Review by Matt620

Reviewed: 04/03/06

Fans of the series, old and new, rejoice

I'd like to consider myself one of the "standard" Suikoden fans. Although I did not play the series initially, after playing, I was as hooked as any other. Finally, there was a series that redefined an RPG as we know it.

Like most Suikoden fans, I'm terribly disappointed at Final Fantasy for plots that don't evolve beyond the 8-bit. Suikoden, to me, means a riveting, war-driven plot with intelligent tactics, cutting betrayals, and the godly artifacts known as True Runes to give the plot just enough of an epic-ness without losing the down-home feel of fighting for just your country.

Like many Suikoden fans, I was blown away by Suikoden II. Suikoden III was, although different in gameplay, provided a solid enough plot to make us love it, and provided characters that were both wonderful and humourous. Like many, I was disappointed by Suikoden IV. It had the things a Suikoden required, but didn't provided the "oomph." With an unemotive main character, stinted character development, it just didn't give us what we needed.

Along comes Suikoden V now, praised and lauded. Did they fix the problems? Did they make everything better? Did our main character have more then the vaguely pissed off expression he always had? The answer, to all of these questions, my friends, is yes.

Graphics

Let's get the bad out of the way first, and the bad are the graphics. Although character graphics, the body images, costumes, and such, are quite good, the game graphics themselves are not. Not bad, but compared to some other graphical games, it leaves the player wanting just a little more. Of course, this is compared to games like Final Fantasy, where they are sold on graphics because plot will certainly not sell them.

The character themselves look pretty good. There is a distinctly Asian feel among the characters, specifically among the Falenian royal family. Lymsleia, especially, dresses similar to a kimono, while Sialeeds, the Queen's younger sister, certainly took some...creative liberties with hers. Cleavage creative liberties.

Sound

The sound of the game is ravenously addicting. The title track, "Wind of Phantom" , is a catchy, beautiful opening track. It transitions from beautiful full-orchestra to sitar music. Never get much sitar, and it's hard to do properly, but the sitar music introduces our characters, and, with the generally Asian feel to them, it actually helps.

The battle music has a distinctly battle theme to them, which is good: Suikoden III's battle music really tended to grate on the nerves, and IV's was no less annoying.

The sad music is good, but, as far as sad music goes, nothing special. Oh well, spoiled on some earlier PSX and SNES sad music, I'm not an impartial judge.

Gameplay

A Suikoden game, although different from mainstream, is not a challenging game to play. The wars and duels will confuse those who are unfamiliar, perhaps, but an introduction is provided in the first two war battles, another character introduces how to duel just before your first one, and, afterwards, if one has any questions, there are books in-game that can be referenced.

The only thing that could really grate on someone's nerves is the transition times. They didn't bother me, but lots of people who played the game threw hissy fits about it. They are apparent, but not that long. It depends on how old the PS2 is you own. My loading times were only about 5 seconds at the end of battle, hardly, considering Star Ocean 3's annoying loading from disc habit could lead to waiting times of over 5 minutes.

The gameplay other then the specific battles is quite simple. The world map allows you to travel between cities, move through cities to get to new places. You can run into battle outside of cities. Battles are fairly common. The basic attacks are like that of almost every game: A turn-based system where each character (Up to a maximum of 6 at any one time) can select their own actions. They can attack, defend, use magic, use an equipped item, or swap themselves for another character in standby.

It's simple and easy, but a whole new complexity was added with the advent of formations. Rather then just arranging the characters in rows like in the first three games, or in a mindless straight line like the fourth, and a slew of other games, one can select a formation to allow for different tactics. Different formations do different things: The Sorcery formation, for example, gives the characters in back a boost to magic. The Crescent formation bulks the defense of all players. Formations do more then just grant stats: A character at the head of a formation has a higher chance to be attacked, so a defensive character can go there to protect your mages, for example. Certain enemies also have attacks that attack horizontal rows or vertical columns, and certain formations can change how these attacks threaten. The closely bunched Tiger formation fears any attack on a column, while the Arrow Stance formation scoffs at them.

Another variant to Suikoden V is the skill system. Like Suikoden III, a character can bulk up their skills to become better then just their stats list. However, the system is completely different from Suikoden III. Rather then factor independently from stats, Suikoden V's skills increase your stats by how powerfully trained the skill is. Also, the skill must be equipped to be in use, and any character may only equip a maximum of two skills. Some characters have unique, un-removable skills, like Rune Sage (allows for instant access to a Rune Shop), or Long Throw (Allows a character, when directly attacking, a chance to hit a row of enemies rather then just one.)

Another makeover given was to the Runes, Suikoden's system of magic. The detail is small, but noticeable nonetheless. Scattered around the world, mostly dropped from enemies, but could be found in chests, are things called Rune Pieces. Collect any four of them and take them to a Rune Sage, and they can assemble it to a full Rune Orb. They have to be grouped together, though, so before talking to the Rune Sage, sort your inventory. It's annoying, but quick and harmless. Many Runes can only be created through this method, like the advanced elemental runes, and certain support runes. Runes are equipped, for those new to the series, onto places known as Rune slots. A character can have up to three: one on the forehead and one on each hand. Some runes, like the Pale Gate Rune, can only be equipped to one place. Some runes are permanently attached to a character. These are marked by a red sphere in the Runes menu, and it's a nice addition. Before, runes could not be detected as removable unless they were in the equip menu of a Rune Sage.

