Rating: T for Teen
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Fun fact: Suikoden III was actually my introduction to the series. Ironically, I wouldn’t have even touched the games if not for the manga. From the first chapter, I was hooked. The story was fantastic, the characters were so well thought out, and the perspective of the story shifting between four perspectives was brilliant. On a causal pass into my local Gamestop, I spotted familiar characters on the cover of a PlayStation 2 game. Suikoden III was the very first game that I literally could not put down. A friend and I took shifts playing through the game, scratching off recruits from a printed walkthrough, and only slept when absolutely necessary. While I personally love Suikoden III
, fans who grew up with the originals tend to give mixed reviews of the game because of how much it changed from its predecessors. Suikoden was making a leap into the realm of 3D on a brand new system with a new animation style and a new composer. On top of presentation changes, the game itself was introducing a new mechanic to the series- the trinity sight system.
Rather than one silent protagonist, the player is introduced to three heroes with their own names, mouthfuls of dialogue, and their own unique perspective on the game’s conflict. The player can opt to play through the first three chapters of one character before moving onto the next or rotating through the chapters evenly. Each character’s story overlaps at specific points of the game to reveal a little more of the story. What seems on the surface to be a black and white struggle between two forces turns out to be a complicated, highly political conflict with multiple influences from within and without. The player is then introduced to a fourth character whose perspective is a firm anchor between all three points of view. This system required the sacrifice of an overworld and the extended exploration that the other games offered to save on data, but the depth of character and story more than makes up for it.
To properly explain the story, I have to break the game’s introduction down into each of the character’s perspectives. The story revolves mainly around a conflict between the Grassland Nations and the Zexans. The Grassland nations are an alliance of six tribes united under a council formed of each respective tribe’s chief. The Grasslanders are composed of humans, lizards, and ducks (yes, ducks!) while the Zexans are mostly composed of humans. The two nations share a border and a bloody history of territory disputes. On top of their conflicts with one another, both Zexan and the Grassland Nations faced hostilities from the distant kingdom of Harmonia, leaving an unspoken tension between them. Decades in the past, a mysterious figure known only as “The Flame Champion” managed to drive away Harmonia, establish common land between the Zexans and the Grasslanders, and force the Zexans out of Grassland territory using the power of the True Rune of Fire. The Flame Champion has faded into myth, but for some reason rumors are stirring that the hero from long ago has re-surfaced along with his army known only as “The Firebringers.” It would be easily dismissed as urban legends if not for the sudden pique of curiosity by the outside nation of Harmonia.
In Hugo’s Chapters…
The game opens up in the grasslands as a young Hugo races his horse across the open plains. Hugo, the son of the Karayan Chief, Lucia (an antagonist from Suikoden II) and heir to his mother’s position among his people, is asked to take a message of peace to the Zexan capital as a representative of his mother. The Grasslanders and Zexans are making yet another attempt at a peace treaty to hopefully avoid further bloodshed between nations. Hugo agrees and is accompanied by his pet gryphon, Fubar, his childhood friend, Lulu, and his bodyguard, Sgt. Joe, a duck warrior. Hugo journeys to the capital city of Vinay del Zexay to deliver his message to the Zexan council. The council holds very little regard for the boy and forces him to wait several days before entertaining his request. During his stay within the city walls, a warrant is issued for his arrest and Hugo is forced to flee from the city and escape back into his nation’s territory. On his way back he notices a pillar of smoke rising from his homeland.
Hugo and his company arrive in time to see the knights of Zexan slaughtering the innocent residents of Karaya and burning the village to the ground. Infuriated, Lulu lashes out against one of the knights. Needless to say, the boy is struck down. Hugo, powerless to avenge his friend’s death, must watch as the knights retreat from his burning homeland only to bury the dead once the ground cools. This seems like a spoiler, but this is the foundation of two of the heroes’ relationships and it’s pretty much revealed in the game’s opening animation.
From this point, Hugo realizes that he lacks the strength to protect his people and turns to the legends of the Firebringer for hope. He makes it his personal mission to seek out the hero of his nation and beg him for his protection.
In Chris’s Chapters…
Chris’ chapter opens up with a parade through the streets of Vinay del Zexay celebrating the return of the Silver Maiden, Chris Lightfellow, from yet another victorious battle against the savages of the wild. Tragically, the former commander of the Knights of Zexan was killed, leaving Chris as the unspoken leader of the knights. Chris, uncomfortable with all the celebrity treatment, attempts to find normalcy among her men and her duties. The council of Zexan calls her in to inform her that there are to be peace talks with the Grassland Nations and that she is to participate as the representative of the council’s will.
Chris obliges, and with her faithful knights by her side, she rides to meet with the chiefs of the grasslands on neutral territory. It seems that peace is finally within reach when the Zexans are suddenly ambushed. Chris and her order manage to escape, but are unwilling to leave their men behind to be slaughtered. As a diversion, they turn to the nearby village of Karaya and set fire to the homes in an attempt to divide the Grassland army’s attention and give the soldiers an opportunity to escape.Some of the knights are unable to contain their rage at having been deceived by the Grasslanders and begin slaughtering the villagers.
Chris manages to see her men to safety, but at a heavy cost. She’s held up as a hero but the actions she was forced to take haunt her, even as she is ordered to investigate the rumors of the Firebringer’s return.
In Geddoe’s Chapters…
Geddoe is the leader of the Twelfth Unit of the Harmonian Southern Frontier Defense Force, a group of mercenaries working directly under the Harmonian military. He’s a man of few words and even his men know very little about his origins. His unit is ordered by Harmonia to investigate the rumors cropping up within the Grasslands in regards to the re-emergence of the Firebringer and the Flame Champion that leads them. Their investigations begin within the Great Hollow, the homeland of the Lizard Tribe. During their stay, Zepon, the chief of the Lizard Tribe is murdered in his own chambers following a strange ambush by Zexan soldiers.The tribe vows to avenge their fallen leader and the mercenaries are forced to continue their search elsewhere.
They depart for Karaya to ask their chief for any leads and arrive just a day before the Zexans attack the village and leave it in ashes. During their stay the mercenaries, along with one of the Karayan locals, spot a strange woman lurking near the outskirts of the village. They pursue her but she manages to elude them using her sorcery. As they return to report their sighting, the village is attacked and the mercenaries are forced to flee from the grasslands to avoid the growing conflict.
In Thomas’s Chapters…
An old deserted castle has recently been appointed a new lord. Thomas, the illegitimate son of one of the Zexan council members, is unburdened from his father and asked to waste away in a crumbling castle town that once served as a common ground between the Grasslands and Zexan. Thomas, having only wanting to meet his father following the tragic death of his mother, begrudgingly takes command of the castle. The residents slowly warm up to the young man as he attempts to bring income to the castle by opening it as a free trade territory between the warring nations, providing a safe haven for anyone who will lay down their blades.
The story progress from this point and eventually all four characters are pulled out of their own personal conflicts into one central conflict, though clearly there are resolutions that need to be made before they are able to come to that point. The story of Suikoden III is one of the most complex and human stories within the series as it shows different perspectives of different characters standing on their own side of the battlefield. As the player progresses, they learn a little more about the events behind each story, but they learn it from another angle. The story is broken up into chapters, three for each of the main heroes, then combines in chapter four where the player must decide which character will progress as the main hero from that point on.
The lore of Suikoden revolves heavily around the 27 True Runes which are said to have been the creating forces of the universe and the forces that keep the universe intact. The runes are semi-sentient magical entities that inhabit a bearer, marking their skin with their unique symbols. The True Runes grant their bearers many abilities that include longevity, immortality, inherited memories from past bearers, and whatever powers that the True Rune possesses. Suikoden III features the most True Runes emerging in the entire series with a total of five bearers. The True Runes that make an appearance are the True Fire, True Water, True Lightning, True Earth, and the True Wind runes. The runes of Suikoden III have less religious and moral implications than the runes of previous and future games, reflecting natural forces rather than spiritual ones.
Along with the True Runes, there are two major religions that are briefly touched on within Suikoden III. The Zexan culture pays homage to a nameless goddess. There is a church established within the Zexan capital but other than that and the prayers spoken by the council and Chris herself, there is very little mention of her. She is never elaborated on and the specifics of the religion aren’t given any exposition. In contrast, the Grassland nations believe in the spirits of the world around them. Their religion reflects multiple Native American beliefs and, once again, is never a major point of focus through the game. There is the matter of Sgt. Joe who seems to hold a more agnostic view of the world and focuses only on the material things around him. His beliefs are mentioned only once and never expanded upon. A third religion makes an appearance in Chris’ chapter 3 and it’s a little darker in nature as it involves human sacrifice but the ritual involved is performed off-screen and the religion itself is not touched upon beyond that incident. It’s assumed to be a denomination of the grassland nations’ belief in the spirits but the tribe that holds the beliefs are fairly isolated and are rarely seen by even their allies.
If anything, Suikoden III shows a good deal of diversity in faiths to give realistic depth to the world. There’s nothing that’s shockingly demonic or blatantly blasphemous.
The violence in Suikoden III is more direct than other games in that the cut scenes are a little more realistic than previous games. You see some characters die on screen and you see weapons make contact during battle, but other than that the violence is pretty mild. There’s no blood to be seen anywhere in the game and most deaths happen off-screen. The combat strikes show the characters taking damage, but there’s no gore of any kind.
That said, there is a lot of character death that occurs. Sometimes it is implied that the deaths are rather brutal. The game opens up with an entire village being burned down and the player can wander through the village to find the bodies of women, children, and warriors alike laying on the ground. One of the characters that we begin the game with is struck down on-screen though with his back turned to the viewer so the killing blow goes unseen. The implications of violence are extremely high, but death isn’t glorified. It’s shown for what it is- a tragedy and a reality of war.
The dirty language in SuikodenIII is, again, very mild. The characters use the “d” word frequently and h-e-double hockey sticks is said here and there but outright swearing is not an issue. There are incidents where “cute” words are replaced with potential swear words so the point comes across but it’s mild enough to get a giggle.
There are a lot of crude implications, especially with Geddoe’s crew. But again anything that would push any kind of boundaries is done off screen. Ace, one of the mercenaries, is apparently a bit of a skirt-chaser. His comrades give him constant grief over this hobby of his so again, it isn’t glorified.
Drugs are never mentioned in Suikoden III, but as with previous games, taverns are a frequent meeting place for new recruits. Geddoe’s crew spends a lot of time in taverns and some of the members do end up getting drunk. On-screen the worst we see are them suffering from hangovers or departing for the tavern.
Suikoden focuses on three primary aspects: forgiveness, healing, and succession. Each of the characters wrongs the other in some way and they carry the burden of their anger, their pain, and their own personal weaknesses through the first three chapters of each of their respective games. They all suffer a personal loss that cuts close to their very core and each of them clings to their hatred and rage as a means of continuing on. Rather than trying to find a solution to their own problems, each of the three characters looks to finding their solution by seeking out another person. In Hugo’s case, the Flame Champion is the strength he needs to protect his people. In Chris’ case, the Flame Champion is the answer to all her questions. In Geddoe’s case, the Flame Champion is a means to finding closure.
As with most Suikoden games, the personal suffering of the hero (or heroes in this game’s case) directly reflects the environment of the world in which they live. Hugo and Chris’ nations have long been warring against one another with hostilities clearly evident even within the common population. Geddoe works for the nation of Harmonia which has long been a political and military thorn in the side of both Zexan and the Grasslands.There is a lot of hatred between nations and as a result, individuals treat each other poorly. They make generalizations, stereotype the culture, and even commonly refer to the other nations by their world’s equivalent of racial slurs.
The game’s tone takes a turn for the positive when the player changes to the perspective of Thomas, the illegitimate son of a Zexan council member and a woman from the outskirts of the kingdom. He lost his mother to a group of hostile Grasslander and was formally disowned by his Zexan father. He has every reason to hold bitterness towards both nations but instead he opens his lands as a free trading area where all nations and all cultures are welcome. Through their encounter with Thomas, the three main heroes are directly convicted and slowly begin to change for the better. In forgiveness comes healing, in healing comes clarity, and Suikoden does a fantastic job of bringing that reality to life.
