Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release Date: December 1996
After seeing his best friend die at the hands of the empire his family has sworn their loyalty to, the son of the McDohl family has been handed a cursed fate. With the power of the Soul Eater, a rune that governs life and death, he has become the target of the newly corrupt Scarlet Moon Empire. Their goal, to obtain the Soul Eater by any means necessary. McDohl’s only hope is to become the leader of a band of rebels, and start a revolution to overthrow the empire, and restore order to a nation in chaos.
This is the story of a tragic hero. Like each Suikoden game in the series, the hero is forced to make several difficult choices, and take actions that no one ever should. He did not ask for this position, and he suffers greatly because of it. Add the fact that he carries a rune which feeds on life itself, and you have a pretty terrible situation. This is one of the main factors of the game being such a fascinating story. You are in a war, and there are consequences for your actions. Even though many of these consequences are not based on the player’s choice, seeing these actions in the narrative still weighs a heavy impact as you experience them.
The concept of war also brings out several different story topics, such as racism, genocide, betrayal, love and loss. Suikoden is able to invoke an emotional response throughout, and the game was made 20 years ago. It’s nice to see that kind of depth from something of its generation.
Suikoden is a series well known for its many characters, as each game has 108 recruitable characters. Many of these characters were not given a lot of depth, but those that were central to the plot were very impactful. McDohl’s group of guardians follow him from the empire to the liberation army, and maintain support even in the worst of times. Others help secure his position as a leader, and each have their own reasons for fighting.
Suikoden also uses the silent hero mechanic. There are times when his not being able to speak his mind can be troubling, while other times I’m glad I didn’t have to experience his heart breaking with words. Honestly, things were tragic enough to watch, let alone read about.
Suikoden uses 2D graphics which included some great battle animations for its time, and the rune designs were actually really interesting. Each character design was also very unique, and that’s impressive to do with over a hundred character models to design.
The music for Suikoden had a team consisting of Tappy Iwase, Mayuto Kageshita, Hiroshi Tamawari, Setsu Taniguchi and Miki Higashino. These guys did a fantastic job of bringing emotion into their music. This was essential back in the day when games didn’t have voice acting (or in some cases good voice acting). When a town can go from happy go lucky music to the sad tunes of a destroyed village really help realize the gravity of each situation. Some of the songs used here are used again in later installments of the game with new versions. I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Gameplay – Exploration/Combat
Suikoden uses traditional world map and dungeon exploration systems. What really makes it unique are its methods of combat. There are three types of fights: Party battles, one on one duels, and war scenarios.
Party battles are done with six members against monsters. You can attack, use rune magic or skills, use items, run, or even bribe your enemies with money to guarantee an escape. Commands are entered for everyone at the start of a round, and then turn order is determined by speed stats. Each round moves relatively fast, so you’re not waiting for slow battle animations to play out for the next round to begin or the battle to end.
One on one duels are probably the most fun part for me about combat. When fighting one on one, you can choose to attack, defend, or use a desperate attack, and the opponent will do the same. Using a Rock-Paper-Scissors system, each move does better than another. To add some foresight into things, before selecting, your enemy says something that will give a hint as to what his move is going to be. Each person also has a health bar, and the first bar depleted is the loser. Not only is this a fun little system, but each duel is significant to the story, making them more meaningful.
War scenarios are also plot based, and work similarly to the duels. Your total army count is based on how many characters you have recruited, so the more you recruit, the longer you can hold out in a war. Once again, each side selects an action, and like the duels, one does better than another. Your advantage in the war scenarios are your recruited characters. There are special abilities available before a round that can give you an edge. Some can recruit members of the enemy army to your side, while others could summon a one-time special attack command that works outside of the base rules for the war scenario.
The big thing about the war scenarios is that if you do poorly, there is a chance that some of your recruited characters can die permanently.
Gameplay – Character Progression/Customization
Characters level up with experience, increasing their base stats. Customizing them can be done with armor, runes, and weapon smithing. Each character always uses the same weapon, but they can be upgraded for a price at a blacksmith. These get very pricey, so I would usually only upgrade the weapons and buy armor for those that I was going to be using regularly.
Each character can have one rune attached to them as well. Some characters have one permanently attached, but there is still flexibility in other party members for rune usage. Runes will either provide the ability to cast magic, or offers a powerful physical skill. Physical skills can rarely be used in succession as they are very powerful.
Gameplay – Optional Content/Side Quests
While Suikoden doesn’t offer too much in the way of side quests, one of the biggest things that is technically optional is character recruitment. I say technical because it is recommended you recruit everyone, as this dictates which of two endings you receive.The ending is also changed if any of your characters die in a war scenario.
There are characters that can be missed after a certain point in the game, so you must be thorough. The only disappointing part of recruitment is that it’s very difficult to find everyone on your own without the use of a guide. Characters are found not only in towns, but dungeons as well. One of them is even at the top of a dungeon you have to go back to after clearing it in the story.
The more people you recruit, the better your castle town becomes. This can open up some mini games, and gambling games to help you make a little extra cash. It’s actually quite easy to win some of these games, so it doesn’t take long to rake it in and well armor your team.
Suikoden is a very simple game overall. It can take as little as twenty hours to complete a full playthrough. To me, this is a twenty hours well spent. If you’re looking for a great story, with some simple but fun gameplay, then look no further. a physical copy of the game is hard to come by, but it is also available on the PlayStation Network for a mere $5.99. That’s a bargain, if you ask me. Once you finish it, check out the sequel, also on the PlayStation Network. I plan to review it in the near future, so stay tuned for it.