Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Suikoden (PlayStation)

Role-Playing Game, PlayStation (PS1)
1996 Konami

Suikoden was one of the first RPGs I played on the PlayStation, right around the same time I was exploring titles like Final Fantasy VII. It was Konami's first RPG on the fledgling console, and they certainly came out with guns blazing. Depending upon how it's played, this game can be either a fairly long, or extremely long endeavor, so let's begin our journey.

The narrative begins with the hero beside his father, General Teo McDohl, in the castle of the Scarlet Moon Empire. He is being groomed to follow in his father's footsteps and become a great general of the Empire, starting with simple errands like tax collection and law enforcement within the towns of their territory. While his father is gone to war in the north, the hero and his father's servants become aware of the vast corruption of the Empire and quickly become part of a fringe resistance movement.

On all counts, it's fair to call Suikoden an epic game. There are literally 108 (mostly playable) characters that can join the hero's team on his adventure, many of which are entirely optional. One could, in theory, steamroll through the plot and ditch any and all side characters, but there are some massive wars that happen along the way whose outcome is dependent upon the strength of your forces. Unlike most RPGs, rather than simply turn-based combat, there are three types of battles that are fought.
  • Duels: A one-on-one game almost like rock-paper-scissors where the player must read the reactions of the opponent to determine what type of attack to make.
  • Turn-Based Battles: Standard battle system used in many RPGs, but with some nice flair like summonable powers and the ability for different combinations of characters to use joint attacks. Characters keep the same weapon the entire game, but their weapons can be upgraded by blacksmiths.
  • War Battles: These are large-scale battles, where the player uses cards for different abilities (like flaming arrow attacks) to fight off an enemy force. The size of the player's army and amount of usable forces is directly determined by how many of the 108 characters have been recruited.

The game's narrative is satisfying, following some of the overarching themes common in many RPGs, but developing them in a deep and sometimes very mature way. Some of the most cherished characters die (or can die), and the journey to dethrone Emperor Barbarosa takes the player to the ends of the world and back.

Well, that was easy!

Early in the game, the player commandeers an old abandoned castle. It is there that all of the 108 characters recruited reside. If you recruit a blacksmith, not only can he fight alongside you, but in the castle he will actually set up a smith with a forge to upgrade your weapons. If you recruit a crazy inventor, he will add features like an elevator to your castle. It's a game dynamic I don't recall ever seeing before Suikoden, and it really serves to emphasize the growth of the hero's army and the gravity of his actions. The castle is immense, and at times, simply wandering around it and exploring all the new corridors and shops can be a lot of fun.

Visually, the game is fantastic. All the character sprites are gigantic and detailed. All 108 of the "Stars" that join your team have presumably hand-drawn portraits, and many major plot characters do as well. Everything is highly detailed and utilizes a very large color palette. The music is dynamic, from simple acoustic guitar tunes to fully orchestral compositions, with many of the songs likely to get stuck in your head long after playing.

Suikoden comes with my highest recommendation. It's a massive, engrossing, heart-wrenching story that will draw you in and keep your attention for a long time. Trying to find all 108 of the Stars will keep you coming back time and time again. I also recommend the sequel, Suikoden II; but do note that subsequent titles in the series are of questionable quality.


  1. Suikoden is a great RPG franchise, probably one of the best next to Final Fantasy. I’m a little sad that there hasn’t been any news on a Suikoden 6. There was the DS release but I’m not sure that counts. There’s actually a We Want Suikoden 6 Facebook Fanpage, LOL.

    Many consider Suikoden 3 to be of questionable quality, but I’ve never been disappointed with any game in the series. I’m one of the oddballs who actually thought that the 3rd one was the best.

    1. 1 and 2 are my favorites by and large, but I was kind of underwhelmed with them once they went 3D. It had nothing to do with the graphical change, I just somehow didn't feel as connected to the characters or storylines.