RPGs (role playing games) are my favorite genre of video games. The two games that introduced me to this genre were Final Fantasy VII and Suikoden. Although Final Fantasy VII was one of my first RPG games and was the game that introduced me into the Final Fantasy series, it was Suikoden that got me truly into the RPG world. Since then, I enjoy playing RPGs more than any other video game. However, there is something about the Suikoden series that always draws me back to them.
This series is loosely based on a classical Chinese novel, Shuihu Zhuan (also known as Water Margin), by Shi Naian and Luo Guanzhong. The novel’s concept of the hundred and eight Stars of Destiny becomes a defining feature of the Suikoden series. However, in the games, you don’t need to recruit all hundred and eight Stars of Destiny to beat the game. If you do get all hundred and eight Stars of Destiny, you get a bonus ending.
In each Suikoden game, the player decides the name of the protagonist. However, each protagonist does have an official name based off of several publications, sometimes several names depending on the sources:
- Suikoden – Tir McDohl (Drama CD and novelization) and Ryūi (manga).
- Suikoden II – Riou (Drama CD and novelization) and Tao (manga)
- Suikoden IV – Lazlo (novelization)
- Suikoden V – Freyjadour (novelization) and Ardil (manga)
For right now, I’m going to talk only about the first Suikoden game. The game follows Tir McDohl, the son of the famous general, Teo McDohl, of the Scarlet Moon Empire. While his father is away leading battles in the north, Tir is left behind in the empire, along with several of his companions/bodyguards. While originally working as a low level errand boy for the empire, his fate begins to change when his friend, Ted, uses the Soul Eater Rune, one of the twenty-seven True Runes, against a strong enemy. This action sparked interests among the nobles of the Scarlet Moon Empire, especially Windy, the court magician. After being sold out by a rotten commanding officer as traitors, Tir and his friends are forced to flee the capital city of Gregminster. As they flee, Ted gives the Soul Eater Rune to Tir before he sacrifice himself so the others could escape. Tir and his friends eventually meet Odessa, the leader of the liberation army. Through various circumstances, Tir soon takes her position, and must overthrow the Empire.
If I have to describe Suikoden in one word, it would be unique. From the graphics to the story, I find everything in this game to be creative. Even though this game was originally released on the PlayStation in 1996, the graphics look like they have been done for the Super NES or the Sega Genesis. Both the sprites and the backgrounds are lovely. During the fight scenes, the camera will zoom in close to the enemy when you do a critical blow. Also the spell graphics are wonderful.
Like I said before, there are hundred and eight characters to recruit. About ninety characters fight with the hero in battles while about twenty characters are supporters. Although there are a lot of characters to recruit in Suikoden than any other RPG, there is a flaw about this which is a lack of character development. Only a few characters do get some development. However, there is a good thing about having so many characters. About a third of the fighting characters team up and do combo attacks in battle. These team ups are mostly groups made up of two or three characters.
Speaking of battles, there are three battle modes:
- Basic Battle: The most common form of battle with a team made up of six characters. This mode allows the player to control the six party members with different commands such as “Fight” where the player manually chooses the action he/she wants the characters to do, “Run” to escape, “Bribe” to use the party’s money to bribe the enemy for escape, and “Auto” where the game automatically selects the “Attack” command for every character.
- One-on-One Duels: A battle where a character fights in a one on one duel and happens only in special events. There are three commands: Attack, Defend, and Desperate Attack. This type of battle is like rock, paper, and scissors. Attack beats defend. Defend beats desperate attack. Desperate attack beats attack.
- Strategic War Battle: A battle between armies. The commands are Charge, Bow, Magic, and Other. Like the duels, the war battles are like rock, paper, and scissors. Charge beats bow. Bow beats magic. Magic beats charge. The “Other” commend lets the player find out what is the enemy’s next move or to get a hint.
The magic in this game comes in the form of magical orbs known as Runes. You can get these orbs from Rune Shops, or sometimes as rewards from battles and treasure chests. There are three areas where you equip a Rune on a character: Left Hand, Right Hand, and Head. There are twenty-seven legendary Runes known as True Runes. Not all of the True Runes have appeared at once in a single Suikoden game, and only eighteen out of the twenty-seven have appeared in the series. The hero of each Suikoden game will come across and contain a True Rune sometime in the games (mostly near the beginning).
As for the plot, Suikoden is one of the first games to break away from the “mysterious stranger saving the world” story. Instead, this game deals more with a corrupt government/military story, and the hero is someone who just started working for that government/military. The plot is original and simple that the later Suikoden games have a similar story with some changes here and there. However, I have a mix feeling with the ending. What I like about the ending is that, while the credits roll, the profile pictures of each of the hundred and eight Stars of Destiny appears with some information on what each of them are doing after the game. What I didn’t care the ending is that there’s not a big difference between the special ending and the normal ending. The only difference is that in the special ending after the credits you see someone leaving a city with the hero while in the normal ending only the hero is leaving the town.
Despite the ending, Suikoden is a great game to introduce anyone to RPG video games and/or the Suikoden series. However, if you can to play this game, I have to say you should borrow it from a friend who has it, because the cost of this game is $100+.