Suikoden V Hands-On

We try out the latest entry in Konami's RPG franchise.

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We had the chance to try out a localized version of Suikoden V at Konami's press event today, which marks the third entry of the popular series on the PlayStation 2. The game will once again offer fans of the series what they want in the form of another epic quest that will let you recruit 108 characters and engage in crazy turn-based battles. The work-in-progress version of the game at Konami's event featured English text and voice, which helped us get a handle on what the story is about.

The game casts you in the role of the prince of the Queendom of Falena, who lives a pretty mellow life until his mother goes a little nuts. Two years before the game begins it seems that one of the most loyal towns in the queendom, Lordlake, had a bit of a revolt and the queen had to put it down. While we're not sure of the specifics, such as if she actually popped over to have a chat with folks to see what the problem was, the bottom line is her royal highness busted out the sun rune, an ancient artifact of immense power, and had herself a barbecue over at Lordlake. Result? No more revolt. Downside? Subjects a little creeped out. The demo of the game kicks off two years after that incident and finds you dispatched by your mother to check out the ruins of Lordlake to see how things are going over there. Once you get to town you discover that, big surprise, the locals are a little testy. It seems that the residents have stubbornly refused to move from their scorched surroundings and are eking out a living in Lordlake. Upon reporting this to your mom, you start to get the sense that she's not quite right. A bit of exploration and chatting around the castle leads you to discover more information about the three runes in Falena. The good news is that the three artifacts are responsible for the kingdom's prosperity. The unsettling news is that your mom has been wearing the most powerful of them on her head since the incident, and she seems a touch "off." While details are still a little sketchy, it's safe to say that a good part of your quest in the game is to discover what the heck is going on, and you're going to need some runes and about 108 friends to do it.

As far as gameplay goes, Suikoden V is shaping up to be a pleasing mix of old and new. What we played in the demo didn't offer many surprises. However, Konami reps at the event were able to shed some light on the unique elements slated to be in the game. The battles are aiming to offer the feel of the combat seen in the first two games, which is a good thing. However, rather than simply copy the original games, Suikoden V will be adding a lot to the mix. You'll now be able to have parties of up to six characters, with four in reserve for combat. When you're in a fight, you can use different formations that let you adjust how your fighters are spread out. And, more importantly, you'll receive some unique bonuses. For example, you'll find that some formations will heal your party members, while others will offer stat boosts. Combat will also offer more co-op attacks that will vary on the characters you're using. Characters will also have short- and long-range weapons, which will require you to do some thinking before you spread them out on the battlefield, as their position may not mix well with their weapon type. For example, if you put someone with a short-range weapon on the back line of your group, that person won't be able to attack at all due to his or her need to be up close and personal when attacking.

The presentation so far looks sharp and takes the series in a slightly new direction. The visuals we've seen are a little more realistic than Suikoden IV, and they veer a little farther away from the more stylized look the series has been using since it hit the PS2. Based on what we've seen, the game's color palette has also expanded, resulting in a richer look overall, which we like. Character models are detailed and stand up to the scrutiny that's possible when switching to the closest of three available camera modes. The environments we've seen sport a minimalist look that works. The audio in the game works well, with the decent voice acting and rousing music.

While we played what will likely amount to a tiny fraction of the adventure in Suikoden V, we liked what we saw. The promise of the combat system has us intrigued, and we're especially curious to see what kind of fun we can have with our saved data from previous games. Suikoden V is currently slated to ship sometime later this year for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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