Review: Suikoden (PS3/PSP)

Name: Suikoden
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Role Playing Game
Re-Release Date On PSN: 12/22/2008


A re-release of the original PlayStation version of Suikoden, came out over the PSN last year for the fun of PS3 and PSP owners everywhere, and at a reasonable price compared to buying the original disc on your favorite auction site. Let’s see how this classic RPG fares today and bear in mind I have never played the original so there are no rose colored glasses here.

Story
Suikoden’s story can best be described as epic. It hits the ground running and puts you right away into the history of the characters, recruiting your own army and building your fortress almost from the ground up. Some of the classic staples of the console RPG are here, the random battles, the over the top boss battles, but among all that there is some real character development and less of a grind.

The main story starts off with a rebellion in the North which your father, a famous general, is sent to quell. You’re assigned to a low level jerk who has delusions of grandeur and is using you to rise in the ranks. It turns out one of your friends has a dark past and they want something he has, a dark magic that is extremely powerful. He manages to fight his way back to you and you get jumped trying to help him and are forced to flee, an enemy of the very Empire your father fights for.

So you set out gathering more companions and you can either embrace the rebels, or simply work for them. Either road will lead you down the line ever slowly against your father and the Empire you used to represent yourself and be a part of. The story itself is fairly straight-forward and I was pleasantly surprised that almost every one of the 108 total people you can recruit has some kind of background or history to them. Some are a bit more on the simple side than others, but that is impressive, even by today’s gaming standards.

Story Rating: Incredible

Graphics
Where Suikoden excels at story, it most definitely is lacking in the visual department, even for the year it came out, but especially now, 13 (or 14 if you were in Japan when it came out there) years later. The sprites do look halfway decent, but they insist on zooming in on them in some combat sequences which makes them look even more pixelated than they already are. The world map is very basic, and although huge, lacks some real detailing that would have made it even more spectacular.

There are no cutscenes to really speak of, the game’s story being played out by the sprites you use for combat and traversing the world. Cutscenes with pretty graphics or animation are not required but the sprites don’t always convey the scene all that well.

Which is a shame because I think a bunch of gamers who have never played this game will give it a pass jsut because it’s not pretty enough. The spirtes are well done, but in the current age of high-def, high gloss and polish gaming, Suikoden isn’t holding it’s own anymore.

Graphics Rating: Decent

Sound
The usual beeps and blips from the standard RPG are here. Ther’es nothing outstanding about them. You’ve heard them all before in a different tone in hudreds of other console RPGs. And then, you start to hear that fantastic musical score.

The music in this game is fantastic. It’s well written and really drives the battle, scene, or conversation. There have been scores like it since, but this has a rather unique set of themes to it that I really enjoyed. Each town, each dungeon, each area all has a feel of its own, and it isn’t the graphics that do it, it is the music that delivers this feel. Suikoden‘s music is really well done and really the only reason I am giving it as high a score as I am.

Sound Rating: Great

Control and Gameplay
This was pretty much standard as far as console RPG’s go. You use the directional pad to run around and the other four buttons to open a menu or assign attacks and set-off converstaions. Comfort is my favorite friend in the control scheme of an RPG I’ve never played.

Gameplay wise, Suikoden puts a few kinks in the traditional RPG. You don’t have a standard crew you run around with most of the game. You can run around with pretty much anyone you recruit, which is both useful and can be a hinderance when you need to use someone you haven’t run with before. The good news with that is other than tapping your money resources for new gear, you can level up that lagging teammate fairly quickly and get them into fighting shape.

There are the standard random battles and boss battles, all of which move very quickly, but Suikoden throws rangesd attacks in on you. Some characters can hit from long range some only close range so you have to employ a bit of strategy when you’re setting up your team’s positioning or you’ll end up with someone who’s close range only in your back row who won’t be able to do any attacks during the combat.

Another bit of interesting game play comes from the mass battles and the duels. It’s great seeing the mass battles and it really adds to that epic feel, but its playout is almost like rock, paper, scissors. You have to anticipate your opponents move and then try to counter it. There is a bit of intuition required for combat and correctly countering your opponents will really keep the damage to a minimum. Solo battles play out in a similar fashion, only not in the Helm’s Deep type of fashion. It’s a bit on the low end, but it’s a great and solid system that I liked. Combat is one thing that doesn’t drag in Suikoden.

Weapons, while not being something you can buy new in the game, do offer a small bit of customization. You can visit Blacksmiths in the towns to sharpen weapons, which raise their levels. Some even change into newer weapons as they get higher levels, and the higher they are, the better they perform in battle. IUpgrading weapons can get a bit pricey, and not every blacksmith is capable of the higher end upgrades which can be a bit annoying, but this just adds another level to the game.

