February 8, 2014

Suikoden Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki Review

Posted in video games tagged , , at 9:23 am by riulyn

*Only got 92 of 108 Stars but don’t believe it makes a major difference in the game overall*

In short, I enjoyed this game but it wasn’t amazing. Still, it’s a solid RPG that would be worthy of localization, even if it really shouldn’t be called “Suikoden”.

The Game Overall
For me, this non-localized Suikoden game on PSP took me 80-some hours. For people who don’t spend time looking up Kanji and who don’t spend a bunch of time just wandering around trying to find recruits, I can see this game being more like 40 hours long. It’s not short per se but it is quite text-heavy. As expected with most Suikoden games, the plot is very linear. The battle system is turn-based with the up to 6 battle members belonging to one of 9 fighting types. The only big twist on the usual TBB is the fact that you cannot use “normal” items in battle, or more importantly, your healers are the only ones who can heal in battle using specialized healing items that your crew of craftsmen have made. The “skill” system of the game is basically combined with recruitment/Stars of Destiny (SOD). Your crew of “36” in the present is replicated twice; this means 2-4 skills/craftsman (depends on how you let them inherit skills) and 6 skills/fighter (because fighters can learn from each other). The game skimps a bit on the dungeon sizes; some places are only one screen long. Enemies are on screen but they respawn, so level-grinding is easy to do (also people gain levels rather quickly in my opinion). For those people who need a bit of a guide to remember where to go, the game gives you a handy red flag indicating the target destination. It also lets you know the location of a newly-planted Time Tree. Towns are basically select a location, see a static image of a townsperson in a building with a few exceptions. Towns are where you can buy items for cooking or for your craftsmen to use for making items as well as armor and weapons. Finally, the game has voice-acting for most of the plot-relevant dialogue and a bit for SOD recruitment. I think the voice acting is quite good. There are a few anime movies as well; these unfortunately don’t have subtitles but on the other hand it’s usually pretty easy to see what is going on in them.

The Story and Characters
I’ll try not to spoil too much here (also the accuracy of the plot written here is subject to my ability to understand Japanese, so caution is warranted), but there will be early hour spoilers for sure. Basically every hundred years there are these horrible monsters called “Teras Farm” that attack. You live in the year 300 and so Teras Farm attack your village. While trying to escape you meet a mysterious man named Zephon by the Tree near your village. The tree for some reason is in full bloom, and when you touch it, you get sent back 100 years. Thus starts the story of traveling back in the past to help change the reality of the present world as well as unveil the true mystery behind these centennial-appearing monsters.

To be honest, the story seems kind of stupid at first. I still don’t think they do the best job with time-traveling as a concept, but I think they did a good job unveiling the mystery. I think, however, because of that a few personalities had to be sacrificed a bit. The Ionia Empire is also an interesting place; it’s not so unified after all and you get to meet members from its military in all 3 time periods. However, I can’t say the game did a great job incorporating the large cast into the story. Even among the auto-recruited characters (40-ish I think), only 10 or so of them really seem relevant to the plot throughout the game. There’s nothing wrong per se with someone being important at the beginning and then being replaced, but the game started off rather strong with the group dynamics and then in the middle really became just about you and your strategist. Towards the end certain later-recruited characters have a big impact. Still, I would have liked some more interactions between the later members with the earlier ones. You can get some extra character dialogue when you have meals at your base. I don’t know the conditions for unlocking all of them (I’ve mostly managed to get ones due to mixing newly recruited characters with people that should have something to say to them). This, and bringing the appropriate characters for SOD recruitment, are the only ways to get optional character dialogue.

Overall I think the plot is better-developed then a lot of other JRPGs. The plot moves at a good pace, albeit with a lot of dialogue in comparison to battling. I don’t think the mystery was obvious at first, either. It does have the stereotypical “shonen protagonist” that wants to try to save everyone, even his enemies, but he is more wishful than stubbornly adhering to those principles. The characters seem like a good bunch but I wish they were actually involved more. Or if not, I wish there were a few more things I could learn about them optionally.

The Battle System
18 battle characters out of the 108, able to fill 6 slots that can be arranged on a 3×3 grid. That’s because the other 36 SODs with battle skills can pass down one skill each. The other core 18 is of your 36 x 3 is craftsmen and cooks. Yes, 12 slots are given to cooks.

The 18 battle characters are really 2 of each of the 9 fighting types: swordsmen, lancers, fighters, ninjas, archers, magicians, hexers, healers, and bards. Because your characters of the same class can inherit from each other, they aren’t really that different from each other. Except some have way more plot relevance than others, and some have a lot less health than their counterparts. Disappointingly, the female fighters are almost all weaker than their male counterparts (significantly less HP, attack power and defense) save for the Scale Hod swordswoman. I haven’t done a complete comparison of male vs female in the character stats department, but I definitely noticed the female characters “dying” more often. And you can’t revive anyone in battle except with your healer if they happen to have the item that can revive people.

So yes, battle items make or break your healers, hexers, and magicians. Your archers are still okay even without fire and poison arrows, but the normal attack of your hexers and magicians is quite low compared to the skill-based attacks that require magic stones. These magic stones can have 1 of 6 properties; the magicians have the elements (aka fire, water) and the hexers have the status effects. Because they really need skills in order to do damage, not recruiting the SODs that gift them the skills really hurts their usefulness. Aka I didn’t recruit the hexers of the past so my battle hexers weren’t so useful. Meanwhile my magicians kicked major ass; I used both of them in the last stage.

