More like “Screw-you-koden”

I have a sad confession to make: I was supposed to review Suikoden Tierkreis for work, but…the game defeated me. Not in the sense that the difficulty was unmanageable — far from it, as the portions of the game I played were so simple and unchallenging that I just let my party autobattle its way through all but one fight. And that one fight was a gimmicky tutorial battle that required a modicum of tactics, i.e. “use magic.” I doubt Tierkreis ever becomes unbearably difficult, in fact, as the game is obviously and painfully geared toward children. And that was what beat me in the end. I hate to see the Suikoden name reduced to preteen-friendly tripe like this.

I don’t have any particular emotional investment in the Suikoden series; as I’ve mentioned before, the games made a clumsy and painful transition to 3D, so I haven’t spent much time with any of the games since the (completely incredible) Suikoden II. Tierkreis actually goes a ways towards restoring some of the things I liked about the early games, such as the pacing of the battles; they’re quick, with little excessive animation, no loading times to speak of, and, even better, lots of overlapping character actions as fights play out. The sluggish tedium that has festered in the series’ battles since Suikoden III is almost completely removed. That’s good!

But: the quick pacing was only one aspect that made the early games so appealing. I also appreciated the unique feel of the story, and in that sense Tierkreis has nothing to do with Suikoden. I’m not complaining about the parallel world aspect of the story, or the lack of True Runes, or the absence of familiar series touchstones, because I don’t have enough interest in the series’ lore to care about any of those things. I’m talking about the tone: Suikoden and its sequels have always done a remarkable job of bringing you right into a world fraught with political turmoil and young heroes whose youth doesn’t translate into frivolity. Despite the fact that, say, the hero of Suikoden II is a kid in a youth brigade with a ridiculous spaz for a sister, Suikoden II didn’t waste any time on zany kid adventures. The game kicked into gear immediately with the betrayal, ambush, and slaughter of the hero’s entire company and a harrowing midnight run for freedom. Even the first game, which started out in a happy-happy world where the hero was a pampered son of a war hero living in luxury, didn’t dicker around with mindless banter — it set up its characters and situation quickly and breezily.

That is where Tierkreis fails. I spent two hours with the game, and they were excruciating. The tale begins with a lazy hero in stupid clothes and his friend/rival and his nagging big-sister-like female pal and a big lug whom everyone looks up to and the hero gets nagged at for sleeping too late and also by the way he’s an orphan and oh god it’s the intro of every boring mid-grade RPG since Star Ocean and I wanted to use a melonballer to gouge out my eyes every time the game forced me to stop and listen to the characters’ idiot blather. Which is constantly, by the way. Like so many RPGs with such an utterly generic beginning, Tierkreis stops you at practically every single new screen to assault you with more empty setup. I don’t know if this is because the developers assume gamers are all morons who can’t piece together what’s happening without having exposition to spell out every minor detail, or if they’re all too aware of the awfulness of their premise, plotting, and characterization and try to overcompensate by giving the characters lots to say so that it’ll totally look different from that latest externally-developed Tales game, honest! The result, of course, being that this all simply serves to highlight the wretchedness of the whole affair. By the time I reached the setup for the core plot, I had an hour and a half on the clock — an interminable 90 minutes broken into 15-minute chunks, because being exposed to the game for any longer than that made me nauseous.

It sure didn’t help that the game’s so hideous. Well, partially hideous: the character designs are bad, but they’re nothing compared to the character models, which look like a bunch of tiny sasquatches stomping around while wearing cardboard boxes all over their bodies. The battle animations especially made me cringe, because the game moves like the old Suikodens, but the 3D character models actually have less animation than the old 2D sprites. Every time I saw a character float inanimately from the back lines to stiffly hit an enemy, a little piece of my soul shuddered. Worse, the models are a stark contrast to the backgrounds, those beautiful 2D paintings full of detail and light…but even these wear after a while, because to save money or whatever, these lush hand-drawn backdrops repeat, which leaves you wondering if you’ve run in circles when you stumble upon a exact same branching forest path you were just running through a few minutes ago — but no. It’s just that this forest inexplicably has two areas where the paths fork into the same three branches around the giant rotting log. It’s a miracle of nature! Or a miracle of limited cartridge space, maybe. Although the backgrounds are not nearly as painful an example of this as the voice “acting,” which Konami decided to include in the game despite the format not really lending itself to full voicework. That stuff takes memory, you know, and the DS isn’t exactly bursting with extra space. So not only are the sound files compressed to death to fit it all in, the actors don’t really perform so much as they blurt the entirety of their dialogue as quickly as possible. This somehow manages to make the stale and uninteresting text even more stilted and lifeless than it is in other similarly generic games.

There is, of course, no option to turn the voices off. Konami wants you to suffer through every excruciating moment of this game, presumably working under the assumption that you’ll eventually be gripped by Stockholm Syndrome and grow to love this monstrosity that exists only to torment you.

