Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo | Year: 1996
List Price: ~$18.49 | Buy from Amazon
Late last year, Konami surprised the world by finally re-releasing Suikoden II on PSN. The game, though it has a strong cult following, didn’t sell much upon release and fetches exorbitant prices on eBay. We’ll get to Suikoden II later though (after I play it!). For now, let’s dive into the first game in Konami’s flagship RPG franchise. Suikoden is much less celebrated but its story does directly link to its sequel, so it’s recommended that you try it first. But how does it hold up against other classic JRPGs you could be playing on your PS3 or Vita? Let’s find out, shall we!
Suikoden looks aged in 2015 but it’s interesting to note that it looked somewhat archaic even upon its release in 1996. Though a PlayStation game, Suikoden worked to continue the sprite-based graphics of SNES-era RPGs. This caused it to be derided by critics as flashier games such as Wild Arms and Final Fantasy VII were on their way in, but unlike those games, Suikoden’s visuals still hold up today. The gorgeous pixel art is product of a largely no-frills approach, but still ends up looking quite refined compared to a SNES game. The character sprites have quite a lot of personality, and battles look great. A nice touch is how the camera pans around to show you close-ups of certain attacks (a bit like Generation V Pokemon games, if you’re familiar with those). That certainly couldn’t have been pulled off in the 16-bit era.
The story of Suikoden is actually rather short, but it’s fast paced enough that it still feels like a grand adventure. Suikoden has been described as the Game of Thrones of RPGs, and though I’m not too familiar with the latter series, I get the reference. The story is not so much about saving the world so much as it’s about solving localised conflicts among factions through battle. There’s an extremely large amount of playable characters (108 to be exact), and a good portion of them actually play integral parts in the main story. That said, not all the characters are fully fleshed-out, and I did find the story to get a little sidetracked towards the end, but the interactions and dialogue kept me engaged for the most part.
Suikoden plays much like any other JRPG of the 90s. You’ll be leading a constantly-changing party of six through an overworld, encountering turn-based battles along the way. The battles are surprisingly brisk and efficient. Because the game isn’t too resource-heavy, the battle screen is pretty much stored in the RAM and battles load almost instantly. When the game detects that an enemy is too easy, it lets you just run away from them with no penalty. Also, because there’s no ATB system, you can actually load a battle, run, and be on your merry way faster than it’d take you just to gain control of your character in a Final Fantasy game!
What I did find extremely cumbersome and archaic was the way items and equipment are managed. Each character carries their own items, and they can’t share them on the fly. This becomes especially annoying when trying to equip characters with armour, since one’ll be holding one that belongs to another, and the menus aren’t laid out very efficiently. It all just feels like a waste of time and I really wonder why Konami didn’t just opt for a regular inventory.
The soundtrack of Suikoden, on the other hand, is absolutely stellar. It almost rivals Final Fantasy music in my opinion, and that’s saying something, considering how much I worship that series’ soundtracks! From the recurring main theme (of which there’s a great acoustic remix for the lighter moments), to the epic overworld theme, to the baroque-sounding royal palace theme (my personal favourite!), you’ll find plenty of variety in Suikoden’s soundtrack.
Though it’s hard to recommmend Suikoden over some of its contemporaries, that doesn’t stop it from being a wonderful experience. It’s fairly short (I clocked just over 18 hours), and rather easy for its era, but those who want a longer play time and a greater challenge should try to collect all the 108 characters. It’ll give you a couple more hours of content and each character is like a little enigma to solve. Just be prepared to look stuff up in the late-game and keep multiple saves, since some characters are missable! On to the score breakdown:
Design: (8/10) Suikoden’s central conceit is one-of-kind, with a huge cast of characters and a complex plot that’s still easy to understand. It’s story does end up being rather generic towards the end, and not all the characters are fully explored, but Suikoden is entertaining throughout its playtime.
Visuals: (8/10) Opting for tried-and-true sprite artwork rather than polygonal models, Suikoden ages very well, and it has a certain charming, colourful style. It’s particularly impressive how Suikoden manages to give every one of the 100+ characters a unique personality. Ultimately, Suikoden doesn’t push any boundaries in the visuals department, but it never really tried to, either.
Sound: (9/10) The soundtrack is really great, encompassing lots of different styles and giving off an overall rural, almost folksy vibe. And because there’s so many different tracks in such a relatively short game, you’ll want to keep your volume turned up so as to not miss a single beat.
Gameplay: (7/10) Suikoden is sort of a bread-and-butter RPG, with not much in the way of extra systems to distinguish it. The pace is very brisk, however, and you won’t find yourself feeling bored either. Leveling happens fast, and battles go by quickly. If only the item management system weren’t so obtuse. I’m serious when I say that you’ll spend probably over 2 hours over the course of the entire game shuffling equipment!
Value: (7/10) For only $6 on the PSN, you’re getting close to 20 hours of story, which is sort of par for the course for PS1 RPGs, but it’s still pretty good value by today’s standards. That said, it does compete in that space against real behemoths like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Final Fantasy VII, so it may not be the best first choice, though I have no doubt a die-hard RPG fan will enjoy Suikoden immensely.
Total: 41/50 (B-)
List Price: ~$18.49 | Buy from Amazon
What did you think of Suikoden? Are you going to try Suikoden II? Tell us in the comments!
I’m currently working my way through Final Fantasy IV on my Vita and it’s alright, I guess. Then I’ll play VIII, I, and IX, and hopefully before summer I’ll be able to rank the first seven American Final Fantasy games. Quite an undertaking, I’m starting to realise, but it’ll happen!