“In the beginning there existed only long, long Darkness. Over time, Darkness grew lonely. The loneliness became a heavy sorrow. Darkness eventually cried one tear. From the tear were born two brothers: Sword and Shield. Sword said it could cut all that exists. Shield replied that nothing could even scratch it. They fell into war. Their war lasted for 7 days and 7 nights. In the end, Sword breached Shield, and Shield broke Sword. Pieces of Sword rained down to make the sky. Pieces of Shield rained down to make the earth. Their battle flashes became the stars. The 27 gems adorning Sword and Shield transformed into the 27 True Runes, and thus the world began its life.” – History of the 27 True Runes
War. It is the darkest manifestation of mankind’s aggression and chaotic nature. Lands are ravaged, towns burned to ashes and lives are stolen mercilessly. From thousands to millions, these death tolls are made for the purpose of satisfying but only a few. Sometimes it is to extend the reach of their power; sometimes it is to break the chains that bind their soul to destiny. No matter what the intention, the result never changes, and the ground always becomes stained crimson. It is not uncommon, however, for a hero to rise and challenge the nature of war, or shape its course by participating. Carrying the scar of having lost something dear to them like many others, the hero seeks to raise arms against that which threatens to smother the world in darkness. Being a hero is a demanding role to assume, where pain is an assurance and suffering and tragedy become bedfellows.
Suikoden has always emphasized the portrayal of those facing the destructive force of war first-hand. The series recounts the tales of those who have risen to face adversity and those who have fallen nobly to its might. In the beginning were the Gate Rune Wars, a conflict which shredded the eastern continents of the world and scattered lives in every direction. During that savage time, the 108 Stars of Destiny rose to challenge the dark forces behind that struggle. After great loss and great gain, these heroes managed to emerge victorious. Sadly, peace was short-lived and not many years later the Dunan Unification Wars began. This struggle would bring steel and iron to clash anew, once again turning the land into a canvas of blood. Through the valiant efforts of a boy, not unlike the hero of the Gate Rune Wars, the world was ushered into a time of prosperity once more. Fifteen years later, in a remote area to the west known as the Grasslands, another war begins to brew. Once again there is a cry for a hero, but this time, the answer would come from three distinct voices.
Suikoden III is a story is not of one, but three heroes chosen by destiny to alter the course of history. There is Hugo, a Karayan tribesman and son of the great Karayan chief, Lucia. This promising young warrior is sent to deliver his tribe’s reply to peace negotiations being held with the Zexen Trade Federation. After fulfilling his duty, Hugo returns home only to discover betrayal and loss; the rational words of the Zexen hanging empty as the air. With new purpose, Hugo begins to seek out retribution for the transgressions made against him and his people. He then embarks on a journey to unite the Grassland tribes in order bring justice to the Zexen. During this time, a swordswoman of unparalleled talent rises to the highest order of knighthood in the Zexen Trade Federation’s military. Subject to the command of the federation’s council, Chris Lightfellow pursues an armistice with the Grassland tribes. In her journey, however, she will discover hidden intentions that will put her trusted name to the test and eventually lead her to question her own motives and actions as a knight. Lastly there is Geddoe, a Harmonian mercenary currently assigned to the Southern Frontier Defense Force (SFDF). A mysterious man in his own right, Geddoe says very little but holds vast knowledge and understanding of the world. His assignment is to track down the Flame Champion and retrieve the True Rune. His journey will lead him down a path of destiny he knew to be inevitable. Although each hero hails from separate walks of life, the threads of fate have caused their destinies to become intertwined. Eventually their separate paths will meet and unite when faced with a challenge that calls for their alliance. In pursuit of the ephemeral Flame Champion, their answers lie in wait along a journey filled with adversity and self-discovery.
The defining feature of Suikoden III is the breakthrough Trinity Sight System, which allows the game’s events to be viewed from the different perspectives of the three main characters. With their own separate events to follow and hardships to overcome, Suikoden III feels as if played through three smaller, individual games that eventually intertwine to form the whole. This also allows for greater character development of not only the three heroes, but their immediate allies and friends as well. Each primary protagonist has their own unique party that will follow them throughout the adventure. Along with his trusted griffon Fubar, Hugo is accompanied by his childhood friend Lulu, Sergeant Joe of the Duck Clan, Lily Pendragon of Tinto and her two companions, Reed and Samus. Chris and her entourage of Zexen knights include the strategist Salome, the taciturn elf known as Roland, Borus: the Swordsman of Rage, the smooth-talking Percival and the bruiser, Leo. Geddoe’s mercenary crew includes the dazzlingly beautiful but dangerous Queen, the silent and enigmatic Jacques, the womanizing Ace and his counterpart and constant thorn-in-the-side, Joker. Although Suikoden III is divided into chapters for each hero, the character that is initially chosen may lead for the remainder of the game. At the end of each chapter, players are given the opportunity to replay the first chapter in another hero’s perspective, or continue on as the current hero. During the first few chapters, each main character will have an exclusively inflexible travois of companions, but when the three heroes come together, the characters known as the 108 Stars of Destiny can be tapped.
