When you wish upon 108 stars...
Five blind men are enjoying their daily midday stroll when, lo and behold, they happen upon an elephant.
"What manner of creature is this? It is like a wall!" said the first man, brushing his hand against the roughhewn skin.
"No, you idiot," said the second blind man as he wrapped his arms around the elephant's foot. "Obviously, it is a pillar."
"Fools, all of you. This is a snake!" said the third man as he waved the trunk about.
"Wrong! Can't you see rope when you feel it?" said number four, yanking the elephant's tail.
The fifth blind man didn't answer at all. He knew that this "wall-pillar-snake-rope" beast meant trouble. And off he blindly ran, while the other men were being trampled, gored, and eaten by the touchy elephant.
The point of this old Chinese tale is how perspective can greatly influence opinion. What one person considers truth might not actually be truth.
Suikoden III, the latest in Konami's epic RPG series, gives you the chance to witness this ancient story in action. By giving gamers three different viewpoints on the same story, it introduces a terrific, original storytelling element that gives the game its own distinct flavor.
The game is based on another old Chinese tale concerning the 108 Stars of Destiny. From multiple vantage points, you witness the horrors of war unfold. It's like being able to read three diaries written around the same events. The lines between black and white blur as you become entangled in each of the separate struggles.
This multiple viewpoint approach has been dubbed 'Trinity Sight'. You'll take on the role of Hugo, son of the proud Karaya Clan Chief, Lucia. From the other side of battle, you'll play as Chris Lightfellow, renowned as the Silver Maiden, who stands at the command of the Zexen Council. You'll also jump in as the frontier defense force captain Geddoe, who hails from the Kingdom of Harmonia as an interloper to the events of war. It's an interesting way to see the plot unfold, as each character's adventures are told independently from the others.
Upon starting Suikoden III, a PSOne Suikoden II saved game can be uploaded, thereby reusing stats and details from the previous game. While this provides great continuity to those keeping up with the series, the story is still multifaceted enough to welcome those jumping in for the first time. This is a big world that is expressed nicely through the layered storytelling
Instead of a free-range world map, points of interest are specifically marked, and movement through the different stories is made between these different nodes. Alternate destinations and side quest are offered to break up the linearity.
The flow of the game is still mired in a traditional flow. You'll spend a good deal of time searching for the right person in the city to talk to in order to trigger the next event. It's also hard to get into the realism of the world when, every day, the villagers are standing in the same place with their repeated one-line phrases. That worked fine back in 1997, but nowadays we expect a more dynamic world filled with more realistic people.
As in the previous Suikoden games, you encounter tons of characters to add to your party. You can handle up to 6 members at a time, though they are paired off into groups of two. Thus, each battle is comprised of three commands. Members are responsible for their direct teammate; for example, a healing medicine can only be used on a member's partner. And to add depth, certain pairings of characters yield combination attacks.
However, theere are some problems with this pair system. Some of the characters won't even attack what you tell them to because it's within their personality to simply attack what's closer to them. It's can be trying.
To add further depth, Suikoden III offers a customizable skill system. Winning battles gives you experience points to dole out to beef up different skill sets. Certain characters can gain certain skills, but for the most part you can decide how you want your group to develop. Improvable qualities include aiming, parrying, greater likelihood of heavy attacks, and magical skills.
Most magic attacks require two moves to prepare - one move to chant uninterruptedly, and the other to cast. The spell caster must be kept in the rear, pushing the other party members forward to take the brunt of the damage. Only one magic spell per pair can be prepared or cast at any given turn.
In addition to the standard battles, Suikoden III also serves up Group and Single battles. Group battles give you control of different army units across a tactical battle map. While there are fewer controls in each of the smaller battles, the sense of a full-scale war is adequately translated.
Single battles pit the player against one opponent, which works like a game of Paper, Scissors, Rock, only it's Attack, Defense, Deathblow. The opponent will spout some verbal cues that aid in choosing attacks.
In keeping with the earlier games, Suikoden III puts a strong emphasis on locating the 108 characters. It takes some time and isn't always easy, but it definitely keeps the game moving along. This game will not be completed as a rental.
While the visual style of Suikoden III is not as ornate as Final Fantasy X, the flat-shaded characters and atmospheric watercolor palette have a distinct beauty. The facial texturing is done very nicely - the expressive faces give depth and credence to the characters.
The sore thumb of Suikoden III is the awkward animation. Everyone walks like a duck. Whether it's a man, a bipedal lizard or even an actual duck, everyone's got a king-sized wedgie. This is coupled with a frequently unsteady framerate, noticeably dropping frames throughout the game. There are also some camera problems that arise when you move from one room to another.
Unfortunately, there are no voices in the game. Sergeant Joe never gets to quack. The music is fitting, with a few rich themes that should have gotten more play and a handful of less pleasing numbers that should have been held back.
Although it has some technical issues and has some dated gameplay features, Suikoden III's enormous breadth, creative triptych storytelling approach and monstrous character list give it a distinct edge. With so many RPGs out for the PS2 in this season alone, it can be tough figuring out which one is right for you. As far as I can see it, Suikoden III has enough to satisfy just about every RPG gamer.