Review by ChildFilia

"From someone new to the Suikoden series -- Refreshing, immersive, and fun"

I'm new to the Suikoden series. I found Suikoden 3 to be an extremely enjoyable RPG with a refreshing amount of creativity and depth. This is definitely above the standard RPG fare.

Writing: Characters and Story - 10/10

The writing and character design in this game is hands-down the best I've seen in an RPG in a long time. Kudos to the writers, translaters, character designers, and everyone else involved. So many things reminded me more of walking through a book than playing a game.

The main characters and their associates have well-defined personalities that are likeable without conforming to the paper-doll stereotypes that plague many RPGs. Like a good book, the personalities gain more depth as the player gets farther into the story. Later in the game, the theatre and bath minigames allow the player to exploit the different personalities in ways that can be horrendously funny. Imagine casting a ''Romeo and Juliet'' scene with a Romeo that doesn't like to speak or habitually yells war cries in the middle (or instead) of each sentence. There is also a wide range of peripheral ''recruited'' characters that add an interesting variety (without having much depth in themselves, which is expected when there are 108 characters).

The inter-character interaction is also quite deep. The characters genuinely seem to care about each other. The affection is shown in realistic and subtle ways rather than in obvious and sappy 1-liners. For example, Chris might wake after a fainting spell to find her knight brethren joking with each other by her bedside. The dialogue in these scenes feels real and gives you the warm/fuzzies without being corny. And more importantly for an RPG, it makes you want to get to know the characters better.

With the 3 main characters, I'm glad that the writers decided to go beyond the traditional ''clueless but brave boy who becomes a hero'' cliche. One of the main characters is somewhat based on this. However, the other 2 main characters - A female knight captain and a mysterious mercenary leader - are quite different. It is really nice to see a knight hero who acts like the knights you read about in fantasy books.. Strong yet very human, with conflicts between things like duty, honor, and humanity. This kind of ''real knight'' character has been surprisingly rare in recent RPGs (and ridiculous knight characterizations like FF9's Steiner don't count).

The overall story is good and went beyond the run-of-the-mill RPG. Good and Evil definitely exist but take a backburner to more human conflicts. There are several priceless moments of ''I can't believe that just happened'' and ''Oh so that's why...''. New players should definitely avoid any spoilers on the message boards until well into this game.

Gameplay: - 8/10

Overall, the gameplay is enjoyable. There are a few minor flaws and annoyance which don't really detract from the fun.

The ''Trinity Sight'' system, which allows the story to be played from multiple points of view, is both good and bad. It is good because it allowed for 3 very different main characters who can appeal to both young and mature audiences. I loved Chris' and Geddoe's chapters but would not have enjoyed the game nearly as much if Hugo was the only main character. Being able to see the a given scenario from multiple points of view is interesting but not the strength of the Trinity Sight system. It sometimes leads to sections of ''Gee, I've already seen this in character X's story. Can we hurry up and get past this now?''.

It is also a bit jarring to become immersed in one characters story, only to be forced to switch to another. This is an obvious tradeoff of having multiple points of view. I tentatively think that the tradeoff is worth the variety.

I'm also undecided on the ''Buddy'' system of combat. Basically, the 6 characters in your party are divided into 3 pairs. For each turn of combat, you can give a command to 1 pair. For example, if you command a mage to cast a fire spell, then the other person in the pair defaults to an action that depends on their personality. Sounds good, right? The problem is that you have absolutely no control over the 2nd character in the pair. If the mage casts a fire spell and is paired with an immature/offensive fighter, then the fighter might run right into the fire spell and die with the enemy. But pairing the mage with another caster is bad because the other caster can't be commanded to cast at the same time and therefore loses a turn.

The limitations imposed by the ''Buddy'' system do add an element of strategy. You can pair the mage with a long-range fighter or a knight (who will stand and guard the mage while casting) or a speedy character (who can attack, then get out of the fire zone). The problem is that the parties for the most part are not customizable until the latter part of the game. For example, all of Geddoe's 5 party members are basically fixed until late in the game (including a fire mage, 2 fighters who tend to charge into the fire spells, and a crossbowman who seems to get burnt anyway when paired with the mage). It is also a bit unrealistic for the fighters to charge into the fire spells as blindly as they do. If I've fought with this mage through hundreds of battles and seen him blow up at least that many enemies, then I'd darn well know that, ''Uh oh, I've seen him chant like that before. I'd better not run in unless I want my eyebrows burnt off (again).''

Overall, however, the combat system is enjoyable, definitely moreso than the traditional button-mashing turn-based combat. Between the skill system and the large cast of characters (all available later in the game), there are multiple strategies to defeat a given boss. For example, there are some bosses that defeat most players the first time around. While it is possible to ''level up some more and try again,'' it is also possible to beat the boss with the right arrangement(s) of characters, skills, and equipment. It is fun to try different combinations and different styles of party (e.g. knight-type melee parties vs. quick offensive caster + long-range fighter parties).

Of course, any combat system can become horribly annoying if there are too many random battles. I think Suikoden 3 had just the right amount.

Aside from the above main elements, Suikoden 3 also provides an interesting array of diversions. I spent nearly as much time searching for new collectibles and characters or playing with the minigames as I did playing through the main storyline. The theatre minigame is especially fun. It's worth a few laughs and quite a few memorable quotes.

The biggest gameplay annoyance for me is the time spent walking through sometimes repetitive screens. I would often end up doing something else while holding down the analog stick with one hand to get through XXX plains/forest/mountains. This may have been intended to give the player a feel for the size of the world. However, I think that a real world map would have had much the same effect, and with less ''travel boredom''.

One minor thing - I'm glad Konami decided to allow directional control via both the left and right analog sticks. That is more useful than you can believe after a couple of hours of playing!

Other:

The points below aren't nearly as important to me as the writing and gameplay (above). However, I'll try to rate them:

Graphics: - 6/10

The facial expressions are well done and changed to convey character emotions. Some of the backgrounds (e.g. some ruins areas) are beautiful. Some (e.g. the plains areas and the Zexen forest) are okay but forgettable. Overall, a decent first pass at 3-dimensional graphics (although I don't mind 2-d).

Sound: - 7/10

The battle/walking sound effects add a nice touch without being annoying. I'm not very picky about background music. It seems to fit the mood for the most part, with a few semi-awkward silent periods. I'm actually glad that Suikoden 3 avoided voice acting and instead left the voices up to the player's imagination.

Replay: - 9/10

Quite a bit of replay value. After finishing the game, you can return to the previous save and try to build a better party, search for more collectibles to decorate your castle, or play with the minigames or theatre. Diehards may also replay some pieces from different perspectives to get a fuller understanding of the storyline.

Overall: - 8/10

The 8/10 is a weighted average, with double-weight for the writing and gameplay.

On a pure ''fun'' scale, I'd give the game a 10/10. This is the first RPG that I've really enjoyed and become immersed in in a very long time.

I only hope that Konami decides to rerelease collectors editions of Suikoden 1 and 2 so that new fans of the series like myself get a chance to play through the history that precedes this game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/10/02, Updated 11/10/02


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