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Suikoden III

Review By:  Josh Fishburn

 
Developer:  Konami
Publisher:  Konami
# of Players:  1
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card (Suikoden II Save Data)
Date Posted: 

6-5-03

Back in my high school days working at Funcoland, I had a favorite game to play during my downtime.  That game was Suikoden for PS1, and its humble beginnings as the first worthwhile Playstation RPG to hit US shores have blossomed into a truly titanic series.  Suikoden is a series that somehow retains its cult status while garnering critical acclaim.  The series has always struck out on its own to create a world inhabited by characters that are every bit as humorous as they are determined.  Getting to know the characters is what I enjoyed most about Suikoden.  Having so many options to customize my castle just made it feel like a more complete game, satisfying my combative and planning personalities at the same time.  With Suikoden II essentially a bigger adventure than Suikoden, many wondered what was in store for the next adventure.  Suikoden III has arrived at a time when RPG’s for PS2 are plentiful, but I had no qualms in making time for this game.  Like seeing an old friend for the first time in years, Suikoden III looks very different from what you remember, but its soul is the same.  I really could have played this game longer than I did; after putting off beating it for a while though, I felt it was time.  This game ate up more of my time than any other RPG I have ever played.  That’s not to say it had to, but a man’s gotta have hobbies doesn’t he?  Aside from playing videogames, while playing Suikoden III I added mercantilism, gambling, interior decorating, cooking, training, and many others.  There is a lot to do in Suikoden III if you are up for it.  If not, what’s left is a phenomenal character-driven RPG.

Suikoden III takes place some time after the events of Suikoden II in a different land.  If you played through the second game you can load your saved data at the beginning of your game for some in game bonuses and delightful references to your history in the previous games.  The main story centers around the search for the Flame Champion, a mythical hero who 50 years prior united the Six Clans of Grassland in victory over the oppressive Holy Kingdom of Harmonia.  At the beginning of the game, with an undertone of unease, the Six Clans are on the verge of signing a peace treaty with the neighboring Zexen Federation.  Zexen and the Grasslands hang in a delicate balance between war and peace.  The Zexens label the rural Grasslanders as barbarians, while the Grasslanders refer to the Zexens as “iron-heads” after their battle armor and stubborn elitism.  While Holy Harmonia is far away geographically, its ambitions are equally far reaching, setting the stage for a story full of twists.

Making the twists much more interesting is the new Trinity Sight System.  What this does is essentially give you three main characters to play the game with: Geddoe, Hugo, and Chris.  You will play as all three as the game goes on, but the order you play their stories is left up to you (more “main” characters become available as the game goes on, but I will keep their identities secret).  Geddoe is the captain of a small unit in the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia’s frontier defense force who is commanded to investigate rumors that the Fire Bringer have returned.  Hugo is the son of Lucia, the chief of the Karaya Clan, one of the Six Clans of Grassland.  It is Hugo’s duty to carry the document that is to bring peace between the Six Clans of Grassland and the nation of Zexen.  Chris Lightfellow is the captain of the Six Knights of Zexen.  Also known as the Silver Maiden, her task is to negotiate a peace treaty with the Six Clans of Grassland.  These may sound like humble beginnings, but the game wastes no time making connections between these characters while focusing on their individual histories. 

The Trinity Sight System is an absolutely miraculous expansion of the game.  Instead of being a meaningless addition to simply extend gameplay, the system actually had me clamoring for more characters to play.  It allows you to deeply appreciate each main character, and since you will see many events from the point of view of multiple characters, it also allows you to sympathize with their intentions.  Not only this, but there are 105 other characters in the game!  That’s right, the legendary 108 stars have returned from the previous incarnations of Suikoden (as well as from Chinese lore), and you can recruit every one of them.  Like the previous games, many of these characters will automatically become part of your party, but some of them you will have to go out of your way to get.  Recruiting seems to be much toned down in this game than in the previous games.  Possible recruits are made extremely obvious when you talk to them, and they usually tell you exactly what they want.  If not, once you get Kidd, the detective, you can find out exactly what each wandering character needs in order to join you.  That said, recruiting is still exciting and rewarding.  That sitar sound indicating that another has joined the 108 stars is just music to my ears!

The gameplay here is just as meaty, if not as polished, as the story.  There is so much to do, and so much of it is done well, that I can’t complain too much.  It is just unfortunate that the one thing I ended up doing over and over again seemed to be the most neglected part of the game: the dungeons.  Throughout the game there are “treasure bosses” in various dungeons.  These guys are your friends.  They can be difficult at first but defeat them and you reap the reward of several items and equipment along with a large cash bounty.  The catch is that you will have to go through, over and over again, dungeons that are strictly straight and narrow.  The only one that is moderately difficult to traverse is Cindar Ruins, but the on screen map even simplifies it.  Perhaps my boredom with the dungeons is a result of the game design, which replaces the standard over world map where you control your character with a point-to-point system like Final Fantasy X.  Between cities and points of interest lie plains, forests, and mountain paths.  These routes contain enemies and sometimes treasure bosses, and also contain growing herbs to pick and long dead soldiers to plunder.  You will spend A LOT of time going from point to point in these areas, which are just as repetitive as the dungeons for the most part.  Just when I thought this was getting a little too tedious I recruited Viki, who allows you to teleport across the map.  So, if you’re getting really bored traversing these areas, don’t fret!  While I really liked the design of the map, I still longed for more complex tunnels instead of merely getting from point A to point B with no hindrance in between, save for a few enemy encounters. 

