The third installment of the series, Suikoden III takes place 15 years after the events in the previous Suikoden. The game starts off at the peace treaty between the warring Zexen Federation and the six clans of the Grasslands, all the whole being under the shadow of the Holy Harmonia Empire. Instead of just one main character, Suikoden III has three of them - Hugo, the son of a Karaya Clan chief; Chris, the newly appointed leader of the Mighty Knights of Zexen; and Geddoe, the captain of the Southern Frontier Defense Force of the Harmonia Empire. Using the game’s ’trinity sight system’, you play through the events of the game via three separate perspectives, which provides a unique experience as you see how the same events are interpreted by the different characters.
Having already boasted a refreshingly unique storyline and decent graphics, Suikoden III doesn’t disappoint in the gameplay department. Here you can have up to six characters in your active battle party, with one slot open for Support characters. These characters are organized in pairs, allowing you to issue only one command to each pair, with the CPU taking take are the remaining character. As characters generally have to get close to the enemy in order to launch an attack, they are prone to being in the blast radius of your party’s offensive area-effect spells. This may sound problematic, but there is a meter that indicated the turns of respective party members so that you can time your attacks.
It’s worth mentioning that you can execute combination attacks when certain characters are paired together or are placed in the same active party. Some combo attacks are more useful than others, and it helps to try out all of them to find the perfect combo.
Aside from the normal ’Grandia-esque’ battle, you also get to participate in large-scale strategic wars, where you gain control of battalions and plan your offensive based on the terrain and battle conditions; and one-on-one duels at certain points of the game. They add a much-appreciated variety to the proceedings.
Aside from random battles, you’ll also get to do battle with area bosses and treasure bosses, the later of which serves as your best source of money and items. These bosses give you experience points and skills points, which can be used to upgrade your combat and magic skills. Every character can learn basic skills, with more character-specific opening up at later levels. The characters’ skill proficiencies are determined by their aptitude, with certain number of them able to reach the highest ’S’ class. As characters only get a maximum of eight skill slots, you’ll have to customize them to make sure they’ll be useful in the current and upcoming scenarios. This enables you to build a team of fighters, mages or well-rounded characters.
The primary draw of the series has always been the 108 recruitable characters. Gathering all the characters are not an impossible task, in fact its not quite challenging as many of them are automatic recruits that joins when you’re at a certain point in the game, or when you satisfy a few simple requirements. The problem with a huge cast such as this is that most of the characters have a paper-thin background. Very little is known about them, and their motivation in joining you aren’t fully explored.
There are also a lot of things that you can do to customize your characters. Instead of acquiring more powerful weapons, your existing weapon can be sharpened to increase their attack power, thus negating the need to find the ’ultimate weapon’ for the characters. In addition to that you can equip a wide variety of body armors, headgear and side accessories to strengthen you defense and give stat bonuses.
One glaring drawback is the camera system. Here the developers have opted for a more cinematic camera system instead of giving control to the user. The sudden change in perspective can confuse certain gamers, but it never detracts from gameplay as you won’t be fighting in real-time.
On the aural aspect, it’s sad to say that Suikoden III doesn’t deliver at all. After the excellent opening cinema, the music quickly goes downhill. The absent of any voice work may not have a profound impact, but the game is plague by long instances of silence - with quite a few on key scene where there are absolutely no music playing. So you’re just left there reading the dialogue in complete silence. This is utterly ridiculous as it shows lack of planning by the developers. There are very few memorable tunes, but even they couldn’t compare to Final Fantasy X’s weakest tunes.
RPGs in the past have always put emphasis on gameplay over graphics, so I wasn’t expecting anything special here. But after Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy X demonstrated that amazing graphics can go hand-in-hand with deep gameplay and excellent musical score, I was secretly wishing that Suikoden III would be the next to follow the trend. It wasn’t to be, but it got pretty close.
After being treated to an amazing anime-style opening cinema, you’ll be introduced into the world of Suikoden III. The in-game graphics was quite good, with the animators going for a stylized anime look, which resulted in a unique look for the characters. The painted faces style might freak out some people, but it succeeded in portraying the characters’ emotions and feelings.
The special effects are also commendable, with magical spells and summoned monsters looking flashy and detailed. The variety of monsters are only appreciated, since it’s nice to see that they’re not just palette-swapped like the aforementioned Final Fantasy X.
All is good and nice, but Suikoden III isn’t without any graphical flaws. While the characters look reasonably detailed and sharp, the animation isn’t as smooth as I would have liked. The framerate also drops during cutscenes, which should happen at all since they’re done using the in-game graphics.
In any RPG, it’s important to have a strong storyline and engaging gameplay to draw the gamer into the game. Suikoden III scores high marks on this aspect, as there are tons of things that will keep you occupied. One prime example would be the theater, where you can participate in plays using your recruited characters. Trying each character in each role can produce some amazing and often hilarious results.
In addition to the time-sapping theater, you can also take your characters to the public bathhouse, try to get rich with the lottery, or engage in trading activities in the various towns. The latter two are essential if you want to find some extra income early in the game, which is required in order to get the best equipment for your characters. You can also race horses to get rare items and play card games for more money.
After the excellent Final Fantasy X, Suikoden III provides another outlet for gamers seeking an alternative RPG series. The game’s revolutionary storytelling technique, combines with the quirky but ultimately rewarding gameplay mechanics make this one of the better releases of 2002.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com