Suikoden Cover
Platforms PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Genre Regular old JRPG...?
MtAMinutes to Action
Keep Playing? Doubtful

I tend to be conscious of the games I buy. When I plunk the cash onto the counter, I've usually made the decision to do so months in advance. I've read some previews, watched plenty of gameplay clips, and probably played a demo (if available). This is normal for people to do when they're about to shell out $60 and tax, but I tend to do my research even when the game can be bought for a Hamilton. What can I say? I'm kind of stingy. Chicks love a pennypincher.

I indulged in a blind-buy some time ago, when a game called Suikoden went on sale from the infallible PlayStation Network for a scant three dollars. I guess I can't really call it a "blind" purchase, considering I'd heard of the series, knew it was some sort of JRPG, and recalled some praise for it throughout the years. Still, this was a small triumph for my freewheeling, devil-may-care side. The side that grins mischievously as a tossed beer can ends up in the trash rather than the recycling bin. The side that saunters across the street with reckless abandon when the orange hand in the crosswalk orders me to halt.

I've finally worked up the courage to start playing this recklessly-bought game. Will it turn out to be as thrilling as the initial purchase, or will I pledge to never blind-buy again?

Minute by Minute

00 - New Game. I get to name my character! He has green hair. I think I'll name him Elmer. Yes, this will be the tale of a boy named Elmer with green hair.

01 - Game starts. I'm in control of Elmer! I'm walking around in a room, in some fancy building. A castle? A man named Teo asks if I'm nervous before my meeting with the Emperor. Apparently Teo is a famous general. And my dad.

02 - We're in the Emperor's throne room now. Teo and Emperor Barbarossa are good friends who fought together in some War of Succession. Teo is apparently being sent to the northern border of the country, in order to settle disputes with the neighboring nation.

03 - The Emperor turns his attention to Elmer (me) and asks if am willing to help the Empire while Teo (my dad) heads north. I am given the choice to say yes or no. "I don't wanna!" Barbarossa takes my childish response with good humor.

04 - I leave the Emperor's throne room, and Teo follows. A maid nearby mentions that Lady Windy, a general who was at the audience, looks a lot like Lady Claudia, the Emperor's wife. I'm more interested in my own reflection off the shiny floor than this hearsay, honestly.

05 - Commander Kraze, my commanding officer, is downstairs. I introduce myself, and Kraze ensures I won't get any special treatment, and I need to report to him first thing in the morning. Apparently Teo's not a big fan of Kraze, calling him a weakling under his breath as we leave the castle.

06 - Teo leads me out of the castle, across the drawbridge, and into the castle town, Gregminster. As we enter a house (ours?), a ponytailed man named Gremio comes to greet us. He seems to dote on Elmer. Like a mom, almost. Creepy...

07 - Another boy, Ted, congratulates me. I guess we're friends? He joins my party and we head upstairs to my room. Apparently, my awesome dad adopted Ted when he was an orphan. Ted asks me if I can keep a secret, as there's something really important he wants to tell me...

08 - ...but then Gremio interrupts, as it's dinner time! Guess that ultra important revelation will have to wait for a more dramatic opportunity. Teo asks his friends to watch my back while he's gone, then toasts the Empire and my budding career therein.

09 - It's night time now. Teo and Gremio check on Elmer while he's asleep. Gremio asks if they should wake Elmer up before Teo leaves, but he declines. "It's not as if we'll never meet again." This all but confirms his imminent demise.

10 - Morning. Gremio wakes me up and tells me it's time to visit Commander Kraze. He joins the entourage, and it's time to head out. The diary on my desk can be used to save my game.

11 - The other men from last night's dinner are downstairs. Pahn is pumped up about seeing some action, while Cleo would rather protect Elmer without incident. Ted joins up as well, and we head out.

12 - Guess we'll check out the castle town before heading to Kraze. A man outside my own house asks why I'm sneaking around the house of Teo McDohl. There are like five buildings in this town, how does he not know who I am!? Impudent cretin, he will know and fear my name...

