Until Nippon Ichi Software came along a couple of years ago, releasing the cult hit Disgaea, the tactical RPG was a rare breed and fans were pretty much confined to Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics. While the slew of NIS titles are quite fun, they lacked a conventional character setup, and the stories were somewhat disappointing in terms of offering something really engrossing. Now Suikoden Tactics has arrived, a unique departure in the cult series that, for the most part, delivers.
Aside from the first hour of the game, Suikoden Tactics takes place shortly after Suikoden IV, telling the story of Cyril — a boy roughly the same age as the Suikoden IV?s nameless hero — in pursuit of the deadly Rune Cannons, technology somewhat alluded to previously in the last installment. Elaboration will end there to avoid spoilers for both games, but remember that many characters, prominent and obscure alike, return in Suikoden Tactics and the plot is deep, involved, and better than Suikoden IV?s.
Gameplay is a unique combination of the standard Suikoden style combined with elements from Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, and La Pucelle Tactics. It utilizes a standard grid for battling like almost every other tactics title, but adds a strategic elemental system somewhat like La Pucelle?s. Many runes and monsters have the ability to add an element to a five-block area. In addition, each character has an innate element they are tagged by (Cyril, for instance, is fire) and should the character halt on a space of the opposing element (which occasionally seems somewhat strange), they will receive damage, while if they stop on a spot tagged in favor of them, they?ll gain health. Taking a page from Final Fantasy Tactics, there is an elaborate deployment/mission system, where a unit is temporarily sent off to do their own mission, often returning with money and items, but also opening up the chance for new units to be recruited as well. The page taken from Fire Emblem is one of the most loathsome things they could take, however. Everyone who?s played a Fire Emblem knows what this is: death. When a character dies in a battle, there is a decent chance they will never come back. While this is waived for the plot-critical characters, the majority of the forces will always have the reaper hovering over them. It also includes a ?Good Will? system, bearing a striking resemblance to Fire Emblem?s ?Support? system. This adds an interesting layer to the story, and outlines the relationships between many of the side characters. As a whole, these various elements combine nicely, and give Suikoden Tactics a nice, unique feel.
Character setup is almost identical to Suikoden IV. Each unit has one weapon that lasts them through the game, but can be frequently enhanced. The three-rune system returns, where characters can equip three items that bestow upon them magic, weapon enhancing, and other powers. The equipment setup is slightly modified, putting more emphasis on things like accessories and disposable items instead of having slots to outfit each part of the body. Also, unlike Suikoden III and IV, all the characters seem to be battle-ready, instead of simply sitting back and doing nothing. Thankfully, Co-op attacks are present and accounted for, and add further uniqueness to the genre. The greatest aspect, though, is the return of the skills system from Suikoden III. This allows characters to acquire certain skills (like counter-attacking and breaking an opponent?s guard), allowing for some deep character customization, which adds great replay value to those whose souls feel incomplete if they lack a perfect crew of units.
The only disappointing aspect to Suikoden Tactics is in the graphics department. While the series has never been heralded for its cutting edge looks, since Suikoden 1 and 2 were merely average mid-90s 2d, Suikoden III was blocky and unrealistic, and Suikoden IV looked somewhat dated, this simply isn?t acceptable. The graphics found in Suikoden Tactics would be easily replicated on the Nintendo DS, meaning it slightly exceeds N64 quality. The characters are blocky, and the terrains are not noteworthy at all. Even the character portraits are low quality, since NPCs have no eyes and seriously look like they?ve rolled in T-virus. Not that the graphics hold back the plot?s overall effectiveness, as it is engrossing from the very start. The sound isn?t particularly impressive either, but isn?t a travesty like the graphics. The majority of music is taken directly from Suikoden IV, meaning it?s got some catchy, though repetitive, tunes. Voice acting also is included, but is suspect in terms of quality, especially since many returning characters have totally different voices, which are often flat out inappropriate for the character.
Suikoden Tactics is a solid title that will bring enjoyment to almost anyone who plays it. It is a breath of fresh air for the Suikoden series, and definitely should pique the interest of tactics-lovers. For RPG gamers with a blank spot on their Christmas wish list, this is a good pick and certainly rivals the recently released Fire Emblem. Just resist the turn off coming from the graphics department, and it?ll prove to be an enjoyable game.