Suikoden Tactics - Staff Retroview  

The War Against Fish-Men and Mediocrity
by Ryan Mack

Very Easy
20-40 hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The "tactics" sub-genre of RPGs is quite popular, thanks no doubt to both the quantity and quality of the offerings placed under its broad banner since the early years of console gaming. That said, the ammendment of that term to a title belonging to an already storied franchise would seem to be a no-fuss recipe for success, as it has been in the past. It nearly goes without saying, then, that Konami's 2005 Playstation 2 offering Suikoden Tactics has some large shoes to fill in order to conform to the demands of history, series, and genre. Sadly, it largely fails to do so in most meaningful ways, and thus is doomed to drift off into obscurity.

   In some respects, Suikoden Tactics is standing on thin ice before its box is even opened, as it is not just a direct successor to Suikoden IV, but a full-fledged spinoff of that problem-laden and ultimately disappointing title. In fact, Tactics begins not by showcasing the new cast of characters and their respective concerns, but instead by placing the player in command of the previous game's protagonist and his comrade Snowe. Thankfully, this lasts but briefly, and Tactics' protagonist Kyril, his father Walter, and companions Andarc, Seneca and the mute Yohn are subsequently introduced, as is their quest to investigate "rune cannons," objects whose powers are only exceeded by their mystery.

   If that comment sounds clichéd, well, that's because it is, and such comments find themselves right at home in Suikoden Tactics. To put it bluntly, from a narrative perspective, there is nothing new here. The plot and new characters feel largely shoehorned into the previously established setting, which can likely be explained by the fact that Tactics contains relatively few elements unique to it. Even if one is willing to accept the fact that the large majority of the game's locations, characters, and even a few plot points have been directly absorbed from Suikoden IV without much fanfare or explanation, there still isn't much left to engage one's attention. The locus of the plot is the same coming-of-age-despite-tragedy bit that's been gracing library bookshelves for centuries, and there it was largely done better, and often without the whiny and predictable characters that populate this game's storyline.

Knew we shouldn't have let him watch those Rambo movies. Knew we shouldn't have let him watch those Rambo movies.

   Still, as trite as the plot may be, there is some salvation in the game's combat system. At its foundation, it's pretty standard fare, with combatants shuffling about a grid-based combat field in order to secure advantage by attacking from behind or to the side. This is then altered slightly via the introduction of an elemental terrain system, whereby each square of terrain can possess an elemental affinity which can either help or hinder units standing on them depending upon their own innate element. Moreover, at times allies will assist in each others' attacks and defenses, providing sufficient "good will" exists between them, a stat which is boosted by, among other things, conversing in combat. In fact, should sufficient "good will" be accrued between them, certain characters will be able to engage in a Suikoden staple: Combo Attacks. As with the other series standards (runes, skills, etc.), these translate rather well in the new format, and really mesh with the kind of deep character customization one might expect from a TRPG. Of course, some sacrifices have been made, notably the absence of the 108 stars gimmick (though there are a large number of characters) and the changing of many spells to utilize the elemental terrain system.

   The combat finds its limitations in the locales at which the actual battles occur, all of which largely resemble straight, even corridors with the party and their opponents placed on opposing sides. This uniformity is only compounded by the fact that, as a consequence of Suikoden Tactics' graphical style, the environments themselves appear flatter, drabber and even more repetitive than they may have been otherwise. Furthermore, the characters themselves are blocky, inexpressive, and tend to move about in an awkward, stilted manner, even when executing grandiose rune attacks. Regardless, a good portion of the player's time will be spent away from the graphics entirely, since the game's interface outside combat and cutscenes is simple, menu-driven and set against static backgrounds, a design choice which, though unfortunate, can at least be forgiven.

Combo attacks and the single girl. Places to go, people to shoot.

   What really can't be forgiven, though, is the voice acting. The majority of the cutscenes are fully voiced, a fact which would illicit smiles were the speech not so badly paired with the characters delivering it. Kyril is the main culprit, sounding as though he spends the entirety of the game mired in the early stages of puberty. Noone else is quite as awkward, but there remain painfully few characters whose voices are unobtrusive enough to make one want to unmute the television. In fact, the only saving grace enjoyed by the spoken portions of the dialogue is the fact that they have received a bit more meticulous of a translation, and are free of the glaring errors present in other portions of the game, such as the "100 Potch get!" the player sees upon successfully stealing. As for the music, it thankfully lacks the painfully out-of-place qualities of the voicework, doing its best to fit the circumstances without becoming bothersome, though it would be nice if its aspirations reached beyond the mediocre. In short, tolerable as the music may be, there's simply no getting past the nails-on-a-chalkboard quality of some of the voicework, particularly in light of the fact that cutscenes are unskippable.

   Players might not need to skip cutscenes, however, as it will be unlikely they'll be forced to by a Game Over. Even for novices, Suikoden Tactics is quite simple, and only becomes moreso as the game progresses and characters pick up hugely powerful rune abilities. As such, even should one deign to complete the side material, it will be difficult to glean that much actual playtime from Suikoden Tactics beyond the twenty-five hour mark or so. Why anyone would want to fully complete said sidequests is a mystery, as they consist of a quest dispatch system which is surprisingly bereft of quests and a small, multi-tiered dungeon. Nevertheless, for those inclined, there is a New Game+ option which adds yet another character into the player's party, as well as allowing for the long-awaited skipping of cutscenes.

   The sparsity of bonus material puts a period on the disappointment that is Suikoden Tactics. Had it been released several years previous, it might have stacked up against other entries in its genre and/or on its platform, but, following on the heels of so many superior titles, it proves unable to overcome its own myriad problems, let alone the test of time.

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