Does anyone remember Legend of Dragoon, that old game on the original Playstation that was heralded as “The Final Fantasy 7 Killer?” It was almost as if Legend of Dragoon saw exactly what Final Fantasy 7 did with its story, but failed to understand what made the individual points of FF7′s plot any good. This is exactly the same feeling I got when I played Suikoden Tierkreis: a game that goes through the motions of Suikoden games without understanding how to pull them off in a way that has any significance. What’s peculiar about this, though, is that Suikoden Tierkreis is not a cheap knock-off – it’s a genuine Suikoden game!
Admittedly, though, it’s unfair, and even ignorant to say that Suikoden Tierkreis is a bad game simply because it deviates heavily from the rest of the series (and besides, it’s not like the other Suikoden games were perfect). However, by using the name ‘Suikoden’, the game deliberately associates itself with the other games in the series. Thus, it’s not unfair to draw comparisons between Suikoden Tierkreis and the other games in the series. The real point of focus, though, is whether or not Suikoden Tierkreis is a good game on its own merits. Let’s take a look!
Suikoden Tierkreis starts out on the wrong foot. The story setup of the game reeks of every other generic RPG you’ve ever played in your life, and it only gets worse as the main character and his friends find a book that gives them mysterious special powers, compelling them to embark on a journey to find out more about the book. They eventually stumble upon a popular religious sect called The Order of The One True Way, a religion that is based on the premise that absolutely everything that happens is predetermined. The main character finds out that The Order uses an army to take over other countries that refuse to adhere to their principles, so he takes up arms against The Order as they prepare to storm his hometown.
Things fortunately get better from there, as the story stops trying so hard to convince you that The Order is a bad group of people. After a rocky start, Tierkreis focuses more on traveling to distant lands to unite people against The Order, and help liberate countries that have been subjugated by them. The mysteries of the book that gave them special powers begins to unfold at this point, and it’s thankfully a lot more engaging than the first stretch of the game would have you believe. I have to admit, after a while, I was actually interested in what was going to happen next, although part of it may have been how outrageous some of the explanations were.
There are a lot of pitfalls in the story, though. For one, the dialogue is just plain bad. Characters are based on weird gimmicks, like “This guy is mysterious!” or “This guy is smart, but a coward!” These are not personalities; they are shallow character archetypes, and they grow old after a very short while. Ironically, the coolest character you will recruit wants little to do with the hero and his gang. I don’t blame her! Also, the main villains of this game are very boring. The main antagonist is the leader of the religious sect, and he receives very little development until the end of the game. At that point, the game tries to portray him as a tragic villain; but, the last-minute attempt at characterization, as well as the downright evil deeds carried out by his command throughout the course of the game, make this feel completely unbelievable.
Strangely enough, there is a second main antagonist introduced in the game that is way more interesting: when you first clash with The Order, you are helped out by a kingdom of magicians called Janam. After allying with them, you find that the king, Danash, does a lot of terrible things to the people closest to him to suit his own ends. This COULD have led to a very interesting conflict, with the hero faced with a difficult choice: will he turn a blind eye to Danash’s dubious deeds to maintain a fighting chance against The Order? Or, will he denounce his alliance to follow his sense of personal ethics and worry about waging an unwinnable war on two fronts? But, of course, this whole conflict is resolved in way that is abrupt, underwhelming, and alarmingly quick. To give you an idea of just HOW quick: Tierkreis is about thirty hours long; the initial alliance happens about four hours in, and is resolved before the ten-hour mark, never to be re-examined again. Tragically, this gives way to the boring Order antagonists for the remainder of the game.
A huge element of Tierkreis’s story is the “Infinity” – the concept of there being several different parallel worlds in conjunction to the main world of Suikoden Tierkreis. But wouldn’t you know it? You don’t go to any of them! It serves as little more than a superficial plot device that comes into play with the mystery of the aforementioned book, and the way it’s implemented is inanely convoluted and full of holes. For example, if a monster somehow travels from its native world to a different world, it becomes a ‘Renegade’ and can only be dispatched by a member of its native world. Well, what logic does the Infinity use to distinguish a monster from, well, not a monster?
