Malik (7/12/06)

Suikoden V (PS2)

From Konami

The Suikoden series has long been a staple of consistently entertaining RPGs on the Playstation line. While some series have undergone major changes with time, and while some have even shied away from their roots, Suikoden has been a long standing favorite of it's fans for how well it can adapt to the times (and current technology) while still remaining true to it's origins.

With Suikoden V, we see what is probably going to be the final iteration of Suikoden in this console generation (the PS2 generation). There have been some small technical advances since Suikoden 3 first graced the PS2, but the differences have remained minor and the series is still true to it's origins way back on the Playstation 1.

On a side note, like with many other Suikoden games, this one has seen a rather limited release. Suikoden 1 saw a somewhat substantial release (considering it's obscurity in it's title and initial recognition), but most of the Suikoden games that followed saw smaller than needed releases. If you want a good example of how rare these games can become, just try checking for Suikoden 2 on eBay (and make note of the price). So, if you want to try out Suikoden V, try to get a copy now, before it becomes far too late.


Suikoden games always follow a very simple plot premises. In the world they all take place in, government issues are a staple. Be it the Island Nations and their revolution (of Suikoden 4), the City States being oppressed (of S2), or Falena being taken over by internal influences (of Suikoden V), governments are over thrown, politicians become corrupt, and civil wars are constant. In Suikoden V, the matter at hand is the abrupt take over of the matriarchal country of Falena.

As the game begins, you are introduced to the Falena royal family. Of which, you, the nameless protagonist, are the prince. Being a matriarchal (Queendom, so to speak) society, you hold no real power, and you never will. You are simply another pointless royal child who is destined to be an errand boy of the royal family as they deal with day to day affairs in ruling the nation.

You are also introduced to the fact that Falena has only recently recovered from a invasion two years earlier by their southern neighbors. The only way that Falena was rescued was by the Queen donning the sun rune...

For the uninitiated, in Suikoden, magic is controlled and harnessed by runes. These runes are affixed to a person's hands and/or head to allow special abilities or magic. Each common rune is spawned, ultimately, from a true rune. Of the 27 true runes, each Suikoden game so far has focused on between one to three of them as central pivots for the plot. True runes are basically the steroid enhanced version of the common runes. There are also some unique, but not true, runes in the Suikoden world (like the dawn and twilight runes of Suikoden V)...

When the Queen used the sun rune, she also became a puppet for it's powers. This made her change into a split personality, of sorts, that was either compassionate and caring, or power hungry and vengeful. However, once she donned the rune, she had little choice in keeping it's powers.

So, as the game begin, you are preparing to attend and prepare the ritualistic Sacred Games. At these games, a single combatant will come out victorious in a one-on-one combat tournament. This winner will either be betrothed to the princess (your younger sister, who is next in line to rule) or the person who hired the fighter will be so. The two main sides of the royal senate are also the two main competitors in this tournament (via hired proxies/gladiators), who are both making a desperate attempt at a power grab.

Long story short, one senator's son manipulates the contest to get his way into becoming the princesses betrothed. This also sets up a hostile attempt by this man to eliminate the rest of the royal family, by force. You, as the prince, barely escape from the slaughter of your family, as your sister is installed as a puppet ruler under this villain. You, being the RPG hero, are given but one choice; to form a rebel alliance and to save your sister and restore dignity to the royal family as civil war follows in your path.

The plot may sound cliché in many aspects. However, in the actual implementation, the plot will present some unique and contrasting views to what one would normally expect from such a basic plot. However, that is after the game kicks into full gear. The sad truth is that you should expect the first ten hours of this game to be about as dull and uninspiring as Halle Berry in a movie that comes from a comic.

Game Play

Suikoden games have not changed much in the time since the first game came to market. Suikoden V is still made up of the same basic game controls and design, but with a few fixes and tweaks to keep things slightly fresh.

The majority of the game plays out like most RPGs. You will walk around towns and dungeons to acquire information, plot advancing events, and to better equip your party for what faces them next. The controls feel pretty good during these events, and the flow of the game is pretty least for a 70-80 hour game. The only issue found during these walking times is that it can be hard to line up your avatar with a person or item to interact with. In towns, this will not be a problem. You can simply move your character a hair to the side, or whatever, to be in a proper location to interact with said item/person.

However, this will become an issue in dungeons (or any place that has random battles). The frequency of random battles can be a bit much at times, and you will especially feel this when you're trying to line up with a treasure chest, and you keep encountering foes while your trying to simply line up with whatever item.

On that note, this game features three basic battle styles (like all previous Suikodens). The most frequently encountered are party battles. These will happen at a few set locations (boss fights and story related battles), and they will occur at random in dangerous locations (the world map, dungeons, caves, etc). The random battles are not too much of a hindrance, and they will only truly annoy the player if the gamer in question is one of those who bashes random battles (in which case...I loathe you...).

