Full Review: Yea, the review's a few months late, but who cares when the game is this damn good.
It's amazing how much games have evolved in less than ten years. From story integration to most noticeably graphics, videogames have in a short time become a cultural phenomenon. You may be able to think back to the NES and Super NES days. Back then, Nintendo dominated the role-playing game market with releases of such games as Act Raiser, Final Fantasy III, Soul Blazer and Chrono Trigger. In 1996, Sony released their next-generation videogaming system, the PlayStation. It wasn't long until the primary RPG developers and publishers started veering off from Nintendo and onto Sony's new hardware. This is where console-style RPGs truly became redefined. Skim yet another few years and you find yourself with a PlayStation 2, the hands-down most dominant RPG behemoth (the others hardly put up a contest it's so supreme).
2002 wasn't the greatest year for RPGs, in fact it was a rather crummy one. Despite that, we did see some light shine through the clouds, and part of it was Suikoden III. It's a traditional RPG at heart, yet so much more. What are the best parts of all your favorite role-playing games: the story, the graphics, the music, the battle system, the characters? All these things are the vocal points of a successful RPG, if they fail to present then the game is likely to go unrecognized from a lack separation from the crowd. Suikoden III is the outcome of an RPG that strives in all shapes and forms, one that doesn't get held back from infirmity. The question isn't what makes Suikoden III good. The real question is, what doesn't?
Maybe it's important that we tackle the story first. Suikoden III's plot runs off the ?Trinity Sight System.? The T.S.S. is an enthralling and brilliant method of narrating the events of the game. Instead of seeing through the perspective of one character throughout the entire experience, SIII lets you encounter the happenings through three main characters: Chris, Geddoe, and Hugo. At the beginning of the game you enter the Trinity Site that where you choose your first character to play as. It doesn't matter who you select, the story will play out the same in the long run. Each character has several chapters in their narrative that are played in sequential order. If you want to play Chris' first three chapters without playing one of Hugo's yet, the option is open for your choosing. No way of playing is ?recommended? per se, but it'd be most logical to switch off each chapter to a new character to avert spoiling any part of the game.
It's difficult to sum up Suikoden III's story in a few paragraphs. It's deep, complex, and amazing. SIII just happens to have possibly the most remarkable storyline in an RPG since Chrono Trigger. In the center of the land (which isn't actually given a name as a whole) is Grassland, consumed by the Six Clans (Duck Clan, Karaya Clan, Chish Clan, Lizard Clan, Alma Kinan and Safir). These clans are more earthly than the other civilizations, and rely upon natural resources more than steel and manmade crafts. To the West of Grassland is the Zexen Federation. The Zexen Federation is a more modern kingdom that recently sprouted from trade, the land was once part of Grassland. To the East of Grassland is the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia.
Nearly 50 years ago in this land there was a bloody warfare fought between the Grasslanders and Harmonian militia. Grassland, trying to defend their homes and Harmonia, pressing for their land in hopes of further colonization. The Grassland warriors were led by a mysterious man named Matt, otherwise known to the people as the Flame Champion. All those fighting under him were regarded as the Fire Bringer. The story of Matt and this war is told many times throughout SIII. I'll silence myself about it here in prevention of spoiling the story at all. Why he's called the Flame Champion, who won the battle and everything else you'll have to find out on your own. Now to our heroes:
Chris Lightfellow is the newly inducted leader of the Knights of Zexen after the former ringleader was killed in battle. The Zexen Knight's job is to protect the nation and people of Zexen under any circumstances. Their commands come directly from the Zexen Council, located in Vinay del Zexay. There has been rough ties between Grassland and Zexen since the beginning of their time, the roots between one another reach deep into the ground. Zexen's hostile actions create distrust between the two civilizations. In order to stop the conflict for the rest of time, Grassland clans are given the opportunity to send alliances of peace to the Zexen Council, but things get awry. Very awry.
Hugo's story starts off when he's sent on a mission by his mother Lucia, the leader of the Karaya Clan, to give a very important treaty to the Zexen Council renouncing their troubles with Zexen and claiming peace between one another. He gets the message to the council successfully, yet clashing wages on and Hugo doesn't understand why.
Geddoe is the captain of the 12th unit Southern Frontier Defense Force, a small subsidiary of the Harmonian army. Their job as mercenaries is to secretly watch affairs between Zexen and Grassland, as well as report suspicious events and behavior. Currently, there has been a rumor spread that the Fire Bringer are back to possibly win over Grassland again. Geddoe is sent to find if these rumors are true. He's an arcane character who obviously knows a lot more about the land and past than what he says.
