Review by Black Hayate

Reviewed: 09/08/06

Suikoden V is a flawed, yet good return to form for the series.

Suikoden V brings back the appeal and essence of the first two games as well as some aspects of the other two. V is the longest Suikoden yet. It has its flaws but in the end is a solid game.

Suikoden V is set in the Queendom of Falena approximately a decade prior to the events of the first Suikoden and about 150 years after Suikoden IV. The game revolves the Prince of Falena, the eldest child of Queen Arshtat Falenas and Ferid; Captain of the Queen’s Knights. His younger sister, Lymsleia is next in line for the Queen’s throne. Traditionally, males from the Falenan royal family do not inherit the throne.

The story begins with the Prince, his bodyguard Lyon, his aunt Sialeeds Falenas and newly inducted member of the Queen’s Knights; Georg Prime grimly returning to Sol Falena (the Imperial Capital) after an inspection of Lordlake. Lordlake was once a beautiful village with sparkling water and lush vegetation, but the current state of the village is the exact opposite. The lake is completely dried, the earth is arid, all plant life is dead and the citizens are bitter. The reason why Lordlake became such a desolate place is due to Queen Arshtat unleashing her wrath upon the village two years ago with the powerful Sun Rune. Upon the Prince’s return to Sol Falena, Arshtat asks him about his visit to Lordlake. The Prince says some things about the condition of the people, and suddenly Arshtat’s mood suddenly swings and the Sun Rune that is affixed in her forehead glows…

The brief summary above is just only microscopic portion of the entire tale Suikoden V has to offer. The story is ripe with unexpected twists and political intrigue. I was very satisfied with the new scenario writer and the excellent translators. They really got the job done and put heart and soul into it. Like the games before it, Suikoden V has connections to prior series entries. Series fans will be treated to many, many references to the past games and a few of them surprised me as they were completely unexpected. The fantasy historical aspect of Suikoden still retains and appeals.

My only gripe with the story is in the beginning. It starts out very slowly. The slow pacing lasts for nearly the first 6-8 hours of play. After those first hours however, the plot starts to sprint and becomes riveting and the quality stays consistent throughout the entire game…Almost. Things get a tad bit rushed towards the end. Nonetheless, Suikoden V’s storytelling is incredible and at times surpasses Suikoden II’s quality.

Visually, it’s above average. The game’s not spectacular looking nor is it outright ugly. Character models are nice looking if the camera is zoomed in, but when distant, they’re pretty muddled. The colorful characters complement sunny and green Falena well enough. Environments are large and very openly spaced. Much more people populate the towns as opposed to Suikoden IV, but they still feel rather empty somehow.

Another one of the game’s strong points is the character animation. Characters actually show proper emotions during cut scenes. The Prince’s expressions are awkward but are an improvement over the robot-like emotions and movements of Hero IV. Characters move fluidly and more naturally than they did in the previous installments. Each character has his or her personal fighting stance and attack animations during battle—a bit improvement over Suikoden IV’s recycled battle animations.

Rune animations however are simplistic. Colorful yes, but still simplistic. Only a few spells touch the scale of the spells from Suikoden III or even II. Suikoden was never the type of game to outshine others in graphics, but it would have been nice to have a great looking installment in the series.

The cast of characters is varied and colorful. Some characters such as Georg Prime, the runemistress Jeane and the clumsy magician Viki return. The many characters are charismatic, unforgettable, despicable and hilarious. Nearly each and every single one of the 108 Stars has their distinct personalities and own fighting styles. The villains are cunning and fanatical to their motives. They’re not as memorable as some previous of course but they are still very suitable in the game and do their job as villains well. This Suikoden is probably the most difficult in terms of recruiting the characters. Some characters take a lot of time and persistence to enlist, while some can be completely overlooked. Help from FAQ’s are almost inevitable in playing this game, due to the difficult of Star recruitment.

On the other hand, Suikoden V’s gameplay mechanics are a mixed bag. The controls are unresponsive a lot of the time. Repeated pressings of the face buttons are sometimes required to access your menu or to even talk to people. Menus are almost exactly the same as the first two games, only more clunky. For instance, when you access your Equip menu, you’d expect to see your armor and accessories first on the list, but healing items and such take priority so you have to wade through your entire list to equip armor. The interface was poorly designed in this title.

