Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review #396: Suikoden V

 The Sun comes out again...
 The Suikoden franchise kept straying further and further away from its roots until Suikoden V happened. Not only does it try its hardest to feel like the PS1 originals, it's also filled to the brim with winks and references to all four previous games in the franchise. And while that could end up turning this game into a shallow affair, it ends up being pretty darn great.

 Taking place in the Kingdom of Falena, you play as the mute hero, the Prince of Sol-Falena's Queendom. Early in the game, which means 10 hours or so into the game, our hero is subject to betrayal and exile, her sister and the Sun Run turned hostage/weapon and the entire Queendom a plaything for different political parties. It's up to the prince to gather a rebel army, save his sister and restore order to Falena. Suikoden V's story is bloody fantastic, it's smart, filled with tons of political intrigue, themes of war and some fantastic, poignant and emotional scenes peppered throughout the entire adventure. Not only does this game feature some of the best character designs in the franchise, it also features some of the most interesting, engaging and sympathetic characters in Suikoden. And there's a ton of them. One thing to be mindful of is the fact that the story is very slowly paced, heck, I was 2 hours into the game and I had seen two dungeons at most and had barely had any fights, but I think the pace works to its advantage, as it develops both the characters and the queendom of Falena very well.
 Most of the game will be spent going from town to dungeon to town to dungeon ad nauseam, it seems Konami took Suikoden IV's criticisms to heart, as towns are HUGE and filled with various NPCs or goodies to find. You can no longer turn the camera around, opting for fixed camera angles instead, which feels rather regressive, this was not a 'feature' from older games that needed to return! Still, dungeons are simple enough that the camera won't get in your way. Once you get into the dungeon expect to be assailed by random encounters, but the encounter rate is alright, so no biggie. I've heard complaints about lengthy loading times, but I felt they were par for the course.

 Combat is back to six-man parties, thank god, since there're so many cool characters that you'll want to bring as many as you can with you. As a matter of fact, there're four extra slots which can be outfitted with support characters, for passive abilities, or four extra battle characters which which you can switch during battle. Formations are a thing now, and you'll need to make the most out of these, as characters have different attack ranges and their accuracy will decrease unless properly placed on the grid. Battles are fought by turns and work just like any other Suikoden, or any other JRPG, for that matter, y'know, the usual 'attack, defend, spell, item' options are here and accounted for. Skills are back from Suikoden 3, but a bit more limited. You can only equip two of them at a time, and you won't handicap yourself if you forget about them, since the game is rather easy and skills don't make such a huge difference in battle.
 Strategic Battles are back, it is a Suikoden game after all, and they are better than ever. These take place in real time, think of it as a real time strategy game-lite, as you're basically limited to ordering which units you want to move and where. There're three basic unit types(And a few specializations), Archers, Infantry and Cavalry and each type is strong against one and weak against another, think rock-paper-scissors. There're also naval strategic battles, but they work exactly the same, only with ram ships instead of cavalry. These are pretty fun, and can get pretty exciting once you are shuffling both land and sea combat at the same time! Just remember to be careful, as characters may die permanently and thus lock you out of the best ending.

 Duels have been reworked again, once again a rock(attack) - paper(defend) - scissors(Special) affair in which you must guess what your opponent is gonna do based on the line of dialogue they spew, only that now they are timed. The limited time factor really does add to the excitement and urgency of these battles, and the animations have been polished a lot from Suikoden IV, so these duels, which I never really cared about, became somewhat of a treat. It helps that a lot of these fights felt personal thanks to how likeable, or hateable, characters were.
 Another one of Suikoden IV's issues was it short length, well, they really made up for that with Suikoden V, as it's pretty easy to sink over 50 hours. The story is pretty lengthy, and there's plenty of stuff to do besides gathering all 108 Stars of Destiny. Gathering these characters is a bit tougher this time around, as some can be missed permanently and some FAQs are lacking some of the finer details regarding how to recruit some of these. Luckily, if you search around the net you will find your answers, but keep that in mind. Also, as with previous games in the series, some characters join way too late for them to be any use, like Shoon, who is pretty cool, but by the time he joins there's only one dungeon left. You will also need to grind a bit, as you'll need to have 3 battle-ready parties to tackle the very last dungeon.

 Not only is Suikoden V the best Suikoden on PS2, it's also one of the finest JRPGs on the system. The story is phenomenal, the characters are fantastic, the combat system works great, the strategic battles are the best they've been yet, and they even managed to make me like duels. If this is fated to be the last ever numbered Suikoden game... then what a send-off it was.
 9.5 out of 10

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