RPG Review #81: Suikoden Tactics

NuMetalManiak So here comes another one for the road ahead. There's a double meaning to that statement, because depending on how things end up going in my life, this may very well be the actual last RPG I review. I will be moving soon, as in literally two days from now, and I may not have the kind of setup to continue my RPG escapades. Obviously I wanted to take my time with this, but eventually, I rushed forth and finally completed Suikoden Tactics, a game that expands a bit more on the storyline in Suikoden IV and leaves Suikoden V as the last in the series I have to play (maybe I'll play Tierkreis, or not). And yes, Junko Kuwano produced this one. Not like people would care but fans of the series like me obviously have to in some way.

Gameplay: So if you are familiar with Final Fantasy Tactics or any turn-based strategy RPG then this game plays out a lot like it, obviously taking in elements of the previous Suikoden games. Characters have set move values, set attacks, accuracy, and skills. Yes, skills, which up to now only were in Suikoden III, make a return here, and they are as important as need be. Other stuff that carries over are the kinds of shops and dungeons, some of which are familiar locales from Suikoden IV. This being a tactical RPG, there's no actual exploration inside these places. Traveling apparently takes days, which basically correspond to the five elements in the Suikoverse, and may impact some things (and a certain character too).

So battles. As I said, movement, accuracy, skills, attacks, and also runes as well. A notable change is that physical attacking runes like the Viper rune use up MP this time around, not just the magic runes. There is spell charge-up time for high-end spells, something that hasn't been seen since III. Like other tactical RPGs I'm familiar with, this one holds victory and defeat conditions, and even has helper icons, not that most people would care about them later on. Unites are a thing here, but to get them, there's a feature known as talking, which involves closely-related characters being together on the battlefield. Eventually, a unite can be pieced together, although it too may have set conditions. Talking increases what's known as Good Will, allowing for character protection and assists sometimes. Another new thing are mounts. There's these things called Kangacorns and Giant Owls which some character can mount, boosting mobility and other stats, but preventing skills or other things.

The game can get rough, especially with level-scaling. There's opportunities to hunt monsters and take sidequests, staples in the franchise and the best ways to get experience, money, and skill points. There's an entire quest guild for sidequests, some of which involve dispatching non-story related characters to do things, or those that are getting certain items. Quest ranks increase with each successful quest. I did mention non-story related characters, some of them join after the quest is completed. But the most important thing to note is the permadeath aspect is in full effect for such characters, so there should be some carefulness in using them on missions.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this game is terrain. Each character in the game has a specific innate element, like the main character has fire for example. This makes him strong against wind but weak against water. But for terrain, there are ways to make the terrain a certain element, so strengthen a fire element character by laying fire terrain, or weaken him with water. This is often the deciding factor for a lot of battles in the game. Grade: A-

Characters: Because Suikoden Tactics uses a wide range of characters from Suikoden IV returners to new characters, I'll list them in two separate fashions.

The returning characters include Adrienne, Akaghi, Ameria, Axel, Brandeau, Carrie, Cedric, Champo, Charlemagne, Chiepoo, Dario, Ema, Eugene, Flare, Frederica, Funghi, Gary, Gretchen, Hero IV (Lazlo), Hervey, Jeane, Jeremy, Jewel, Karl, Katarina, Kate, Keneth, Kevin, Kiko, Lino, Maxine, Millay, Mitsuba, Mizuki, Nalkul, Nalleo, Noah, Pablo, Pam, Paula, Rachel, Reinhold, Rene, Rita, Schtolteheim Reinbach III, Selma, Setsu, Sigurd, Snowe, Tal, Trishtan, Wendel, and Yu.

Some of these characters are storyline-related, like Lino and Flare, but most are actually killable characters. A few have been demoted to NPC status, but a small chunk of them are actually support characters that do not actually have combat characteristics. Rene is an example, as she can be put on the battlefield for treasure hunting, but only that. Only Nalleo has been upgraded to playable fighter status. This game also has the old save bonus feature from Suikoden IV, and is the only way to get Hero IV (Lazlo) and Snowe in the game. Now for the new characters.

