After hearing such great things about the Suikoden series from so many people, I decided to play through this much-loved trilogy of RPGs. The first game in the series, while great fun in its own right, isn't quite the genre-defining classic I had expected. Rather than that, I found it to be a fairly short and simple diversion to occupy my time. You'll more than likely have a good time playing it, but don't expect anything truly stellar.
Much of the game revolves around building up your very own army, complete with an upgradeable castle. This is also by far the most compelling part of the game. Searching the world for all 108 characters is an interesting task, and it presents the same "gotta catch 'em all" feeling as a game like Pokemon. Many of them are plainly visible and easy to obtain, but there are also quite a few that require lengthy side quests or the solving of obscure puzzles before they will join your army. Most of these characters serve as party members to bring into combat with you, but there are also a large amount of them that serve only to enhance your castle and provide you with goods and services. The castle itself is upgraded every now and then once you have acquired certain characters for your military. It's a very addictive and rewarding system, overall, and it provides the bulk of Suikoden's appeal.
One of Suikoden's best features is its very fast-paced battle system. Whereas some RPGs can become tedious when every random battle lasts up to five minutes, Suikoden keeps everything moving along at a brisk pace. What's amazing about this is that you'll have up to six characters in your party at once, which is about twice what the average RPG gives you. With so many characters going at it all at once, you'd expect things to drag on and on, right? Wrong. A combination of two things alleviates this potential problem. First of all, several characters will perform their actions at once, forming a decently sized melee. Second, the game contains a handy auto-battle feature, which does a great job of taking care of almost all random encounters with little trouble. The combined efforts of these two features provides for a smooth and relaxing gaming experience.
Suikoden also contains two alternate battle systems, both of which are a more a diversion than anything else. The first is a large-scale strategic battle system, in which you will control your entire army. It's rather simplistic, with the option to use magic, cavalry, or archers. It's basically a glorified version of rock-paper-scissors. Archers beat magic beats cavalry beats archers. There are also a few special commands that can be used, such as sending your thieves out to learn what move the enemy will use next. The final battle system is based around one-on-one duels. During these battles, you will have three options: Attack, Defend, and Wild Attack. You will determine which to use by listening to what your opponent says to determine his next move. From there, it's another game of rock-paper-scissors. These two battle systems add a bit of variety to the game, but they are neither challenging nor complex.
Being one of the very first RPGs to be released on the PlayStation, Suikoden is a bit lacking in graphics by today's standards. As a matter of fact, it isn't even terribly good-looking for its own time. The characters sprites, which are quite large, aren't terribly detailed, and all of the characters have a strange, stiff way of walking. "Running" is nothing more than accelerated walking, as it just speeds up the animation. The environments are decent, but surely nothing special. It should also be noted that most of the character portraits are downright ugly and faded looking. Spell effects are equally unimpressive. Overall, the graphics are nothing to be amazed with, but they also don't go so far as to ruin the game's appeal.
Suikoden's plot revolves around a young boy, the son of a respected military leader, who is placed in command of an upstart resistance movement. There is also the obligatory evil empire, out to conquer the world and cause plenty of destruction along the way. It's nothing particularly revolutionary, and it comes off as nothing more than a reason to have you out there recruiting soldiers and building your castle. There are a couple of small twists along the way, but they're pretty predictable. There are also different endings depending on a few of your actions throughout the game. Much of the story is actually optional, as you can elect not to recruit most of the army members if you wish. Shallow though it may be, the story does serve its purpose, which is to keep you playing.
Another facet of Suikoden that is simply average is its music. It's pleasant enough to listen to as you play, but nothing that you'll be humming later on in the day. It can also get to be fairly repetitive at times, as most of it sounds the same and certain songs are often repeated in various locations of the game. The rest of the sound consists of generic 16-bit styled noises for menu selections and the like. On the whole, the sound fits the game, but is nothing special.
Overall, I had a good time playing through Suikoden, even though it didn't last long or take too much effort. The battle system and army building were fun and addictive, even though the game was merely average in all other aspects. If you're in the mood for something simple to occupy a weekend or so, or if you're just looking to see what the fuss is all about over the recent release of Suikoden III, then I wholeheartedly recommend Suikoden. However, if you're looking for an epic, thought-provoking tale, then Suikoden probably isn't the best way to spend your gaming time.
© 1996 Konami