Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $5.99 (PSN)
Because Konami released Suikoden in limited quantities and refused to re-release it in any form in the US, it is one of the lesser known RPGs that came out in the genre. The fanbase is small but devoted and with good reason. In a time when RPGs began following the lead of bigger titles such as Final Fantasy, Suikoden took the formula and created something that surpasses the RPGs of its time and still holds strong. The games focused their attention on drawing the player into the characters and the struggles that they faced which were never clear-cut and always came with consequences regardless of the choices that were made. Suikoden was the very first game that actually brought me to tears. The story is moving, personal, and really drives home the burden of having to be the bigger person in impossible situations.
Konami has finally conceded to allowing Suikoden to be bought and played via the PSN so this hard-to-find RPG/fantasy gem is now available for discovery and re-discovery. Even diehard fans of mainstream fantasy RPGs are in for a treat. A word to the wise: Suikoden is not a game to be played casually if you want to gain the true ending—and trust me, you want the true ending if you don’t want to end up a sobbing mess by the end. Have a game guide in your bookmarks and a character checklist handy! This is a completionist’s game series.
Suikoden begins when the son of celebrated general Teo McDohl, named by the player (or canonically named “Tir”), is called into the service of the Scarlet Moon Empire. Walking in his father’s shadow, he is appointed to mundane tasks in service of the king. On one such mission, he and his entourage are overpowered and driven nearly to their untimely deaths. Tir’s childhood companion, Ted, summons up a mighty power to save the lives of his companions, but in doing so reveals himself as a true-rune bearer. Knowing the empire will be coming to claim him, Ted entrusts Tir with the rune and surrenders himself so his friend can make his escape. When it’s discovered that Ted no longer bears the rune, Tir, along with his bodyguards, quickly become enemies of their own homeland.
After discovering the corrupted roots of the Scarlet Moon Empire, Tir and his companions join a rebellion. Burdened with the heavy price demanded of him by the Soul Eater rune, he eventually is forced to take command of the rebel army, secure a stronghold, and gather the strength of those bound to him by destiny to defy the empire. With each victory, the rune demands a price; as the war unfolds, Tir is forced to pay the toll in order to secure victory for those he has been entrusted to lead.
The Suikoden universe’s lore includes heavy references to 27 true runes. These runes are semi-sentient magical entities that take a host and mark their bodies with a symbol that represents the rune itself. Every rune has its own unique effects, spells, and penalties for the host. Most true runes give their bearers longevity. The Soul-Eater from Suikoden 1 is an especially dark rune that, true to its name, grows stronger by devouring souls. The souls of the victims remain within the rune, haunting the bearer. While the purpose of the rune’s design was to illustrate the heavy price of power, it is one of the darker elements within the Suikoden series.
The graphics of the game don’t allow for much visual violence but there is plenty of implied violence through the game. Some of the more graphic things are done off-screen, leaving the player’s imagination to fill in the gaps. There are several deaths on-screen, but nothing that would push the E-rating too far.
There are mild implications from a few of the characters but nothing much beyond that. The cursing is very, very mild, restricting itself to d*** and hell at the worst.
Taverns are frequent places of recruitment and discussion within the game. Some of the characters do seem to be drinking nearly every time you encounter them.
While Suikoden has an exceedingly dark rune as the source of the conflict, both external and internal, it carries with it an amazing amount of spiritual lessons. John 15:13 carries through the entire game. Love is the force that overcomes the burden and even the evil that comes with bearing the rune. Romantic love, surprisingly enough, is such a minor thing in Suikoden that it’s really limited between two characters and really plays a minor part. The love that the player experiences through Tir is the love of one’s family, the love for brothers and sisters in-arms, and love for a friend that stands closer than even a brother. This closeness to the other characters within the game forces the protagonist to become a better person and look beyond himself and his own pains to better serve those around him.
Forgiveness plays a major role within Suikoden as well. I cannot stress this enough. There are elements in the gameplay which reward you for your willingness to forgive the unforgivable and love your enemies. I thought that this was one of the most powerful things about the game. In condemning even those worthy of condemnation… well, let’s just say that the sowers of forgiveness reap their rewards.