Kyril: The main hero of the game, and actually one who speaks for once (although Mona Marshall is not the best voice actor). He comes with a unique, but not true rune, known as the Swallow, and is naturally decent all around. Except against fish monsters, in which he can never actually kill them for some reason.
Andarc Bergman: He's a lightning mage, but can survive better than other ones. With Kyril for the entire game.
Seneca: She's a crossbow wielder and is also with Kyril since the beginning of the game.
Yohn: She's this weird goat thing that's actually silent but follows Kyril's group.
Walter: Kyril's father, whose mission is the main plot point.
Edgar: Temporarily playable in one mission along with Brandeau, he's the head pirate and Kika's lover.
Peck: He actually appeared in Suikoden IV, but was unnamed. Here, he's Brandeau's lackey.
Steele: A rogue pirate who wears a large crown as if he was "Pirate King". Actually pretty dangerous.
Lalacle: She opens a Quest Guild office where the player can do the quests. She's actually playable in the New Game+ as a fist fighter.
Corselia: She's the daughter of Kooluk Prince Martin and journeys with Kyril as a citizen. She's a water mage.
Heinz: An officer for the Scarlet Moon Empire, who joins along with Coop, but is unplayable.
Coop: Wields a two-handed sword in battle.
Simeon: He's a mysterious mage whose interested in opening up dimensional portals of sorts.
Roget: Although an enemy for most of the game, he gets betrayed and winds up on Kyril's side. Surprisingly the only wind mage in this game. Also he has a ghastly British accent.
Busk: A stubborn kind of guy in the Kooluk Imperial family, but he joins soonafter. Wields a spear.
Ornela: Another member of the Kooluk imperial family, she and her brother Busk are late to join but pretty good with spears.
Martin: He's the Prince of Kooluk, and although he's not playable, he's a beast in combat.
Iskas: A dealer in Rune Cannons, but his silver hair gives him away as a villain it seems.
Red Mercenary: A swordsman.
Blue Mercenary: A spearman.
Yellow Mercenary: A bowman.
Mercenary Leader: A mage. Also an elf. These four mercenaries show up as enemies frequently, but can be recruited after their final sidequest should a certain merchant's worth be extremely high.

So again, lots of characters, but no penalties for characters who die unless you like using those characters. Many of the newer ones I mentioned are plot-related, so they are not killable. Some I mentioned are villains, but like every Suikoden game, there's tons of strength in these characters, and many of them even have good will with each other allowing for more background and stuff. Grade: A+

