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Suikoden V Review

Having had enough time to play Suikoden (I finished the game once, and am going for the second round), I think I have a pretty clear idea of the game, enough to write a review.

In short, I would like to say:

Welcome back, Suikoden!

Yes, Suikoden is back, folks... and it is decked out with a full slew of goodies.

However, before I get into the good stuff, let me complain about Suikoden V's weakest point: controls.

The game's response to your input from the control pad is not very stellar. I originally thought my control pad may have gotten worn out, so I changed it to a new one, but the problem persisted. This is particularly the case when you're trying to speak with townspeople, open chests, or open the status menu--you often don't get the desired response. When speaking to townspeople, you seem to have to be at a very specific location to get a response; otherwise, you are completely ignored. The same is true with treasure chests, which can get frustrating because there are some random background images that look like treasure chests. I've wasted some good time trying to open these fake chests thinking that it must be the bad response giving me a hard time.

Calling up the status menu seems to be a hit/miss deal as well. Even if you are clearly pressing the button, sometimes the menu doesn't open at all. The game also loads for about 1 or 2 seconds when you pull up the menu, which may possibly frustrate some people; it didn't bother me. In a similar vein, the controls within the item menu are somewhat awkward because they ask you for confirmation every time you use an item. What was bothersome for me is that the default setting is "don't use," which required that I move the cursor and then press on "yes" before I can finally use the "medicine 1" to heal 100 HP for one of my poorly beaten characters. In previous games, these extra steps were not needed. This was most frustrating when I was in a tight situation in dungeons, slamming the buttons and realizing that I actually didn't use my "mega medicine."

Letfs also talk about load time. Load time tends to be on the longer side for Suikoden V. The load time it takes before every battle is a good 8 to 10 seconds long. However, Konami does a very fine job making this look shorter by using a rather nice transition with graphics and tension-building music. However, the load time after battle is not given equal care, and we also have the vile and evil load screen interfering during event cut-scenes.

On a similar issue, the game seems to use a lot of processing power because when there are many characters in one screen, the game slows down noticeably. The worst case is that one particular rune spell animation can actually cause the game to freeze (but this is probably for older PS2 models, because I have never experienced this myself). Make sure you save often!

Now that I got all of my complaints out of my system, let me get to the good stuff.

Again, let me say:

Welcome back, Suikoden!

Let me start with the music. I often don't review music because my taste is very strange. However, in the case of Suikoden V, I can say that they did an incredible job. Not only do they have a good soundtrack, they make very good use of music to enliven the mood of the plot. They obviously took great care in making sure music is used to enhance the emotional quality of each event. Now, that is Suikoden (at least for me).

The battle engine is superb, to say the least. The regular battles have increased 10-fold in terms of its tactical complexity compared to Suikoden IV. The battles are noticeably harder (unless you power your characters up ridiculously), and pressing buttons like a monkey won't get you very far.

Battle formations are a new feature from Suikoden V, but this really gives grater depth to your tactical options. What is great is that this will allow you to make whatever parties you like.

For example, in Suikoden 2, you were pretty much limited to having 3 members with the attack range of S. In Suikoden V, depending on your formation you can even use 6 members with range S attacks (without any penalties!). You can choose more defensive formations as well, so that your long range attacks have enhanced defenses while one tank takes all of the attacks, etc. The possibilities are viryually limitless.

The skill system is also back, but has also been overhauled. Gone are skills such as "Swing" and "Fire Magic" but instead you have skills such as "Agility" and "Magic." Let me explain how this works-- basically, increasing skills increase your stats. For example, increasing "Agility" increases your "Speed" stats as well as "Evade." It also increases your chances of multiple attacks and your chances to attack multiple enemies. Previously, this was handled by multiple skills, but the new system successfully consolidates these skills into one. Also, skills that increase magical affinities, such as "Lightning Magic" have been eliminated, and have been replaced by individual elemental affinities, much like Suikoden 2 (although you can actually see the affinities in Suikoden V). Your elemental affinities can be marginally modified by wearing certain types of armor, but they are largely static, which means you need to be careful what runes you give to whom.

This all sounds fabulous, but one downside is that you must equip skills. Even if you are trained in the skills "Attack" "Defense" and "Agility" to skill level A, you can only equip two of these at the same time. You can switch them out any time during the game, but the number of skills you can have on your character never increases from 2. However, as you progress in the game, advanced skills become available. One of the highest skill (which I'll translate as "The Royal Way") increases every single skill, but is also very hard to get and not everyone can use it. Overall, the regular battle system along with all the stats makes Suikoden V a number-cruncher's dream. People who liked messing around with stats and theorizing maximum damage, etc will have a lot of fun.

The one-on-one duel system has been a staple for the Suikoden series, but it has gone through a minor change in Suikoden V: you're now given a time-limit to make your choice. Otherwise, it is basically the same as how it was in Suikoden 1 and 2. However, this small change makes duels a lot more challenging and fun, you just gotta try it. I was also pretty happy to see that battle animations of your hero changes depending on your opponent. The choreography is really quite something. I can't find anything bad about duels at all, and you do have a fair number of them (and some duels don't involve the hero as well).

Now, the major battles: boy, THIS has changed! For one thing, the major battles are real-time, meaning all of your units move simultaneously. However, besides the real-time aspect, the major battle system basically takes the good parts of past battle systems and combines it together, and they do a fine job at that. Basically, you can have an upwards of around 10 regiments, and each regiment can be led by up to 3 characters. There's various regiment types, including naval units. Some battles are purely naval or conventional, but many battles involve a mix, which further complicates the strategy. Like Suikoden 2, some characters have special skills, such as "Charge" or "Water Magic" which add to your tactical options. Generally, the major battles are challenging, and you're given a lot of freedom in terms of what you can do. Unlike in Suikoden 2, where you had almost no freedom in some battles, most all major battles in Suikoden V lets you do whatever you wish. Also, depending on how well you do, you're given rewards! One problem with major battles is that you're not given much time to think because it is real-time. One tip I can give you is that all units stop moving when you are choosing the destination of one of your units, that's when you can have time to think, but otherwise you'd need a lot of dexterity with your control pad.

