Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Suikoden has always been considered a second fiddle in the lore of JRPGS. Since this is a world dominated by Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, it’s no small feat to see a game franchise have a smaller, almost cultish following to it when compared to the behemoths in their genre. But one thing Suikoden’s fans love is to see new games, and, despite the flawed Suikoden Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS, it once again serves a nice little adventure for fans to enjoy once more.
Tierkreis is sort of an oddity in terms of a Suikoden game. Instead of having six fighters on the screen, you can only have four plus support. Instead of full scale army battles, you have typical dungeon crawling and plot point battles. Instead of runes, each character can get two-three special abilities that act as magic and special attacks. It’s a major departure from what made Suikoden, Suikoden. But numerous core elements remain.
To start, this is the only game where you can actively recruit 108 “stars of destiny”, meaning you can have roughly sixty fighting characters and forty support characters to go dungeon crawling with you. Each character has a distinct fighting style, and despite using the same weapon pool for the characters (such as spears, axes, swords and bows, for example.) some characters are more suited for the front lines, while others are better suited as long range fighters. The degree of strategy in choosing your team for events in the game is really varied and, as always, deep and enthralling.
Story wise, Suikoden is fairly straight-forward this time. You’re a young teenager who is raised in a quiet little village, and on your first day as a village militia-man you get sweeped up into strange events that have you going against a theocratic, almost cult-like kingdom that is hell bent on taking over the nearby towns, including your own. And it all has to do with a mysterious book you find that bestows magical powers to the chosen ones who touch it.
The story is fairly straight-forward, which can be a complaint because you tread a lot of old ground in this narrative. That being said, it was enjoyable to see it unfold, even though it was obvious who was good and who was evil. I should also note that there really is no in-between, your either a bad guy or you’re not, and it’s clear to see who is and who isn’t based on the dialogue itself. Combine this with straight up, random encounter turn based combat, and you have a standard JRPG with 108 characters to recruit.
Control wise, the DS system is utilized for simple “click here to attack/defend/use items” scenario. You can also use it to navigate the world map, but it’s much better using the D pad for that. There is, however, a Wi-Fi system that you can access late into the game, where you can swap items and characters with others who purchased Suikoden Tierkreis. You also gain some new battle scenarios for additional experience and special items, which is a nice addition in theory, but one that will be hard to pull off in practice unless you’re in a Suikoden club of sorts.
The game is visually a treat, reminding me of Final Fantasy III for the DS in terms of style. The character animations have the same giant heads and skinny bodies, and it’s clear that some characters are palette swaps of others. Their portraits are standard anime style, complete with some spiky hair and doe shaped eyes. We also get some anime inspired FMV sequences, which flesh out the visuals and, despite being obviously toned down for younger audiences. Are a visual treat in terms of their quality.
Sound wise, the game is just as impressive. Not only in terms of background music and sound effects, which are really good, but also through voice over’s. Yes, this is the first time I have ever heard a DS game use voice over’s so extensively on the DS. Each character has a separate voice and, while admittingly most of the cast just sort of rushes through their dialogue and sounds horrible, it adds to the experience and makes the text based system of most RPG’s more bearable.
Suikoden Tierkreis is not a deep game in terms of plot, nor is it a game that breaks new ground in any way for the series it represents. It will never have a major following and it will never be in the top 100 games of all time. But, it is a good game that JRPG fans would likely get a nostalgic feel over, in terms of its gameplay staples. With 108 characters, varied quests, and lovely images and a cool soundtrack, Suikoden Tierkreis is, if anything, a game to play only for nostalgic sake. Fans of JRPG games should definitely pick it up, at least, and give the series some more love it rightfully deserves.