Suikoden V - Reader Review  

Queendom Hearts
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

45-60+ Hours


Rating definitions 

   Ever since it hit the Playstation 2, Konami's Suikoden series has met with growing dissatisfaction among its fanbase, especially after the fourth installment, which provoked many to bemoan that the franchise was in a downward spiral. Thus, it was with much skepticism that the gaming community received the announcement that Konami was to produce a fifth installment, especially so soon after the fourth title and its tactical spinoff. Suikoden V, however, turns out to be a fairly solid title; despite some minor technical issues, the fifth chapter assimilates the strongest elements of previous installments into a superb package.

   Suikoden V opens with a trend that seems to have become common among series installments lately: a ride on a ship. Among its main occupants is the Prince of the Queendom of Falena, a beautiful nation ruled by the matriarchy. Joining him are his female bodyguard, Lyon, his aunt and Queen Arshtat's sister, Sialeeds, and a mysterious Queen's Knight named Georg Prime. All are returning from a visit to the town of Lordlake, which the Queen barbecued two years ago with the powers of the Sun Rune to quell an insurrection. Once again, civil unrest hovers over the Queendom, and when a militant political faction threatens the royal family, the Prince must take charge and defend the crown he will never wear.

Okay, there isn't that much sailing Didn't we get enough of this in Suikoden IV?

   Suikoden V marks the return of three modes of combat, the first of which is the traditional random encounter. The encounter rate can be fairly high at times, although battles, luckily, are fast like in previous installments, and in fact sometimes take a shorter amount of time to win than they do to load. Anyway, battles themselves mark the return of six-member parties, minus the "buddy system" from Suikoden III, and with a few new additions. One is a formation system, where players can acquire a variety of formations from treasure chests, and which can affect the party's stats; each character also has a short, medium, and long range of attack, something to consider when positioning characters.

   Another chief addition is a four-character entourage, which players can fill with backup characters they can swap in during battle and/or support characters that provide effects such as increased money after battle or gradual healing after each round. Battles themselves are standard Suikoden fare, with characters and enemies taking their turns in a round from fastest to slowest; features such as Unite Attacks, Rune Magic with four levels of MP, the ability to bribe monsters away with Potch or "release" them when the party's levels are high enough, and the like, return. Unite Magic, where two characters with high-level Runes combine two spells, also returns from Suikoden IV. Moreover, each character, in addition to their standard equipment slots, also has four slots into which players can put accessories and/or consumable items.

   The skill system from Suikoden III returns, as well, with characters able to equip two at a time, and which affect stats such as agility and attack. Characters gain individual skill points after battle, though players also gain a pool of skill points from which characters can draw to boost their skills if desired, and into which characters can place their own skill points. As for difficulty, Suikoden V is balanced for the most part, with battles becoming somewhat harder towards the end, although leveling, regularly forging weapons, and effective use of Runes can mitigate the challenge. Aside from the ten-second loading time that precedes battle, the loading time afterward, and the encounter rate (which a certain Rune, however, can somewhat mitigate), random encounters are fairly enjoyable.

What's up with his eyes? "Because now it's time for my favorite dinner--stakes!"

   Duel battles also return, typically occurring at points of the story, and which abide by a simple rock-paper-scissors formula, with normal attacks beating defenses, defenses beating special attacks, and special attacks beating normal attacks; paying attention to what the player's dueling opponent says, as with before, is critical to victory. One main difference from previous Suikodens is that players must input their command within three seconds, or otherwise, their opponent will freely strike them. If both duelists use normal attacks, the player must mash buttons to break the deadlock, damaging his or her opponent if successful, or taking damage if not. If both use special attacks, both will take damage. If both defend, neither will take damage. Though duels are simple at heart in spite of the additions, they're fairly enjoyable diversions.

   The final mode of battle is the war battle, which again comes at critical points of the game's story. Before battles begin, the player can customize various kinds of units on land, and at times on sea, with Stars of Destiny. As with duels, a rock-paper-scissors formula dominates war battles; on land, infantries beat archers, archers beat cavalries, and cavalries beat infantries, while on the sea, combat ships beam rams, rams beat archer ships, and archer ships beat combat ships. Late in the game, the player can form special nautical units that supersede the rock-paper-scissors rules. The war battles themselves are in real-time, with players moving their units near the enemy's and engaging them in combat. There are a few special unit attacks, such as recovery and magic, based on the characters players put into their units. After victories, players gain a certain amount of Potch and items depending upon how well they did. Overall, war battles, like the other modes of combat, are enjoyable.

   Finally moving on, Suikoden V, for the most part, features a largely spotless interface, plagued only by loading times occasionally incurred when moving from room to room, slight lags when popping up and navigating the menus, and the tedium of setting up units before war battles. Players, moreover, can dump excess items at their headquarters' storage facility, indicating some sort of eventual limit on inventory space, though I never reached such a limit. A traditional overworld also connects areas, with little backtracking to speak of, and a certain character's teleportation abilities, not to mention sailing (whose sequences the player can mercifully skip), eventually providing rapid conveyance among certain areas. Along with scrolls that allow players to exit dungeons instantly, not to mention a few mini-games, interaction in Suikoden V, overall, is well more than adequate.

I am woman, hear me--use my Sun Rune! "Bow before feminist rule, you chauvinist pigs!"

   Given its combination of elements from previous installments, Suikoden V can naturally feel like a retread at times, what with elements such as three modes of battle, despite the aforementioned changes, the 108 Stars of Destiny, and so forth, returning, although the game, for the most part, explores new territory in the franchise's universe that in effect helps it feel somewhat fresh.

   Kazuyoshi Tsugawa, responsible for the scenario in Skies of Arcadia, handles Suikoden V's story, which is nothing short of superb. Although some have damned the plot for getting off to a slow start, the first few hours, in my opinion, effectively sow the seeds for events throughout the remainder of the game. The story itself contains just about everything any RPGamer could hope for: genocide, corruption, political intrigue, civil war, endless twists and turns (many of which are truly surprising and unpredictable), and an endearing cast. There are also some minor branches in the storyline, not to mention multiple endings and epilogues for the 108 Stars of Destiny, and overall, Suikoden V, without a doubt, features one of the finest storylines in the current generation of RPGs.

   The soundtrack of Suikoden V, like those of its predecessors, features a variety of folk music, chiefly Gaelic and Asian, that very well enhance the mood of the game. The fifth installment features its own central theme and several nice remixes of it, as well, not to mention a few dramatic battle themes. Suikoden V also features voice acting, which, for the most part, is well-executed, in spite of some of the younger characters sounding a bit shrill. Sound effects are also well-done, and overall, the fifth title is fairly easy on the ears.

   All Suikodens since the third have undergone some sort of significant visual metempsychosis, and the fifth installment continues that tradition, this time adopting graphics that are somewhere in between anime-style and realistic. Character models, for the most part, look fairly pleasant, as do the environments, in spite of some iffy texturing during cutscenes, not to mention load times and the rare occurrence of slowdown when the screen is jam-packed with characters. Battle visuals are well-executed as well, and all in all, Suikoden V is easy on the eyes in addition to the ears.

   Finally, the fifth installment is one of the longer Suikodens, taking anywhere from forty-five to sixty hours to complete, with a replay mode allowing players to work for other endings if desired. Suikoden V, in the end, is a nice comeback for the franchise, fusing the best elements from previous games into a solid package and featuring a superb storyline. It does have some small issues with loading times, although it just might rekindle your faith in the series if the third and/or fourth installments disappointed you, and can prove to be a solid adventure through the ever-growing Suikoden universe.

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