|Genre||Middle child RPG|
|MtAMinutes to Action||32|
|Buy from Amazon|
I knew that Greg Noe—the virtuoso behind The First Hour—and I would get along just fine when one of the first comments he left on my gaming blog was this: “Suikoden II... best JRPG ever made.” Yes, I totally agree. Suikoden and Suikoden II make up a pivotal part of my gaming history, and without them, I have to believe I would not be who I am today. They taught me the importance of character and characters, showed me at a young age that politics were always at war, and highlighted the importance of the invention of the elevator. Plus, they were really fun. Collecting 108 Stars of Destiny and watching a castle expand to house all of them is something I wish was in every RPG about building a rebel army these days.
Something happened though. Let's call it college. Four years went by, and I missed out on Suikoden III and Suikoden IV, as well as many other videogames during my time of study and refining and dropping of majors. I didn't come back to the world of videogames until after graduating and getting my first post-college job, picking up Suikoden V at first chance. Alas, by that time, it was hard to find copies of the previous two games, and only got harder with each year that passed.
Flash-forward to 2011, and I was able to find a used copy of Suikoden III recently at my local GameStop. Honestly, I've been a little scared to play it, worried that I've built up too much internal hype over the years, but destiny's calling. It's now or never.
00 - Suikoden III kicks off with a lengthy animated cutscene. Phrases like “eternal life” and “love never dies” flash on screen as a wash of different characters do different things, such as gallop across an open prairie, look earnestly into the camera, charge into battle, and cast epic magic spells. At certain points, there's an odd mix of CGI and traditional animation, making war-ready insects and explosions look decidedly odd. The music's pretty great, very reminiscent of the song "Making of a Cyborg" from the Ghost in the Shell movie, where less is more, and strong, harrowing voices soar.
03 - Now on the main menu screen. I start a new game and am asked to enter the Flame Champion's name. Let's go with Thoros. I'm also asked if I want to load data from Suikoden II, but alas, I don't have my PlayStation 1 memory cards near me right now. To begin the game, I have to pick from three available characters: Hugo, Chris (a girl), or Geddoe. We'll try Hugo first...but who then is Thoros supposed to represent?
04 - Long loading screen. It says NOW LOADING at the bottom.
06 - Still loading...
07 - This is a little ridiculous. No way this game takes nearly four minutes to actually begin. However, it does sound like my PlayStation 2 is convulsing. I shut it off and check the game's disc, noticing a horrible slash of discoloring on its underside. Not a scratch, but something that shouldn't be there. That's what I get for going the pre-owned route. I do my best to clean it and start up Suikoden III for the second time ever.
08 - Okay, got past the loading screen. Hopefully won't run into that problem again. A scene begins with Hugo, riding on the back of some unicorn-like beast, racing towards a small village. Oh, and there's a griffon and duck soldier with him, too. The duck soldier's name is Sergeant Joe, and the griffon is Fubar. The grassland village belongs to the Karaya Clan, and this eccentric trio is hungry and looking for food.
10 - After that mini introduction, I'm taken back to the beginning character selection screen. Um, all right. Let's continue on with Hugo. The duck soldier has me intrigued. I press X to continue on to Chapter 1.
12 - Seems like Sergeant Joe fits the bill (pun intended!) for the RPG trope of a big eater. After Hugo, Sergeant Joe, and our village friend Lulu devour enough to feed an army, we're off to speak to Hugo's mother as she previously requested we do. I select the order of my four-member party (Hugo, Joe, Fubar, then Lulu), and am now in actual control of our grassland protagonist.
15 - Exploring the village. Can't control the camera and am fighting with fixed angles. Also, running is weird. It's more like Hugo is shuffling speedily down the path.
16 - Found a Sacrificial Jizo in one of the stores. Yup, this is a Suikoden game, all right.
17 - Whoops. Stumbled upon the overworld map prematurely. Places of importance so far are the Plains of Amur and Duck Village. Gotta head back to Karaya Village to find Hugo's mother. Supposedly she's at Lulu's house. Wherever that is...
18 - Accepted free medicine from a duck.
22 - What is wrong with this village?! Can't they put out signs or mailboxes or labels on the minimap? Obviously, I'm still searching for Lulu's house.
23 - Walked right into a cutscene. A man named Jimba is working on some armor. Turns out, Jimba is Lulu's older brother and doesn't like talking about his past very much. As we're chatting, out walks Lulu's mother and Hugo's mother—FOUND HER! She needs Hugo to deliver something to Vinay del Zexay. I think that's the craziest name I've ever come across. If only Scrabble allowed proper nouns...