Now going onto better stuff: Characters.

In short, the characters in Suikoden V are superb. The development team obviously heard complaints about the lack of character depth in Suikoden IV and made major improvements in this regard for Suikoden V. Almost every single character in Suikoden V has a reason for joining the hero, and you sure do get certain types or archetypes that are essential for Suikoden to be Suikoden: charlatans, bandits, thieves, corrupt government officials, scheming aristocrats, silent swordsmen, mercenaries, along with a scantly-clad rune sage and ditzy teleport mage.

The characters are given an amazing amount of back-story as well, creating a pretty complex web of relations between characters you wouldn't think have anything to do with each other. Along with your private investigator's investigation, comment box entries, and bathhouse events, it'll probably take a very long time for anybody to learn everything about the characters. Not only that, every character is given a pretty wide range of emotion, which you can see through their facial expressions and gestures; which is a pretty huge improvement from Suikoden IV (especially because the hero had only one facial expression).

Characters that are heavily involved in the plot are developed very well, and are given compelling and believable reasons for doing what they do. This not only involves your side, but your enemy as well; however, as director Sakiyama said, there is less "gray area" for the enemies--your enemies are decidedly more "evil" than the "good side." The effect of this is actually pretty good, because it makes you feel pretty good when you defeat your enemies, and also lets you really dislike your foe and aids in building up your emotions.

However, the greatest job they did in terms of character is for the hero. The prince is a "silent hero," but even then you can see how he grows during the game. Depending on the choices you make, he can be serious or comical but never bland. The range of emotion he displays is pretty amazing, and the development team does a good job making you forget that he's a "silent hero."

And the plot; I don't know how to describe how the plot of Suikoden V surpasses the plot of all other Suikodens, especially in terms of its complexity. More than once was I shocked to learn of why certain things happened, especially because I assumed the truth to be different. The politics within the plot is quite intense, and it is possible that some of it might go over the head of some people.

In the same vein as politics, military strategy is also an important aspect in the Suikoden series, but Suikoden V doesn't disappoint in terms of that. Not only your own strategist, but in various other parts of the plot will you see brilliant and brutal strategy used by enemies and yourself alike. You have manipulation, betrayal, foreign intervention, old-fashioned loyalty, and unlikely allies, which all make Suikoden what it should be.

Also, Suikoden V does a very good job at throwing you down into the abyss. You will be pitted against incredible adversity--adversity so overpowering that you'll likely feel pretty unhappy. However, adversities are overcome in ways that are entirely Suikoden: through brilliant strategy of your strategist and the heroic acts of the hero and his comrades. The end result is a story that creates a rapturous feeling, the very feeling that was missing (for me) in Suikoden IV. So yes, Suikoden V does have the "Suikoden feel."

One possible problem with the plot, though, is that the plot feels a small bit rushed towards the end, and can possibly make people wonder what the heck is going on. However, this isn't that big of a problem because an explanation is given in the end.

Lastly concerning plot, you as the playr have a certain latitude over how the plot progress. Although the main storyline is pretty much linear (although with multiple endings), there are a number of parts that branch out. The decisions you make can have a pretty large impact on your playthrough. Some of these branch-points are pretty minor, and some are quite siginficant. The result is that everyone would likely have a different experience. It is basically impossible to see every possible event in two or three playthroughs.

In terms of mini-games, there are plenty of addictive mini-games, although there is no cook-off (many people ask this question, so I just want to make sure). Not only are many of these mini-games addictive, but they tend to be a good way to make money.

Lastly, the graphics have improved especially in terms of character modeling. They don't re-use the same action for every model during battles like they did in Suikoden V, and they don't have ugly textures for faces; each character has facial parts that move naturally. Konami must have put in a lot of effort in this regards! In terms of maps, the birds-eye-view overworld map is back, and the screen inside towns and dungeons are set to a diagonal "quarter-view" perspective, and allows you to see a pretty wide field. Although this makes it hard for you to see things around tall buildings, a lot of times the camera compensates by automatically shifting its perspective. One problem is that you don't get to see the character models close-up unless you're in a cut-scene. It's a shame because the character models are done so well. Also, there are some hidden treasure chests in places you can't see; these tend to contain pretty important (non-plot related) items, too. Battle actions are quite superbly done and fluid, and unite attack actions are done very well and are fun to watch. Graphics involving rune magic is still not quite up to Suikoden 2's standards, but they execute quickly and aren't horrible either. The character profile images (which will undoubtedly be transformed into many message board avatars!) are exceptional, and many characters are given multiple profiles depending on their emotion and also depending on the clothing they wear.

Overall, Suikoden V makes you feel like Konami really tried hard to understand the question, "what makes Suikoden, Suikoden." Opinions on installations following Suikoden 2 have always been a divisive topic, and Suikoden IV scored pretty low in many reviews. Undoubtedly, these facts make Konami think long and hard about what they should do in Suikoden V, and the result is a truly remarkable comeback. Unfortunately, Suikoden V's sales are not too stellar in Japan, but that doesn't reflect the quality of the game itself. Suikoden V is truly an epic, and if you have ever liked Suikoden (and abandoned the series because you didn't like Suikoden 3 or Suikoden IV), it's a must-play.

Suikoden is back, folks!

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Written by SARSadmin
March 15th, 2006