Format: Sony Playstation
Released: December 1996
Hey kids, do you remember the Super Nintendo? Yeah! Do you remember the famous RPGs of that era? Yeah! And of course you liked those games too, didn’t you? Yeah! So then you’ve obviously played the first Suikoden game? Well… Er… No.
Chances are that you’re probably one of those kids and it’s even more likely that you’ve heard of and potentially even played Suikoden II, the well renowned and super successful sequel that still frequently dominates ‘Top -Insert number- RPGs of all time‘ lists. If you don’t believe me go ahead and Google that shit right now, it’s okay I’ll wait… Found it? Good, lets continue.
What’s a Suikoden?
If you haven’t heard of Suikoden before it’s a classic PlayStation RPG which means you’ve small sprite characters that you hover over like a demi-God, controlling our Hero (who you can name ) as he goes about saving the Scarlet Moon Empire, possibly the lamest of lame names for any empire ever. I’d rather by a peasant of no empire than the emperor of this bell-end empire.
As the Hero – now named Bob, which is a surprisingly apt name – your story starts as your father, General Teo McDohl leaves the Empire to battle in the northlands. Before he goes he ensures that his household of about 4 young adults whose relationship to both Bob and his father Teo, are shaky at best. This is especially ominous when one of the characters effortlessly swears away his life away opting to protect Bob always. Thankfully you’ll not experience what goes on behind closed doors with daddy Teo in town.
For the Emperor… mostly.
Bob, now of age, is to begin following in his father’s footsteps, taking on some new responsibilities with the Empire. It starts light as he is sent on various jobs with his entourage. After about 5 seconds of dialogue between Bob and some of the staff of the Empire I knew these motherfuckers are corrupt assholes and shit was about to take a nose dive into a septic mess of moral codes vs occupational requests. How Teo McDohl, the great general of the Empire never seen this coming is so fucking beyond me that I just have up trying to rationalise it… well, I could but it would involve spoiling sections of the game.
Low and behold it only takes Bob another hour or two to realise this and after one of his young crew, Ted, uncovers and bestows on you the Soul Eater, a rare rune which only 27 exists. Bad news bears from this point on for your crew as the Scarlet Moon Empire quickly turn on Bob and company. This leads to an ‘unlikely’ (but in reality a really, really likely) turn of events which has Bob join the underground rebels as the only hope of defeating the corrupt Empire.
Build an army you say? To shreds you say?
The game more or less leads into a larger story from this point forward filled with a crazy amount of unique characters with little to no dialogue leaving your initial main entourage with one or two additions to continue driving the story. The story comes with what would have been shocking twists at the time but now are a staple of the great RPGs of the 90s. One of the key features it does have is so bloody good, it’s mesmerising that it hasn’t been replicated by today’s games.
The late game has you battle armies comprised of the aforementioned individual
NPCs you’ve picked up along your travels. The large scale encounters give you a massive sense of grandeur and firmly elevate Suikoden beyond other PlayStation titles with this simple yet incredibly clever addition. The recruitment drive adds a collectible element to the later stages and improving your own base of operations which houses the army is fun in itself. It’s the Kinder Egg of video games except with a guaranteed fun toy and not one of those shit ones that’s just a collectible.
What makes a JRPG – Combat option menus & music
The gameplay for the most part is a pedestrian affair consisting of going from location to location battling monsters and enemies in between through the typical JRPG battle system of selecting commands and monitoring stats to ensure your party is victorious. Unlike the final fantasy games of the time Suikoden opted for a party of 6 with an attacking line and a ranged/defensive line. It’s a good way to allow you to use at least 10 or so of the 90ish playable characters. Let that glorious fact sink in. 90! That’s more playable characters than probably every game you’ve played this month put together.
The rune system is literally the bog-standard insert any type of magical ability laden item that allows you perform special moves and functions with one slight twist in that you can couple abilities between specific pairings of characters. This sadly also renders a lot of the 90 playable characters completely and totally, dick-flavoured useless as you’ll have a system that works locked in that you’ll be sure to use in the late games boss battles.
The soundtrack is super JRPG and will have you humming along in no time at all. It’s not on the same tier as the prestigious Nobuo Uematsu’s tunes but they’re tonally on point and there’s nothing you could say all that negatively about them. It’s loaded with all the usual eastern sound effects, you know the ones that would have you believe that dropping a load would have it’s own special jingle.
It’s a bit like Braveheart
If you enjoy RPGs, or more specifically JRPGs, Suikoden is definitely worth a look even by today’s standards. All the traditional elements are there to make it easy to slip in to and the additional army battles are a spectacle to behold and delightful to play. The biggest weakness – and it’s a glaring one – is that the story just doesn’t cut it. It’s like Braveheart; long dull story, epic battles.
You can tell it’s really trying to tell and epic tale but some of the dialogue is so flat and lacking that it can be hard to remain stimulated by Bob’s ‘okay’ adventure. The main character seems to just tumble on without engaging in a meaningful discussion or even a heartfelt bit of conflict. If you are jonesing for a bit of traditional JRPG gameplay though, this will surely scratch that itch… and then you can follow it up with the 3 sequels.
My retro review score: