The third installment of Konami’s RPG series has finally been released on PSN, and arrives in the EU for the first time. Suikoden 1 and 2 were two of the best RPGs on the PlayStation 1, and with the upgrade to the PS2, Suikoden 3 attempts to make the leap and keep the streak alive. Was it worth the wait?
Unlike 1 and 2, there are major structural changes to Suikoden 3 that changes the formula of the game. The 108 stars are back, as well as the castle-building through recruiting, but now the story revolves around the adventures of three distinct characters, with a crossover storyline. For the first three chapters, each of the protagonists go through the same events from their own perspective, crossing paths with each other. After the events of the third chapter, you must choose one character who will be controlled for the remainder of the game. It allows the player to experience the philosophical quagmire of warfare, as the events can be seen from both sides rather than the rose-tinted glasses of your side.
With 108 characters to recruit, the intertwining storylines will keep players entertained and intrigued as more of the cast get air time compared to previous titles. Although this is a sequel to Suikoden 2, no knowledge of the previous games is needed to understand or enjoy the story. That knowledge is an added bonus, giving more appreciation to some situations discussed, as well as knowing who in the cast is appearing again.
If there is one flaw to the game that severely hurts it, it can be found in the combat system. The style of 1&2 were perfect. Konami decided to change its formula by pairing characters in combat. You give a command to each pair, rather than as individuals. This makes combat clunky, and not positive strategically, as only one person gets a specific action while the other is forced into attacking. I might need to heal but at the same time need to use other magic. If both of my magicians are in the same pair, then I am forced to choose one or the other, reducing my combat potential. Maybe I want the person I need to heal to guard, thus heightening his ability to live. Well, if he is in the healer’s pair he’d be stuck attacking. If not, then I’ve got another person guarding that doesn’t need to.
One positive addition to combat is the skill system. In addition to normal XP, skill points are earned to be used towards gaining and leveling up skills. These can range from better buffs from armor, to dealing more damage, to faster casting times. The general theory is great but some of the practice is left to be desired as each character has a different amount of open skill slots, as well as a vastly different adeptness at upgrading them. This causes problems when it becomes obvious that some skills are vastly better than others, and when using your favorite characters they cannot be tricked out as much as possible. It also conflicts with magic, setting up a system of sacrificing other physical skills to make using rune magic more viable.
Due to the jump up to the PS2, the visuals are now new and improved. As this is a decade later, the graphics have not held up for obvious reasons, unlike the sprite-based graphics of Suikoden 1 and 2 that will always have that vintage appeal. This will be a sticking point for some people who yearn new-gen graphics, as PS2 graphics on a PS3 don’t look that good. This also has the consequence of adding more wasted time to the game due to the needs of traversing bigger locations. It is a risk/reward of going from sprite to 3D graphics, and sadly, it slows the game’s progression down. With little to actually see in the world, it also means lots of traveling time revealing nothing of interest.
The army combat that has always been fun and unique to the series gets a big change, and a positive one for those who enjoy using many of the different characters. Your units are put into groups up to four, and are moved on a connecting field. Your character’s stats matter as those are used to determine combat damage, unlike in the previous games. Terrain and strategic concepts like flanking also play a big importance, giving a layer of strategy that was not present in previous titles.
Another change from RPG tradition is the lack of treasure chests and mini-bosses. Instead, they are combined. In certain areas you’ll find an enemy physically on the map. Get close enough and it’ll start a mini-boss battle. Some are more dangerous than others. These bosses guard a treasure chest with random loot. This is important to note because other than recruiting characters, these chests serve as the only side quests to the game as they refill after a period of time. The loot is also helpful as it gives a financial windfall, as well as giving access to plenty of powerful gear early on, assuming the boss can be defeated.
Suikoden 2 had fun mini-games to help give a break to the main story, and sadly the best of them are missing. The Iron Chef mode is gone, leaving a void for stuff to do. This can be the chief complaint of the game. Aside from recruiting and fighting mini-bosses for treasure, there is not much to do.
Suikoden 3 is a fine installment to end the trilogy. An issue for fans will be the departure from traditional combat mechanics established through 1&2. Newcomers to the franchise won’t notice, and with little backstory needed to immerse oneself in the story, it makes a fine starting point. It still feels and plays like a Suikoden game, which is most important.
Summary: Overlooking the change of combat mechanics and the outdated graphics, fans and newcomers to the series will find an engaging storyline that keeps pace with its predecessors. Even with zero knowledge of Suikoden 1&2, the story is self-contained, and a good launching pad into the series.