So, that’s why I’m not reviewing the game. I can’t get past the sheer idiocy of the whole thing, the almost ritualized mediocrity that so many Japanese RPGs seem to suffer from. I don’t think I can review games like this or Star Ocean 4 fairly; they commit the gravest crime of all — wasting my time — and I hate them. I’d say it’s because I’ve outgrown the genre, but given the slate of games I’ve been playing and am looking forward to, I don’t think that’s really the case. I still love RPGs, especially when they’re portable. But many games in the genre increasingly suffer from — well, I’m not sure what the suffer from. I think from publishers and developers wanting too much: they want to create big-budget experiences without actually investing a big budget, so they fall back on shortcuts and clichés and sustainable mediocrity rather than coming up with creative workarounds. But if that’s really the case, they don’t seem to realize that the results are still the same as if the creators simply didn’t care at all. What a mess — and what a shame that the Suikoden series, once so unique, is ultimately reduced to the same drivel as the likes of Beyond the Beyond — the game that the original handily whipped on its own terms.

28 thoughts on “More like “Screw-you-koden”

  1. My heart aches over this. On the one hand I want the game because I’m a collector of the OCD variety, but on the other hand I don’t want to encourage this. It’s like a decision over whether or not I should give Konami $35 to kick my cat.

  2. Damn I was worried about this project from when it was announced. Went ahead and got Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume instead of this and reading your post and now I’m even happier with my choice.

  3. Technically speaking, you just did review the game. Just not in a place it’ll give Konami a stroke.

    I’ve never really been a fan of the mindset that you can’t go and print a review by someone who was so disgusted by a game they couldn’t bring themselves to finish it. It’s generally a safe bet they’re going to have a very clear grip on what fails to work about the game. Plus it generally takes a lot to drive off professional reviewers, who enjoy the genre you’re working in.

    My personal run-in with the phenomenon was Parasite Eve 2. Official policy was, no reviewing the game until the credits rolled. I was around 80% through before the recycled “story” and broken controls were joined a difficulty curve consisting of monsters that stood there shuddering in place as you shot them until dead were just given increasingly more HP as the game wore on.

  4. Well, that’s scared me off from buying it based off the initial praise. I’ll wait to see if people remain positive about the game first, but SuikV was a huge fan favorite and I lost interest about 20 hours in with the glacial pacing.

  5. I’m confused. You clearly played the game. You might be able to play a bit more. You had initial interest in the game. You have a clear, well reasoned opinion.

    Why can’t you review the game? Why can’t somebody who wants to like a game to some extent review a game? You had an experience that is worth communicating in the form of a review. It was so dreadful you couldn’t play it. Expressing that experience may be more helpful to the greater public who reads the review than the same old opinion based love and tolerance of JRPG that usually gets thrown around.

  6. Persona 4 pulls the same nonsense for the first two hours, although at least the game that emerges after all of that is pretty worthwhile. Too bad to hear about Suikoden though. Still, I don’t see why all of that blather now seems like a requirement in so many JRPGs.

  7. I really enjoy the visual presentation and the speedy battles, but I can tell that the characters and the voice acting are just going to kill any desire I have to play this game for more than a couple hours. it’s a shame!

  8. I can’t review the game in an official capacity because (1) I have a deep-seated hatred of RPGs like this (2) I can’t offer an authoritative analysis of the full extent of the game without playing more than two hours of it and (3) there is no way in hell I’m playing more than two hours of it. There might well be redeeming substance beyond what I’ve seen, but I refuse to subject myself to enough of the game to find out for myself, so all I can offer is my gut response — less a review than an off-the-cuff diatribe. This is the difference between a professional site and a personal blog, you see.

  9. “But many games in the genre increasingly suffer from — well, I’m not sure what the suffer from.”

    You do know though. You said as much in your Secret of Mana article. This game has not gone beyond the pale in terms of your expectations. It has failed to be original or to endear itself to you (through nostalgia or some other mechanism) and you walked away from it.

    Have you ever excused yourself from a game review before this one?

  10. Too bad, I had high hopes for Suikoden on the DS. Especially since the retronauts podcast.
    This game was pegged as a possible purchase, because I’m looking for a “long” DS (tactical) rpg experience.
    But I’ll propably have to look in the direction of say, Luminous Arc 2, Disgaea, Valkyrie Profile or DQ.

    More to the point, I think it’s rather baffling to see that the devs used that cardridge space budget for speech files rather then upping the fidelity of the graphics, music, animation, etc.

  11. I was enjoying it for it’s breezy battles and looking forward to tracking down new characters. I was just skimming past the story segments without focusing on the bad writing or unlikable characters but then I got a copy of Suikoden 1 and now I don’t know if I can go back to Tierkreis. It’s surprising just how engaging the story of Suikoden is. It’s got probably a tenth of the dialogue that Tierkreis has but I’m much more interested in Loki McDohl’s story than I am Loki “I’m-just-oh-so-optimistic” Tierkreis’s. Another thing Suikoden does well is gives each character one weapons that can be upgraded. Not only will buying new equipment for all of Tierkreis’s characters be incredibly tiresome but it removes a lot of the personality that goes with the characters too. Why bother searching down all 108 characters when they’re all identical in battle? I’m still going to try and push through the game but I have a feeling that Chrono Trigger will be back in the DS before too long.