Suikoden Gregminster

13 - Another building, this seems to be some kind of shop. The man behind the counter asks if I would like to attach a crystal. I don't know what that means!

14 - A woman outside is from a village to the east, Rockland. She is looking for someone here. I don't know why she would ever leave a place called Rockland, frankly.

15 - Found the inn. At the bar in the back, people are arguing about who is the strongest of the five Great Generals. Sonia Schulen is a swordsman and magician. Kasim Hazil, a friend of Teo's, is praised as the best swordsman.

16 - Kwanda Rosman has apparently defended the Emperor himself many times. These dudes all sound pretty badass...until I hear about General Milek, nicknamed the "Flower General."

17 - Apparently Gregminster is the imperial capital. A visiting man expresses anger that the people here live well off his taxes. Suddenly I feel upper-class guilt, as a wealthy denizen of Gregminster...hah, just kidding, go back to your dirt shanty, commoner.

18 - Found another shop with a magnifying glass logo. Apparently it's an appraisal shop? Like, I can appraise rare items? Interesting. I'll keep that in mind when I come across an ultra rare General Teo rookie card.

19 - A man near the town's pretty fountain laments all the country bumpkins around here. Another person mentions that Gregminster was destroyed in the seven year War of Succession, but the Emperor has restored it. I'm learning so much!

20 - Heading up to the castle now. A man mentions that Teo was likely deployed to the north in order to put down a rebellion. My dad seems pretty cool. I hope I get to slaughter some rebels...

21 - The servants all seem pretty fond of Emperor Barbarossa. Maybe they're just paid to be fond of him. Or maybe he's actually a cool guy. Anyway, I meet with Kraze, who says I'm late and is way too hung up about that.

22 - Apparently my first assignment is to head to the Magician's Island, northeast of Gregminster. A Seer there has been commissioned to look into the stars. I am to bring back the report. Kraze quizzes me on where the island is, and I respond "Somewhere on this earth." He is not amused.

23 - There are no boats to the Magician's Island, so Kraze has arranged for a dragon knight to take me there. As we head to the stables, Pahn is disappointed that my first assignment is an errand. Cleo reiterates the importance of the astrological results. Ted is just excited to ride a dragon and meet a dragon knight.

24 - The dragon knight, Fudge, introduces his black dragon, Black. Why does the dragon sound like an elephant? Maybe the answer also explains why a dragon knight goes by the name of "Fudge."

25 - Here we are, Magician's Island. Fudge and Black will wait at the landing point. We start off through the forest...

26 - ...and there's a random battle! Sigh. Before I can issue any commands, I'm given the choice to Fight, Run, Bribe, or Free Will. I don't know what that last one is, but at least I'm given some choices right off the bat. I pick Fight, because these smug frogs seem too self-righteous to bribe.

Suikoden Fudge

27 - I don't seem to have many options for attacking yet. Everybody has a regular Attack command, though a few characters seem to have specials as well. The battle animations are pretty crude, but I guess I wasn't expecting Final Fantasy summons or anything.

28 - Still walking, battling...I've leveled up twice already. These defenseless and probably endangered frogs go down quickly to my regular Attacks. They should be bribing me to spare their lives.

29 - Hmm, new enemies. They look like wads of hair. As a rule, I don't bribe forgotten McDonald's mascots. They fare no better than the frogs.

30 - Picked up a Leather Coat from a treasure chest. Who would put a single leather coat inside a chest sitting in the middle of nowhere? It is alarming that I've never really considered this before...

31 - A man is standing in the middle of the forest. He greets us by summoning some kind of golem, and siccing it on us. What a dick! It looks pretty tough, so I have Pahn and Gremio use a Unite attack, which deals a lot more damage than any of the characters' individual strikes. Pahn has an attack called Boar Rune, which is pretty effective as well. The golem responds by throwing its head at us, and how are we supposed to kill it if decapitation is its primary method of attack?

32 - Keep hitting the Attack command, that's how! That wasn't tough at all. The man, Luc, apparently just wanted to test us. Again, what a dick. He takes us to the castle to see Lady Lenkat, the Seer.

