The game does elaborate on a few key characters, and provides both them and the villains some motivation for their ideals. The ending events of the game can also differ a little depending upon whether or not the player has acquired all 108 Stars of Destiny. Once the player has beaten the game, moreover, the game tells the player what happens with all recruited characters after the main events. The only major shortcoming is the somewhat weak translation, though luckily, it doesn't detract too heavily from the game. Overall, the story is nicely executed and was more than adequate for its time, despite its flaws.

   The soundtrack also suits the game well, with many memorable tracks such as "Black Forest" and "Gorgeous Scarleticia," as well as remixes of several themes, always a plus in RPG music. Some of the sound effects are a bit out of place, for instance, with dragons strangely sounding like elephants. Otherwise, Suikoden is easy on the ears.

   Suikoden features two-dimensional visuals, with decently-proportioned sprites (none of the 108 Stars of Destiny, surprisingly, are palette swaps), colorful scenery, and the like. The battle graphics are well-executed as well, with nice animations and dynamic camera angles, which can, though, at times make them seem pixelated, but otherwise, the game is easy on the eyes, as well.

   Finally, Suikoden is a fairly short game, taking somewhere from ten to twenty hours to complete, depending in part on how much time the player takes to find all 108 Stars of Destiny. In the end, Suikoden is an all-around solid title, and was perhaps one of the first great RPGs for the Sony Playstation. Though the game is a little over a decade old, it has aged fairly well, and would provide but a fraction of the world to be expanded upon in its sequels and prequels.

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