2002 had a number of RPGs and for the most part all were good. But none stand out as clearly as Konami’s Suikoden 3. After viewing this game at E3 2002 I was at first a little worried. How would the game transition in to 3-D? How would the Trinity Sight system work? Would the story be as good as past games? Would I be able to beat it in less than twenty hours and still find all 108 characters? Well after sitting down and sinking a good fifty plus hours in the game I must say that everything I love about Suikoden is present in this amazing RPG.
If you’ve played past iterations of the Suikoden series then you know the story has heavy political overtones with war looming on the horizon. Nothing changes here, although this time it revolves around the territories of the Grasslands, the Zexen controlled areas and the nearby holy city of Harmonia. If you’ve played Suikoden 2 then you’d remember the short amount of time Harmonia participated in the final wars of the game. If not you won’t be missing much, you’ll be brought to speed on everything. The story follows the adventures of three key characters; Chris Lightfellow, the leader of the Zexen Knights, stubbornly dutiful and always looking to help Zexen. Next we have Hugo a young man from the Grasslands, which is a collection of six towns spread throughout the region. He is the son of a great warrior-chief; Lucia, she was also present in Suikoden 2 although much younger at the time. And lastly there is Geddoe, captain of a frontier defense unit for Harmonia. Each character has their own unique storyline to follow that is divided into chapters. After you complete a chapter you are free to stick with that character or choose another.
Each character is trying to search out the True Runes, which are the ultimate of runes, granting untold power and eternal life to their bearers. The search for the runes will eventually lead the characters on a search to find the legendary Flame Champion, a hero of fifty years ago who helped create peace in the Grasslands. To keep the game as spoiler free and dramatic as possible I recommend going through the game one chapter at a time for each character. As for the other characters in the game there are some most interesting individuals this time around along with a few people returning from the past games that you should immediately recognize. You’ll find that recruiting new members this time around will be a lot easier. Not like that whole bit of trading you had to do in Suikoden 2 just to get one character. You’ll find that most are quite ready and happy to join.
Now the graphics of this game are not visual splendor like that of Final Fantasy X but Suikoden was never known to be flashy. The transition to 3-D graphics was handled quite well, although one very minor gripe that I have is that the character animations have a spot where they are trying to reset and it looks a bit choppy and can sometimes mess with the framerate. It is especially noticeable when riding a horse. But this is me being incredibly picky. However, to counteract this is perhaps the best anime introduction sequence ever to appear in a video game. The character art is up to standard Suikoden quality and all the character designs are well done.
One area where you are going to notice a major overhaul is how you acquire spells and skills in the game. While runes are your primary source of magic there now is a bit more effort required to powering them up. As you fight you gain skill points which in turn are spent at a tutor who will improve your magic skills or a bujitsu teacher who will improve combat skills. This is a pleasant change of pace. As you start the game you will notice that your magic abilities are quite weak and as you gain skill points you can go see a tutor who can power up your runes to make the spells cast faster and more efficiently. Some characters can save their magic points by casting high level spells at lower levels.
Each character has a limit that their skills can reach, through a grading process you can see your character’s skills go from E to S. And if you get a character with the ability to reach an S class in anything then they are a definite keeper as they will prove to be invaluable during combat. However if your skills are kept low you will get your spells cancelled by heavy hits. Combat skills are handled by the bujitsu teachers. The same points that are used for magic are also used for combat skills. Combat skills include being able to continuously attack, ability to defend with a shield, critical hits, field movement, and more. Its great having a character that when close to the enemy will attack eight times. Couple that with a rune that increases critical hits and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Another thing that was changed was the war system. This has changed every game and I think with this game they’ve hit the nail right on the head. You are no longer given the nameless thousands who would fight for your cause; rather it is all dependant on the characters you have been leveling up during the course of the game. This is another thing that encourages you to use all your characters. For if you stick weak units in the wars you are going to get wiped out. Also when moving units you are given a sort of home field advantage. If combat takes place on your own ground you can receive different types of bonuses. Like being in a castle will reduce the damage you take during the fights by upwards of forty percent.
Suikoden 3 is all about out with the old and in with the new. The regular combat system has been changed as well. Although this time it is not for the better. Now your party is comprised of pairs who fight together and share actions. So if select the attack option then both characters will attack. If you have one character use an item then the other will attack. Or if you want to have two characters cast spells then you better make sure they aren’t fighting as a pair, because only one unit will get a spell off. This system is meant to encourage combination attacks but there will be times when the combo attacks will seem useless. And if you wanted to have a character use an item and then defend well then you’ve got yourself a problem. Why Konami changed the combat system this much is beyond me. It makes the battles more difficult than they really need to be. Another thing that was added was a kind of timer bar that allocates when your character will move and attack. Just think of Grandia except without the ability to cancel your opponent’s attacks. This battle system takes some getting used to but once you understand it then there is nothing to it. However it is probably the only really “bad” thing that can be said about this game.
The mellow musical score is also something worth noting. The battle music is a cheerful type romp that you’ll more than likely forget, but the war and boss music will stand out the most. The towns have very laid back tunes that are of a Celtic nature and are very fitting. One of the best and most moving pieces of music comes from the opening movie and will be what really sets the tone for the game.
In the end I can not recommend this game enough. This is one of the best RPGs released in recent memory that is not a Square production. If you’ve played the past Suikoden games then prepare for a wild departure from what you’re used to. But at the same time you’ll find familiar territory and you’re sure to love it. And even if you have not played Suikoden games in the past this game stands alone as one of the best PS2 RPGs out there, you can easily pick up and play this game. And if you happen to know the story of the past games then you’ll enjoy this game that much more. If you need a new RPG to play, then this is it. You simply can not go wrong with this game.
Quite simply, easily the best RPG released in the past year.
Rating: 9.2 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I recently cleared the 10 year club with Gaming Nexus. Kind of surprised I've been a mainstay here for a little over a decade now.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers and have recently returned from a job in Texas doing production work for a company that did cell phone games. Now I'm working for a record label, along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.