Suikoden III
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As videogame series grow with each new installment, there exists the ultimate pressure of whether or not they should alter their mechanics or remain largely the same in terms of gameplay; Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise, for instance, tends to do something drastically different with each new entry. One sequel that remained largely the same as its predecessor in terms of gameplay, however, was Suikoden II, although there were some small things it did differently, such as Major Battles. The Konami franchise ultimately saw its debut on the PlayStation 2 with Suikoden III, which is drastically different in structure than its predecessors, and while this new entry polarized some gamers, this new structure, in this reviewer’s opinion, was in most instances for the better.

Upon starting a new game, players have the choice of importing data from Suikoden II, which they can do if they still have an old PlayStation 2, although PlayStation 3 owners with backwards compatibility for the PS2 library can’t do so, given the restrictions of save data on the PS3’s virtual memory cards. Even so, fortunately, players can enjoy the third installment without having beaten the first two entries, and the rewards for importing data aren’t that great, anyway, being a couple of theater scripts and higher levels for a few characters.

The main gimmick of the third game is the Trinity Sight System, with players able to control one of three different heroes: Hugo, a tribal chief’s son; Geddoe, a mercenary for the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia; or Chris, a Zexen knight. After completing a few chapters, players ultimately become able to control a fourth protagonist, Thomas, the inheritor of a dilapidated castle that eventually serves as base for the Fire Bringer and their leader the Flame Champion, who fifty years before the game’s main timeframe (which is fifteen years after the second installment), led various tribes to victory against Harmonia.

Suikoden III, for the most part, tells a great story, with the Trinity Sight System giving various perspectives of the game’s various events, with character development being decent as well for the franchise’s typical large cast, epilogues for all recruited characters giving closure for everyone, and a few additional chapters being available if the player has gotten all 108 characters. Things aren’t completely perfect, however, as there is the very rare poor direction on how to advance the main storyline, although players ultimately become able to get a reminder at headquarters, and overall, the plotline helps the game far more than hurts.

The translation is well above average, what with a deficit of spelling or grammar errors and a reasonably legible script, although the localization team changed the spelling of Sindar to Cyndar, and there are some occasional compressed enemy and location names.

Solid gameplay backs the narrative, as well, with the franchise tradition of three different modes of battle returning, the most frequent of them being random encounters where the player’s active party of up to six characters (and one support character for extra functions after a fight such as a little healing for everyone) spars with an enemy set. One new twist to the third installment is a “buddy system” where the player inputs one command for each pair, choosing one of the pair’s commands to execute, with the other typically attacking normally during the execution of player and enemy orders. This also allows for such moves such as being able to “share” healing items among the two characters in a pair, although the player can only use consumables within the pair.

Also new to the third entry are skill points that each character obtains after battle in addition to experience proportionate to a character’s level, allowing for easy leveling of weaker characters. Players can invest skill points into various physical and magical skills that can affect things such as the accuracy of attacks, increase the power of various spell elements, and so forth. This system, in addition to the countless recruitable characters, provides endless customization possibilities that prevent regular battles from becoming too stale.

Duels from the first two games also return, where the player must match their antagonist’s words with their actions in order to triumph, and where regular attacks beat defense, defense beats deathblows, and deathblows beat normal attacks. New to duels is an indicator below each participant’s HP gauge that moves towards one of the duelists whenever they take damage, giving their opponent a slight advantage and some room for error if they slip up. Duels generally don’t take a long time and are decent diversions from standard combat.

Bigger changes come in the Major Battles, with maps consisting of dot-connected circles and units that contain four characters, one of them being the leader. Units can engage in combat when adjacent to one another on the field, and if another unit is within range of the attacked unit, that particular unit will “cover” the primary attacker. Engaging in combat takes players to a separate battle screen a la normal encounters, although the player can only choose to have all units attack, all units defend, or escape to an adjacent circle on the unit screen if possible. Major Battle objectives typically consist of surviving a certain number of turns, although those towards the end of the game require the player to kill a certain unit. Ultimately, all three modes of combat in the third installment are enjoyable.

One can’t say the same of gameplay outside battle, although it does certainly have some strong points such as an easy menu system and character management, not to mention maps for dungeons that do a decent job of preventing players from losing themselves (although dungeons and fields tend to be linear). However, inventory space has a limit, which can be a burden later into the game when all three of the protagonists unite towards the end of the game and thus combine items in their inventories, and the player has to retrace their steps across the same fields to return to visited areas, with Viki’s teleportation only coming into play a little too late towards the end of the game. Ultimately, interaction could have definitely been better.

Miki Higashino is absent from the composition of the third game’s soundtrack, though her replacements for the most part do a decent job, given the catchiness of many pieces, but there is no central theme, and there are maybe only one or two remixes of tracks from prior Suikoden games. A bigger flaw is the total absence of music during most cutscenes, somewhat marring what could have potentially been touching moments throughout the narrative. In the end, a decent soundtrack, but so-so presentation.

The visual presentation, however, is more solid, with three-dimensional graphics neither realistic nor cartoony, unique character portraits for the game’s voluminous recruitable cast, and a superb anime opening. Granted, the graphical framerate is inconsistent at many points, and the environments contain blurry textures when seen up-close, but otherwise, the graphics help the game more than hurt.

Finally, the third entry is significantly longer than its predecessor, with a straightforward playthrough requiring somewhere from thirty to forty-five hours, maybe a little longer if the player wishes to recruit all characters and access the extra scenario after the main narrative, a possibility even without a guide given the presence of a character that can keep tabs on unrecruited allies.

All in all, Suikoden III, for the most part, did a solid job of bringing the Konami franchise to the PlayStation 2, given its solid game mechanics, enjoyable narrative, and nice visuals, although it does have some things going against is such as the padding in the gameplay that comes from retreading the same areas over and over, not to mention the stingy musical presentation at many points. Despite its differences from both prior and future installments of the series, few have dared to call the third installment a dark horse or black sheep, with the fourth installment, for instance, being even more polarizing among the franchise’s fanbase.

The Good:
+Solid battle mechanics with plenty variety and recruitable characters.
+Great story with multiple perspectives and some branches.
+Good graphics and soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Feels padded at times.
-Limited inventory space.
-No music during most cutscenes.

The Bottom Line:
Nice debut of the series on the PlayStation 2.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 6/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 30-45 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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