At first glance, Suikoden III’s biggest departure from the previous games is the graphics, marking the series debut in a fully 3D world. Although the character models are super-deformed and not as extravagantly impressive as those found in Final Fantasy X, they are well detailed and smooth, making them just as wonderful to look at. The degree of complexity in the game’s real-time environments is amazing, from the discolorations of rocks and stones to the light of the sun hitting the leaves of bushes and blades of grass. Suikoden III manages to capture these minute aspects of nature and places them in full evidence for the players to view, allowing the game world to become that much more palpable. Although the populace may not look quite as realistic, they seamlessly fit their environments. Attention to detail during battle is also phenomenal. Instead of plainly jumping forward to execute attacks and returning to a static position, the characters are constantly in motion until the end of the round. When parrying/defending, a character’s animation go so far as to slice an arrow in half in mid air, or deflect a blow with their own weapon only to swing it back around for a counter-attack. The only catch to Suikoden III’s otherwise stellar visuals is an occasionally erratic frame rate. Although tolerable in that it doesn’t hinder gameplay, the inconsistent animation is an unmistakably overlooked aspect of game design that becomes noticeable at certain times in the adventure, such as when exploring Duck Village. One has to wonder if there is a message conveyed behind the selection of this style of graphics. Did Konami, who is known to produce games with high-caliber, photo-realistic visuals such as Metal Gear Solid 2, feel the need to balance graphics with other aspects of the game, instead of placing total emphasis on dazzling players with mesmerizing eye-candy?
Suikoden III’s battle system has remained mostly true to the game’s predecessors with only minor additions made to enhance gameplay. While the previous Suikoden games allowed six party members to be controlled individually, Suikoden III’s characters are controlled in 3 sets of pairs. Although this prevents control over half the party, it quickens the pace of battle and functions surprisingly well. In each controlled duo, either character may cast a spell or they combine attacks with their partner. These combination attacks are a hallmark of the Suikoden series and remain largely unchanged, though they appear less frequently in this third installment. For Chris and Geddoe, their entourage can either attack as a whole unit, or two of the characters can double-up for a powerful attack of their own. There are, of course, additional joint attacks with various characters found throughout the game, including an unusual 5-character combo attack featuring a gang of dogs. In the event one of the characters is not directly commanded, they will attack the closest enemy automatically, which usually ends up being effective. There are also some strategic aspects incorporated in this recent installment. Since the characters are in constant motion, they can move to surround enemies, cutting them off from assistance or leaving them with no maneuverability of their own. Sadly, the player has no real control over where a character will stand or move during melee. Normal encounters can usually be dealt with using the Auto-Battle feature, though boss battles will require manual control to cast Rune Magic or plan combination attacks. Magic is once again allocated through runes imbedded on either hand or the forehead. Runes are obtained either as spoils from battle or purchased via Rune Sages in various towns. No real upgrade has been made to how the runes operate, although the ability to use runes is somewhat limited due to the new row-based battle system.
When making the transition from two-dimensional graphics to 3D, capturing a control scheme that provides easy and fluid movement in the character models is essential. This includes seamless interactivity between the characters and environment, both in and out of battle. Konami took note and imparted many of these concepts into Suikoden III. The character movement is fluid but suffers from a static camera that limits mobility. While this was undoubtedly intended to retain the 2D feel of the previous games, it proves to be more of an annoyance than it is a welcome. In some instances, the camera offers an intriguing perspective, such as a side-scrolling view when crossing bridges or long corridors. Though sometimes, however, the perspective will switch abruptly, causing characters to pass through a door they just emerged from. Although adaptation to the occasionally awkward camera angles takes a little time, the issue doesn’t inhibit the overall experience of the game in the slightest.