These party battles will include your battle group, of up to six party members. You can find new battle formations as the game passes, and you can set up the formations to take into account weapon ranges (short range fighter attack best from the front lines) and physical defense (put your tanks up front). The default formation is the standard Suikoden formation (three up front and three in the back), but some rather unique and inventive ones (all in the front, arrow formations, winding snake-like formations, etc) can be found in treasure chests in various locations.

The battles will play out like any traditional RPG, with options to run, physically attack, use magic, use items, defend, and so on. You can also use special character combinations to perform combos, and you can even use some magics in combo attacks. You will keep fighting until either your party or your enemies perish. Meanwhile, you will face possible status afflictions (poison, sleep, etc) and your reserve group, of up to four people, may use special abilities to heal or otherwise effect the party. Fighting reservists can also be swapped in with other active party members as fights persist.

You are given the chance to gain levels and money through combat. These can be used to gain power through experience and to purchase magic or non-magical (special attacks, etc) runes, armors, items, or to purchase time with a blacksmith to sharpen your weapons. You can also find some rare items and runes from battles to further outfit your party.

The next type of battles are one on one duels. These are long standing staples of Suikoden games that have not changed in any way except for the visuals. You have three attack options; defend/guard, attack, and special attack. It's basically playing paper-rock-scissors with a single foe in which guard beats special attack beats attack beats guard. You simply must guess what the foe will do based on his emotions and dialogue prior to each round. While they may sound simple and unattractive, duels are some of the most fun moments of Suikoden V.

The final type of battle is the army based combat. In these, up to three recruited characters are assigned to a single unit of land or water based people. There are three types of unit for each type of terrain, with the same paper-rock-scissors approach as the duels (but with damage still being inflicted by the loser...but less than by the winner). Each unit has a set number of HP (which the game will account to individual soldier, but the game mechanics will still treat them more like HP...a unit with 1 HP will still inflict the same damage as if it had 100 HP...and one soldier could not do that much damage if the HP actually translated to soldiers alive), and each unit will die when it's HP is reduced to zero.

On top of that, the generals assigned to a unit will either flee or be killed if their unit fails. This is important, since recruited characters can die permanently in an army based battle...and this will effect the rest of the game. So, while normal party battles may not seem all that important, as long as you win, army battles are different. It's one thing to win, and it's another to win with no casualties.

Each unit will have up to two special abilities. These will include ranged attacks that can be used on the battle map, and combat abilities that will only be used when combat between two units occur. It's important to keep these in mind when forming units (the generals will each bring a possible ability). These abilities will include healing, offensive magic, long ranged attacks, charging (which inflicts damage without receiving any from a single attack), and support/buffing abilities. Each non-buff will be given only a certain number of uses per major battle, so the use of them is important to keep reserved for strategic opportunities.

These battles are typically fun, with one major downfall. You cannot pause to issue commands. This means that if you face an enemy on two fronts, you better plan well in advance. The time it takes to move from one side of a conflict to another to issue commands could be the time needed for the enemy to decimate a unit. While this may sound like it keeps things interesting and fast paced, it will actually just piss off the player to no end. Just imagine fighting a three fronted battle with ten different units at one time...and imagine not being able to pause to issue commands...and trying to keep all units alive so you don't permanently kill a character.

The majority of the rest of the game is focused on recruiting characters. Suikoden games all have 108 important recruitable people, and Suikoden V is no exception. These characters will sometimes be hard to find, and they will frequently have weird requirements to be recruited (like one will join you only if an elderly member of your party is one level below the hero or higher in experience). Some will have very short time frames to recruit, and many can be missed forever if you don't get them at the first possible opportunity. This should not be a reason to avoid the game, but it should be a reason to look into following a recruitment walkthrough, if you can find one. Worst case scenario would have you miss a few characters and just get a good ending instead of the best ending to the game. You'll have almost as much fun with 95 recruited people as you would with all 108.

Part of recruiting characters, and progressing the plot is to make wise choices in dialogue. Sometimes you are given options of what to say or how to act, and these will always have consequences. One event (no spoilers) will allow the game to progress normally, while the other option gives a bonus battle and the guaranteed permanent loss of a party member.

Overall, the game plays solidly, with the exceptions of not being able to pause spoken dialogue (which means no snack or phone breaks while playing through cut scenes) nor during army combat (well, you can, but you can't issue orders while doing so). Also, you can expect the game to be vague. The instructions are not much help, and online strategy guides and walkthroughs will be your best friends. Beyond these two failings, the game play on Suikoden V is excellent, and even with it's frustrations, the combat in this game is some of the best one could find in an RPG.


