Suikoden Tactics offers solid turn-based strategy gameplay with a couple of unique twists that make it fun for newcomers and veterans alike.
- Lots of different characters to recruit
- Unique, fun, and simple battle system
- Large, well-designed maps
- Good music.
- Weak story and characters
- Bland presentation
- Some spotty voice acting.
Suikoden Tactics is a strategy role-playing game set in Konami's Suikoden universe, though Tactics shares a rather tenuous connection with the rest of the games in the series. Suikoden Tactics retains some of the subtle nuances of the Suikoden series, but the title is really nothing more than a way to grab your attention. It doesn't really matter if you've played other games like it before, because Suikoden Tactics is easy to get into and challenging enough to be enjoyable to veterans and newcomers alike.
Suikoden Tactics follows the story of a young boy named Kyril, whose father is killed while investigating strange and powerful weapons (known as rune cannons) that somehow turn ordinary men into violent, aggressive fish men. Three years after the death of his father, Kyril is now a young man. So he decides to set out on a journey to investigate these rune cannons to see if there's any way to prevent more people from becoming fish men. The story unfolds with all the cliché you've come to expect from a role-playing game. There's a little of everything thrown in here: treachery, murder, adultery, war, kidnapping, conspiracy, and a bit of romantic tension.
Despite all that, and despite its focus on fish men, the story just isn't very interesting. The characters are rather generic, so you won't ever feel compelled to care about them. At best they're only slightly interesting; and at worst they're just expendable. All the story sequences play out in-game, with some static character portraits and tons of spoken dialogue in front of the poorly animated character models. The voice acting is pretty bad at times, but thankfully you can skip it using the triangle button. There are a couple of poignant scenes, but the dull presentation mostly kills any dramatic flair this game may have had.
While the story fails to be engaging, the gameplay goes a long way to make up for it. As with just about any other strategy role-playing game, the battles are the focus of Suikoden Tactics. You'll take a party of characters into battle, and then you'll take turns based on initiative. You move about on a grid, cast magic, engage in melee combat, and generally try to decimate your foes through careful planning and proper placement in battle.
The big twist is the way the game requires you to manipulate the elements. There are five elements in the game, each with an assigned color. Each character has an elemental association, and the terrain in battle can also be infused with elements. By using the elements to your advantage, you can get some much-needed stat boosts. Conversely, you can use the elements to put your enemies at a disadvantage. Each element is weak to another element, although they aren't opposites. For example, fire is weak to water, but water is weak to lightning. If you have a character with an elemental association with fire, you can place him or her on red terrain, and he or she'll get a stat boost, as well as regain a small number of hit points at the end of each turn. However, if you put that same character on a blue square, he or she'll be weaker, and he or she'll take damage each turn. You can use items and spells to change the terrain element of land on the battlefield, and battles will often be decided entirely by who is best able to maintain control of the terrain elements.
Aside from the elements, everything is fairly straightforward. There are dozens of characters to recruit into your party, though there are nowhere near the trademark 108 characters of other Suikoden games. Every character is unique, so there aren't really classes per se. However, all the characters fall into the basic categories of magic users, healers, archers, and fighters. You can also get mounts in the game, so you can have your characters riding on kangacorns or owls if you need a little extra mobility. You'll get a lot of characters by completing the main story missions, but some characters require you to complete a side quest before they join you. If you have a Suikoden IV save with all 108 characters, you can load it up at the beginning of Suikoden Tactics to unlock a couple of extra characters. And if any of your nonstory characters die in battle, they're dead for good...or at least until you reload your last save so you can try again.
You can customize your characters by giving them items and magic runes. Each character's weapon is predetermined, so you can hone it at a blacksmith to make it stronger. However, you can't change it out for another weapon. You can equip different types of armor, gloves, and other accessories, and you can give each character items like medicine and elemental beads. All the magic comes from runes, which you can purchase in any town. Runes give you abilities like elemental magic or special attacks, but there are also runes with passive effects, like the warrior rune, which increases strength. You can only equip a couple of different runes at a time on each character, but that's enough to give each character several special abilities.