Suikoden III also marks the return of the famous duels and strategic war battles that allowed the series to stand out above others in the genre. Following the series trend, Suikoden III brings some major overhauls to the war system once again. Instead of deploying troops by moving them a few blocks at a time as in Suikoden II, Suikoden III’s battle map is speckled with ovals in which players can place their troops. These ovals are connected with dotted lines that indicate paths players can take to accessible areas. When two opposing troops move to meet in an oval, battle is engaged. Although these maps may seem simplified, they are often large and branch in two or more directions, allow for some degree of strategic placement such as pincer formations, etc. As in the previous games, the deployment screen will allow players to use skills such as using a magic offense (such as fire or lightning), healing fellow troops or giving a finished troop a second turn. As an alternative of having numerous tiny visual representations of soldiers, the troops are usually represented by up to four members of the 108 Stars of Destiny. In some instances, there are random fighters from each of the Grassland clans as well as Zexen and even Harmonia. Amongst these four members, there is a designated leader that, if defeated during an engagement, marks the defeat of the whole troop, resulting in an immediate retreat. During these battle sequences, actions are limited to Attack, Defend, and Escape. When attacking, the chance of a trooper using magic or a special attack is dependent on luck as well as how magic-oriented the character is. Duels have managed to stay relatively the same as the previous Suikoden games, having only been given a new interface. During these one-on-one engagements, players still have the three options of Attack, Defend, and Deathblow. During the duel, each combatant has a life-bar as well as a list of statistics such as HP, level, defense, etc. The only addition to the duel system is a marker that swings from one opponent’s side to the other, distinguishing who has the upper hand. If a character has gained the upper hand, it is more likely that he/she will perform a counter to the appropriate attacks instead of just evading them.
Suikoden III’s world map has also undergone a noticeable change from its 2D roots. There is no longer a free-roaming world, only a map like that torn from a book. The towns and locations are dotted across this menu with roads drawn as paths the hero can travel along. Relatively large natural environments can be found as actual locations between each town, dissolving any feelings of restriction that players might initially have. During exploration, the player will also have a small on-screen overhead map to help them navigate each area. With forests to pass, plains to traverse, and mountains to scale, this conveys a sense of greatness in just how large the world of Suikoden III really is. Just as in the previous games, the player will eventually have instant access to all locations that were previously visited thanks to the help of the irreplaceable Viki and her?less than perfected teleportation techniques. In a departure from traditional RPGs, there is an absence of treasure chests in Suikoden III. No longer are there bright red boxes found scattered along beaches, hidden in forests, or planted deep within mountains; instead there are more natural ways to find items. In forested areas, glowing plants can be inspected to find herbs or medicine while corpses found on the battlefield can be searched for weapons etc. The only instances of treasure chests appear alongside on-screen enemies found in a handful of selective areas in the game. These enemies are extremely powerful, and once bested, give way to chests stocked with riches. A single chest can overflow with a cadre of weapons and armor among other rare items. Suikoden III’s menu system has also gotten a facelift from its 2D roots, sporting a fresh and stylish new look with icons and submenus that slide out from the top and right sides of the screen. Though at first glance this appears cluttered, the menu is actually well-organized, intuitive and visually appealing. The same-styled battle menu switches icons to suit the commands necessary for fighting.
As Suikoden III’s cultures represent those of the real world, Zexen being based off Germanic lore and the Karayan tribes being a mix of Indian and African influences, the musical score also represents a spectrum of nations. The melodies span a wide variety of international influences ranging from European to Middle-Eastern, even including a stereotypical mock-French theme. Putting such musical diversity into a single soundtrack is a guaranteed success. The events of the game are often empowered by the songs that accompany them, making these tracks memorable. The game’s soundtrack is beautiful and reflective of the game entirely; from tragedy to victory, every melody conveys their representations so strongly that the player is absorbed by the music. For veterans of the Suikoden series, the soundtrack is also a wonderfully nostalgic experience with a handful of songs from the previous titles that have been carried over faithfully. The battle themes from Suikoden I and II, the well-known theme of sorrow and the melody of war are just a few examples. The most memorable song from Suikoden III’s score would have to be the introduction’s theme: Exceeding Love. Suikoden has become known for its invigorating songs and starting with the Suikogaiden games, the anime intros as well. Not only does Suikoden III have one of the most beautiful anime montage openings in gaming history, but also a song of unparalleled splendor playing in synch. This cinema alone is sure to instill a burning desire to experience the game in all viewers.
In Suikoden III, political upheaval has led to a bitter war of deception as nations are divided anew and thrust once more into chaos. Once again, only the 108 Stars of Destiny have the power to alter cruel fate. This drama entails all that we’ve come to expect from the Suikoden series and raises the storytelling to a new level. In this third installment, the villains?seek much more than simple domination or destruction, but instead to draw a tear from the Divine. As the world of Suikoden III becomes overshadowed, a precarious gravity of situation is instilled, bringing a much-welcomed feel of maturity to RPGs once more. With a dynamic story, smooth gameplay, appealing graphics and an exquisite musical score, Suikoden III raises the series to a new level, maintaining its place amongst the RPG elite.