Konami debuted its third installment in the Suikoden series, the first on the PlayStation 2 platform, at the recent Tokyo Game Show. The story takes place 15 years after Suikoden II, this time focusing on three individuals--Hugo, Chris, and Gedo. The early demo we received let us play the role of Hugo, who's joined by Sergeant Joe and Joe's pet griffon Hoover. The game starts off in Ducklan, a small town where a group of ducks live. There you meet Lily, a character from Suikoden II, and two of her guards, Reed and Samus. Lily is in search of the Fire Hero, who supposedly disappeared more than 50 years ago.
Although the game has the Suikoden name on it, other than the setting and a few recurring characters from the previous games in the series, you can almost consider it a completely different game. Instead of 2D graphics, the game now features a full 3D polygonal environment. The character models are similar in style and proportion to those in Sega's Eternal Arcadia rather than to those in the Final Fantasy series, who have a more realistic style. Since this is an early version of the game, the frame rate is still somewhat of a concern when you're walking around towns and in dungeons as it stutters quite a bit. You no longer have the freedom to rotate the field map, because the camera is either fixed in one angle or moves on a predetermined path as you move around. Towns feature the usual assortment of shops, with the addition of a library, though its purpose is not yet known.
The speedy battle system is no more and has been replaced by a more complex system. The free position battle (FPB) system lets the characters move around freely within the battlefield. This lets you think more and analyze your position and those of your enemies during battle. For example, the magic spells now have an area effect, so you must carefully place your party members either inside (when using healing spells) or outside (when using attack spells) of the range. Depending on the type of spell you cast, it can take more than one turn. So you should position your warrior-type character in front to protect the mage-type character at the rear. The new battle system uses two characters--one in front and one in the rear--while the previous games had three characters in the front row and three at the rear.
The graphics on spells range from average 2D animated effects to more extravagant ones filled with eye -candy such as particle effects and transparencies. The camera angle during battle needs more work, because it sometimes hinders your view. The musical composition seems to be in the typical Suikoden style. Hopefully the final game will offer a little more variety. Overall, Suikoden III should appeal to fans of the series, but it looks to be one of many average-looking role-playing games on the PlayStation 2 at this point. The game is scheduled for release in March 2002 in Japan.