It sounds simple, yes, but this is merely the introduction to each tale. The plot twists, turns and expands constantly. When I first started playing, I picked Hugo. I played from his viewpoint and started to understand the Karayan culture and ethics. This made me greatly dislike the Zexen for their heritage and belligerent actions. Then, I played Chris. After experiencing things from her view, I realized that things are always so black and white, that the Zexens had legitimate reasons behind their actions. It proves that just because something seems wrong in the eyes of one doesn't mean it is in the eyes of another. This is what makes Suikoden III's story so remarkable, watching the shades of gray unfold. It's absolutely fascinating when you see stories tie together, and watch one single incident from two totally opposite prospects. Furthermore, things you do in the game as one character can differently affect you and another character later.
The story also sets up killer pacing for SIII. I'll admit that it takes about fifteen to twenty hours to get deeply involved with Suikoden, but once you reach that paramount there's no turning back?you're hooked. Many gamers play RPGs for the storyline, which is more than perfectly valid. But when it comes right down to it, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better storyline than Suikoden III's in a next-generation RPG. Sure, it might not have the emotional value and sappy love story of a Final Fantasy or the massive length of Dragon Warrior, but Suikoden III simply has an extremely well-written, very stunning plot that never relinquishes it's strong points or slows down. Truly a perfect blend of character-driven and event-driven narrative.
Quest in SIII isn't doesn't provide overwhelming amounts of walking like some RPGs. As the story progresses, more locations are revealed. Once completed, there's more than enough places to visit all the way from Budehuc Castle to Caleria and the Alma Kinan village. Set here and there are forests and such that create some buffer in between popular locales, such as Zexen Forest that divides Vinay del Zexay and Brass Castle. These usually only take a few minutes to travel across, but they successfully lengthen journeys and are great places to strengthen your characters. To get from one play to the next, you merely have to drag the cursor to that icon on the map as long as it's accessible from where you've exited. Once you press X, you will enter that area and voila. There's no trying to find towns or walking for hours upon hours in search?just straightforward venturing with visible trails on the map that link one place to the next.
Suikoden III boasts a simple yet adequately deep battle system. Attack, Defend and Item all play large roles as usual, but that's definitely not the highlight of combat. Replacing magic is the use of Runes. Certain characters will already have Runes for spellcasting, but commonly you must go to a Rune Sage where you can buy, affix or remove them. Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Lightning are all the par on course, but there's other spells that can shield allies, summon beasts and perform other various tasks. The stronger a spell, the more likely a limit will be put on the use of it. For instance, a cast that does 9000 MGC Damage will presumably only be able to be used once, while one that does 1000 MGC Damage will probably be optional for up to 5 or 7 times. It's often common that the more powerful the spell the more turns it takes before being cast, meaning that you will have to use Chant which will consume one more turn before the spell is cast, although this isn't always the case.
Every character in Suikoden III has a certain style of fighting. The individual types are dart thrower, magic user, archer, offensive fighter, defensive fighter and berserker. What this leads to is one of the best aspects of SIII?the battle formations. You can have a maximum of six people on your team when battling, put in three pairs. What makes the experience so fulfilling is that putting certain characters with others will result in different outcomes and battle actions. Some pairs such as a magic user and berserker will not work as well as a magic user and a defensive fighter or a berserker and a offensive fighter. If you have a polished arrangement of all your characters, you'll notice a considerable decrease in battle length since enemies are more efficiently eliminated.
Suikoden III does in fact have a leveling up system, but it doesn't play as primary of a role as most RPGs. Leveling up is crucial regardless, but it will suffice for things such as attack power, defense, HP amount and so on. Moreover, SIII relies upon the Skill system. Upon every victory, your character will earn an amount of skill points, large or small depending on the magnitude of the battle. Once you've earned a legitimate amount of skill points, you can go to the Education Center or Training Center to improve your skill ranks. Skills are what refine each character's stats.
There are legions of different types of skills. It breaks down into different categories: Direct Attack Skills (accuracy, damage, counter-attack...), Defense Skills (parry, repel, armor protect...), Magic Skills (fire magic, shield magic, focus...), Jongleur Skills (chanting volume, chant purity...), Combat Skills (holy dash, fighting spirit...) and Support Skills (healing, appraisal, cook...). As you can see, there's so many categories, and you can only have a select few of them for each persona. Therefore you must choose selectively on what you train that fighter with, otherwise it could come back and hurt you in the long run since everyone of them has only one or two ?specialties? which they can properly master. The ranks are based off of a letter scale. ?E' is the most novice ranking; ?A' usually is the top rank, but if you find a forte in a character that craft can reach to grade ?S'.
