Did you always dream of leading an army, having your own big castle, traveling around the world finding people that will aid you and fighting against an evil empire? Look no further than Suikoden, one of a number of semi-forgottten JRPGs of the illustrious Playstation One-era. But as there are so many JRPGs available on the platform, let’s take a closer look at this one, and see why it’s still a game that is at least worthy of a recommendation.
Let’s start with the plot: you play as Tir McDohl (a weird name, but it can be changed), the son of Teo, one of the Six Great Generals of the empire. Your father is soon ordered to go on a mission for the empire’s leader, Barbarossa, so he leaves his servants to fend for you while he is off doing his business. Quickly after, you find that your best friend, Ted is in danger of being captured by the empire for holding The Soul Eater, one of 27 magical runes scattered throughout the land.
As the secrets of the Empire’s corruption come to a fore and you decide to join the Liberation Army: a group charged with fighting against the wicked Empire and freeing innocent people within the world. Your objective becomes the need to find new members in a bid to bring down Barbarossa and the Six Great Generals of the Empire. These recruits come to serve as the 108 stars of destiny, and while it is not required to recruit all of them, it proves helpful the more you can get to join your crew. This includes character such as the lovestruck Gremio, a fun sidekick called Viktor, and Mathiu Silverberg, a decent military strategist who will plan most of your battles for you.
Viktor, sleeping like a warrior
The gameplay follows the blueprint of the standard JRPG format including most notably the need to take part in a variety of battles from beginning to end. As the battle system is a major part of the game it is worth getting to grips with early-on: the outline is that you have 2 rows of 3 characters where your front row is the offensive row (where you put your melee fighters) and your back row is the defensive row (where archers and mages do their thing). To mix things up, some of your teammates only provide worthy attack while in the offensive row, while some function better in the defensive row. Others can also work well in both, but finding a good formula is key to victory.
Each character’s spells and skills also depends on which rune they have equipped. There is a good variety of these including fire spells, healing spells, and skills that allow you to attack twice in one turn; there’s also team based attacks, in which a group of two or three of your teammates can use a special attack. At the end of the day, there are many combinations that you can make use of, especially if you end up with the full party of 108 characters.
Some of the baddest guys have decent dialogue
As you advance through the game, you have many opportunities to recruit all sorts of different characters. A good chunk of these will join you just by advancing the plot, but to recruit others you will need to directly seek them out. Unfortunately, you never have a hard time finding them as all the other non-important NPCs manage to look all exactly the same. Despite this, a few of them are hard to get and you must meet a number of requirements before doing so. These include things like being at a certain level, having specific party members in your current party, or by playing a series of mini-games.
As you gather more of the 108 characters, your own personal castle will grow both bigger and prettier. Your recruits help you in battles but if they die during it, they will die permanently so being strategic is necessary, especially if you don’t want to lose a particular member. Following the blueprint of the JRPG genre further, you are also inclined to fight a variety of boss battles. These are fought individually against Barbarossa’s Six Great Generals and the key to weakening the aggressive hold of the Empire is to take them down hard.
Of course I’d like to– wait a minute…
In terms of difficulty, the game is lacking. You don’t really need to strategize much in battles against routine AI, and it’s possible to win just by doing normal-attacks over and over again. You can experiment but the game never really requires it, and the sad truth is that almost anything works fine as long as you have a high enough level, some healing items, and a few of the major-spells. After a while the main character will get a powerful enough spellset that he can take out enemies without even breaking a sweat. Boss Battles are more difficult and this will generally be where any permanents deaths to your team tends to occur, but as there aren’t all that many this doesn’t happen all very often.
As money is absurdly easy to get, the game doesn’t exactly require much grinding. This is especially true if you manage to recruit a character who fills your wallet just by playing a minigame for two minutes! Not only this but it’s quite easy to find a cheap way to level up characters. If you are level 50, for example, and you bring along a level 6 character to one of the the more challenging areas of the game, you can easily find your weak level-6 character levelling up in no time without having to do much with them directly at all! This is a major weakness of the game and for anybody looking for something a bit more difficult, Suikoiden should be considered to be better in terms of story than it is challenge.
On the subject of other features, the game’s music is enjoyable but forgettable. In this respect it stands as being less worthy in that department than its bigger brother, Suikoden II. The graphics are also hard to say much about as it falls under one of the early Playstation titles still serving as a slight upgrade on the SNES or Genesis but not coming into its own in any significant way. Maps are usually fairly small and lacking in detail so finding the game’s various treaure chests doesn’t really require much in terms of stepping up your exploration-skills.
If what you’re looking for is JRPG with core gameplay and nothing else then Suikoden might not be for you. The story is pretty enjoyable, character recruiting is sort of fun as well, and overall it’s not a bad JRPG at all. As it lacks difficulty it proves to be a hard-sell for those looking for challenge but, still, as it’s quite different in comparison to many other JRPGs of the time it’s hard not to recommend checking it out.