Your healers are super important, though. They can do a traditionally HP heal with a low and a high-HP restoring item, but they can also cure status ailments, revive people, restore their “stamina”, and do a sixth thing that I never figured out – could be a regen of sorts? I didn’t find that item necessary at least.

Which brings me to “stamina” (not sure if that is the correct translation). These are the points needed to perform attacks and skills. You start the battle with 50 and regenerate 20 points every turn. However skills take from 20-50 points each. Regular attacks cost 5 points and defending costs nothing unless you choose “big defend”. I think defend also makes the player’s next turn show up slightly earlier; there is no gauge for you to figure out who’s turn will come next (at least none that I know of).

The final important battle mechanic is the “pair-up” system. This does not affect how you take damage but is important for learning skills. Basically when you pair up two people of the same class with one being the “teacher” and the other the student, you have the additional command where your teacher “shows” the student how to do the skill. This results in the teacher and the student performing the same skill but with the student doing it with greatly reduced power. When acquiring a skill from a SOD in the past, you will usually only need to “be shown” how to do a skill 3-4 times; when it is among your 18 it can be as many as 50 times (2% mastery per use) or as little as 10. Of course, the pair can also perform separate attacks, but their turn will always show up at the same time.

But yeah, overall the battle system is decent. However, I wish it was made up of 18+ unique battle characters instead of 2×9.

Other
Music is decent for this game. The graphics aren’t bad either, though dungeons are mostly small save for a few where your map barely helps you see where you are going. I found the controls for moving around (circle pad) and the camera (d pad) to take a while to get used to but they weren’t horrible. There aren’t any hard puzzles and I don’t think you can ever get stuck. Also, there aren’t any missable characters. So I guess I could get those last 16 SODs.

“Suikoden” game or not? (Spoilers but hopefully nothing major)
Of course I was the sucker who bought this game because “Suikoden” was in the title. I don’t regret the purchase but I do feel “guilty” for feeding more fuel to the war of “should this have been called a Suikoden”? To be honest, this game feels even less “Suikoden” then Suikoden Tierkreis. If you think of the real inspiration for Genso Suikoden, aka “Tales of the Water Margin”, while I haven’t read the tales I feel like the whole “war” and “rebellion” aspect is quite important to the heart of the story. Your group in this Suikoden game is “rebellious” in a very loose sense. You fight against a few groups, with the Ionia Empire probably the biggest force but even that is a mixed bag; you also work with their members as well though I guess they technically have “betrayed” the Empire. That’s the present day, of course. Game mechanics-wise, it’s completely different from all the other Suikoden games and like Tierkreis there are no special war battles or duels; a duel is just one character vs another character in the normal battle system. There is very little customization of characters as stated earlier. Your “army” is small and doesn’t feel that united. It’s more like a party of most other JRPGs, where you are the helpful third force while the other two big dogs fight each other. It doesn’t lessen the real impact of what you do, but it really doesn’t feel like the political or ideological war of previous games in the series.

Really, the the gathering of 108 stars feels a bit forced here and maybe the game would have been better off not forcing itself to have 12 cooks or so many armor-upgrading people. Recruitment scenarios give these SODs a little more than just names, but even so, there really isn’t a good sense of world history besides these 3 isolated times. Even in the past people are scattered randomly; there is no real sense of culture.

I can see why Konami called this game “Suikoden” but it really shouldn’t have been. I think people would have enjoyed the game just the same if it said “Suikoden-like focus on plot and the ability to recruit a lot of characters”. Then again, Konami really sucked at marketing “Suikoden” in the first place, but it did better than Frontier Gate at least? Which is also supposedly not so bad of a game, but it’ll be a while before I can get to it.

For those with not so hot Japanese-reading skills
If you want to understand everything that’s going on and you aren’t a master at kanji, then you better have your dictionary handy. This game uses a lot of kanji; the characters are mostly readable but some kanji were just too hard for me to figure out how to look up. No furigana.

If you just need to know where to go next or what to gather, most of those things are in Katakana and/or Kanji. The game helpfully will highlight new places/items/names in color. If you just need to find an item in an area, you have to look around the place anyway and pick up the blue spheres, so eventually you’ll pick it up. None of the puzzles require any real understanding of Japanese; you just have to say yes to putting or taking things sometimes. As mentioned earlier, the location of the next plot event is also marked by a red flag on the world map. I don’t recall if there were any tricky “you need to find this person” events. Pretty much for recruiting you select the top option, which is usually “Please” or “Let’s go”. Otherwise for plot events your answer (typical of Suikoden) doesn’t change the plot. You might want to at least figure out which line says “I need more time” or “Wait a minute” so you don’t charge into a plot event you aren’t ready for.

So yes, this is a game  you can play with beginner-level Japanese skills. However to really understand it I suggest having a good grasp on grammar so you can look up the words you don’t know. The game isn’t the greatest at reusing the same few kanji over and over; I swear I learned at least 20 different ways to say “attack”. It’s not really a beginner-friendly game in that sense. On the other hand, if you are like me and want to learn to read Japanese for Japan-only RPGs, you can still advance in the game even without understanding what’s going on for the times when you are too tired to look up words, but you might end up missing a lot of dialogue.

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