The overworld returns, Falena is set on a lush, green and sunny continent so most of the traveling is done on foot. Ship travel is automatic (for Suiko IV haters, don’t worry. All of the ship travel is done on rivers) and slow, with no random battles. So you might want to read something until you reach your destination.

As always, monsters are randomly encountered. The annoyingly high encounter rate returns from Suikoden IV. This makes short trips to the next town tiring. It doesn’t help that a loading screen pops up after every single battle. The loading isn’t long at all, but the frequency of those incessant loading screens can unnerve even the most patient players. The same loading screens pop up after every cutscene as well, ruining the dramatic effect that was displayed somewhat.

The main battle system is identical to I, II and IV. Six characters can be in battle at a time once again. Four reserve fighters or support characters can also be taken (you can switch out any time, anywhere—even during battle). Support characters behave much like they did in the past two games, having them in your party could increase the amount of money you receive after a battle, heal your party by a little bit or sometimes can even raise your chances of retreating from the enemy. Team attacks return once more. Suikoden V sports some of the coolest looking ones in the series.

One new feature is added—you can change the formation of your party during battle. You can collect formation books throughout the game, expanding your repertoire of formations. You can have your fighters in a straight line, or in a V-formation or even a cross-type formation. These formations also have “Form Skills” (Short range fighters perform best when on the front line. Middle-range fighters no longer are as effective as they were in the front line, but now solely perform well only on the mid-range. Long-range characters have good accuracy regardless of their position. The formation swapping system adds depth to the plain battle system, requiring players to adapt to the enemy force whenever necessary.

The large-scale battles are now real-time strategy. The map is not grid based, so free, unrestricted movement is possible. Battles are on land, sometimes at sea and sometimes both. Quicker thinking is required for these new war battles. At battle’s end, you get prizes that reflect upon your on your performance (how many units you lost or how quickly you ended it). The better you do, the better the prize.

Duels have changed a bit from the previous games as well. They play out exactly the same way as the games before—like a game of rock, paper and scissors. But you are given a few seconds to respond to an opponent’s action whereas in the previous games, you are given all the time in the world to choose your option to defend, attack or launch a special attack.

The camera is absolutely the worst part of the game. The same kind of uncontrollable 2-D camera view from the first two games reprises but in this day and age, it simply doesn’t work. The camera view from Suikoden III would have worked much better, hell even Suikoden IV’s would have been fine. It’s unmovable and most of the time it’s far too distant—especially during conversations. The distance problem is fixed a little bit by three levels of zoom.

Even if the camera is zoomed in to the max, it goes back to default position if you enter a conversational cut scene. Since the camera remains so distant in these scenes, the drama is slightly diminished. Camera during battle is equally distant, as the only way to view the character models up close is through special attacks or at battle’s end. Due to the fact that the camera is unmovable, it’s possible to get lost a few times during play. Sometimes the camera also hides treasure chests from view, adding some challenge for perfectionists (this can be good or bad). This marks an irritating blemish in an otherwise good game.

The music is great. Really emotional, catchy and somber sounds are played throughout the game. Some tracks from previous titles are heard once more. Tracks such as “The River and the Sun” and “Determination~Tragic Battle~” are especially great. The voice acting is mostly good, there’s no one who sounds like you want to impale your own eardrums. Some voices were a bit off, I felt that Georg’s voice was tad bit too deep. Characters with especially great voice actors are Arshtat, Sialeeds, Lucretia, Miakis and Kyle.

Suikoden V is a flawed, yet good return to form for the series.

Pros:

+Excellent story—plenty of twists, drama and laughs
+Great character development
+Colorful character designs
+Decent voice acting
+Fighting animations
+New formation system
+Great music
+More exciting duels
+Excellent dialogue
+Real time strategy war battles
+Plenty of surprises and nostalgia for series fans
+a lot of the stars are difficult to recruit, adding some challenge

Cons:

-The camera
-Clunky menu
-Slow, automatic ship travel
-Encounter rate
-Incessant loading screens
-Rune animations
-Story moves too slowly in the beginning
-A bit too long of a game
-Sometimes the stars are a bit too difficult to get.
-Dialogue gets cut off at the end of sentences too abruptly

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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