The Suikoden series, in the past few years, has developed something of an unpleasable fanbase, what with polarized reaction to the third installment and even more mixed reception of the fourth entry and its tactical spinoff. Regardless of the quality of each installment of the franchise, one of its main drawing points was that all games occurred in the same world, upon which each new entry expanded. It was with tremendous trepidation, then, that the series’ fanbase received the announcement that the latest iteration, Suikoden Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS, would take place in a completely different universe. Imagine the relief, however, when Tierkreis turned out to be a pretty solid game; while it abandons the franchise’s long-running story, it nonetheless features an engaging plot of its own along with decent gameplay and presentation.
Suikoden Tierkreis explores the concept of the Infinity, the idea of many universes, that was actually somewhat referenced in prior titles, given some characters and enemies that came from parallel worlds, but otherwise bears no references to or recurring characters from previous installments. Tierkreis itself begins with the defeat of 108 heroes and their leader by an enemy called “The One King,” the leader of a precognitive cult known as the Order of the One True Way. After a hero and his friends from Citro Village experience strange events during a routine mission, they soon begin to gather more warriors to prepare for battle with the Order.
Though Tierkreis takes place in a different world than the other games in the series, one thing that retains the general feel of prior installments is its randomly-encountered turn-based battles. Up to four of many playable characters participate in whatever formation the player decides in the game’s menus (with weapons allowing characters to attack either only in the front row or in either row), along with a support character that can provide various effects such as slightly healing one character after a round. One particularly useful support skill makes available the Spark command, which can instantly kill all enemies in an encounter where all the foes are weaker than the player’s party, substituting Retreat/Release in previous Suikodens.
Combat itself follows the typical turn-based structure of letting the player input commands for characters and afterward executing them against the enemy for a round. Commands include attacking normally, using Marks of the Stars (which is, to say, magic, with Tierkreis, unlike prior Suikodens, having a normal MP, although the player can customize characters with up to four different magic spells or passive skills at red crystals), defending, using items, or executing a combo attack with other characters. Rounds tend to execute quickly like in other series entries, though Tierkreis commits the usual turn-based combat sin of random turn order, which can sometimes screw up healing if a character is low on HP.
After battle, all characters gain experience proportional to their level (which makes leveling weaker character fairly easy), and occasional items that the player can sell at trade shops for money necessary to purchase weapons, armor, and consumable items, though items won’t see very frequent use in battle. The player can also acquire money through completing missions, with Suikoden Tierkreis having a mission-based setup that includes story missions alongside optional missions (some making use of Wi-Fi). The battle system, overall, helps the game more than hurts, though being able to have more characters in combat, given the large cast, would have been nice, and brute force alone can get players through most of the game.
The control scheme of Suikoden Tierkreis is acceptable, with an easy menu system, the ability to play completely with the stylus instead of the D-pad and buttons, and the ability to “fit” prospective equipment on characters before buying it, although the save system is fairly stingy, with no quick-delete-save feature and long periods without saving, along with a sometimes-vague direction on how exactly to advance the main storyline. All in all, interaction is adequate, but could have definitely been better.
Suikoden Tierkreis is largely an amalgamation of elements from its predecessors, with most aspects of combat retained from prior installments, and mission-based gameplay being nothing new to RPGs. The concept of the story is somewhat unique, but other than that, the spinoff, even while taking place in a universe separate from its predecessors, still feels derivative.
The story, while taking place in a universe separate from previous Suikodens, still holds on its own, with the concept of parallel worlds implemented decently. Despite the mission-based structure of the game, moreover, the plot nonetheless flows naturally, and, like prior installments, is far more conflict-driven than character-driven, though luckily, the game tells players what becomes of all recruited party members after its events during the ending credits. The translation, however, is a bit on the unprofessional side, with the ugly font being most noticeable, what with many letters like m’s and w’s having a smooshed appearance. Ultimately, the narrative glues the game together nicely, but its disconnection to prior installments will disappoint series veterans.
Several composers provide the soundtrack of Suikoden Tierkreis, including Hitoshi Sakimoto’s partner in crime Masaharu Iwata. The music is generally solid, with some town pieces such as the theme in Naineneis being especially beautiful. Voice acting is also present during many cutscenes, although it’s generally lousy, with the protagonist, for instance, sounding hopped up on caffeine all the time; luckily, players can scroll through the dialogue to cut these voice clips short (except during anime scenes). Weak voicework aside, full marks definitely go to the composers for their solid work.
Suikoden Tierkreis’s visuals make use of pre-rendered environments and 3-D character models with chibi proportions similar to those of the DS remake of Final Fantasy III. Battle graphics, though, are completely 3-D, while 2-D character portraits and occasional anime cutscenes narrate the story. The combination generally looks pleasant, although not everyone will take delight at the chibi models. Even so, Tierkreis is a superb-looking game.
Finally, Tierkreis is surprisingly long for a spinoff title, being in the thirty-hour range, although sidequests such as finishing every mission can naturally boost playing time. Overall, Suikoden Tierkreis, despite abandoning the vastly-incomplete world of its predecessors, is a reasonably solid entry in its own right, with a quick and painless combat system, interesting story, excellent music, and solid visuals. It definitely does have issues, for certain, such as a stingy save system and lousy voice acting, but it’s nonetheless a reasonable diversion until the next main Suikoden comes out, and a decent diving board into the series for newcomers.
+Quick, easy combat system.
+Nice music and graphics.
-Stingy save system.
-No connection to previous games.
-Awful voice acting.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Playing Time: 30-40 Hours