Why hasn’t anyone from any world ever attempted to unleash a hellish amount of monsters on an alternate world, allowing them to potentially conquer it? Or, even better, the main protagonist can’t seem to travel to other worlds. Later in the game, it’s strongly suggested that the reason for this is because he isn’t native to the main world of Suikoden Tierkreis. But, if that’s the case, then shouldn’t it be that anyone who travels to a foreign world should never be able to return to their own world? What exactly makes it a special case for our hero? Just about every aspect of the Infinity concept is as poorly thought out as these two examples, so I’ll stop there.
Even moving away from the meat of the story, the localization is really shoddy as well. A lot of charaters’ written names appear very different from their spoken names. One glaring example that comes to mind is the character Kureyah, whose name is spoken by the voice actors as “Claire.” Wow. Other than that, there are many small inconsistencies in the plot and characterization that make the whole story seem hastily constructed.
The worst aspect, though, is just how generic and shallow the story is. The two main themes of Suikoden are friendship and destiny. The friendship theme is poorly developed, and the way Tierkreis deals with destiny makes it feel childish. At least in other Suikoden games, the 108 Stars of Destiny could have been just about anyone. Tierkreis preaches the ability to change destiny, it’s hard to swallow when the only people who can change destiny are people who just happen to be able to touch a book and get X-Men powers, no matter how myriad the group may be.
If you’re hoping for a good gameplay experience, don’t hold your breath. Suikoden Tierkreis is a superfluously easy RPG. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, though. What makes it weird in this case is that Tierkreis does nothing to indicate that it was deliberately supposed to be easy. In other beginner RPGs, like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, there were a number of things added in to ease the learning experience, such as limited equipment/spell management, no random battles, and even the option to retry any battle if you lost and it would be easier than before.
Suikoden Tierkreis’s gameplay is just as complex as most RPGs, but there was only one thing that brought it into the realm of easy mode: When a character levels up, they completely regain all their HP and MP. That, coupled with the fact that you can run away from a battle with almost a 100% success rate makes the game easy. You never have to worry about healing, because you always level up quickly in a new dungeon. Then, when your characters start getting peanuts for experience, just run away from the rest of the fights.
Speaking of which, there really aren’t that many dungeons, either. The majority of the game revolves around planning attack and defense strategies against The Order’s army, which consist of a few scripted battles and nothing more. It might be better this way, though, because the dungeon design was nothing but droll mazes, anyways. That, along with the fact that the game drags on near the end as if the game is trying to find convenient excuses to make you keep playing, makes for a pretty lackluster experience.
There are other things that can be criticized about Suikoden Tierkreis’s gameplay, but when the very foundation of the game is so rocky, it’s pointless to gripe about them. Who cares about how silly the mission system is, or how there’s no quicksave? Who cares about any problems with the season system – a neat idea in which different enemies show up in different dungeons depending on when you go? What’s the point in discussing any other aspect of the gameplay at length when you can beat every fight easily by mashing the A Button? Why make an RPG that can be easily completed while running away from more fights than you complete?
Other than that, the music, which was written by too many composers to count, is really good. The graphics are as good as you can except from something boasting that 3D anime style on the DS. The movie scenes are well-drawn, and compliment the game nicely.
It’s true that if you compare Suikoden Tierkreis to other Suikoden games, it looks really bad. However, if you judge the game by its own merits, it’s…well, it’s still pretty crappy, actually. Suikoden Tierkreis is a very generic RPG, its saving grace being that it took some cues from the more stylish ideas of the earlier games in the series. A casual player of RPGs, or someone who is just getting into the genre may enjoy it a lot, because it has a lot of superficial things that RPG fans look for in a game. However, a Suikoden fan or a grizzled RPG veteran would be well-advised to avoid it like a fat man avoids exercise – That is, perpetually and indefinitely.
It's like presenting Suikoden as a piece of kitsch art. The cultured consumer should know better.
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It's functional, but it's very generic, easy, and mind-numbingly boring.
There are very few memorable tracks, but the music is well-made and appropriate to the setting and tone.
Just shy of thirty hours if you play through it normally. Doing all the additional stuff will likely net an extra 5-10 hours. I couldn't imagine playing this game twice.
A Suikoden series entry that is simply going through the motions. The simply combat and superficial complexity of the story might make it enjoyable for a newcomer to the genre.