The temptation to rip off GameSpot in concising this review with a PROS and CONS section (owned by CNET Networks Entertainment as THE GOOD and THE BAD, a device so deliciously condescending I wonder why they bother keeping “the” in both categories. Surely I can’t be that intelligent—I play videogames, after all) is ever present as I churn out more text to keep my critiquing quota in check. It burns me inside. It’s the logical formula. No one would even know! But even though I’m currently sucking more than the blow-up doll my brother built with a vacuum cleaner attachment, I refuse to lower myself down to plagiarism to get the job down.
But how else does someone review something as schizophrenic and scattered as Suikoden III?
To be clear, schizophrenia is not a disease of split personality; it’s a disease that makes sure every day is your own personal Silent Hill. And a split personality isn’t really what’s going, on ,either; it’s more like…. “Why is this small aspect of the game awesome while this other aspect right next to it is not?” I guess it’s an issue of balance, so let’s just say this game has an inner ear infection.
The basic front-and-center is that Suikoden III is a game with flaws. Not big flaws. Lots of tiny, little ones that stand next to lots of other tiny, little accomplishments. It’s very puzzling to play this game thinking “OK, they got this part down pat; why couldn’t they focus on making this part easier?” All those tiny parts eventually glaze over into an entire game that is engrossing, addictive, and very, very good while also incompetent, lazy, and poorly designed.
INCONSISTENCY! That’s the word I would use! Been waiting for it, too. What, I’m already down here and I discover it? Fuhgeddaboutit. This sentence sounds a lot better when I read it aloud doing my Jackie Mason.
My previous experience with Suikoden was with number “II” [That’s not a number, Meteo. – ed.], which was another engrossing RPG experience I was glad to play. Like Suikoden II, Suikoden III is a complicated war drama about countries, people, destiny, and runes. This time, however, the fantasy element is more than alive as opposed to the bare hinting that Suikoden II displayed. You play the game from the perspective of three characters, each a representative of their country and their side of the war. There is a single series of events that is playing out and your character gets to witness it or, in some cases, direct it. It’s kinda like that movie VANTAGE POINT.
And this is what makes the game seem very scattered. As you play through three storylines (for the first half of the game) with characters at different levels through the same, somewhat compressed world and some of the same scenarios, it lacks a cohesive center. If you start out as Chris, you start out at around level 20 (I think—I actually played this back in the winter) with money and good equipment. Then if you go to Hugo, you have to start out at like level 4 with virtually nothing, and the fights with basic enemies are a lot harder. It’s like reading a plot summary starting from the middle and then just going wherever. Although, if you do what I did and play as Hugo first, then Geddoe, then Chris, it feels a lot more linear and cohesive.
As I consider the aesthetics and the smaller things, I can’t help but begin with the overall change in tone from Suikoden II. Where II was very military-based and Asian decorated, this game feels like Dark Ages England meets Northeastern Africa. Besides that wild geographical headache, the game is also much more fantasy-centered, with talking lizards and ducks and a more cartoonish design and magic-centered plot. Destiny and the runes aren’t as important right now; you’re just trying to fix a profane misunderstanding that involves illusions and someone called “THE FLAME CHAMPION,” and once you’re you got your ball in that pocket, you can fight back the army and take out who’s responsible. In II, you spent all your time running from the army and building your own; this time, you’re trying to just figure out what the fuck is going on over a soundtrack by Michiru Yamane (of Castlevania fame) that is utterly disappointing and downright shameful in some cases.
Wow, I completely missed all the small things I was going to talk about. So let’s get on the battle scene for a moment. If Suikoden II’s battle system is Coca-Cola, then III’s is New Coke. Why fuck with something that was fine to begin with? Now you fight on a 3D plane and only issue three commands across six fighters and then watch what appears to be a puppet show performed by the gold medal finalists of the Special Olympics. There’s a lot of running around, bad choreography, and bad improvisation, and if you win the battle, you can’t even see what all you won because the font is so tiny. The camera in this game is AWFUL. It’s fixed but completely broken and you can’t see where you’re going a lot of times. And what is up with the magic? Now there’s extra load time for magic, and most of the time it hurts you, too? If that wasn’t a reason not to use magic, then the very, very poor “special” effects that animate a spell is.
Now I need to start a new paragraph with other grievances. The dungeons are ugly. Also, why do I get maps in some areas but not others? Why do I have to hunt this guy down in my own town; why can’t he just be right next to me? If I keep playing different parts of the story with different characters with different items and strengths, why do the prices and enemies stay the same? I can afford it with Chris but not Hugo or Thomas, and that’s not fair. Why do I have to rape a poorly planned out “treasure” system just to get through the game?
The list goes on and on, but the questions are never answered. If this game were just the sum total of its little parts, Suikoden III would’ve been the last in the series, but thankfully it’s not. Somehow, with its inner ear infection and bizarre behavior and complete lack of fundamental understanding of…I mean, SHIT, if Gary Busey were a videogame…it still works somehow.
Suikoden has always had a certain way of attracting people in with a large cast of interesting characters and complicated, emotionally-driven stories and plots, and this Suikoden, with its gimmick of fracturing the story, is still all the more engrossing. Yeah, I bitched a lot while I played it, but always with a tone of respect, if that makes any sense [Meteo, it never makes any sense. That’s the whole point of people writing “if that makes any sense.” – ed.] You know what, Paul? You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t really care, because until you play this game and get engrossed as I did, you won’t understand what it means.
And that’s my review for Suikoden III, a game badly in need of polish that manages to hook you anyway. I wasn’t able to get all the little details, but at least I can confidently say I didn’t need to rip off GameSpot to turn in a decent review. Thank you, and good night.
Oh, fuck it. I’m doing it anyway.
Lots of characters with plenty of character to them • Story that wraps around you • More fantasy than previous title • Hidden perspectives and plenty of replay value • Awesome opening sequence.
Awful camera • Battle system several steps down • Michiru must’ve had her own ear infection • Ridiculous prices and treasure system • Lots of walking around • Compressed overworld feels closed in • There has never been an RPG that used giant talking ducks as a race of people and fighters before now… and there’s a REASON why..