33 - This place is definitely fancier than Gregminster Keep, all shiny and blue. Heading up a spiral staircase to the Seer's chambers. There, we meet Lenkat. The Seer thinks Elmer is cute. Jackpot.

34 - The other guys chill in the lounge as Elmer follows Lenkat. She gives Elmer the astrological results and explains a little about seeing the future in the stars. Apparently Elmer's choices will be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Will I get to make some cool decisions in this game? Lenkat hopes we will meet again. She's so into me.

35 - "Believe yourself, Elmer!" I'm thinking that's a translation error. Back with the party, Lenkat gives Cleo a Fire Crystal and tells him that his job is to protect Elmer.

36 - That Luc guy from earlier teleports in. Lenkat has him teleport us to the shore, where Fudge the dragon knight is waiting. We climb aboard Black, the elephant-mimicking dragon, and head back to the capital.

37 - And we're back in the capital. Guess I have to take the astrological results to Kraze.

38 - Kraze impatiently asks for the astral conclusions, then offers reluctant praise before giving me my next mission...

39 - ...I am to head to Rockland, a town east of Gregminster. Apparently they haven't paid their taxes. And that's, like, a crime or something I guess.

40 - Anyway, I'm to seek out Commander Grady there, who is in charge of the Rockland. Kanaan, Kraze's seedy-looking and annoying assistant, is to accompany us. A man near Kraze's desk mentions that all five Great Generals have left the capital. That can't be good for homeland defense.

Suikoden Battle

41 - I think I'll head back to my room and save. The quiet stroll gives me an opportunity to appreciate the music and tolerate the somewhat chippy sound effects.

42 - I head out the south entrance of the town and see the world map. My journey to the east lasts all of five seconds, as I immediately arrive in Rockland.

43 - I was hoping Rockland would be some kind of hippie music festival, but instead all the buildings appear to be hollowed-out boulders. The buzz around town leads me to believe that Commander Grady is hoarding all the town's resources to himself, leaving others to starve.

44 - A guy(?) at the inn offers a game of thimblerig. I bet 100 "bits" that I can guess the right cup. And I win! Easiest hundred bits I ever made. Grifting the con artists, that's how Elmer McDohl rolls.

45 - Found the item and equipment shops. Nothing worth buying. Guess I should have expected that considering the shop looks like Fred Flintstone's house.

46 - Wow, these people really aren't big on the Empire. Imperial soldiers sometimes take the villagers' food and/or hit them. Can't blame them, I'd be pretty antagonistic if I was stationed in the stone age.

47 - Apparently things were better for these people before Barbarossa was in charge. And bandits are running around as well. What the hell could bandits possibly steal from a town where everything is made of stones? Maybe their boulders used to be shinier, I don't know.

48 - Grady's mansion-boulder is just past the graveyard. Kanaan orders the door servant to get Grady.

49 - Grady welcomes the crew and explains that bandits have settled on nearby Mount Seifu, pillaging the local villages. He expects us to get rid of the bandits for him. My party seems pretty pumped to smash some bandits, so I guess we'll do just that.

50 - We head back out to the world map and continue east to Mount Seifu. Can I save while I'm on the world map? Doesn't look like it...

51 - Heading up the Mount Seifu trail now. Everybody's pumped except Gremio, who's being his usual worry wart self.

52 - Random battle! These bandits are definitely tougher than the critters I slapped around earlier, but they're still not much of a match, definitely not worth bribing. The trail leads to a cave.

53 - Apparently there are black wild boards inside the cave! They charge at us in battle, and hit Gremio pretty hard. I use some Medicine to heal him and concentrate all our attacks on one boar at a time. Ted and Cleo, who are in the back of the formation, use ranged weapons (bow and throwing knives) and seem as though they can't be attacked.

54 - I've gathered quite a few armor and healing items now, and apparently each character carries his own stock of items, limited to about ten. I have to do some re-arranging in order to equip the right items on each character and distribute things evenly.

55 - More walking, more boar battles...

