Suikoden Tactics Updated Preview
We check out a near-finished version of Konami's upcoming turn-based strategy game.
Scheduled to arrive in North American stores next week, Suikoden Tactics is a turn-based strategy game set in the same universe as (and featuring a number of familiar characters from) Konami's Suikoden series of role-playing games. We recently received a near-finished version of the game, and have played through the first handful of missions to bring you our impressions.
After opting for a regular- or progressive-scan display mode the first time you play Suikoden Tactics, you'll be given the option to import data from a Suikoden IV save game. The benefits of having a Suikoden IV save game on your memory card won't be apparent immediately, but we assure you that doing so will give you an opportunity to add the characters Local Boy and Snowe (who you control in the game's first level) to your party later in the game. Fans of Suikoden IV will recognize Local Boy and Snowe as the main character and his best friend from that game, respectively, although because the first level of Suikoden Tactics is set years before the events of Suikoden IV, both of them are children at this point.
The aforementioned first level of Suikoden Tactics is essentially a tutorial that introduces you to a number of the game's more unusual features. Each of the characters and enemies in the game, for example, is attuned to one of five elements and counts a second element among its vulnerabilities. So, a character with an affinity for fire will invariably be vulnerable to water-based attacks, for example. There's nothing unusual or innovative about that, of course, but in Suikoden Tactics there are areas of terrain that have elemental properties. Your character's relationship to the element of an area of terrain that he or she is standing in can have the effect of rejuvenating their health and making their attacks more powerful, or it can do the exact opposite. The effects of the elements make for some interesting strategies, particularly after your characters learn to use magical skills and items that give them the power to change the elemental properties of terrain.
Another interesting feature of Suikoden Tactics, and one which is very much in keeping with previous Suikoden games, is that members of your party become closer to (or improve their "good will" toward) each other as the game progresses. Characters who perform actions close in proximity to each other in battles will become friendlier with each other, and when you don't need one of your characters to attack you'll often have the opportunity to have them spend their turn conversing with one of their colleagues, which gives their good will a boost and will sometimes result in them learning new abilities. One of the abilities that we learned in this way, for example, is a "cohort attack" that lets us combine the skills of two characters and perform a powerful attack that hits multiple enemies simultaneously. The other thing that you'll notice as your characters grow closer to each other is that they'll often automatically assist each other in battle when they're close enough to do so, either by attacking the same enemy or by leaping to their friend's defense.
Battles in Suikoden Tactics play out a lot like those in other turn-based strategy games, so expect grid-based maps, less-than-spectacular battle animations, and lots of time spent healing members of your party with medicines and such. With that said, each of the battles that we've played through thus far has posed a quite different challenge, both in terms of the enemies that we've faced and in the criteria that we've had to meet to succeed. The environments that we've fought in have also been quite varied, and, like the cel-shaded characters that make up the game's cast, they're quite charming and definitely easy on the eyes.
In between battles, you'll have to sit through some lengthy conversations between characters that can't be skipped. All of the conversations are voiced, but since you'll always have read the accompanying subtitles long before the actors are finished, they seem unnecessarily long. Other options in between battles will include visiting local towns to stock up on items, weapons, and clothing; acquiring or leveling up your characters' skills using skill points earned in battle; and resting, which will restore all of your characters to full health and will sometimes trigger a conversation or other event as they sit around the campfire.
We've really only scratched the surface of Suikoden Tactics at this point, but our characters are already learning interesting abilities, and there have already been a couple of dramatic surprises in the storyline. Expect a full review of Suikoden Tactics soon.