Simple and Perfect.
Perfectly charming — no frills required.
Ape’s Ranking: #60/100
Suikoden harkens back to a time when characters and charm were more important than a silly sandbox game with a thousand permutations. An early scene puts the main characters around the dinner table with an impactful guitar solo that sets the mood for the rest of the game:
Note: please ignore the horrible game cover 😳.
While the story might be pretty standardfarer, the game boasts 108 characters for you to recruit for your rebellion army. Each one is unique in their own way and mostly avoids the pitfall of Chrono Cross where no one matters. Home base isn’t a static structure but rather a thriving community. This game builds a sense of connection with the world; you can’t wait to return home to see what your friends are up to.
[SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS]
You play as Tir (or in my case “Bear”), the son of the great general of the empire. While your father’s away, you begin to take missions on that show you how corrupt the empire has become. Your childhood friend soon becomes the fixation of the empire due to his possession of powerful magic. When Tir fights back, he becomes an outlaw.
To escape, Tir and company recruit the help of Vicktor who is part of a resistance movement against the empire. Due to his display of bravery and ability, Tir becomes its leader and begins to recruit people to build an army. Will Tir be able to defeat the empire knowing full well he will have to defeat his dad in battle to do so?
The game has three modes of play: battle, strategy, and combat.
Battle is your standard RPG flair. In Suikoden, your party consists of 6 people. Each character has a “range” which dictates how far their attacks can travel. For instance, people with short distance need to be in the front and can only hit front row enemies while long distance can be in the back row and hit any enemy regardless of location.
There are a couple unique twists to Suikoden: Runes which is the equivalent of magic and Unite which is like Chrono Trigger’s combo attacks. While there are many characters to collect, not everyone is suited for battle so it’s easy to fall in the pitfall of using the same 6-8 people you know the best.
My favorite option might have been “free will.” This just makes everyone do a standard attack and saves you the time have having to manually enter every command.
Strategy and Combat are glorified games of rock, paper, scissors. What is neat about the strategy portion is that the people you recruit make your attacks more powerful and varied. It’s nice to see you go out of your way to recruit someone and reap the benefits in some meaningful way.
And that’s where Suikoden really excels: characters.
The moment I knew this game was something special was when I first got a home base and went looking for people to recruit. Any character that has a profile picture during conversation is eligible, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make it happen. I found a man hanging around a bar who was more than willing to come help the liberation army with his inventions. I came back to HQ to find he had installed an elevator — no more taking the stairs!
That was instant buy-in for me to try and get more people.
Each character is completely variable in their importance and assets — it’s fun to recruit and see what they are all about. Some open up shops in your castle, upgrade your equipment, are powerful warriors, big personalities, or just a waste of space. It’s hard to know until you talk to them and try them out. Regardless, everyone is unique in their own way, and it’s worthwhile to explore your castle between adventures to see what everyone is up to.
During one particular episode of mixing and matching characters, I somehow became a sprinter. Stallion, an elf character known for his speed, was in my party granting me alacrity on the world map and dungeons. Templeton, a random guy wanting to be geographer, is a NPC but gives you a world map showing you all the locations in Suikoden.
These kind of hidden power-ups make recruiting even more addicting. I’m still itching to return to the game and find all 108 knowing I came up ~30 short. The depth of the game is found within this challenge. The more time you spend recruiting, the more time you spend talking to people in and outside of the castle. The characters begin to take on their own significance, and the world of Suikoden really blooms.
Why only four stars then? Well the game does have some old-school problems, particularly how they handle inventory and equipment. Each character can only hold so many things and there is no collective to easily transfer things. This leads to switching in and out party members, selling/dropping items, and putting things in storage to only retrieve after a party switch seconds later. It is a complete nightmare.
The good thing is Suikoden isn’t too hard; I got by with a little luck to make up for my laziness in managing my characters.
I’m going to really miss these guys, but at least there is Suikoden II to play next!
Other people’s Takes:
- The Professional Protagonist: “Very few games mean as much to me as Suikoden. While a lot of RPGs before this one influenced a number of things, Suikoden might be one of the finest role-playing game series I’ve ever played.”
- Los Harrow: “Not that Suikoden is a bad game, but specifically in the narrative I was hoping for something a bit different and unique.”
- No Games Here: “The story is pretty enjoyable, character recruiting is sort of fun as well, and overall it’s not a bad JRPG at all.”