Suikoden V revives the series' spirit with a great cast, narrative, and gameplay, minus a few snags here and there.
- Fantastic array of characters to fight, befriend, and recruit
- Classic battle format works well
- Character and battle customization additions add depth.
- High encounter rate and loading times bog things down
- Starts slowly with a lot of running around and not much else.
The 108 stars of destiny are a mysterious bunch, wildly disparate individuals each born under the auspices of their own celestial house. Whether they're warriors or wizards, merchants or manservants, successfully recruiting the 108 stars is at the core of the Suikoden experience. Suikoden V hews closely to the series' traditional roots with a lively and expansive cast, a return to the classic six-character battle system, and an engaging plot full of political intrigue. Some pacing issues in storytelling and gameplay cloud the water, but it's otherwise an adventure you'll be happy to get swept into.
Things take place in the Queendom of Falena, a realm guided by its queen and the power of three magical runes: Dawn, Sun, and Dusk. The land and its people are uncomfortably riding on the edge of uncertainty regarding Queen Arshtat, who two years previously put down an uprising by taking up the Sun rune and burning a village and the surrounding countryside to ash. As the prince of Falena, the game is quick to establish how marginal the role of a royal male is, as you're sent to the decimated village, Lordlake, to review the damage and the situation on behalf of the queen. It's easy to distrust Arshtat, who is at one moment noble and warmhearted, and imperiously cruel at the next; she's obviously unbalanced. It soon comes to light, though, that the Sun rune she now bears (which cannot be removed until death) is somehow exerting its influence on who was previously a just and beloved leader. The truth behind Arshtat's terrible actions, the scheming of two of the land's largest noble houses, the tragedy of Lordlake, and the mystery surrounding the power of the nation's three runes begins to slowly unfold.
Suikoden V takes its sweet time kicking up the action initially, as you'll be shuttled back and forth between various areas to take care of errands for the queen, with precious little battling and a whole lot of running around towns and talking to people. It's somewhat off-putting, particularly when you have to wind your way around labyrinthine towns and buildings searching for the right trigger to advance. However, the game at least uses the time to efficiently introduce you to a large host of characters and factions, and when things pick up and the traitors start to come out, the surprises in store have gratifying weight. It's also great to see the development of your own character, the prince, from a meek errand boy used as a pawn to a confident commander rallying the nation to his cause.
Getting through all the ensuing upheaval means a lot of fighting. Suikoden V's battle system goes back to the same six-character maximum party setup from the series' days of yore, and you'll have a lot of options to explore in battle. One new twist is battle formations, where you can change the arrangement of your party and gain certain bonuses. The traditional three-in-front, three-in-back formation lets you heal your own party for a certain amount once per fight. Other formations let you gain attack power or magical defense, or increase your overall accuracy as passive abilities. You can use these bonuses to your advantage, depending on the foes you're facing and the challenges you have to deal with.
The meat of the turn-based battles is a mix of melee fighting, rune magic, and special skills. Runes can be equipped at special shops, attached to a character's hands or forehead. You'll have access to offensive elemental magic, healing spells, and a variety of rune-specific abilities, such as shielding magic or ferocious attacks. If you've got two or more characters in your party who are closely affiliated, chances are they can join together for a powerful co-op attack of some kind. The ability depends on the pairing involved, and there are many--fathers and daughters, aunts and nephews, close friends, and others. These spice battle up a bit and allow for the expression of character personalities in fights. Battles earn you experience as well as skill points that you can use to augment different character abilities, like attack power, defense, magical defense, cast time, and more. The only negative things that can be said about the battles is in regards to their frequency (high) and the fact that the slight load time before and after a skirmish tends to add up and bog matters down a bit.