  12. Anybody else hasn’t thought about the connections to Suikoden I? The game does pick up at about 2 hours and afterwards, so I’m wondering at which point exactly did you drop off. Also I think it sets up things adequately if not exactly perfectly in those two hours, and compared to Suikoden V, that’s a huge improvement.

  13. I think it’s a rule of thumb for JRPGs that the less a character has to say, the more they’re made to say.

  14. I don’t think it’s a space problem, since the game is a paltry 256MBs. This game clearly was short-changed in the budget but was required by the top brass to have X-features. This game doesn’t look like it was developed by Konami, but by Tose, and got re branded halfway through development. The confusing thing to me is this game holds the Suikoden name, but Suikoden Tactics wasn’t branded Suikoden in Japan, only as “Rhapsodia” because it wasn’t Suikoden enough.

    I played through and beat Suikoden IV (got the best ending too!), so I think I can handle this game no matter how bad it is. And to be fair to Suikoden III’s battles, they were long, but you were barely required to actually fight because of the short, infrequent dungeons and low encounter rate. Suikoden V’s battles were breasy fast as well, I’d only consider IV’s to be slow and shitty.

  15. Brutal. It sounds like the problems that you have with the usual JRPG mediocrity are the same ones I do. I was at least thinking about picking this up; now, I guess not. Which is a shame, because, at least for the first two iterations (and–credit where due–even beyond, to an extent), Suikoden was in another league entirely.

  16. I returned the game. As a fan of the Suikoden Series I was really hoping for a bite-sized adventure with some punch, but at about 5-6 hours in I had to ask myself if I was really having fun and if it was worth it when Retro Game Challenge, Dragon Quest V, and Houkago Shounen (a Japan-only Konami game) were calling to me.

    Strangely enough, the Houkago Shounen game which is ALL ABOUT kids reliving their last summer of elementary school, treated me like more of an adult than Tierkreis.

  17. Completely off-topic, but: is that the same font that Retro Game Challenge used? I hate those scrunched-up Ms and Ws.

  18. I’m sad to hear this… the reaction from fans has been very mixed from what I can tell, but while a sizable minority does seem to feel the same way you do, there are a lot of people reporting that the game’s story and sophistication are in fact comparable to the regular Suikoden games – I have to assume this happens later on, then.

    Unfortunately your feelings about the voice acting and dialog seem to be pretty universal.

    I’ll still play it, since I do have that “emotional investment” in the series. I’m sincerely hoping the rest of the game doesn’t play out like you say the first two hours do.

  19. Oh, and regarding Ken’s comment: that “paltry” 256MB is the maximum supported by the Nintendo DS, so if the game is in fact 256MB, I’d say it almost certainly IS a space issue.

  20. @Nicola Nomali: The RGC font looks to be a bit bigger and bolder than the Suikoden Tierkris font from comparing screenshots.

  21. paul – no amnesia per se so far, but there’s a character or two who are orphans who don’t really know where they come from, so close.

    Anyway, I’ll admit the plot on this is starting out pretty damn slow, but I’m still holding out hope that it’ll pick up. I do hope we get some political maneuvering showing up eventually, since the complete lack of that so far is what’s making this plot not seem like a “real” Suikoden plot. Other than that, I’m ok with most of the system changes (characters can swap weapons but have fixed magic – just vice versa from “normal”). The voice acting blows, but I find I can more or less ignore it. (It does at least let you mash A to skip ahead through dialog scenes.)

  22. That screed warmed my heart, parish. Entertaining and edifying. Now I don’t have to worry about having missed something good. I can file this away next to Ephemeral Phantasia and Hoshigami and go on with my life.

    I still don’t understand why they decided they needed to throw their flagship RPG series under the bus like this.

  23. I wish I had read this before my fanboy-ness finally won out and I bought it, oh, an hour ago. Oh well. I knew going into it that it was probably going to be like this, but we’ll see how it goes.

  24. the story does get a little better later on but i pretty much agree about what was said here except for the battle’s,they are slow,there are a lot of them and the developer seems to know this which is the entire reason why
    1) you gain lot of experience
    2) there is a command to insta-kill weaker enemy (and the escape rate goes to almost 100% when fighting them anyway)
    3) there is an item to double your walking speed tough for some weird reason it’s in the most annoying dungeon ever which is choke full of dead ends

  25. This is part of the reason why I have a hard time playing JRPGs anymore. All the series that I loved are slowly being raped to death with sequels. Wild Arms, Suikoden, Star Ocean, Tales, Shining Force, etc. Plus many of the original titles coming out are not doing anything new and do not seemed to have learned from their failing counterparts. Honestly if they release another game on the DS or PSP with the word ‘tactics’ dropped at the end of it, I will vomit.

  26. While, unlike you, I don’t find that the original Suikoden game was very good (not even when considering the time it was released), this editorial was eerily how I felt. I write reviews too, and now I almost wonder if it’s worth it, because I could just point people to your editorial, heh!

Comments are closed.