Suikoden doesn't merely limit you to basic party battles, or rather the conventional fights that you see in every RPG. Instead, Konami has integrated mono-a-mono duels and group combat to the mix. Duels are basically what the name suggests, it's a one-on-one fight. While dueling there's three fighting options: Attack, Defend and Deathblow. It's blatantly simple but holds its own weight in strategy. If you attack someone while your contender is defending, it will do minimal damage. If both fighters attack on the same turn, one will be left vulnerable and take a good amount of tarnish. If you're lucky, then you'll wind up doing a Deathblow when the other person does an Attack. Deathblow can diminish your opponents life meter in a single hit, but if they defend while you Deathblow then you'll miss and they'll lay you down with a harsh counter-attack. It's nothing special, but it does add an acute break from common fighting. During duels your opponent will hence at you with lines that should reveal their next most sensible move.
Group combat is much like your conventional turn-based strategy game. It's seen from an overhead angle with groups of up to five warriors each. Depending on how many separate units you have, you gain an amount of turns. With these turns you can move your groups to different ?points? on the graph. Skills in group combat are important as they can do tasks such as healing or damage outside of hand-to-hand battles. This isn't the most intricate turn-based strategy experience around, but it maintains a great equality between all elements and doesn't get old because of this. You can think of it as a very well-played game of chess, like it should be.
Suikoden III is a game that supports random battles. Normally, this would irritate me somewhat, since I prefer games like Chrono Cross where you can literally see your foes and avoid them if necessary. I soon found out that this couldn't possibly be more irrelevant to Suikoden III's gameplay. One of the game's greatest accomplishments is the astonishing balance between quest and battle. The game doesn't constantly throw foes at you til the point where you've fought so much that the entire experience becomes tedious, nor does it limit fighting so much that you have to literally walk for hours in search of battles to level up for the next required stage. SIII stands right in between the two and is always keeping it fresh with varying enemy skills and types. On paper this might seem like a minuscule accomplishment, but once it's experienced the fact of the matter is that the evenness of battle and quest is extremely gratifying.
It's obvious that the Suikoden series has made a transition from 2d to full 3d animation with this latest addition, and it couldn't possibly have been done better. The first visual tidbit is a lengthy Anime movie?and it's a stellar one at that. The movie briefly depicts events placed throughout Suikoden III. If there was one complaint I have with the visuals of SIII it'd have to be that there is only one or two CG movies and surprisingly no Anime throughout the entire game. This surprised me, since the opening scene is topnotch material and having scattered pieces of it occasionally would most definitely have a positive impact.
Despite this, Suikoden III successfully creates the feel of an Anime setting with still using 3d graphics (as opposed to cel-shading or such) much due to its fantastic art design. Although probably nothing here will make you jump out of your seat in awe, the visuals in SIII are well far above average. Certain characters may seem somewhat blocky in the texted cutscenes, which is typical, but it's entirely non-distracting. Instead of prerendered backgrounds, which games seem to be so much more fond of, Suikoden III has full 3d backdrops.
Culturally, the setting spans wide in Suikoden III. Each location you visit will look totally different from the next, and the people will too. Caleria for example is a thriving desert city with people dressed in white robes and such, similar to what you'd see people wearing in today's desert. At Brass Castle, the fort that splits Grassland from Zexen, you'll see many soldiers sporting armor that looks like it's from the medieval centuries. Even each of the Six Clans, all part of Grassland, wear totally different clothes and inhabit totally different types of homes. Furthermore, SIII's character design is equally impressive. Just how the towns and villages vary, so do the people you see and the characters you use in battle. Think about you, there's everything from a ninja to a duck. Eat that Final Fantasy! On the contrary, the enemy design seems uninspired and could use some work.
I wouldn't go as far as saying the musical score of Suikoden III isn't good, but I will say that it doesn't quite live up to the first two. This doesn't go to say that there's no good songs, because there are many great ones worth remembering. But there's also a select few that don't capture the feel of the game entirely, and sometimes feel awkward with the setting. Regardless, once you've been in an area long enough you'll undoubtedly either become oblivious to the ambient sounds or more likely start singing along with the cheery tunes in the meantime. Some of the music even feels folk-inspired, but overall it's a magnificent orchestral score that's difficult to shoot down because of it's very few shortcomings. I'd also like to add that I've never seen a game so highly dependant on the sound of footsteps... except ICO.