Along with the process of healing and forgiveness, Suikoden is a story about succession. The phoenix archetype carries through each of the characters in its own way. The old world of division, hatred, and cultural divisions must be purged away before something stronger can rise. The main story focuses primarily on the rune of fire, adding to the archetype. In the end, the game uses the trinity sight system to show the player that there is always another perspective in any given conflict. Rather than chopping away at a faceless enemy you play the enemy, see the world through their eyes, learn to understand why they hold the views they do and why they took the actions that they did. In the end you learn to love your enemy because you come to understand them by walking in their shoes.
The game plays, for the most part, like a standard rpg. There are cities to explore, shops where you can purchase or upgrade equipment, and dungeons where you can gain experience for your party. Unlike most rpg’s, over world exploration is next to nonexistent. This has to be the most disappointing element in the game. Rather than traversing a large world map, you are given points of interest on a map: you select a site, and you are taken to the area. Terrain areas normally consist of 3-5 screens where you can encounter wild animals and the occasional treasure boss. When you pass from one area, you are taken back to the world map to select the next accessible area. This can be a chore, especially when you are recruiting characters as a fast travel option is not made available until chapter 4 and it can be missed. The areas that you explore, like the plains and the mountain path, are sadly very barren. The routes are linear with very little to actually explore.
Combat is broken up into three different styles. The most common style, standard rpg style, has been altered slightly to give Suikoden III its own mechanics. As with previous Suikoden games, you can choose from a wide variety of characters that you have recruited into your army as party members. Each character has his or her own set of strengths and abilities. Some can use magic, others are better as melee fighters. There are three rows, each with two character slots. Each row is responsible for the party members within it and some combinations of characters unlock unique combo attacks. Sometimes the combo attacks can expand outwards and include the entire party. For example, when Chris is in a party completely composed of her knights, they are able to perform a powerful combo attack using all members. On a smaller scale, Thomas and Cecile unlock a combo attack if they share a row that deals a fair amount of damage while leaving the other four party members to attack or heal. There are also mounted characters, a mechanic exclusive to Suikoden 3. Mounted characters share the defense and power of their mount and both attack using the same turn. For example, if Hugo and Fubar share a row, Hugo will appear mounted on Fubar and the two will attack as one. If Hugo’s stats are built in a certain way, Fubar will attack by flying to the enemy and striking, then Hugo will attack from Fubar’s back. Suikoden 3 also breaks away from the jump forward-attack-return to position format that rpg battles are best known for. Instead, characters and foes will move about on the battlefield, changing how the field appears and their range.
Each character can be built according to the player’s preference. There are two kinds of trainers: combat trainers and magic trainers. These trainers assess each character’s potential for certain disciplines, and through skill points obtained in battles, the characters can level up. Each character technically specializes in certain disciplines but the game allows the player to build their characters however they like. Some characters will only be average, ranking a C or B at best in some skills while others can obtain an A or an S rank. With a cast of 108 characters, you can spend a lot of time leveling up, building, and perfecting your army. Additionally, each character’s weapons can be upgraded using blacksmiths. When the player manages to recruit a blacksmith for themselves they can obtain higher leveled hammers to allow the blacksmith to upgrade weapons to a higher level. For example, finding a silver hammer will allow weapons to be refined to level 15. Armor and buffs can be found in shops and in treasure chests through the game to bulk up a character’s defense and special attributes. Just working with different characters, perfecting their builds, and testing them out in battle can eat up hours of gameplay but it’s a lot of fun and doing so gives you an advantage in the tactical battles that occur periodically through the game.
