Return to Grand Adventure
The Prince: Silent but deadly with the ladies.
It's been awhile since I've played a good, long, old-school RPG. Not only because I've been pretty busy at The Salt Mines in recent months... there just haven't been any games worth spending too much time on recently. Take the Suikoden series from Konami. I LOVE the series, to be sure. I really liked the first game and totally ADORED the second (which is still for me the all-time best of the series). The third game was the last chapter that I liked, though honestly I wasn't able to finish it (I want to, someday). The last two instalments in the Suikoden franchise, Suikoden Tactics and Suikoden IV just didn't call out to me. Tactics wasn't an RPG, while IV was... just didn't feel like a Suikoden. Set in the high seas with little character to the look and feel of the game (even the opening cinema was more 'Under the Sea' than Suikoden), I just let it slip like a... well, like a ship in the night.
But for some reason, Suikoden V called out to me. I read several reviews, noting the general consensus that indeed, Suikoden V was a return to form for the series. And so, I got a copy (actually several copies... so many were buggy) and resolved to see for myself if all the rumors were true.
Damn right they're true. I've been playing this game since the middle of the Holy Week, and it's still got it's claws into me. Darn, it's amazing.
Suikoden V puts you in the shoes of The Prince of Falena, the handsome and kind eldest son of the reigning Queen. Since Falena is a Queendom, male sons of the Queen don't have much political clout. In fact, the next in line for the throne is your younger sister. But just the same, when the machinations and ambitions of two powerful noble houses threaten the peace and freedom of the land, the duty of bringing together and leading the forces of good and truth falls on your narrow shoulders. So now, The Prince has to range the land, fighting battles and righting wrongs as he tries to unite the 108 Stars of Destiny to once again bring peace to the Queendom.
It takes a while to start up, but Suikoden V's long and detailed narrative does wonders in making you genuinely care for the fates of the many videogame characters you meet.
What makes Suikoden V so great are two things- Story and Characters. Suikoden V's narrative starts out pretty leisurely (some would even say 'slow') in the first several hours, but once the pace quickens it hardly quits and sustains the gripping quest to the end. All the groundwork and introductions at the start pay off with you having more of an emotional tie with the varying cast of warriors, knights, peasants, mercenaries, lords, wizards and scoundrels you meet in the course of the game. And what a cast it is- Konami worked hard to give many of the characters a great deal more personality and depth compared to before, and it pays off in spades. There's also lots of attempts to turn usual cliches on their heads, which make for more interesting sidestories and plots for you to chew on.
The lovely Lyon: A loyal bodyguard with a dark past.
Complementing the story as well is the excellent presentation. While most of the story is presented through dialogue in text boxes, at crucial points, the story is shown in fully-animated and seamless cut scenes that feature exceptionally good voice acting. These frequent cinematics give the extra flash and drive home the right emotion when the story demands for it, and I have to admit I found myself gasping at the revelations of more than one scene. It's really well done and adds greatly to the enjoyment of the game and highly dramatic story.
A special mention as well has to be given to how The Hero is presented as well in Suikoden V. Once again a voiceless, silent hero, you choose literally dozens of dialogue choices through the game which may affect the course of the story. As the Prince reacts to the events around him, you can easily see the emotion he feels in his facial expressions and body language, whether smiling to comfort an ally or openly embracing a defeated friend-turned-foe, the Prince has all the right moves and it's great to have such a cool avatar to represent you in the game. If only he didn't look or dress like he just jumped out of the pages of a Yaoi manga...
For the rest of the game, Suikoden V is generally fast and easy to play; there is tons of combat (as always) as well as lots of customization options from assigning battle skills to the formations your party takes during battles. The one-on-one duels and occasional large scale army combat battles give variety to gameplay and adds to the game's overall epic feel. In general, gamplay is close to Suikoden II and III, so the game really plays easily enough. And yes, collecting the many Stars for your party (crucial to getting the best of the game's many endings) is as addictive as ever.
Different formations add strategy to party battles. 'True Men' here lets everyone get in on the action in the frontlines.
Are there any flaws? Well, Suikoden V has lots of loading. TONS of it, in fact. There are loading screens every time you enter a new area, after every random encounter or before cinemas. They're very frequent but at least brief (2-5 seconds). Not enough to really make you tear your hair out, but it will get you impatient as you're waiting for the next jaw-dropping reveal or dramatic moment.
Suikoden V is a MUST for fans of the franchise and old school RPGs. The story and characters alone are worth the price of admission, as well as the little homages and attention to detail throughout the game. ,The lovely 3-D graphics and smooth gameplay should make for a good, long and satisfying old-school RPG exprience... perhaps the last great RPG for the PS2. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Don't wait to meet a ditzy teleport mage before heading off to the gamestores for this gem of an RPG. Get it. NOW.
By the By, for Suikofans out there... so what do I think is better, Suikoden II or Suikoden V? Suikoden II still rules as the best in terms of overall gameplay, story and characters and music. if Suikoden II had the anime cinematics (shown in the later Suikodgaiden games) attached to it and showing dramatic moments in the story, it would be just as immersive and involving as Suikoden V's presentation was. In any case, Suikoden V is a close second to II, which is no mean feat. I would be just as happy with a PS2 3-D remake of Suikoden II in any case... please Konami!!! Hehe.