The game was made by Konami and released for the PlayStation in 1995 in Japan, in 1996 in the US and in 1997 in Europe.
Suikoden is a fairly classic turn based JRPG. As I explained the basics of this type of game in my review of Persona 3: FES, I won’t go into detail here about it and concentrate on the stuff that makes the game special.
First of all Suikoden features three types of combat: normal combat, duels and war battles.
Normal battles are your standard random encounters. You will be brought to a battle screen where your party (up to six characters) has to defeat their enemies. These encounters play like any other turn based JRPG but with a few tweaks:
Firstly your party is divided in two rows of three people, a front row and back row. This is important because every character has a unique weapon which cannot be changed (but they can be upgraded), and every weapon has a specific range (S,M and L). Characters with a short range weapon can only attack from the front row and are only able to attack the enemies front row. Characters with medium ranged weapons are able to attack from either the front or the back, but are also limited to attack the enemies front. A long range weapon can be used from the front or the back row and can attack both rows of the enemies party.
Secondly some of your characters are able to perform combo attacks. Depending of who is teaming up with whom these attacks can have vastly different effects, ranging from dealing one very powerful blow against a single enemy but with the drawback that both perfoming team members are stunned the next round, to dealing only 3/4 of the normal damage with the benefit of hitting every enemy on screen.
Duels are one on one battles between your main hero and specific enemies. They are basicly a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors: Attack beats Defend, Defend beats Special and Special beats Attack.
War battles share the same principle as duels: Charge beats Bow, Bow beats Magic and Magic beats Charge. But in war battles you have some extra choices. You can send a ninja to spy on the enemy and see what their next attack will be, send a trader to make enemy troops desert and fight for you or bring back money, send a thief for a random result or call mighty dragon riders into the fight who are strong against both Charge and Magic but will be obliterated by a Bow attack. Also war battles are the only instance in the game in which you can lose a member of your army permanently.
Something else about this game which is very interesting, is their take on magic and how it works.
To work magic you have to equip a rune to a character. Runes range from basic attack, defense or healing magic (mostly elemental runes like fire, earth, water, wind) to various passive effects (like the Sunbeam Rune that lets you regain health with every step you take) or to enable the wielding character to do special physical attacks (like the Falcon Rune oder the Boar Rune). The game has no classical Mana indicator, instead you will see something like this “5/3/3/2” on your character sheet. That means your character is able to cast the first level spell of a rune five times, the second and third level three times and the fourth level two times. It is further important to know that the only way to regain used magic points is by resting in an Inn. That means one has to think about when, or if the use of magic is necessary.
The game also features a very big roster of recruitable characters, 108 to be precise. Most of them are usable in combat, the rest provides service like shops in your castle, the ability to change the color of textboxes or various sound effects or to listen to some songs from the soundtrack. And not all of these characters join you automaticly. Some are hidden, some need you to do certain things before they become available and some are entirely missable by choosing a wrong answer.
The main hero of the story is Tir McDohl (first name is changeable), son of one of the great generals of the Scarlet Moon Empire. His father is summoned to war and Tir with some of his friends starts his training to become a member of the army himself by carrying out certain tasks for the empire like tax collecting. In the course of his missions he comes to realize that the government is ridden by corruption and the common people are quite unhappy with it. Things reach a critical point when one of the assignments goes wrong and Tir’s best friend Ted reveals that he is the bearer of one of the 27 True Runes, the Soul Eater. Ted is summoned to the castle directly after the incident and gets ambushed by court magician Windy who wants the rune for herself. He can escape but is mortally wounded. In his last moments Ted passes the rune on to Tir who has to flee the capital to escape captivity. He stumbles upon the Liberation Army, a secret anti government organization and through some tragic turn of events becomes their leader. Marked as a traitor his mission is now to build a proper army and bring down the empire, not only for his own sake, but for the good of the common people.
As I stated at the beginning this is one of my all time favorite games. I love everything about it, the graphics, the music, the characters, the story… everything is just amazing.
The graphics feel like a painting coming to life with their aquarelle like colors and no sharp edges.
The soundtrack is fully orchestrated and contains beautiful melodies that always set the correct mood.
All of the characters are interesting, and remember, there are more than a hundred of them in the game. Other games don’t even manage to make one of their characters interesting, but here you just want to know more about these people and their lifes. Sadly not all of them get a really thorough backstory but still you find yourself wondering about them.
The story is just wonderful. It starts off innocent enough and then pretty quick turns rather dark. But it doesn’t stay that way. The pacing is perfect. It keeps going back and forth between lighthearted and dark and it really lets you feel with your characters. You share their joy and sadness, the hardships they have to endure and the betrayals they have to face and you will feel joy, you will feel sadness and you will feel betrayed and that pulls you into the game, makes you a part of the Liberation Army and gives you the motivation to complete the game and end the war.
The game is, well, not really hard to get – there is always someone selling a copy online – but it is expensive. The game disc alone is about 20 bucks (€ and $ are interchangeble in this instance), if you want the game to come in a case (either damaged or not original without inlays or manual) it’ll cost you about 50 to 70 bucks. A complete game (used) will take 100 – 150 bucks out of your wallet and if you want a new and unused copy you will have to pay somwhere between 200 and 300 bucks.
Rating & Summary:
Graphics: 9,5 – Although the graphics are far from pushing the limits of the console, they just look stunning and suit the game perfectly.
Sound: 10 – A beautiful und very varied orchestrated Soundtrack that always sets the correct mood for the occasion.
Gameplay: 10 – Everything works as it should, no issues to report here.
Story: 10 – An epic tale of friendship, betrayal, freedom, family, trust and lots and lots of other themes that always will be relevant to some degree.
Overall: 10 – Not only one of the best JRPGs ever made, but in my opinion one of the best games ever programmed.
That concludes my review of Suikoden. I hope you enjoyed it.
Keep playing 😉