IGN Review of Suikoden Tierkreis
The Nintendo DS has been on one hell of a hot streak thus far in 2009. While Wii continues to have a decent – but fairly light – sprinkling of titles over the first three months, DS already has a few serious Game of the Year contenders. Today alone we're seeing three titles hitting shelves that all score in the upper echelon, awarded with Editor's Choice awards and sitting not only at the top of this year's list, but overall in their own respective genres. How did Konami compete with Rockstar's GTA or EA's Henry Hatsworth? Well, launching a spin-off to one of the biggest RPG franchises in the world is a good start…
For starters though, it's absolutely worth mentioning to fans of the franchise that Suikoden Tierkreis is an otherworld spin-off of its original inspiration. This isn't the same series that got its start on the original PSX, you won't find duels, massive army vs. army battles, any returning characters, or a very mature story. What you will get, however, is still an awesome role-playing experience on DS, and one that fits the system very well.
Suikoden Tierkreis makes some serious changes from the original series, but despite any differences hardcore fans (myself included) will notice, Suikoden is a great DS RPG. The idea of 108 playable characters returns, though this time around there's a huge emphasis on anime culture, so you get overly-obvious good/bad characters, lots of in-game animated cinema, lots of over-the-top voice acting, and a story that's pretty spelled out for younger gamers, as well as those that frequent every Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest game on the system. It's the Suikoden philosophy and design, now streamlined for the DS audience.
On the presentation side of things, Suikoden is simply beautiful, and it's one of the deepest RPGs on the system. The visuals are stunning, having 3D models displayed over 2D, hand-drawn locales. All navigation through towns is done with a menu system rather than full-on exploration, making it quicker to get from place to place, and also keeping the game small enough in size to fit on a DS cart. Each character in the game has numerous pieces of portrait art (even more when you account for the eventual aging that happens with the core team), all major scenes in this 30 hour adventure are voice acted, and the amount of perspective changes and "shot framing" is very impressive. You'll control characters up close, navigate huge areas with microscopic models on the screen, run around with a bird's eye view of an area, or have shots framed to show just how gigantic some of the game's locales are. In similar titles (games like the original Resident Evil offerings do this) it's all about framing each shot based on the hand-drawn backdrops, and Suikoden masters the art. It's a beautiful, cinematic experience, and one of the best looking and most professionally produced titles on the system.
When it comes to the main story itself, however, I have to admit that I was let down a bit. The anime influence is great for things like animated character intros and specific plot devices, but the main story, while extremely lengthy and very ambitious, is extremely "light vs. dark" in nature. Rather than presenting the story in a way where players feel specific emotions though subtle events, the game literally tells the player what's what. As an example, the adventurers start meeting up with The Order from the very start of the game, and rather than show subtle clues as to the organization's cult-like structure, the game really beats you over the head with it. I'm not sure how many times the main character (me in the game) told the group how "bad" or "not right" something was, and it wasn't needed. Any subtle connection found with characters like Crono in Square's own Chrono Trigger is thrown out the window here, as its more like watching an anime with characters you also happen to control. The bad guys are doing bad things, and that makes them bad. We get it.
And while the story itself isn't as deep or hard-hitting as others in the Suikoden cannon, it's still a great offering, and one of the top RPGs on the system. The music is amazing, the voice acting is extremely well done (minus the strange speed-talking from the main character), and the game itself is very deep. Things like the rune system and duels have been taken out, but you'll still have 108 main story characters to round up, complete with team attacks and huge supporting attacks. The game makes use of a new Mark of the Stars magic system that relies on MP (magic points) instead of specific runes for characters, and while returning Suikoden fans will want the classic system, this certainly streamlines it for the somewhat younger core DS crowd.
The trade system is also back and in full effect, allowing players to work a sort of stock market across the world, buying or finding items, and then selling them off to regions that are in high demand. Equipment has also been simplified (no upgrading or item merging to be found), though it's also well balanced, changes up strategy in a big way, and all weaponry and items in the game actually show up on in-game character models, taking the visuals even further. The quest system is back as well, with some of them being extremely short, though others are long enough to check out some original locales or revisit specific areas while gaining your 108 characters. For those that want to participate in the game's online mode, you'll be rewarded with a great system that not only deepens the experience, but also allows you to get a taste for characters you might not have unlocked in your own game. You won't be teaming up with friends and taking on the Big Bad Order or anything, but trading characters and picking up missions adds a great element to the game not found in other role-playing games.
As always, Suikdoen brings a great element to the world of RPG battling. Random encounters are quick and easy if set to auto-battle, allowing you to check out some great animation and quick "everyone for themselves" fighting a la the original Suikoden mechanic. As one minor gripe though, regular battle doesn't save what you selected in the previous round, so if you want to cast specific magic with each character over and over again, you'll need to go in and select it each time, slowing things down a bit. Even within the game's battle system though, the huge attention to presentation makes Suikoden Tierkreis feel less like a token "portable RPG," and more like a full-on experience that just happens to be handheld.
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