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My Top 100's Lost but Not Forgotten: Suikoden IV Part 2 ~ Suikoden Tactics

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So in my last blog, I talked about the black sheep numbered entry of the Suikoden franchise, Suikoden IV. Today, we're going to look at Rhapsodia, better known as Suikoden Tactics in the West. Tactics is a gaiden title that serves as both prequel/sequel side story to Suikoden IV. What makes it really standout is that the game is no longer a turn-based RPG about collecting 108 heroes, but instead a Tactical Turn Based RPG a la Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, and Disgaea fame.
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The game begins a few years before the events of IV, and stars a boy named Kyril who is on a journey with his father Walter and their entourage which includes his two body guards and wards of Walter Seneca and Andarc, as well as the mysterious goat woman Yohn who can speak with the dead. The group hails from the Scarlet Moon Empire and have been sent to the Island Nations on a secret mission to discover the secret to the regions powerful Rune Cannon technology. While there, they encounter young versions of Lazlo and Snowe in the back streets of Razril and end up gaining the ire of Reinbach II smuggling business. These turn of event lead Walter and his team to work with pirates of the region, namely Brandeau, Kika, and Edgar. They come into conflict with the dread pirate Steele who is the current possessor of the Rune of Punishment. The whole exchange ends with the deaths of Steele, Edgar, and Walter; Brandeau being cursed with the Rune of Punishment; the discovery that Rune Cannons have a side effect of causing people to transform into monstrous fish men monsters; and finally Kyril gaining a massive phobia against killing fish men that is going to make you hate the guy for half the game.
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The game picks up several years later after the events of SIV, Kyril is now a teenager still trying to lead the investigation and trying to pick up the cold leads his father uncovered before the Island Liberation War upset the region. Kyril meets a strange arms dealer named Iksas who helps lead them to the discovery that the Rune Cannons are made from the repurposed remains of monsters from the World of Emptiness that were summoned to their world for alchemical experimentation. Things become more complicated when Kyril's team rescue a young girl named Cordelia that Iksas is after. Turns out Cordelia is the youngest daughter of the prince of Kooluk and that Iksay is a member of the Patriarichal Faction of Kooluk which is made up of the elected political officials of the empire whom are trying to wrestle control from the Imperial Faction that controls the empire through right of their bloodline. Iksas plans on using Cordelia and his knowledge of Rune Cannons to win this civil war himself.
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Kyril and his team are caught in the middle but gain some help from the new Island Nations who have been keeping an eye on the boiling political climate of their adversary to the north. Of course not helping things is the Scarlet Moon Empire's own interference who learned that Walter had gone rogue concerning the original mission before his death and now are trying to manipulate Kyril and hit team to follow through with their real task: industrial espionage.
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Suikoden Tactics' story has a lot going on for it, which is pretty standard for the tactical RPG genre. But sadly, it also falls into a lot of the problems I find with it as well. Namely, the game has an A Plot, and a B Plot, and one is way more interesting than the other, but the game largely focuses on the least interesting one. In this case, the political intrigue of Kooluk and it's eventual implosion due to in-fighting between the factions of the government often takes a serious backseat to wandering around aimlessly looking for those gosh darn dangerous Rune cannons that turn people into fish monsters. In fact what is really annoying is that the Rune Cannons on their own are already a dangerous weapon, but the party and main villain seems more obsessed with the rune cannons side effects than just using it. The allegory to nuclear weapons and radiation are as subtle as a brick to the face in this game, and its here the game loses some of its momentum and logic. In fact, its kind of strange how the main villain utilizes the side effect in his grand scheme of things to ursurp the royal family when it probably would have been faster to just use the actual weapon itself.
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The court intrigue is fascinating, especially as you slowly get to see more of Kooluk unfold, but the game just never wants to focus on it and instead keeps dragging us back to those silly Demon Eyes and fish people. Yet there is some good content here as well with Kooluk having an internal struggle between its two main political factions with one being there by birth right and the other restricted to being elected officials tired of having the country dragged into conflicts because of the inept royal family. The royals are certainly misguided but are also treated as pretty decent figures in the story, not being as bloodthirsty as Luca Blight, but not also being so ideologically singular in their goals like the Godwins in SV.
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There is also a subplot dealing with the Scarlet Moon Empire's stake in all this which sadly never gets as much time to develop as I would hope, but its addition is some of the game's more intriguing political fun. Much like its other half, Suikoden IV, there is a real sense that this game got seriously edited down before release for some reason. Whereas we could say SIV had a budgeting issue, ST doesn't feel quite the same. I imagine the story's obsession with its poor allegory was largely boosted to appeal more with the domestic market and thus the B-plot was never given much attention outside of being a framing device as normal. Yet I stand by the fact that I feel the game would have worked better had the Rune cannon thing be the framing device for the more richly inspired political narrative at play here.
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On the gameplay front, we run also into a very mixed bag of ideas and concepts that had the potential to be amazing, but terrible decisions and some poor foresight ultimately cripple it. For the most part, Suikoden's basic mechanics blend perfectly with the Tactical RPG genre, maybe even more so than Final Fantasy and its tactical series. The easy magic system, Co-op attacks, and large "gotta catch em all" recruitment mechanics are a perfect match for a genre that likes large army battles and works best with simple but deep customization options.
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The game also took some notes from the reception of SIV and brought back a huge swatch of Runes from the earlier games, finally giving the cast of characters more personality. In addition the rules of the genre helped to really give more meaning to characters based on their weapon and class types with melee and mages having a more distinct split and different melee weapons having more nuance and use with spear users having range advantage, axe/greatsword users being slower and having lower accuracy, and single sword users being the basic generic unit that's good at everything but excels at nothing. Once you really start recruiting people and playing around with them, it becomes really easy to see how perfect Suikoden is for this genre. As a side note, this game also brings back one of my favorite fetures from the early games and takes Suikoden II as the best example. You can load a Suikoden IV safe file into the game to get a few bonuses, the biggest one being bale to recruit the main hero of SIV, Lazlo into your party who has his game breaking True Rune. You also get Snowe but not every Save data thing is a winner.
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Three new elements were added for this game compared to the mainline series. The first is the Buddy System, certain characters who have story significance with each other tend to get some nice bonuses when working together which can be further boosted by using the talk command within battles. Buddy's may take a fatal blow for an ally or most often do a follow up attack with them if they are close to each other on the field. This really adds some nice depth along with Co-op attacks for team builds as not everyone can be a buddy to everyone else and certain characters tend to work best with a buddy with them.
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The game also brings in Mounts, which is not necessarily new to Suikoden but was always much more insular in those series with only certain characters being able to take advantage of it. Tactics brings in several types of mounts like Kagacorns and Giant Owls which help add some variety to battles and help you get around the game's large maps much faster. Even better is that some of the game's new runes involve the Mounts and add even further specialization and customization. It's really easy to ignore these elements but they are actually pretty useful, especially because maps and party sizes tend to be quite huge in this game.
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The biggest addition in the game is the element system, which is easily the most important tactical tool at your disposal. Every character and monster is aligned with one of the series six main elements. Using magic or certain co-op attacks can endow the map with one of these six elements. If a character of the same element is standing on these squares, then they get an overall boost to their attack and defense as well as a regen effect at the end of battle. If they are the opposing element, well obviously the opposite happens with a stat debuff and poison effect instead. So a huge part of battle is trying to control this element field effect. Most runes now offer an ability that simply changes the tiles around a character to the runes element affinity, and bosses can be won or lost by not paying enough attention to this. The computer A.I. is very quick to abuse element field effects as well and I don't need to tell you that a boss with hundreds of HP getting 10% of their health back every turn is a bad thing. There are also special wisp enemies who are simply a moving spiritual embodiment of these elements who change the tiles field effect wherever they move, so keep an eye on them, especially since killing one will have them explode and change a huge chunk of the map to their element.
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Runes have also been expanded for melee classes as most runes now have three skills instead of just one and if you want to see the real Falcon Rune, you'll need to keep Kika properly leveled to unlock that third skill slot. These expanded abilities give the classes a lot of options for the most part with a few glaring exceptions. Spear and Archer classes are especially wrecking balls in this game.
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Besides a huge chunk of new and old runes coming back, the game also brings back Suikoden III's skill system. It has been overhauled to be far more balanced, and feels a bit closer to the new skill system added to the remake of Tactics Ogre on the PSP, in that most of the skills are absolutely imperative to success in the game as having low accuracy or critical hit scores can spell the difference between being a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield or a complete liability. Unfortunately, unlike Suikoden III and frankly the main line series in general, leveling up characters is pretty time consuming int his game and while there are plenty of side missions and quest to do so, its still daunting with a cast of around 40 playable characters to fully outfit and level properly.
