Sunday, February 21, 2010


Developer: KCET
Publisher: Konami
RPG - Playstation / PSN
1 player

I believe Suikoden may have been Konami's first foray into RPGs, and in several respects, it feels like it. Suikoden isn't particularly noteworthy for its visuals nor does it introduce any revolutionary game mechanics for its time. But that doesn't mean it was without its charms.

The one distinguishing thing about Suikoden is the ability to recruit a ton of characters into your army, with a maximum of 108. This is based off a classic Chinese novel, where there are 108 Stars of Destiny. For a RPG, this ability to recruit is a key component to its gameplay. Although most characters will join you when asked, many will not unless certain criteria are met. Depending on how much of a collectathon-ist you are, you can spend a bit of time traveling the world, looking for items, and having key characters in your group in order to collect them all.

I personally never liked having party choice in RPGs simply because managing them can be a pain. Especially since a lot of party-choice RPGs force certain characters to be in your party for story purposes, if you somehow don't balance all the possible members properly, some games will completely screw you over. Although Suikoden does do that too, the nice thing is that balancing 108 characters isn't needed because it has a sophisticated leveling up system. I don't entirely understand how leveling up works in Suikoden but it seems to give tons more experience points to your underleveled people. So if you have a party of level 50 characters, and then the story forces you to have a level 10 character in your party, your level 10 character will probably be level 47 by the time your other members reach 51. That removes that complaint I usually have about RPGs that don't automatically distribute experience to those not in your immediate party. Managing equipment between the 108 ... well, that can be a little clunky, but nothing game-breaking.

The biggest problem with Suikoden is that it's a bare-bones game. The overworld is pretty sparse, with only a handful of areas of interest. Dungeons are especially straight-forward, with little in the way of branching paths or areas to explore. Almost all of them funnel you towards the boss. While there is some merit in cutting out the extraneous stuff, the result was that I didn't care for any place I visited in the entire game. They were just a means to get to the next story point.

The combat is perhaps the simplest turn based RPG system I've experienced, with little more than Attack as an option. There is magic in this game too, but it doesn't work like other RPGs. Instead, each character can be equipped with a maximum of one spell type. And depending on the makeup of the character and their level, can have a maximum of four spells. The game does not use MP, and instead has a limited number of usage per spell. Once you use your spells, you can no longer use them unless you rest at an inn. What this means in practice is that physical combat takes center stage, and simply commanding ATTACK does not make for an exciting game.

But the game does offer different kinds of combat, depending on the situation. In addition to the standard RPG fights, Suikoden simulates epic battles by using a Dragon Force-like view. You'll see enemy troops on one side of the screen, and yours on the other. Then each side issues a command, troops charge each other, and casualties are recorded. It has a rock-paper-scissors system where offensive charges > archers > magic > offensive charges, but you have some additional tricks up your sleeve. There are also 1v1 battles against major enemies, which follows a similar rock-paper-scissors type of format too.

Where Suikoden really excels is in its narrative. Suikoden has a mature story in that tragedy propels it. This is not a fairy tale story. Neither is it an overdramatic emo story. Instead it's a story about war, duty, friendship (and betrayal), and sacrifice. The cost of the war is high, and many people die along the way. It kind of reminds me of Tales of Phantasia in that regard, where the severity of the events compels me to keep playing. It's interesting to see that despite having a whopping number of characters in your party, there's a reasonable amount of back-story to many of the characters, so they're reasonably fleshed out.

What I also love is the way the plot is told. Suikoden bucks the popular trends at the time and does not use FMV other than the movie that plays before the title screen. Instead, scenes play out using the same 3/4 top-down perspective that the game is normally presented in. The character sprites will animate depending on what's occurring at the time. Characters unsheathe their swords, fall on their knees, embrace, all using real-time sprites. Grandia is the only other game I know that relies heavily on that method.

Overall, Suikoden isn't my kind of game. It has an interesting story, and the characters are spot-on. But on its merits as a game, it's merely passable. There's some neat things, such as the clever leveling-up system that helps to lower level characters catch up to higher level characters, and the different types of battles that provide some variety. But the simplistic nature of the overall game design is hard to connect with. If story is all you want in a video game, then Suikoden is fine. I personally prefer more.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bayonetta (demo)

Bayonetta you're mystery
Jerky cutscenes tell a bad story
The camera lags on the battlefield, I can't tell where you are
Bayonetta you're DMC
With your long hair and nudity
Your combos are long, witch time drags on, it's mashing, it's mashing