Plot: This is one of those games which is told in a storybook with chapters. That makes it easier for me to figure out which chapter is what.
Long Ago in Razril: This obviously takes place in Razril, before the plot of Suikoden IV. We see a little Snowe and Lazlo (who TALKS! YES!) on a furball patrol of sorts, then they run into Walter's group, who apparently caught sight of a fishman. Walter tries to find clues for later.
A Chance Encounter at Sea: At Middleport, Walter requests information on the rune cannons. Yep, that's the main plot of this game, the rune cannons and their abilities. Sigurd is present as a liaison for Schtolteheim Reinbach II, but doesn't agree to what Walter wants. Walter wants to meet with the pirate Steele, and his group gets Hervey to help them, only for them to be ambushed by Sigurd. Then they all get ambushed by Steele, who in turn gets ambushed by Edgar, Brandeau, and Kika. It's all very complex.
The Final Showdown with Steele: This is probably the most important chapter here. Walter and Andarc agree to go with Edgar and Brandeau to track down Steele, telling Seneca and Kyril to stay behind. Kyril decides to stowaway to help in the fight, but witnesses the tragedy when Walter gets close to the Rune Cannon. He is turned into a fish monster because of it, and loses his human thinking in the process. Andarc slays him to protect Kyril, but it's a very nasty scene overall. With Peck checking the rune cannon under Brandeau's orders, Edgar and Brandeau finish fighting Steele, who then uses the Rune of Punishment. This kills Edgar, as well as Steele himself, showing exactly how Brandeau got the Rune of Punishment for Suikoden IV. Peck has been turned into some imp creature, and he's in fact the nameless assassin by Brandeau's side in the other game.
Three Years Later: During those three years, Kyril's group is out of commission, and the entire plot of Suikoden IV occurs during this time period. The story picks up after that. Kyril, now leading the group, gets some work done, then they come into contact with Iskas, who tells them about Rune Cannons and how he's a dealer in them.
What Lies Beneath the Surface: Kyril's group runs into Pablo in the underground path here. He tells them about how the creator of the rune cannons (Warlock from Suikoden IV) is gone and that there aren't any down in this path. He does mention the giant tree (the final boss in Suikoden IV), and there's a convenient branch here.
The Evil Eye: Kyril takes the branch back to Iskas, who accompanies them with a few merchants to the underground laboratory. A new passage leads to a shoreline, where a large monster turns the merchants into fishmen, traumatizing Kyril. The others manage to get him away, but Iskas' whereabouts are unknown.
The Nest of Pirates: Dario accompanies Kyril's group to the nest only to find it under attack from Kooluk thugs under Roget. Kika and Nalleo do their best at fighting them off too, but in the end, the rune cannons the pirates have are taken.
Obel Palace: This incredibly short chapter has us back at Obel Palace, where Kika reports to Lino. Akaghi and Mizuki also join. No combat in this chapter.
The Ruins of War: A lot of sidequests can be done here, but obviously what the chapter entitles is to go back to El-Eal, the final area from Suikoden IV. It's being rebuilt and the party fights off Busk here. Akaghi and Mizuki leave here.
The Town of Merseto: Apart from one group of bandits, the action takes place in a town. A very disturbing scene happens here where a merchant actually kills a poor kid with people watching. Kyril's group saves the other kid there and he goes off.
An Old Acquaintance: The group meets up with Roget again at El-Eal, apparently trying to control fishmen. Yep. Also Akaghi and Mizuki rejoin Kyril's group with about seven familiar characters after the battle. Iskas also shows up, apparently alive, and tells the group to go to Caleron.
The Road to Caleron: The group is ambushed by Prince Martin, apparently framed as kidnappers.
The Laboratory: Whole lot of plot here. We meet Corselia, who joins here, and fight off more fishmen. Roget eventually shows up and is fought again, and Iskas appears showing off his true colors. He also has Corselia's mother as a prisoner, or rather, she had an affair with him.
Out to Get the Outlaws: This chapter has us mostly dealing with some bounty hunter in the plains. Heinz and Coop join up here.
Hope in Haruna: Corselia suggests trying to see Simeon, a sorceror, who is held up in Haruna by Kooluk forces. Also Heinz wishes to kidnap Corselia for the Scarlet Moon Empire, but Coop disagrees and Corselia overheard the whole thing.
Bordering on Destruction: At a small border village, the group meets Frederica. There's several Kooluk rune cannons here. Paula, Jewel, and Selma join this fight on giant owls.
The Hammer Comes Down: Iskas has framed Kyril's group for the assassination of the Kooluk emperor and the kidnapping of Corselia, even though she is just joining with them. Prince Martin fights the group for Corselia, then duels Kyril to determine whether he's fit to protect her. After Kyril wins this duel, Martin goes to find Iskas, with Kyril's group following.
The Imperial City of Graska: Martin, being the first to arrive, gets caught by Iskas, while Kyril's group gets ambushed by Kooluk thugs of two factions. Busk and Ornela realize what's going on and join up. Lino also helps the group out directly, and it is also possible to recruit Roget, who gets betrayed by Iskas due to being unable to control a lot of fishmen. To make matters worse, Martin has been turned into a fishmen, and is killed by Kyril to protect Corselia.
A Palace Stained in Blood: Things aren't good for Corselia, as her grandfather Emperor Julius is also turned into a fishmen and dies. A lot of Kooluk soldiers also get turned into fish and attack the party. A large eye fish is the main boss here.
A Parting of Ways: Heinz wants to go back to Scarlet Moon but both Kyril and Coop disagree. Because of this, Heinz gets killed offscreen and the group fights off more members of Kooluk's Patriarchal faction.
A Warrior's Reckoning: The Secret Patriarchal Facility functions as the final place in the game, and we finally fight Iskas here. After the first fight, Miranda, Corselia's mother, shows up and stabs Iskas, but gets killed by a spell from him in turn. Iskas then uses the Evil Eye to turn into a giant fish himself, but in the end, he gets taken down like any other villain. Kyril has a moment when Yohn enters a void and follows her.
A World Apart: One last battle, Kyril vs. the Evil Eye in a weird world. Afterwards, it's revealed that Walter and Yohn were a couple, and that Yohn is Kyril's mother. Kyril does manage to make it back to the real world alive too, and now he journeys off on his own.

So that was Suikoden Tactics plot. Interesting in a lot of areas, numerous characters get invited or killed, more get turned into crazed fishmen. It's a lot more nightmarish than it sounds. But it's still servicable for a plot without going too far off any mark. Grade: B+

Music: Ah yes, the returning tracks from Suikoden IV. They are indeed back, some remixed, but again, music has always been a Suikoden game's strong point. The new tracks for the Kooluk areas are great too. I guess I can do without some of the shop themes, and a certain theme for hunting monsters got on my nerves every hour I played in that region. Still, Tactics has some decent tracks. Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

With an old save bonus from Suikoden IV, lots of character supports, a nightmarish plot, and decent gameplay, Suikoden Tactics is pretty good overall. Whether or not I continue to review RPGs depends exactly on what I might do from the two days onward. Having to move away from the home my parents had means a lot to me, but I have decided to go and hopefully have a certain kind of freedom. I just hope it isn't gonna be detrimental.