Magic is different in the game as well. It’s done through runes that can be equipped on the characters you use and as they level with your group, they offer more possibilities in combat. It takes a while to get them to be really powerful, but when deployed to your teammated properly, they can really add quite a bit to your offensive and defensive capabilities.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

Replayability
There are 100 plus characters that you can recruit in Suikoden, and unless you can use a guide to get them on the first playthrough, it will take you several playthroughs to recruit them all. It helps that Suikoden isn’t a 40 plus hour grindfest that the Final Fantasy games have all turned into, which really would keep you from coming back to it.

Add to that your save game on the original PlayStation could be imported into Suikoden II, and that Suikoden II may also get a PSN release, and repalying to get all those elusive recruits is almost a necessity. The story is interesting enough that it can be fun to just jump in and experience it all over again.

Replayability Rating: Good

Balance
Suikoden is one of the more balanced console RPGs I’ve played in a long time. There isn’t a lot of level grinding, no saving up for the ultimate weapon, and as long as you’re planning your attacks and picking your allies carefully before going out into a dungeon crawl or against a boss, you’ll do just fine. The boss battles aren’t incredibly hard either. They’re the right mix of knowing what attacks to use, what team members to have and a bit of luck in the dice.

Then there’s the price. This is a STEAL on the PSN. You’d be a fool if you like RPGs to pass on this one. This game costs the operating budget of a small country on eBay, and as long as you have a PS3 or a PSP and $6, you can play Suikoden for even less than was originally released for.

Balance Rating: Classic

Originality
Loosely based on the chinese novel Shui Hu Zhuan, or Water Margin (See the kind of research we do for these things?), in which 108 spirits are released and a group of outlaws bands together to form and army against the Empire and eventually get amnesty and recognized as a legitimate army. The original has had several adaptations over the years, of which Suikoden is just a part.

The way the story is handled in the game is a bit more original than it had been handled before, again with the, “based loosely on” comment. The game itself has some pretty standard RPG elements to it, especially the older console RPGs, but it also did something new with the recruitment of so many people. Usually it’s just a handful, but you can see where Suikoden set the bar in that regard.

Originality Rating: Very Good

Addictiveness
This RPG is fairly short, weighing in at about 20 hours on the initial playthrough, but I was glued to it for hours at a pop, and not just because I was doing it for a review. The combat is fun and fluid, there wasn’t any real pointless grinding, and I was really enjoying getting into the game. I’m very picky about my RPGs, and I’ll give any of them a try, but there are few that I’ll play for hours on end like I did with this one. At one point my wife had to practically pull the PSP from my hands to get me to bed.

Another good sign this one is addictive, is that I always keep my PSP charged up and I actually had the battery die on me while I was playing. For those curious, that was four hours of straight play, and then I plugged it in to keep going for another four hours or so after that before my hand cramped. So yeah, I’d say it has a bit of addiction to it.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal Factor
The Suikoden series has a rather large following to it. The games themselves never get a Greatest Hits release in the US and then end up selling for astronomical amounts when they go on the online auctions. Here’s a chance to own the first for cheap, and it can be portable all at the same time. That has a big appeal, especially for those of us who jumped on board with Suikoden III or Suikoden IV and were mildly interested in getting the first title but were scared of the high cost.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

Miscellaneous
Here’s where we mix in some of the bad. This is a PSN release, and a port of the PlayStation title. It’s running on an emulation on the PSP, which is usually quite solid and I hadn’t noticed many glitches on the other PlayStation titles I’ve downloaded to my handheld before, but this one has a few graphical hiccups that might grate on some people. Most of the time it’s with the magical abilities and when you fire them of at the enemy. A giant black bar will pop up across the top of the screen and flash on and off at you. It’s distracting and annoying and I can bet it didn’t happen on the PlayStation. It’s one of the few downsides I see to getting this version.

I also wanted to add that I had wibbled about getting this and then got some advice from the guys and gals here at DHGF, and after much prodding I was up and away with it. I’m glad I did play it and am going to play it again and soon, and I’m hoping that we get Suikoden II soon and the saved games will load.

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good

The Scores
Story Rating: Incredible
Graphics Rating: Decent
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic
Replayability Rating: Good
Balance Rating: Classic
Originality Rating: Very Good
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
Appeal Factor Rating: Great
Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Gaming Rexes are sad!Fans of the series will more than likely already have this game. For those of us who don’t have it though, this is a great opportunity to pick it up and even better, to have it on the go without having to import the PSP two-pack from Japan and hope you can translate it. It’s a great old-school fantasy console RPG with a fantastic epic stroyline and some decent gameplay mechanics. Rise up from the chains of tyranny and build your army and save your friends. You know you want to.

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