Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review #376: Suikoden 3

 It only took about 60 hours, but the war is over...
 Konami's third installment of their war-focused JRPG series, Suikoden, was also the series' first jump into the PS2 and the world of 3D. Featuring three different heroes, for three different point of views, it was a safe, but successful entrance into the then-next-gen gaming.

 Suikoden 3 starts off marred in political strife between three bands: Zexen, Grasslands and Harmonia, encompassing all the different tribes and civilizations that make up each kingdom. You could say that Suikoden's world is pretty grim, and you'd be right. You're given three different lead characters: Captain Geddoe, Zexen's elite knight Chris and Grassland's Karaya tribe's leader's son, Hugo. Each character has 3 chapter all to themselves, before all narratives fuse together for chapter 4 and 5. Although you are allowed to make a choice after clearing all 9 chapters which will affect on whom the story will focus, and it will lead to a few minor differences on the latter two chapters. The story was alright, it had a few interesting peaks as well as a few dull moments, and sadly, as interesting as some of the character interactions were, they weren't very memorable as a whole.
 Suikoden's main draw is letting the player collect 108 characters for their Headquarters. While not all of them can partake in battles, they will aid you in some way. Be it offereing passive abilities, like healing your characters after each battle, to commodities, like having your own personal shop and blacksmith at your HQ, as well as a few minigames. Gathering every character is a fun enterprise, and it's always fun coming upon the next unique character model to add to your garrison. Two of these, Thomas and Koroku, get a few side-chapters all to themselves. Koroku the dog's is more of a silly diversion, while Thomas has two very grind-heavy chapters that offer a light-hearted look at their happenings while the main cast is dealing with war, corruption and strife. These two chapters can be rather boring, since couple with grinding comes a few points in which you'll be at a loss at what the game expects you to do. When in doubt, go to sleep in Thomas' bed. Also, try not to recruit everyone with the same lead character during the initial 9 chapters, as you could make things unnecessarily hard for the remaining characters!

 There're three different gameplay mechanics in Suikoden. Most of the time it plays like your standard-fare turn-based combat JRPG, you move from town to dungeon to town while happening upon random encounters. You're allowed to take up to six characters with you, as well as a seventh support character, and you issue commands to pairs rather than each individual character. It works well, it's fun. Then there're also 1-on-1 duels which work as silly rock-paper-scissor matches. Can't say I was a fan of those, but at least they aren't too bad. Lastly, there're strategic battles. These are stressful and annoying. The former due to the fact that characters killed in these may die forever, locking you out of the bonus epilogue and the latter since, while you get to move each 4-man throughout the board, battles are fought automatically, so it's up to the AI not to screw up. And they will screw up because they are dumb. Why not let the player issue commands is beyond me.
 Back onto the good stuff: Customization. You can customize every playable character by having them learn skills, and thus tailor them to your playstyle. Characters can also be equipped with up to three different Runes, which translate into magic and/or skills. It all amounts to a rather large degree of control over how your characters will play. And you'd best spend quality time with a bunch of these, as they will have to partake in Strategic Battles, and you don't want them dying, do you? Not only that, Hugo, Geddoe and Chris will split up every now and then during chapter 4 and 5, and they will have to fight their own tough bosses, so they will need their own party members... basically, grinding in this game will be unavoidable.

 I still have a couple of gripes left for me to unload. The smallest one surrounding some characters, y'see, some characters will join your party near the end of Chapter 5 which means that you won't get to use them much. It feels like kind of a waste. Secondly, it's not 'til chapter 4 that you unlock the means to fast travel, and until that happens you'll have to go through every dungeon and town on foot. It's pretty time consuming. Which is why I clocked over 60 hours yet the game felt rather short as a whole! To add insult to injury, when you recruit Vikki you're not told that you gained the ability to use her teleportation if you talk to her back on your HQ. And that means that you'll have to walk all the way back to your HQ anyways!... unless you recruit an optional character that grants you an item with the ability to warp back to HQ. The game should've done a better job explaining this, I did not find out about it 'til Chapter 5 when I was doing the rounds inside HQ.
 Flawed? Definitely. But the political angle and focus on war gives it a rather unique taste among JRPGs. Plus, collecting all 108 characters is rather fun, even if most of them only require you talking to them in order to recruit them. You'll get the most mileage out of it provided you're willing to invest all the time it demands of you. I dunno, it kept me busy the entire month and the fatigue didn't set in 'til the last stretch.
 8.0 out of 10

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