Suikoden V – Staff Retroview

With six games to its name in North America (five regular games and one spinoff: Suikoden Tactics), the Suikoden series had been a staple of the RPG genre — if a bit of a dark horse. Suikoden V is a solid addition to the series as well as a great place for players who’ve never tried the series to get their feet wet. And while the game may not appeal to those interested in a highly complex battle system, Suikoden V is an absolute gem for story gamers, and offers memorable characters, a rich plot and a chance to experience a conflict that moves beyond the typical black and white save-the-world plot of many an RPG.

Suikoden V is set in the Queendom of Falena, a new land in the geography of the Suikoden universe, where each game deals with a new country or historical period of the same world. Players take on the role of the Prince of Falena. Though the prince is a silent protagonist, throughout the game players will be prompted to choose a response for the Prince and these decisions will impact on several key scenes of the game and, finally, play a role in determining which of the several endings one will get to watch after the final battle. Since Falena is a Queendom, the Prince is barred from the throne. It is, instead, his younger sister Lymsleia who will succeed his mother, Queen Arshtat and become guardian of the Sun Rune, a rune so powerful that when used two years before, it ravaged Lordlake, leaving the town a dessicated shadow of its former self. Tensions have been mounting in Falena between the factions of noble houses and it’s not long before the Prince and his family are embroiled in civil discord.

The storytelling in Suikoden V is masterful and the game features plot twists and sudden reversals even into the late phases of the game. The antagonists have believable motivations, rather than the typical RPG villain whose ultimate goal seems to be to destroy the world while cackling madly. And while the story is deeply rooted in Falena’s politics, it never becomes impersonal because the story of the country is told through the lens of a family drama. The Prince, his parents, sister, aunt, as well as his bodyguard and the Queen’s Knights — all of them become familiar cast members and the early chapters of the game make a point of introducing them and their backgrounds. The story of their struggles and triumphs becomes the story of their nation and keeps the political nature of the conflict from ever becoming abstract. And unlike games were the plot thins towards the end, Suikoden V reaches a fevered pitch in its late stages.

Combat is Suikoden V is divided into three types: military campaigns, one-on-one duels, and the party-battles that make up the bulk of the gameplay. The battle system is fairly standard menu-based fare with a few interesting quirks. Parties consist of six characters whose formations can be changed for varying stat bonuses in battle. Four more characters will travel with the party as reserves and either provide support skills in battle (such as healing or cash bonuses), or can switch into the party in place of another character. In battle, players can attack, use the items they have equipped, or make use of any equipped runes, which allow them to use magic. The number of spells a character can cast is determined by the spell’s level and how many slots of each level a character possesses. A tank with little talent for sorcery might be limited to level two spells whereas a gifted mage can use the much more powerful level three and four spells and use them more often. Runes can also be equipped that enhance battle skills or, for example, provide immunity to a status ailment. Players can also equip battle and/or magic skills that will increase the relevant stats and they can use SP to “train” and thus improve these skills.

Periodically, the player will be tasked with taking command of a campaign battle, which takes the form of a real-time strategy battle between the prince’s army and enemy forces, either on land or sea. Combat works via a rock/paper/scissors principle: cavalry is strong against infantry; infantry is strong against archers; and archers are strong against cavalry. Players can customize their battle units before beginning the campaign. Some characters will give a unit special abilities that can be used in battle or allow them to use magic against enemy units.

Duels are also a recurring event throughout the game. These, too, operate on the basis of rock/paper/scissors in the form of “guard,” “attack,” and “special.” The consequences of the Prince losing a duel can vary greatly: at some points it is inconsequential, leading only to a few changes in the succeeding dialogue, while at others it can mean failing to recruit a character or even, in one instance, getting a premature bad ending… and then a game over screen.

If the game suffers any particular fault, it’s an awkwardness in the menu system. For example, equipping items and armour is unnecessarily frustrating as the player is forced to choose an item first and then the character and finally which slot to place it. Players must also use a separate item menu to check item and equipment properties. It’s not a game-breaking flaw, but one would like to have seen the mechanics be more streamlined.

Suikoden V doesn’t by any means push the graphical limits of the PS2. Most of the game is seen from a fairly distant overhead perspective. Players can zoom in using the shoulder buttons, but typically this will make navigation more difficult especially when it can already be confusing to in some of the sprawling town maps. Graphics are, however, well done with nice attention paid to the details of character costumes and facial expressions. Voiced cutscenes occur throughout the game and do a good job of enhancing the story. Voice acting is solid throughout, and the score is pleasant and does a fair job of conveying mood.

Challenge varies throughout the game, particularly in boss battles but is easily overcome by good planning and character outfitting. Difficulty is also affected by which optional characters players have taken the trouble to recruit. As with any Suikoden game, players have the optional task of recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny. Collecting them is necessary in order to get the game’s “best” ending, and since some of the game’s most powerful characters are missable, recruiting will impact on the game’s difficulty as well as its length, which can run anywhere from 50 to 75 hours.

Suikoden V has a lot to offer, both as a stand-alone and as a part of the Suikoden franchise. The battle system may not awe veteran RPG players with its originality, but it offers a solid gameplay experience, and the duels and campaign battles add a dash of variety. It would have been nice to have seen the interface tweaked to be more streamlined, but this remains a minor complaint. The plot is the game’s greatest asset and gamers looking for memorable characters and a sweeping storyline full of twists and upsets needn’t look any farther. Suikoden‘s plot is simply outstanding and with multiple endings and a huge cast, it offers excellent replay value.


  1. Duke Gallison:

    I hope like hell this series isn’t dead.

  2. Erika "wolfraven80" Lachapelle:

    I figure they’re still trying to decide what console to release the next one on. It’s a less well-known series– at least compared to FF or DQ– so they can’t afford to put it out on a system that isn’t selling enough. Fingers crossed…

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