This is a mixed bag. On one hand, many visuals look excellent. Characters are wonderfully animated, cut scenes look brilliant, and the visuals have enough of a throw back to earlier Suikodens to keep the long standing fans happy. Also, the visuals are nicely detailed enough to let new Suikoden players get into the action without the obvious fan service flavor a new gamer might find in a game like Dragon Quest 8. Plus, there are enough special effects and visuals treats from spells and reflective surfaces to keep any gamer happy.

Best of all, all 108 recruitable characters, and the numerous NPCs are all uniquely designed. There is no overly used character look for the key players. The random townspeople will look redundant...but who really cares about them? Even combat motions are unique to each person. Two people may use similar weapons, but they will almost definitely have unique stances and motions.

This is most obvious in duels. The animations for a duel are amazing to behold. Each attack, special, and guarding action is unique to each duel combination. The hero may block one way when dueling a staff fighter, but will be completely different in motions while blocking a knife wielding assassin. At least in the visuals, no duels will even feel redundant.

On the other hand, the visuals can be few and far between. For example, an empty room will be just that; empty. Most areas will look great around the edges, but the centers of halls, rooms, and open fields will look nothing short of barren. To further accentuate this fact, the game allows the pointless feature to use two levels of zoom to further inspect the nothingness. The zoom will do nothing more than make it hard to see where you're going, and the empty areas will only make a gamer scratch their head and wonder of what the designers could have been thinking.


Another mixed bag. On one hand, you have some rather interesting background music for a majority of the dungeons, towns, and battles. However, interesting is good for only a short while before this descriptor has to be changed. In other words, while the music will be fun to hear for the first few hours (which makes it the only good part of the start of the game), it soon becomes unimportant, and eventually you will have trouble recognizing the music or even caring about it one way or another.

On the other hand, sound effects are sharp and of high quality. You won't really notice them all that much, but you will notice if they are missing. It's a lot like don't notice it until it's gone. The effects are as spot on as one would expect from an RPG. In other words, they are good enough to pass in an RPG, but they may feel a bit toned down versus an action game's sound effects. This is by no means a bad thing.

Last of all is the voice acting...sigh...the most dreaded part of the modern Japanese RPG experience. While some voices are definitely great sounding and properly acted (like the actors who voiced Georg, Ferid, and Vizel), some of them are the typical squeaky and annoying crap one would expect from a video game voice actor (like with Lyon, Lym, and Viki). So, one could say this is a step up from some games in which all voices are horrible, but it still is not great by any means. To make things a little better, only a small amount of the dialogue is actually voiced in this game.

Extra Bits

Like with all prior Suikoden games, Suikoden V offers a nice assortment of mini games as you collect recruits. However, unlike the past set of games, most of these are rather uninspired. We have such...ummm..."exciting" games as checkers. Yes...checkers. The game so beloved by Nixon that he named his dog after it (not necessarily historical fact...just the ravings of a madman).

However, there is one standout game; fishing. Unlike what many RPGs have you do, fishing is a lot more action packed and rewarding in Suikoden V. For one thing, it's not about catching a single fish in a span of several minutes, but rather about catching dozens of potential catches in a 2 minute span, while trying to out-fish one to three competitors. Also, instead of running along a shore to find an idea fishing spot, you are in a row boat that you can use to sabotage your opponents (by colliding with their boats when you think they may be making a big catch) as well as to get to where the fish are most concentrated. Best of all, you will find antiques (which could sell for large sums of potch...that's Suikoden cash) en mass.


Suikoden V is overall a really standout RPG. However, if you were not a fan of the earlier Suikodens (1-3), you should just avoid this game. Also, even if your enjoyed these past games, you must keep in mind that the first 8-10 hours are nothing short of torture. The game will greatly improve after that first stretch...but it will take some dedication and masochism on your behalf.

Beyond that small issue, the only problem this game suffers from is a lack of pausing. You will not be able to halt any scenes with spoken/voiced dialogue, and you cannot pause to issue commands in large scale combat. However, the rest of the game play is spot on, and the battle mechanics are nothing short of addictive. Plus, with some rather nice (even if they are sparse) visuals and the above average audio work, the game is a joy to play.

However, most of important is the addictive nature of the plot. Cliché it may be. The plot will always keep you wanting more, and it will deliver. Possibly the most involved and enjoyable Suikoden plot as of yet.

So, considering all of the good and the bad (the first 8 hours), I still fully recommend Suikoden V to all RPG fans. Without a doubt, Suikoden V deserves a solid 9.0 out of 10. It would have easily earned a 9.75 if not for the slow start that plagues the beginning of the game.