Plot

Now, let's move into the shiner of any Suikoden series: the plot. Suikoden V's plot takes place in the Queendom of Falena, a lush, beautiful land south of Suikoden IV's Island Nations, which themselves were south of Suikoden I's Scarlet Moon Empire. A Queendom is like a kingdom, but the females are in power. The player assumes the role of the Prince, the eldest child of Queen Arshtat and Ferid, the Commander of the Queen's Knights (Ferid's position is the role of the Queen's husband; there is no King). He is the eldest child, but, since he's male, he won't inherit the throne. That honor goes to Lymsleia, the Prince's younger sister. The Prince's job is basically royal PR, and, in the beginning, he's traveling to a town known as Lordlake. Accompanying him are his bodyguard, Lyon, a sweet girl about the Prince's age; Sialeeds, the Prince's aunt; and Georg Prime, a Queen's Knight. That's right, Georg Prime. Any Suikoden fan remembers him as one of the Six Great Generals of Scarlet Moon. Lordlake rebelled a few years ago and the rebellion was squashed, and now, the Prince is going on a royal tour. The result is devastating. The Queen used a powerful relic known as the Sun Rune, one of the 27 True Runes, a Suikoden-verse god, so to speak, to quell the rebellion, and the result was that Lordlake became a dried-up, desolate wasteland. The people there are understandably pissed off.

When the Prince returns home and informs his mother, she starts to act sympathic, but then the Sun Rune on her forehead starts glowing and she starts spouting out divine judgment, barking at the Prince whenever he talks. Deeply affected by these events, we soon learn the reason behind this. Since the Queen bore the Sun Rune two years ago, she always started acting a little bit god-crazy. The rebellion caused the loss of the Dawn Rune, one of the notable treasures of Falena, so the Queen has the right to be upset, but to scorch an entire town and leave it a wasteland for two years? Is there a different power player at work? Does it have to do with the two rival factions of the Senate, the Godwin Family and the Barows family? You, the Prince, will unravel the mysteries of Falena. Soon, many truths become revealed, and the Prince must take up arms to save his country, and defend the crown that he will never have the chance to wear.

Suikoden has always had a large cast of characters, known as the 108 Stars of Destiny. Loosely based on a Chinese novel, the Stars of Destiny (the Prince being one of them) are characters who all join together to make the world a better place. The goal of Suikoden has always been to recruit all of these Stars, without losing any of them to death (which only occurs in war). Recruiting them all leads to bonuses: Different endings, sometimes even new gameplay features. The Stars in Suikoden V are the most detailed and varied crew yet. Some Stars are recruited automatically, mostly important plot characters. However, some Stars are not. A few of the Stars can be obtained by talking to them. But others don't, others require some legwork, or a special item, or to meet another Star. This helps the character's backstory, who usually, since they are not involved as much with the plot, get some otherwise.

As always, the Suikoden plot is influenced by a True Rune. 27 in total, the True Runes are powerful relics that are immensely powerful, but tend to have the property of carrying some type of curse. The Soul Eater killed those whom it's bearer loved. The Rune of Beginning, split into halves, forced one to kill the other to complete the whole. The Rune of Punishment ate away at the life of it's own wielder. Suikoden V's Sun Rune makes the bearer mentally unstable, as we see with Arshtat. However, a new aspect of the runes come into play. The Sun Rune used to be connected to the Night Rune (everyone's favorite Star Dragon Sword in the older games.) But, when the two runes split from each other, two pieces were left: The Dawn Rune and the Twilight Rune (in the Japanese version, the Twilight Rune was known as the Dusk Rune), and with those two pieces, it is possible to control the Sun Rune. But, with the Dawn Rune missing, it won't do the Queen that much good.

Conclusion

What much can be said about a series that has carried some of the best plots for nearly a decade? Suikoden V definitely continues the tradition it's predecessors stated, or perhaps revived is the better word, of great plots, a wonderful cast, and dialogue that stems from the serious to the poignant to just flat-out funny. No game is perfect, the loading times of the game attest to this. However, the pros far outweigh the cons in this type of game, where the plot just sucks you in and only gets stronger as the game goes on. In the PS2 age, it's hard to find good RPGs, since many gamers are spoiled Final Fantasy 7 fanboys who want everything to be as cliche and rehashed as the new fall lineup of (insert TV network here). Finding something new is impossible, so we do the next best thing: Taking something that's kinda-sorta been done (in Suikoden's case, a war epic), and make it better. With characters one can't help but love, dialogue that attests to the skill of writers, and a plot that just doesn't let go, Suikoden V is a game that's worth getting for any RPG fan who believes in the power of the story and the written word.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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