Tactical battles have always been a staple in Suikoden games, but Suikoden III changes the formula up. Rather than having the basic unit types (such as cavalry, infantry, etc.) the units are all ground units led by at least one recruited character. You get a tactics map to direct your units and like in previous games, you can use magic on the field to weaken a foe before a direct confrontation, but when units clash a battle ensues similar to a standard rpg battle. The player cannot dictate the actions of the parties but instead much watch the confrontation as if the battle was set to auto. The time spent leveling characters is paid off in tactical battles as you have no control over how your characters perform in these situations. It’s best to grind, get their weapons and armor up as high as you can manage, and hope that they can stack up against the enemy. Characters can be permanently killed in tactical battles, so it’s always a good idea to save before each one and to spend some time preparing your army.
The final form of combat is the dueling system. In this scenario, two characters confront each other in a rock-scissors-paper type situation. Each character can attack, guard, or unleash a lethal strike. The player must react to verbal cues given by their opponent and select the appropriate response in order to win the duel. An attack by the opponent is bested with a lethal strike, a defend by the opponent is bested by an attack, and a lethal strike by the opponent is bested by defending. Every opponent has his or her own lines of dialogue, and sometimes it’s a tough call to predict what they’re going to do. As with tactical battles, it’s best to save before getting yourself into a duel as the outcome could influence the story a good deal or force you back to your last save anyway. Some characters can only be recruited via duel so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
In order to obtain a perfect ending, the player has to recruit all 108 characters. A tablet of stars is given to the player once the stronghold is established in chapter four. This tablet serves as a check off list of sorts, but it’s advisable to get a guide to help recruit all the characters. Some are very easy to miss and some are luck based. Like previous games, a perfect ending is well worth the time and the data from a perfect save file can be put into the next game in the series to unlock special perks.
Suikoden III is the first 3D Suikoden III game so it was taking a lot of risks from the get-go. The animation style is a chibi-anime style and while some of the walking sequences are a little clumsy, the game has actually aged pretty well. The characters emote very well from their expressions to their body language. Their movements have weight behind them and each character model had a lot of time and effort put into it. Some character’s outfits, like the Karayans, are fairly complicated. The environments are well done, if a little sparse in places, and the characters blend into their world very well. Visually, Suikoden III is easy on the eyes. Even as an early PS2 game, it’s impressive. Every character has his or her own personality that flows from the way they walk, the postures they take, their gestures, their expressions, and their own character models.
Suikoden III had a new composer for their music and unfortunately this stands out quite a bit. The first two games had a uniform sound to them while owning their own soundtracks. Suikoden 3 has its own sound and at times the songs are a little silly. The theme for random encounters (named “Souls in the Air”), for example, sounds almost comical and too light-hearted to be a battle song. Some songs, like the theme for the Duck Tribe (insultingly called “Stupid Ducks”) is absolutely beautiful. The songs for each culture are composed beautifully to mirror the themes of each race of people. The Grasslanders all share a very tribal under-tone to their songs but each tribe has their own unique sound. The Zexans have more of a brassy sound to their themes, giving it a more European feel to contrast the more native sounds of the grasslands. While the soundtrack really is a mixed bag, it’s well worth at least one listen through, if only for the cultural diversity illustrated.
I cannot even begin to talk about the presentation without mentioning the opening. It’s the only animated opening that the mainstream games received and it is absolutely stunning. From the song “Exceeding love” to the high quality animation that breathes life into the cast and giving small glimpses of the story it’s really a crime that the later games did not get such a fantastic introduction. The intro perfectly captures the heart and story of the games without giving too much away. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s a crying shame that we won’t see an anime come out of this game.
Suikoden III took a lot of risks in bringing a lot of new elements into both the RPG genre and into the Suikoden series itself. New mechanics, a new look, and a new angle of story-telling all combine quite successfully into a strong title. Suikoden 3 was my introduction to the series and frankly, it’s a game that both newcomers to the series and veterans alike can appreciate. There are enough elements, characters, and nods to the previous games to keep returning players content while allowing new players to get their feet wet in the world and lore of Suikoden. The heroes are no longer silent protagonists, nor is the player bound to just one course. The player can replay the game several times simply to see how each character handles their newfound role. It’s a solid game with an incredible story and a cast of unforgettable characters.
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