You play as the young Tir as the main protagonist. He is the only character that you are required to have within your party at all times. At some points in the game, or during side-quests, you must have certain characters in your party, but under normal circumstances you have a literal army of other characters to choose from. Each character specializes in a weapon that you can refine several times to increase its strength. Along with that, every character has magic and stats that you can assign to them to diversify your party. Certain character combinations within your party and their positions within your combat formation allow you to execute special attacks and combos. Every character has a range of attack: short range, mid-range, or long range. Long range characters, for example, fare best in the back of the party while short range characters are best put in the front. Some combos are comical in nature, some are devastatingly powerful, and others are pretty mild. Just playing around with party dynamics and combo attacks is motivation enough to seek out these characters. The battles are kept interesting with all the different ways the player can adjust their party.
Suikoden plays like most RPG games outside of battle. You explore a large over world and encounter enemies while doing so. NPCs and potential new recruits often reside within towns, villages, dungeons, and various other locations accessible from the over world. Enemies increase in level as you progress over the map and also into dungeons which include a difficult boss and hidden treasures. Sometimes these treasures are characters essential to obtaining the true ending, so dungeon exploration is a key factor in these games. Aside from characters, you can find battle formations along with the standard weapons and items along the way.
During essential parts of the story, Tir enters into one-on-one duels with a rock-paper-scissors mechanic based on dialogue given by the opponent. He can attack, guard, or make a desperate attack. The player must guess what their opponent will do based on their verbal exchange within an allotted amount of time and react accordingly.
Finally, there are campaign battles where you arrange units from the characters you have recruited and deploy them into a tactics-style battle. The outcome of the battle relies on yet another rock-scissors-paper mechanic and the strength of the commanding officers leading each unit. An archery unit, for example, has the advantage against a cavalry unit. These battles occur frequently through the game and it’s always a good idea to spend a lot of time grinding all your characters and their weapons before entering into a battle.
The graphics within the game are impressive for their time in places and frustratingly difficult to make sense of in others. Towns, villages, and grassy locations are rendered very nicely but dungeons can be a little hard on the eyes. The battle sprites are pixelated awkwardly but it’s not distracting enough to be much of a problem. The artwork for the character profiles is extremely dated. The Suikoden staff went with a new artist for the remainder of the games and it’s pretty clear as to why they made that decision. Some of the profiles aren’t too terrible to look at but others are laughable.
Composer Miki Higashino did fantastic work for the game’s music. The massive soundtrack is diverse and easy to listen to. Some songs are outright beautiful. Every song is composed not only to capture the emotion of the moment but the atmosphere of the surroundings. Some characters even cue their own songs that will become a theme for their archetype in the later installments.
The largest problem with the game’s presentation is the occasional translation error. Thankfully these translation errors are more comical than distracting but they do sometimes take away from the mood of a moment.
“All this killing…in front of a children.”
While Suikoden 1 is not the strongest installment of the series, it’s a classic. It sets the foundation for amazing mechanics and character building that continued on through the series. While it’s technically the third game in the Suikoden timeline, it’s the best place for a newcomer into the Suikoden franchise to enter into. For one, a completed game (with all 108 characters) will transfer data into Suikoden 2 and unlock a special side-quest and characters. The characters from Suikoden 1 can be seen in each of the other games and it’s amazing to see how the characters develop. Every character in your army has their own story with some spanning several titles, while others are simple but charming enough. The game follows the general structure that earlier RPGs set as a foundation but it builds from there in its own unique direction. Suikoden is quite frankly a hidden gem in the world of gaming. The stories, characters, and plot twists could easily rival or even surpass modern titles.
The Bottom Line
For those seeking a classic old-school RPG this game will not only meet but exceed any expectations. Suikoden uses tried and true RPG elements while introducing mechanics that later became a staple of their titles. Along with the main story, there are several characters that trigger side quests, games, and expansions to the story itself. The lack of visual luster and the rocky dialogue is easily overlooked for an excellent and engaging storyline, a fantastic score, and dozens of lovable characters.