Despite its repulsive appearance, this is a great classic
Suikoden is an RPG released by Konami on the Play Station, at the very beginning of the console's lifetime.
It's true Konami's mainstream was not into developing RPGs, but unlike what most people seems to be thinking, Suikoden is not the first step of Konami into the genre.
Konami already developed the Esper Dream
series and Lagrange Point
long before Suikoden came out. However, Suikoden is the first Konami RPG to have been exported outside of Japan, and that has gained some popularity.
The story of this game is really amazing, and is without a doubt it's first selling point. You start the game as the son of a general of the empire, and you end up having to rebel against the empire for a very good reason. If you have ever seen Star Wars, you know what to expect here.
However, the story is made so interesting because of the many different characters, multiple races and nations, and plot twists. Technically this game has almost a hundred of playable characters, although only about 20 of them are interesting and somewhat developed, it's still more than the majority of games. The story is more serious than what you'll find in other games, more than one good character dies along the story, in short, the story feels real.
This game is totally addictive. I had a hard time to stop playing, and I would come back to my console as soon as possible to continue to play Suikoden. This game and it's universe have an indescribable appeal.
Something I really appreciated very much is that, unlike too many RPGs around, this game does not require any level grinding - even if you want to bring a character you didn't use before that is - say - level 15, and that your main party is level 40, all you'll have to do is bring him along somewhere where you're supposed to be level 40, and he'll be level 38 after literally two fights, and level 40 after maybe five fights, which is amazing. This basically saves this game from the mediocrity it could have been if it tried to be like some other RPGs where they suppose you to waste hours just to levels your characters up or to farm money or rare items. I also liked the fact the battles are fast paced, if you're in an area with easy monsters you can close a fight in 15 seconds, no loading times, no crap.
Another nice feature is the weapon forging system. Each character (of the 100 playable ones) has a weapon level, and you don't improve it's attack power by buying a newer, more powerful weapon, but instead you just spend money at a blacksmith's shop to improve the level of the weapon. The game also prevents you to be overpowered, as only very competent blacksmiths (which are found in the towns discovered later in the story) can forge your weapons to higher levels. This system just works very well in the game. Armours and accessories are bought and equipped as regular items though.
The music of this game is really great. Sadly the battle theme and victory theme are mediocre, but all the other songs found in this game are varied, well suited to the situation they're heard in, well composed, and CD-quality. It's not as amazing as the music from, say, Final Fantasy games or Castlevania games, but it's still very nice.
The fact you can "build" your own castle and recruit people which will work in it is a very nice idea, and is a great source of fun. The music that plays in your castle is also the best you'll find in the game in my opinion, which is good as you'll spend a lot of time here.
This game has quite a few flaws. Even if, luckily, all of them are quite easy to get used to after a while, so that they don't ruin the experience this game provides.
The worst flaw of this game is, without a doubt, the graphics. They are horrible, repulsive, and even after you get used to them they are still confusing. True, this game was released in 1995, but Chrono Trigger and Seiken Densetsu 3, which were both released the same year on an inferior system, looks WAY better than this game.
The sprites for the characters are mostly non recognisable, the background is so terrible you can't tell apart walls, grounds and roofs of buildings.
The graphics in battle are a pathetic attempt at simulating 3D with 2D sprites. The sprites are resized with a poor algorithm so that they constantly look all blocky and pixelated.
The only thing graphic wise which stands out is the characters' mugshots, which are arguably the best graphics you'll get in this game. Still they look bad, you can't tell men and women apart (the only way is to take them to the bath in your castle, and it only work for playable characters), and half of the characters looks like total alcoholics.
The game feels very rushed overall. Not only the graphics are terrible, but also there is a total lack of any FMVs, the intro scene is just a clip showing off in-game videos, which is one of the cheapest idea they could have. On the playfield you can't walk diagonally, which feels retarded on a 32-bit system.
The battle system was extremely simple, and for the most part, uninteresting. You'll only use "attack" and healing items 99.9% of the time. The other option is called "Rune", which is magic in this game. Runes are items you can "link" to characters. Unfortunately you can only link a single rune at a time on a characters, and most attacks are not stronger than a physical attack while being very limited (you can only use them several time in the game). The hero's rune is hardwired to a death/dark elemental rune which has instant death attacks, completely useless against bosses which are of course protected against them.
The hero's weapon is a wooden stick. At first I though it was the worst weapon in the game and that he'd get something more interesting later on, but he doesn't. You'll have to spend the entire game with this wooden stick. Isn't that the most ridiculous weapon ever for an hero ?
I appreciate Konami's effort to introduce mini-games, but to be honest they're just lame. Most of them are based on pure gambling and there is this an annoying country music which makes you feel like the mini-game supposes you to have fun when it's not fun at all. The fact a few of those minigames are compulsory along the storyline (and that you're forced to win them - by pure luck) doesn't help.
I really hated how you had to get back to the overworld by foot after beating a dungeon. There is a talisman item which is supposed to get you instantaneously out of dungeons, but it simply never works ! Why make such an item if it never works ?
The only place where you don't have to do get back by foot (the story scene teleports you out automatically) is where there is an inaccessible chest at the end of the dungeon. If you want to get the chest, be ready to do the entire dungeon 2 more times (forwards and backwards) again ! Oh yeah !
The Bottom Line
Suikoden has all the elements needed to make a bad game : Unoriginal story based on an evil empire you have to defeat, horrible graphics, mediocre battle system, bad battle music, lack of cool spells, no FMVs, corny design choices.
In fact if someone were to say Suikoden is a bad game I would perfectly understand their point of view.
However for some reason, Suikoden just happens to be fun to play. I loved to play it and I was addicted. I'm almost sad I finished the game, and I'll definitely have to play the sequels, as the story of this game ends with a hook. The Suikoden series is apparently a true series where the plot gets continued, not a concept series like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.
In short I recommend this game for fans of old-style, 2D RPGs, as it's quite unique and can be considered a gem. However this game is not for everyone, and definitely not for the general public who is asking for pretty graphics.