Suikoden III - Reader Re-Retroview  

Chariots of Fire
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

40-60 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

-William Blake, "Jerusalem"

   Hugo, son of a Karayan chieftain; Chris Lightfellow, a Zexen knight; and Geddoe, a Harmonian mercenary, all hear rumors that the Flame Champion and his followers, the Fire Bringer, have reappeared in the Grasslands after defeating the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia half a century before. Because war again threatens the Grasslands, and Holy Harmonia once more seeks conquest, all three warriors seek the Flame Champion in hopes he will bring peace to the troubled land. Konami's Suikoden III saw the franchise's debut on the Sony Playstation 2, and while the transition to 3-D was not without its hiccups, it was largely solid nonetheless.

   All three modes of battle traditional to the series bear something different this time around. First are random battles, where up to six characters, as with before, fight the enemy. This time, however, the player places all characters into pairs, with pair formation determining things such as whether one character is mounted on a beast, the ability to use certain unite attacks, and so forth. In battle, the player inputs one command for each pair of characters, with all characters and enemies afterward moving around the field and attacking one another. When the player highlights a command to execute, a gauge at the bottom of the screen shows how much time it will take to execute that command, with some magic spells this time around requiring more than one turn to execute.

Michael Kelso "You have the right to remain BURNED!"

   Also new to random battles are innate attack/magic skills for each character that dictate things such as how many swings a character can execute in a normal attack and how quickly a character can cast a spell. Players can have characters learn new personal skills and/or increase their grades through skill points gained from battle alongside normal experience and money. Moreover, the player can pick a support character for the party that performs post-battle tasks such as partially restoring the party's health. These new features help combat feel plentifully fresh, though long enemy animations can somewhat drag battles out at times, especially when the player's party is at lower levels; as with previous Suikodens, however, the player can "Let Go" weak enemy parties, and overall, normal battles are more than adequate.

   Major battles yet again change, occurring at key story moments, with players and the enemy having various units of up to four characters placed on a connected dot battlefield. The player and enemy move their units, and if a player's unit is next to the enemy's, they can attack it, with other units surrounding the targeted unit "covering," resulting in higher damage. The screen then shifts to what at first seems to be a normal battle, although the player can only have the entire unit attack, defend, or retreat. If all members of a unit reach zero HP, it will disappear from the battlefield, and as with previous Suikodens, minor characters can die permanently in major battles. Still, major battles, despite their relative simplicity, are, as with previous installments, a nice diversion from normal fights.

   Duels, as with previous Suikodens, round off the three modes of battle, also occurring at key story moments and retaining the Rochambeau formula of combat where normal attacks beat enemy defense, defense beats an enemy's special attack, and special attacks beat normal enemy attacks; an opponent's speech, as with before, indicates which command he or she will execute. The only new feature is the indicator above the player and opponent's health gauges, showing which duelist has the advantage by moving towards his or her opponent's HP bar. Again, duels are a nice diversion from normal fights, and overall, all three modes of battle are a main draw to the game.

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   The interface, however, while fairly adequate, does bear some irritating features. The menus are clean and controls easy to handle, although some might find inventory management to be cumbersome, given that certain areas have special boss enemies that, upon defeat, allow the player to access a giant treasure chest full of endless loot that can quickly clog item space. Still, the player can dump excess items at storage facilities (whose space itself is limited, though it's fairly generous nonetheless), although once the player gains full access to the game's castle headquarters, dropping by each facility to manage characters can be somewhat tedious.

   The new overworld system also somewhat dampers interaction. Rather than featuring a full explorable overworld like its predecessors, Suikoden III instead features a map much like that in Legend of Dragoon, where dots indicate locations that pathway lines connect. Like in Dragoon, unfortunately, the player cannot simply walk past visited locations, and instead must travel constantly at times between the same areas, which in this reviewer's experience artificially pads out playing time, and more unfortunately, a certain character's teleportation abilities don't come into play until late into the game. Overall, interaction isn't bad, yet certainly could've been cleaner.

   The third installment has enough features to make it feel fresh, such as the "buddy system," skill point system, revamped major battles, and the Trinity Sight System. Suikoden III is also the only game in this reviewer's experience to allow data transfer from its Playstation predecessors, with doing so resulting in extra theater scripts and higher levels for a few characters, though given the expense of the second chapter and general detachment of the third game from its predecessors, data transfer is unnecessary for enjoyment. There are, of course, elements retained from its predecessors, but Suikoden III does an excellent job separating itself from its forerunners

   The story is told through the Trinity Sight System, where players individually take control of Hugo, Geddoe, and Chris through various chapters until their paths converge. Development for key characters is decent, as is the conflict of the protagonists with the chief villain, the Masked Bishop, who, if the player collects all 108 Stars of Destiny, receives his own special chapter. Endgame events can also differ depending upon the player's choices when the three protagonists rendezvous. Granted, the story isn't as complex as the Trinity Sight System makes it out to be, and references to the Suikogaiden games will be lost to American gamers. The translation also bears some minor blemishes such as nomenclatural inconsistencies with previous chapters (for instance, the Sindar are now the Cyndar), but otherwise, the plot is one of the game's driving factors.

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   The soundtrack is largely solid, with a superb opening theme, "Transcending Time," and many other solid tracks such as the tribal themes heard in many towns. Sadly, the music is also where the game falters, since during most cutscenes, the music volume either dies down or mutes completely, as though the developers originally intended to include voice acting but then refused (the series' creator left the game's development near its end, so perhaps that was his original intent). The utter lack of music from previous Suikodens with the possible exception of the final boss theme) will also be sure to alienate established series fans. Sound, however, is as one would expect in a Playstation 2 game, but still, there's really no excuse for the weak musical presentation.

   The 3-D visuals are reminiscent of those in Skies of Arcadia, albeit with more polish, given a high amount of detail on the character models, with their clothes and ornaments hardly seeming painted on, and colorful environments that, granted, do suffer a little from blurry textures on close-up (although there are actually exceptions to this at a few points). The only other major hiccup with the graphics is the inconsistent framerate when the current screen is busy, but otherwise, they're one of the high points of the game.

   Finally, Suikoden III is perhaps the longest installment of the series, taking somewhere from forty to sixty hours to complete. Overall, the series' move to three dimensions was largely more than adequate, although kainophobes will concur that it doesn't feel like a Suikoden game. It does bear some flaws, moreover, such as the lack of conveyance other than feet for most of the game and weak aural presentation, and it could have easily been ten to twenty hours shorter, but otherwise, it stands well on its own, and is a decent entry point for newcomers to the series.

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