It’s time to review Suikoden, the first entry in a series that has spawned four sequels. Now that I’m finished with it, how does Suikoden’s story, gameplay and presentation hold up under close examination?

Story

Suikoden has a very basic story. That’s not unusual as most console RPG’s fall into certain basic cliches and often tell the same basic story. This time around there’s an evil empire that must be overthrown and so most of the game your main character (I named him Bob) heads the Liberation Army and gradually chips away at the Empire’s territories until there’s a final, climactic confrontation.

That’s fine but Suikoden doesn’t really spend much time developing its story. Part of it is the fact that there are possibly 108 characters you can recruit. I didn’t even attempt to get them all and I ended up with maybe 60 or 70 characters total. Some are mere placeholders (insert Item Appraiser here, insert Weapon Upgrader there) while others are central to the narrative. My issue is that with all the characters available I never really felt like I got to know or enjoy any of them. Even the main character who had to face his Imperial General father in battle never really stood out in any meaningful way. He was betrayed by friends and other friends died and I didn’t even blink.

I don’t require a game to be a whiny emo-fest but I do like to have some motivation to continue playing. The story in Suikoden wasn’t much of a motivation for me and also didn’t lend itself much to blogging on the fine points of it’s ever-twisting narrative.

Overall, I give Suikoden’s story a 4.

Gameplay

Suikoden was a fun game to play. While the story never wow’ed me, I kept playing it because I was almost always having a great time.

One of the nice things about Suikoden was the wide variety of things to do. There were standard dungeons to explore, bosses to fight, one-on-one duels, massive army battles with thousands of soldiers, characters to recruit, opportunities to gamble and a home base to expand and improve. I never felt bored in Suikoden as it seemed there were always new gameplay elements being introduced. And then the game was over in under 22 hours so it never overstayed its welcome.

I really liked the combat in Suikoden. If I wanted to I could choose Free Will during combat and my characters auto-attacked with their physical attacks. I could cast spells as well and these were typically very useful. Combat, including boss battles, was never too difficult. I always felt I was moving forward in Suikoden and not stopped dead in my tracks by a too-hard boss fight.

Character recruitment was a mixed bag. Most of it smelled of busy work for me so I spent little time focusing on it. I can see why some people feel they’ve “gotta catch ’em all” but I’m not that sort of person. I did find the ever-developing base intriguing at first but ultimately became annoying. There were four floors, a roof, a basement and a sub-basement. On top of that there were numerous side passages with bedrooms and other separate areas. By the end of the game navigating my base to accomplish a particular task became a huge pain.

Also a pain was the inventory system. I hated the fact that the game would occasionally force you to use a particular character. When that happened I would have to go to the vault, unequip my equipment from my frequently-used character, then equip them on the new character and then repeat this process when that new character left or was no longer required. Fortunately the game accelerated the gaining of levels for underdeveloped characters so it was pretty easy to keep the needed people near each other in levels.

There were some occasional irritants but overall I give Suikoden’s gameplay a solid 7.

Presentation

Suikoden was one of the first Playstation RPG’s and it shows. The graphics were 2D sprite-based which I have no particular issue with as long as they are well-done. Unfortunately in Suikoden the visuals were only average. The only time I can remember thinking “Wow. That looks nice.” was the first time the battle shifted to a pseudo-3D field that zoomed in and out. Otherwise the visuals in Suikoden were merely serviceable. Fortunately there were no full-motion movies other than the intro, which was (again) average in quality and only made me want to watch it once.

I generally liked the music in Suikoden but I doubt I’ll be humming any of the tunes next week. They seemed to fade into the background during gameplay with the exception of the song that played while you were walking around in your home base. Given that I spent a lot of time in my base I got so irritated with this song that I actually turned the volume down when I got to my base – something I never do with video games. They did change the tune a bit later in the game but even that variation got annoying after awhile.

Suikoden’s presentation was very average and, as such, it gets an average score of 5.

Summary

Suikoden was a good game and I had fun playing it. There were some weaknesses but it remained engaging for me throughout the entire game. Gameplay definitely carried the day for Suikoden. I think I would have liked it less if it were a longer game but for me it hit that sweet spot of game lengths: between 20-30 hours. From what I understand, Suikoden II is regarded as a much better game in all ways so I definitely look forward to checking it out.

Final score: 5.8

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