So at a time when when Konami is busy burning every famous gaming franchise it has to the ground and trying to mould the ashes into pachinko machines, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at a Konami title that’s been on my backlog for a while. Suikoden is a turn based RPG with parties of six with 108 recruitable characters. The story is somewhat based on a Chinese novel called “Shui Hu Zhuan” by Shi Naian.
The plot details the son of a General in a corrupt empire who is pushed into joining the Liberation rebel army after the court Magician targets his best friend. His friend turns out to be a be a person who has been living for 300 years guarding a powerful rune the Magician wants called the soul eater. Before he’s captured, he entrusts the Rune to you and thus the tale begins to build up the Liberation army, rescue your friend and overthrow the evil empire. The biggest problem with the story is with how weak the villain is. The Imperial army is just obnoxiously evil as many people in it don’t see anything wrong with their obviously wrong actions. Its more moronic than evil in that regard because at least a villain like the Joker from Batman doesn’t try to justify things with logic like “That orphanage attacked me first!”. There are other soldiers who are evil because of a magic black rune but that excuse is just as weak. Windy the Court Magician acts as the main antagonist but her motivations come down to wanting the Rune so she can destroy the world. Near the end of the game her backstory is revealed that people burned down her home and she just wants revenge but for a woman who’s been living hundreds of years that motive is just petty. She doesn’t end up being the last boss, the last boss actually being the king who seems a lot more complex but only gets two scenes in the entire game. A majority of the games story has you traveling to lands to gain new allies and a strange formula happens. Almost every single time you go to ask someone to join, they refuse you saying they don’t want to get involved. Almost immediately after the imperial army shows up and gives them a reason to join. Examples include, a teacher doesn’t want to become your military strategist but when the army show up and take his students hostage to force him to work for them. After rescuing the kids, he joins you. A doctor doesn’t want to become involved but then a General takes him prisoner, you need to rescue him and he joins you then. Or you try to recruit a officer from their army, he says no and at that moment a higher ranking officer tries to rape his wife for his own amusement. Quite honestly its like these guys are trying to help you in their own way and your army builds up from the number of people they tick off. The elephant in the room is why is it that the imperial army never attacks your base because it’s clear that everyone knows about it seeing as every person you recruit goes to it without direction.
Suikoden’s game changer for the genre is the ridiculous amount of playable characters and to get a good ending you have to collect them all. It’s because of this I recommend a guide as its easy to just miss one of these guys. There are points where you can get one killed and doom yourself to a bad ending. The large amount of characters does lead to a problem of too much quantity as a majority of them whom you recruit, you will just toss them into the castle to never be used and use only a select few. The only time this changes is when the game forces you to use other characters which can be pace breaking as you are forced to return to the castle and put a character in your party just so you can advance through the story. Your castle headquarters is a great touch as its nice to see it grow as you collect more characters. The characters personalities are fairly one note and don’t really develop much beyond that. One of the most notable characters in the game, Mathiu, is more or less the high point of characterization and mainly because he’s a non playable character you deal with the most. One major problem with the game is one that you can see in the screenshots. Even by PSX standards this isn’t a pretty game, it’s at Super Nintendo standards at best and even that had more alive environments. The area’s are drab and basic, some bordering on ugly. Controlling your character through these places is stiff as you cannot move diagonally and feels restricting. Luckily areas are often very short and you can get through them very quickly.
The battle system is pretty standard. You have attack, items, defend and magic. There’s also a unite option that when certain party members are together you can do combination attack like in Chrono Trigger. Magic doesn’t have MP but instead you can only use certain spells a certain number of times. You spell uses come back once resting at an inn and as you level up you get new uses and new spells. Things which really help are the options to bribe enemies and set everyone to attack which makes random battles go by so much faster. It’s a simple but satisfying system. Levelling up in the game is rapid as there are a large cast of playable characters. This makes it easy to get low level characters up to a respectable level as having them in a party in a high level dungeon can have them around the same level as the other characters within a few battles. The mechanics of the game are fairly solid but there are a number of small counter intuitive things that prevent it from being great. For one at the beginning of the game you cannot run. You are forced to walk everywhere and you will only be able to run once one character of your party has a holy Rune equipped. That will allow you to run in towns and areas. However to run on the world map you need a true holy Rune. The Holy Rune can only be got a third into the game and True holy Rune is only on a Character called Stallion. You will pretty much need this Rune the entire game but it means that one member of your party must always have it equipped. There is only one Rune slot per character so that means that character will not be able to use magic or other beneficial runes. The Holy Rune only provides the benefit of dashing and nothing else. When that character is forcefully removed from your party, its back to walking everywhere again. On the matter of runes you can only equip runes at runemaster shops which are in some places and not in others. What this means is that you could have to travel to one town to smith your weapons and then walk all the way to another one to equip runes.
Another problem is equipment where each of your six characters can carry a number of items but in order to equip something it needs to be in that character’s inventory which leads to annoyance as you are forced to trade items between characters and make room so you can equip them with the right armour. Considering that you will be getting new characters a lot, you will be fumbling around these menus quite often. Many irritations are solved as you progress and collect characters such as unlocking a world map that lists towns and areas when you recruit a map maker or all the shops being in one area in your castle when you recruit blacksmiths and shopkeepers. But these conveniences only come in the later and till then you will have to deal with numerous annoyances and even when you do get everything some of the things don’t quite go away. For example you will go through this routine a number of times when you return to your castle, first you change characters and for that you need to go to the fourth floor of the castle, talk to someone and remove and add party members, then you go to the vault on the third floor to store items in your inventory to make room for new ones, then go to the second floor to the blacksmiths were you sharpen your weapons. Not enough money? Well then go to the gambler on the first floor and make easy cash. Then go to the first floor, buy equipment and items, move around and equip purchases, go to the runemaster and equip runes and the go to the inn, rest and save. Finally you go to the basement and teleport back into the field. You do most of this every single time you go back to your castle and there’s loading between each floor. This eats away a large amount of your time.
The game throws in small changes with army battles and one on one battles, both which boil down to rock,paper,scissors rules. They don’t add much other than dramatic flair but it’s still nice to have something to break up the RPG battles. Music is not really notable, one or two tunes might stick in your mind but nothing that would make you nostalgic in later years. There is a rather odd quirk with the sound however as I noticed that they somehow thought that using a elephant roar sound for a dragon’s roar would go unnoticed and believe me it does not go unnoticed. I had to do a double take when I heard that unsuitable roar the first time. It’s even stranger because the final endboss has a dragon roar that’s normal and why is it they couldn’t use that? The final verdict is a pretty good RPG held down by unintuitive mechanics, lacklustre graphics and a weak story.