29 - After some more idle chatter and overdramatic farewells, Hugo is ready to start out on his adventure. Lulu is joining us, too.
30 - Before the party can leave Karaya Village, Jimba has a request. Deliver an item to the Lightfellow family in Vinay del Zexay. It belonged to a dead Zexen soldier he once knew. Sure thing, man.
32 - That overworld map from before has upgraded to show a dotted path from Karaya Village to the Zexen capital. But first we have to pass through the Plains of Amur, where the party is hit with its first random encounter battle. It's against a monster called Purple Creeper. We take it down swiftly, earning some coin and experience points. Something that is a little odd and not-so-traditional is that you select columns of characters to attack, not them individually. I guess this is where setting up your party order becomes strategic.
33 - Another random encounter. And another. And one more for good measure.
36 - Okay, made it to Brass Castle! Not our end destination, but a nice stop on the way.
38 - Inside Brass Castle and speaking to everyone. Well, it's more like...on the castle-grounds than actually inside it. As there are stalls and shops set up for those passing through. I found a blacksmith and forged Hugo's dagger Kwan to level 4 for some gold.
41 - Small cutscene. Lulu gets us all into some trouble with a couple of ironheads. Wait a sec, that woman is Chris from the character selection screen. She's riding a horse and seems to be very important. I wonder if when we select her next, we'll see this same scene from her perspective.
43 - Found a bookstore, which sells runes, tests, and other stuff.
44 - Okay, now I found a separate rune store, and it's run by Jeanne! She's like the Cid of the Suikoden franchise.
46 - Saving my game progress. Leaving Brass Castle for...Zeren Forest. That sounds about right.
48 - Moving down the path, hitting a random encounter fight every few steps. I found a glowy spot on the ground and harvested some Asian herbs. Wait...Asian? I understand that the Suikoden series is loosely based on the classical Chinese novel Shui Hu Zhuan by Shi Naian and Luo Guanzhong, but I always thought that game operated in a different world than ours. Guess not if they have Asian herbs...
49 - Cutscene triggered. Fred, a Maximillian Knight, is in a hurry, but has to wait for associate Rico to catch up. He's on a critical mission. He asks Hugo if he knows anything about evil knights coming to Grassland before sauntering off. I bet we can recruit them later for our castle!
52 - Got into another fight, and instead of simply selecting “attack” over and over, I try out some magic. It's ice-based and works pretty well save for the noticeable framerate slowdown.
53 - Out of the forest and ready to enter Vinay del Zexay. Aw, Fubar can't come in with him. While duck people are widely accepted, griffon pets are not. Boo to that.
56 - Now inside the Zexen capital. It's big. Like, really big. Bouncy music is rather appropriate here. The trio wanders around for a bit. At one point, Hugo accepts recipe #12 from a stranger. Does this hint at the return of the greatest cooking minigame ever from Suikoden II?
58 - Found the Lightfellow household. A butler appears, and Hugo explains why he is there, on behalf of Jimba. He hands over the pentacle that belonged to the dead Lightfellow soldier. The butler inquires if Hugo would like a reward. The choices are as follows:
- “No need. It was a favor for Jimba.”
- “Well, I do feel hungry...”
The third response is hilarious for its bluntness, but I pick the second answer. The butler treats Hugo to...creamed gratin. Oh my.
60 - Out of the nowhere, the butler gets weird. He also mentions Lady Chris. Hmm...another small connection there. Hugo quickly leaves. “Well, that's one thing done at least,” he says.
Minutes to Action: 12 to controlling Hugo, 32 to first random encounter
What I liked: As always, the characters in the Suikoden series are charming and easy to like. Their personalities shine right away, and I'm even already emotionally attached to Fubar, a griffon that squawks from time to time, but does little else so far. Also, it's nice to have protagonists that talk. Music is catchy, too.
What I loved: Not much yet. The point where I really fall in love with Suikoden games is after you get a castle and can begin collecting recruits for it, watching it expand. We're not there yet in Suikoden III, and judging by Hugo's introduction and the fact that there's two more introductions to play, it could be awhile. Maybe not as slow of a crawl as Suikoden V was, but still, not yet.
What I hated: The locked camera angles and lack of freedom for looking around is irksome. Granted, this is how it was nearly ten years ago in videogames. Not everything could be Grand Theft Auto III. It does make traversing the cities and villages difficult. On the overworld map and battle areas, there's a large amount of nothing. Just sparse fields and forests, with no attention to textures. Oh, and I still don't understand why I was asked to name the Flame Champion when there's three other characters to play as.
Would I keep playing? Yes. Two more character introductions still to see. Granted, I want to continue on with Hugo's mission first until I can't anymore. But yes. More Suikoden III.