56 - The path ahead splits into several forks. All of them but one lead to treasure. And random battles, of course.

57 - Fighting some soldier ants now. They are ants with spears. Now that's adaptation! I've noticed that critical hits trigger a closeup, making it easy to notice. Also, sometimes my characters will dodge and counter when an enemy approaches. At least the speed of battle is pretty fast.

58 - Gotta rearrange all these items again...

59 - I'm already at level 5. Wonder how high it goes? Do I learn new abilities as I level up? I hope so. Slamming the Attack command is kind of boring.

60 - More ants, boars, bandits to kill.

Suikoden Formation

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 26

What I liked

Save the world? Y/N: There have already been a few instances in Suikoden where I've been given the illusion of choice. I had an opportunity to refuse the Emperor's request and to reject Ted's insistence on coming with me. The Emperor just laughed my refusal off, and I'm sure Ted would have done the same. These instances don't seem to actually affect progress at all, but sometimes it's nice to see such a tongue-in-cheek wink from the developer.

Believe yourself, Jeffly! Somehow, seeing occasional Engrish and translation errors in an old school RPG just feels right.

Audio: I was genuinely surprised at the high quality sound samples used in the musical arrangements. The arrangements themselves had a bit more character than a typical RPG soundtrack does, as well.

What I didn't like

Yakkity Yak: I spent a good majority of this first hour reading dialog boxes. While the dialog itself isn't bad, I wouldn't mind some of the talking to be broken up with other activities.

Press X to win: The battles so far have been entirely effortless. This wouldn't be such a negative if the softballs were buoyed with some previews of the battle system intricacies that may be crucial knowledge later. But nope, my options were limited to using the Attack command over and over.

Random battles: 'Nuff said.

Other Thoughts

Video: I didn't expect a PlayStation-era RPG to look stunning, but Suikoden probably wouldn't even turn any heads on the SNES. There are some decent visual treats, like the reflections on the palace floor and flocks of birds hanging around the fountain, but the sprites are fairly basic and without detail. It's not ugly by traditional JRPG standards, but it's not exactly a looker, either.

Narrative: The story so far -- a famous general's son starting out his own military career with errands -- is hardly novel. Maybe that uncomplicated premise contributes to the old-school JRPG charm I'm picking up.

Would I keep playing? Doubtful. Nothing about Suikoden has really grabbed me after sixty minutes of play time, but I guess it's a bit too soon to be tossing it onto the hefty pile of indistinguishable JRPGs just yet. I'll probably give it another hour before it gets shelved indefinitely, but only because it has such a good reputation.

Suikoden Dinner

Words from beyond the First Hour: It's now been three hours since Elmer's career began. I've captured bandits. I've seen party members splinter between allegiences. I went on the run from my own military. I've stumbled upon a resistance army, and inexplicably became its de facto leader. I also learned that Cleo is not actually a man, nor was I meant to think so, so that's kind of a surprise. Suikoden's story isn't especially gripping thus far, but at least it's moving through the JRPG tropes at a steady pace.

The same can't be said for the gameplay. Outside of a few pointless experiments, the only necessary or worthwhile commands in the battle system have been Attack and Medicine. I've acquired a few magical Runes and tried them out in battle, but I haven't been clued in on their particulars at all. Equipment and item management could best be generously described as "involving," but I'd be more inclined to use the term "archaic." For all the little bits of intrigue that the story has teased, Suikoden hasn't given me any reason to believe that the guts of the game will be anything more than a dreary grind.

If I were to go on my experience alone, I would shelve it indefinitely at this point. The halfway decent tale of young master McDohl isn't enough to excuse the mindless gameplay. However, Greg's high praise for the series and the critical acclaim it garners still intrigued me, and I did a little Wikipedia paragraph later, I learned that this game apparently has a customizable magic system, large scale warfare, duels, and a recruitment focus with over a hundred characters to invite into Club Elmer. That Suikoden sounds like fun; the Suikoden that I've been playing is essentially a fetch quest with all the strategy of a button masher.

Suikoden Title