Suikoden Tactics

It often becomes a habit for the followers of various videogame series to keep close tabs on the latest announcements on forthcoming entries into their respective franchises and vent their feelings in accompanying forums, whether positive or negative. The real fun begins when the latest entries in said franchises actually see release, with fans either hailing the latest installment as a classic or bemoaning how the series is in decline. The latter instance was the case with the release of Suikoden IV on the PlayStation 2, and naturally, it was with much trepidation that the franchise’s followers received the announcement that Konami was working on a tactical RPG spinoff based on the fourth entry entitled Rhapsodia in Japan. The English version would receive the title Suikoden Tactics, and while the tactical RPG experience it provides isn’t always perfect, it is nonetheless an enjoyable one.

Upon starting a new game, the player can import data from Suikoden IV that allows them to obtain an additional character if they collected all 108 Stars of Destiny in that particular installment, although one can still enjoy Tactics without having played through the fourth game. The game itself includes opening scenes that take place prior to Suikoden IV that add depth to certain characters and even gives new backstory to the Rune of Punishment. Most of the events, however, take place after the fourth game, with the tale of Rune Cannons and their effects Tactics weaves generally being above average, alongside a polished translation with minor errors, although one twist is a bit derivative of other entertainment media, and the large cast of playable characters doesn’t receive closure before the ending credits as it typically does after the end of the main series entries.

As with most tactical RPGs, battles provide the meat of the gameplay, with the player able to set up a certain number of units before a fight begins usually based on how big the battlefield is, and action taking place from fastest to slowest character/enemy. Each character has an affinity with one of the game’s five elements, and often, various tiles of the terrain have affinity with the elements. If a character of a particular element is standing on a tile with their element, they have greater power and recover part of their hit points after their turn ends. However, characters are also vulnerable to one other element, and if they’re standing on a tile of the element to which they’re weak, their power will be lower and they’ll receive damage at the end of their turn, although damage received in this case can’t push hit points below one.

Like most other strategy RPGs, characters receive experience from performing actions other than nothing that’s proportional to their current levels, with a thousand points necessary to level up, in which case they receive some stat increases and recover all HP and four levels of MP. Much like the main Suikodens, characters can equip up to three different runes (though characters don’t always have all their rune slots available) that allow the use of physical or magical abilities that consume one point of four different levels of magic points. Useful runes include those that grant characters the ability to change the element of an area of tiles, which can in some instances be the victory and defeat, particularly if a character is standing on a tile of their element while an adjacent enemy is standing on a tile of their elemental weakness.

Victory naturally ends a battle, with the player gaining all items obtained on the battlefield, pooled skill points used for leveling passive skills for each character that dictate things such as counterattacks and attack accuracy, and money used for strengthening character weapons, purchasing new equipment, and buying consumable items, a certain number of which each character can equip alongside accessories, the limit of consumable items adding an extra element of strategy otherwise absent from RPGs allowing players to stash and use up to ninety-nine of each item. If the player loses the battle, they receive the option of retrying the fight with all obtained experience retained, characters that died permanently (with permanent death possibly happening only to non-story characters) revived, and consumed items restored to each character’s item slots, although the player can’t back out to strengthen weapons and buy new equipment and items.

Fortunately for players with lives active outside videogaming, players can quicksave in battle and resume it at a later time, although there are many consecutive battles with no opportunity to make permanent saves or back out to perform typical RPG functions in towns, making Suikoden Tactics slightly intimidating to play in areas where power outages are frequent, unless the player has a surge protector. Aside from this issue, the potential for battles to drag out, and most story battles having a nasty habit of dropping in enemy reinforcements when the player kills enough foes on the battlefield, the tactical battle engine helps the game more than hurt, with the aforementioned anti-frustration features making Suikoden Tactics a good entry-level tactical RPG.

The aforementioned issue with occasional long gaps between instances where the player is able to make permanent saves is the biggest fault with interaction, which is otherwise decent, with a linear structure always keeping players moving in the right direction, no random encounters on the game’s overworld maps, easy shopping and the ability to tell if new equipment will increase or decrease a character’s stats, an auto-equip feature for each character, and generally easy menus. When outfitting characters, though, the player can’t use the L and R buttons to swap between allies, but otherwise, Suikoden Tactics interfaces well with the player.

Although Rhapsodia as a spinoff to Suikoden IV does reuse some themes, they are in some instances remixes, and there’s plenty of original music that generally shines, although in towns, players won’t be hearing their primary themes (which are pretty good) while doing things such as shopping since entering shops will cut the current track short in lieu of different music. The voice acting, though, is more than passable in spite of characters oddly emphasizing “cannons” when discussing Rune Cannons, but otherwise, the spinoff is fairly easy on the ears.

The weakest link of Suikoden Tactics is its visual style, which features cel-shaded character models that show limited emotion, and the scenery is fairly blurry. The character designs, however, are good, but the spinoff could have certainly used some work in its graphical department.

Finally, a straightforward playthrough with a little bit of luck can take as little as fifteen hours, although depending upon whether the character wishes to do the endless available sidequests or grind, playing time can range beyond the thirty hour range, with a New Game+ enhancing replay value. In the end, Suikoden Tactics is a fairly solid tactical RPG that hits many of the right notes with regards to its strategic battle system, aurals, and narrative, although it does have aspects that leave some room for improvement, such as the long periods at a few points between permanent save opportunities and especially the graphics, but those in the mood for an enjoyable tactical RPG and hoping to explore a little bit of new ground in the original Suikoden universe (before the release of entries in name only) will likely have a good time.

The Good:
+Solid tactical battle system with elements providing strategy.
+Good soundtrack and voicework.
+Enjoyable storyline and polished translation.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some annoying battles.
-Some long periods without permanent saving.
-Some technical issues with music in towns.
-Visuals lack polish.

The Bottom Line:
A great entry-level tactical RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 6/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 15-30+ Hours

Overall: 8/10

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License