Speaking of repeated tasks, lets talk about the battle system.  Like the previous games in this series, the battles take three forms: Standard, Group, and Duel, all of which have been changed significantly.  For standard combat, random encounters are the rule, but they are frequent enough to level up your characters but not so prevalent that they become a nuisance.  The standard combat is very well done, with some interesting changes.  From the main menu, you can choose attack, retreat, or auto.  Auto causes your entire party (up to six characters) to automatically attack with their weapons.  This has always been a favorite of mine, as in the previous games, because it cuts down on the time you spend preparing to fight enemies that you are confident your party can handle.  Choosing attack brings further options, depending on the character.  One of the major changes becomes apparent here: your party is arranged in pairs, with one command allowed for each pair.  The options available for each pair are attack, defend, rune, item, combination attack, and chanting.  Some of these will depend on whether your pair has runes equipped, whether they match up for a combination attack, etc.  Chanting occurs when it takes more than one turn for a character to charge up a spell.  Although pairing up is annoying at first, it quickly becomes second nature.  You just need to know the rules: items cannot be used outside the pair, but some spells can be; the game is easy at the beginning, so you will have plenty of time to get used to the interface.  It took me far longer to get used the addition of magic that damages both the enemy and your party.  The fire rune is the main culprit here, damaging friend and foe equally.  This became a problem for me at a specific instance of the game.  I got ready to unleash a huge flame attack with one pair, and then had all the other pairs defend.  But then, to my surprise, one pair goes running to attack the enemy.  Since these two were now right next to the enemy, and hence within the attack radius of my fire rune, they got toasted and were killed.  It turns out those characters with a battle hungry temperament will not defend even if you tell them to.  In this case, equipping everyone with some sort of fire-resistant armor is absolutely essential to avoiding this flame attack.  Although the fire rune is very powerful, I barely used it because of this annoyance, and actually got by fine without it. 

The group battles are very toned down from the previous Suikoden games.  I was really disappointed with that, because by abstracting away the battles they have a less epic feel to them.  As simple as they were, the group battles in Suikoden I were epic in scale and chilling to watch.  The battles in Suikoden III take place on simple grids, with all the possible points to move connected by dotted lines.  You can obtain an advantage in attacking an enemy with one group while another group is connected to the enemy’s point from another point, but this is about as deep as the strategy goes.  From the main screen you can also use select rune attacks or healing spells on your groups as well.  Once you attack an enemy group (or are attacked yourself) the game switches to the standard battle screen, or so you think.  Although it looks identical to a standard battle, your only options are attack, defend, or retreat.  You have no control over what kind of attack your party members use, or whom they attack.  Defeating the leader of the group brings defeat to the whole unit, but this interface will sometimes have your group attack everyone but the leader, even when he/she is exposed.  This is a minor annoyance at best, but at the same time I don’t see the point of even showing the standard battle screen with only those three choices available.

The duel battle is about the same as before, with the addition of a duel gauge that makes your attack more effective if your have the advantage.  Duels are a fun, albeit predictable, part of the game.  After listening to what your opponent says for a few turns, you should be able to discern their next move.  The duels are more intriguing from a story perspective than from a gameplay perspective because most of them either are against a strong enemy or against someone you are trying to recruit. 

Although you will be spending a lot of time in combat, you also have ample opportunity to see what the towns and castles of the area have to offer.  You can do all the standard Suikoden activities like buy or sell items and armor, sharpen your weapon at the blacksmith, see the rune sage to attach, remove, or buy runes, appraise some mystery items, or visit the inn to get some rest.  New to Suikoden III are the lottery, trade shops, and skills shops (more on skills later).  Most of the towns have a lottery.  To participate you can buy tickets and then come back to check the results after wandering around for a while (you need to wait until the next sales period).  You can win big bucks or complimentary prizes.  This is a great way to make money in the game when you are doing some character building.  Another good way to make money is the trade shop.  Most towns have these also, and by visiting them often you accumulate information (accessible each time you go to a trade shop) about the prices of various items.  You can then compare this information with the prices at the current shop and decide whether to buy or sell certain items.  Townspeople and the trade shop merchant will sometimes give you information about where you can make a lot of money selling a particular item.  The great thing about this system is that the prices change all the time, and that demand is based on many factors, including geography.  For example, Chisha village makes great wine, and the further you get away from the village (for the most part), the more expensive the wine is.  I got into the habit of visiting trade shops in each town on the way whenever I set out on a journey.  I would buy some things, sell some things, and move on, always making a profit, however small.

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