There’s been a simple formula for the Suikoden series for quite some time now: recruit a huge cast of characters, witness a solid story filled with magic and political intrigue, and fight huge battles. Even the more recent games of the series has held close to the typical formula and continued to yield unique and rather charming results, for the most part. With Suikoden Tierkreis, long time fans of the series were hoping for the “Suikoden feel” to come back anew on the Nintendo DS.
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Right off the bat, I felt that I had fallen victim to a playable cliché. A ragtag team of youngster with above average fighting skills for seemingly no reason? Check. Random battles with uninspired beasts that take little or no thought to dice through? Check. A free-spirited protagonist with a mysterious past? You got it. Evil empire determined to subjugate the world? You get my point. Combine all of these factors with pudgy, blocky, 3D character avatars, and you’ve set yourself up for disappointment. Thankfully, Tierkreis doesn’t give up.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, charm rears its ugly head. Almost at a single point during the storyline, Suikoden Tierkreis‘s pacing and storyline go from painfully average to pleasantly entertaining. I suspect that most of the people who play this game are a little sick and tired of a group-of-armed-teenagers-hunting-monster-and-stumbling-upon-a-sacred-relic storyline. However, if you hang tight, things really start to pick up. New characters with interesting back stories suddenly emerge and earn a great deal of focus within the storyline. The horrendous voice acting is completely unnecessary and detracts from the overall presentation.
From this point on, Tierkreis melts and flows nicely into the typical formula where you begin to recruit the 108 Stars of Destiny and build up your headquarters. Sidequests and other events are worthy distraction from the main story, and actually enrich the overall experience. The rewards that that go along with these quests are also welcomed. Eventually, as you can expect, everything comes together and the good guys fight the bad guys.
Suikoden fans will be disappointed that there are no one-on-one duels or army battles this time around. The noticeable absence of Runes is quickly overshadowed by the “Mark of the Stars” and the concept of parallel worlds.
Remind Me to Give the Auto-Battle a Raise
The battle system in Tierkreis is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it’s completely ordinary. With a four character party, the player has the same old run-of-the-mill options that he’s had for two decades now: fight, magic, and item. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Suikoden Tierkreis doesn’t offer a finely-tuned challenge right from the start. Every battle is a romp; one can easily select the auto battle command on almost every random encounter. The Dragon Quest series has been doing it for years, so I’m certain why Konami didn’t spend more time balancing the challenge in this game – there’s absolutely no satisfaction in defeating a boss that you just auto-battled while filing your toenails. The experience system doesn’t allow you drastically over-level, which is intended to maintain the challenge. The problem is that the challenge is virtually non-existent.
As the game progresses, you’ll have to put a little more thought into your party configurations, but don’t expect to have too much trouble, even if you forget to buy the latest armor or stockpile healing potions. Sadly, the Rune system is out, so managing your remaining spells will not be a problem this time around. Instead, Suikoden Tierkreis reverts back to the MP system that has been around since before most of su were conceived. Veteran RPG players may scoff at the lack of innovation – unloading your most powerful techniques from outset will easily dispatch most bosses. With just a little more character customization or a few extra battle options, Suikoden Tierkreis could have made strides. Instead, the battle system feels completely mediocre, but it definitely suffices. At least the shift in the camera and the mega-fast pace keep things interesting.
City on the Menu
With a rather robust amount of characters to choose from, I can’t help but wonder why Konami has limited us to a four person party, when Suikoden has historically allowed a six-man team (sans Suikoden IV). Nonetheless, Tierkreis is full of interesting and endearing characters. The roster doesn’t stray far from what you would expect of the Suikoden series. There’s a demented doctor who goes bare-chested under his white coat, a horned giant, and a plethora of little humanoid porpoises. Of course, the 108 Stars of Destiny are present, meaning you’ll have scour towns and dungeons to recruit them all. Some characters are playable in battle, others will add shops and services to your home base, and some are just weird eccentrics that don’t really contribute much.
One of the staples of jRPGs has always been exploring new towns and castles, looking for new characters and information, and checking out the latest items and equipment. Suikoden Tierkreis attempts to consolidate this experience. Instead of wandering aimlessly through each town when you arrive, players are treated to a menu with various locations, such as weapon shop, plaza, and palace. While this does help cut down on backtracking, I can’t help but feel like I was cheated out of the experience of exploring a new town, taking in the sights, and enjoying the theme music. Perhaps giving us the option to select the various locales from a menu after the initial exploration of the town would’ve been a better compromise. Despite this, the various locations you’ll be visiting are quite unique, each with their own feel. The rich and colorful prerendered backgrounds set the tone for each location and match well with the background music.
The sprawling dungeons are filled with dead ends (not even a treasure chest!), which is both frustrating and satisfying. I’ve always carried the opinion that mini-maps on the DS tend to cheapen exploration in RPGs, especially when they’re prefilled. Suikoden Tierkreis offers no such consolidation to the directionally challenged. You will get lost from time to time, especially if you’re attention is focused elsewhere. You may even spend some time backtracking, wondering what you just missed because a certain forest path was skipped on the previous screen. When you finally decide to go back and check to see what treasures you passed up, you’ll be treated to absolutely nothing but a few extra random battles. Some may be turned off on this; I felt a little old school joy.
Maintaining the Feel
Despite its faults, Suikoden Tierkreis puts everything together just right. Players are treated to a solid story, interesting characters, and a unique feel shared only by other Suikoden games. Even though the challenge is light and the battle system isn’t totally balanced, this game excels at creating a solid experience. Though not totally unique, Tierkreis does a fine job at maintaining the feel of the original series and welcoming new players. It falls short of becoming something truly special, but Suikoden Tierkreis manages to deliver a solid experience.