We've talked about the story, we've discussed the gameplay, we've addressed graphics and sound, now it's time to talk about one of the greatest things about the entire Suikoden series?the replay value. Whether you play Suikoden or not, you've surely heard about the 108 Stars of Destiny. What? You haven't? Well then, I'll explain them for you. Many RPGs suit you up with a minuscule amount of playable characters (sometimes as low as four). Suikoden is the complete opposite, and let's you gather an overwhelming 108 characters! Roughly 55 of them are ?automatic,? or rather handed to you through the story. If you want the remaining 60 or so (don't make me do math), then you'll have to go out of your way to find them. It's no easy task to get them all, in fact it's plenty difficult. Some of the characters are balanced in most areas, other ones are particularly good in attack or magic and weak in defense or speed. But when a boss is susceptible to a particular type of ability, that's when you pull out one of your Stars and put them into action (but it might take some leveling up first). Sometimes you'll get lucky and venture across a Star of Destiny, other times you must travel from one side of the map to the other in hopes of getting someone new. Or use an FAQ, whatever your fancy.
Suikoden III might remind you of something like Dark Cloud in one aspect, the ability to establish a town. The 108 Stars of Destiny play a major role in this, because once you've picked them up it's normally because they're in search of a new place to reside. Many of them will create shops, others will populate the town square. Whatever the case, it's never been more fun trying to accumulate all these figures to inhabit your town and watching the village grow from a trifling castle to a flourishing center of commerce. This is just one of the many things that fabricates the monstrous replay value of Suikoden III.
We've learned that SIII doesn't require you to buy new weapons, but it does have many different armors, helmets, shields, items, Runes and potions by the freight-full. Each place you venture to has individual types of all these, which sometimes makes finding ones you want a task. Throughout the game you will encounter mini-bosses that protect chests of goods. In these chests you'll find armors and such that can't be purchased at the local outlet and are most likely more powerful. The chests also give you high amounts of potch (money).
When running low on potch, there are options. One of the most productive ways of getting rich is the technique of trading. You'll usually find a trading post in each city, and it really works just like it sounds. Different items are worth individual prices in each town. If you find a Calerian trader and he has an Ancient Script, then go ahead and visit Vinay del Zexay on the complete opposite side of the map and trade it in for more than one hundred times the amount you bought it for, but it will take a long time to get there (the obvious catch to it all). You might buy a Crystal Ball somewhere for 499 potch, and trade it in at Duck Clan Village for 8,999 potch. You can't buy a million Crystal Balls and trade them either, usually the trade shop will have one to ten of each object depending on the value, but the cash does flow when you make the right choices. It's common that a place will have a particular forte. Vinay del Zexay for example first blossomed off the sale of Deer Antlers, and it's the only place on the map where you can buy them in mass quantities and sell them for much more potch elsewhere.
There's more stories than just Hugo's, Chris' and Geddoe's. Thomas has his own story as well, as the new master of Budehuc Castle. It's a short lighthearted tale but still worth playing. If you're lucky enough to have save files from Suikoden II then you can load them up and play characters, which I was unfortunately not able to get. This also sets up for multiple endings in Suikoden III.
To make a long story short, you could virtually play Suikoden III forever. It's hard to believe, but each time you pick up the game you can easily find something brand new that you've never seen or done before. Even after beating the game I can pop the game in and perform tasks unprecedented to that point. If you blow through SIII without doing anything else, it's about a 40-hour game. If you spend your time with it and get extras and such, you'll probably beat the story in roughly 50 hours (give or take a few). Then again, if you go that extra leap then you could literally play Suikoden for 100 plus hours. Simply remarkable.
It's hard to believe that an RPG could top last year's Final Fantasy X, but it's already been done. Suikoden III might largely be a conventional RPG, but it garnishes more ingenuity than you'll find in most games on the market. Like I said in the beginning, it's not what makes Suikoden III good, the question is what doesn't? There are problems with SIII, but once you experience the game you don't even realize they exist once it enthralls you with its beauty and grace. This isn't simply an RPG to remember for the time being, it's an RPG to remember for the ages. Suikoden III narrowly passes Final Fantasy X for the defining role-playing game on the PS2, but it completes that task regardless, and is one of the best games of the year. Pick this game up now, and don't even think twice. Konami's opus is an utter masterpiece.