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This kind of brings me to some of the game-play's biggest Achilles' heel in terms of some bad design choices that do more harm than good. The first issue is the heavy handed segregation of the games unit types. There are three unit types characters are categorized into. Melee, Mage, and Support. The first two are pretty self-explanatory but; support classes can't use magic or fight in battles. Instead they have supportive or non-combat roles which range from pure healers like the two doctor recruits, to stat boosting or item mule. The most important one is probably Rene who was attached to a treasure hunting mini-game in Suikoden IV. In this entry, she has a similar role, basically being a unit who can find hidden items on the map. She's actually very important for a few missions involving the game's big optional dungeon. Support units are not the problem is, it's the heavy segregation between Melee and Mages from what what most players know from the main series.
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Basically, in the main game, outside of available rune slots and weapon specific runes, you had free range to equip a character with any rune and many characters often fell into a red mage style classification. In this game, the only magic rune melee classes can use are the Elemental weapon runes which simply add an elemental property to their weapon or give them defensive bonuses against certain elements. Likewise, Mages are the only classes that can use actual spell runes. Where the problem lies is that his seriously hurts a chunk of the recruitable party. While Suikoden IV is hardly the worst offender of this issue, the game has a serious overabundance of 1h sword users as recruits, and their weapon specific Viper Rune is garbage. This leaves a lot of these characters kind of feeling like a copy/paste job and when I get to the later issue, you'll see the real issue here. So unless the character is fortunate to have some good Buddy partners or happens to be one of the rare characters who can use the Mount creature runes, these characters tend to be all the same in their builds with a few minor exceptions. These guys make up a rather large portion of the recruitable class so its easy to start ignoring a lot of them since most players will likely just stick to the early ones since they've had more time to be leveled and geared properly. What's even more annoying is if you us
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The true issue with the game is perma-death and its poor execution within the game. You can tell the devs were looking at Fire Emblem when making this game. I have no real problem with perma-death the issue is that it only affects non-story characters. Plot relevant character can never die, and you get more than you need in this game to make a full team. Now there is a skill that lowers the likelihood of a character ding, but that uses up a precious skill slot that story characters can use to make themselves more powerful. So yeah... what's the point in recruiting a large cast of samey style characters who can always be potentially killed when the game hands you a dozen overpowered story characters who can't? Even worse is that the game's two hidden characters being Lazlo from SIV and the Quest Guild leader are horribly overpowered and also have perma-death immunity. Seriously, once Lazlo is recruited, there is never a reason to have him leave the team. His true rune is a beast, and unlike other melee characters, he can still use the magic from his run like in the main game, though he still can't use other magic runes.
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Another minor gripe is the VA work. While most of the original cast return for better of for worse, Konami of America definitely cut some corners here. Kyril is voiced by Mona Marshall, who is a very talented voice actress who also voiced Izzy on Digimon and Musashi in Brave Fencer Musashi. She often voices young boy characters. Works great in the first third of the game when Kyril is a little boy, feels a bit awkward when after the time skip, he sounds like he hasn't had puberty yet. Again, a minor gripe, but it does get irritiating since he talks a whole lot more more after the time skip. Another minor gripe is that Kyril gets aserious nerf in the game for story reasons. Now, I'm usually all for these kinds of things, but here it does challenge my views on it. Due to the trauma from the end sequence of the child era, Kyril can't bring himself to kill the Fish people. Okay legitimate excuse. Problem is, the game loves to use this enemy type and as traditional of this genre, landing a killing blow grants more XP than just damaging them, so Kyril finds himself in some leveling issues at certain points of the game becomes a bit of a useless unit when you get stuck fighting a whole map of these enemy types who are exploiting elemental map effects to regenerate generous portions of their health back. It can be useful for leveling up new recruits, but as I mentioned before, XP doesn't go as far in this game like the main line series.
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So yeah, a lopsides gameplay that has you recruiting characters you'll likely ignore over the main cast who can't ever be killed, and a story that sticks to the more ridiculous elements whiel kind of sidelining the better B plot largely hurt this game for me. I mean I really want to like this game, the music is good, the cast is decent, and their are enough concessions made in the gameplay to give it more potential than it's mainline title, but all of these issues add up to make a game that feels frustrating and largely explains why Konami chose to reboot the series after Suikoden V. I'd still recommend it to people. While these issues are annoying for me, I imagine some fans can look past these issues and find themselves playign a great game. I know I often did as my opinion of the game went back and forth throughout my playthrough because there are some real brilliant moments. For those wondering about the other spin-offs, I've yet to play them so I have no comment at this time.

Updated 08-31-2019 at 04:57 AM by Wolf Kanno

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