Reviews: Suikoden I

A good game, but not a great one.

The first Suikoden is a perfectly good JRPG. It has its massive cast of playable characters, mess of side activities and easter eggs, and interesting gameplay mixups to keep it from being bog-standard. In particular, I like the duel battles, where the player basically has to read the enemy's reaction based on their mood to beat them in Rock-Paper-scissors, and the intriguing political focus of some of the story.

However, there are still... problems. It's very newb-trap heavy, with many potentially easy mistakes getting party members killed permanently and locking out the best ending. Many characters are boring, or, worse, join your team as interesting people and then disappear from the narrative forever. The villains who swap sides are a particular wasted opportunity. And the "army battles" are just kinda lame, exercises in guessing and picking the biggest numbers over and over again.

Worst of all, the story is very... uneven. It tries, bless its heart, to be a large-scale version of a traditional JRPG, with huge armies clashing and the fate of nations not being completely decided by small bands of scrappy adventurers, but, at the end of the day, it is also a game where your party gets tied up in a giant tree in a forest that gets set on fire with a giant magnifying glass so that we can all learn the important lesson that Racism Is Bad. I would say it's generally more in the higher-minded Final Fantasy mode than the conservative Dragon Quest one. The setting is intriguingly ambiguous, giving the impression of only being a small corner of a larger world, and it's refreshing. And there's a lot of backstory more complex than "A long time ago there was a Bad Man and he did Bad Things but no worries, I'm sure he'll neeeeeever get out." I just wish the serious tone and deeper story elements got more play, and the sillier town-by-town adventuring elements got less.

Still, at the end of the day, Suikoden is still a fine JRPG that succeeds in breaking the mold in a few places, even if the limits of its courage and ambition are obvious. It's cheap, too, if you own something that can buy it on PSN. Just make sure you have a walkthrough handy so you don't miss anybody!
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