Konami is back into its blockbuster game-producing days of old, when the software giant used to churn out amazing game after amazing game. From the legendary Contra titles to the magnificent Castlevania series, Suikoden definitely deserves a place up amongst these gaming masterpieces To put it shortly, Suikoden is simply an excellent title. With a superb musical score, rivaling the best of the RPG soundtracks, and a truly intense and suspenseful plot, Suikoden is certainly a classic. Known for their recent adventure and sports titles, Konami has hit the proverbial gold mine in this fantastic RPG.

To their credit, Konami has had two other RPG releases for the Playstation, Azure Dreams and Vandal Hearts. Azure Dreams is an odd game with no true RPG counterpart, taking place mostly in a huge tower with real time battles, and involves raising monsters for use in your party. Although it is an interesting concept, it was poorly received in the U.S. The far more successful of the two, Vandal Hearts, is more of a strategy type game, along the lines of Square’s Final Fantasy Tactics. Suikoden, however, takes us back to the old school RPG era of the Super NES. Though it doesn’t have the jaw-dropping computer rendered graphics of Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden stresses the fundamentals of what makes an RPG great – an intriguing plot and interesting characters.

Suikoden’s epic tale begins as the hero, who has no given name, and his father, one of The Five Great Imperial Generals, Teo McDohl are summoned by the great Emperor Barbarosa. There, after the initial greetings, you learn that you will be working for the renowed Imperial Guard, which performs various tasks for the Empire. After returning to your home in Gregminster, outside the palace gates, you then have a fateful dinner with your father. During the banquet, Teo says that he will be going away on a mission to the North and asks that your four companions, Gremio, Pahn, Cleo, and Ted, look after you while he is away.

While your father is away, you will come to realize the treachery and evil that corrupts the once great Empire. The fateful events have been set forth that will eventually lead you to consider joining the rebellious Liberation Army, who seek and yearn for a return to the former glory days of the sinister Empire. While this plot may appear to seem like nothing new, Suikoden manages to successfully make it come alive. The sudden plot twists will baffle and bewilder you, while the immense number of characters will keep you entranced in the game. The loyalties and motives of your characters will also come into focus and keep you on the edge of your seat, as love, courage, bravery, ingenuity, and sorrow, are all masterfully explored throughout the game.

The graphics of Suikoden are not up to par with the latest crop of next generation RPGs, but they are more than adequate in this case. The characters and their surrounding environments contain a great amount of detail, and battle graphics and spells are nicely done, though they lack a bit of creativity. Characters are large and do not fall into the generic short, little fat guys with huge head category that we are used to seeing on many RPGs. Each town and area also has its own distinct feel to it, adding a lot to the general atmosphere of the game. While the graphics are not of Final Fantasy VII caliber, they are comparable with Wild ARMs.

Suikoden also features an excellent soundtrack that is easily right up there with Square’s musical symphonies. Every score fits the game’s scenes and mood perfectly, from the sad and dramatic melodies to the triumphant and heroic tracks. The music invokes strong emotions and only the venerable Final Fantasy VII score can surpass Suikoden in this respect.

One of the most apparent innovations that sets Suikoden apart from other RPGs is the vastly important and unique Headquarters System. After you progress in the game, you will eventually obtain a castle to quarter your fledgling army. The castle can be named whatever you choose and is the foundation of recruitment for new army members to join your cause. Some potential members will fight along side you, while others will make improvements in your fortress. As your number of recruits grows, your castle will also grow, undergoing numerous changes. For instance, if you recruit a merchant, he may open up a shop to peddle goods, or if you recruit an inventor, an elevator might even be installed in your stronghold.

There are 108 possible characters, called The Stars of Destiny, that you can locate throughout the world, and in order to get the best ending, all 108 must be found. Some of the more stubborn characters may only join you if you agree to complete a certain task for them, like helping them find a lost item and so forth. Battles in Suikoden are pretty straight forward, but like in every good RPG, they include options to make them more interesting. All battles occur randomly, like in Final Fantasy VII, but instead of the usual 3 or 4 party members allowed in battle, you can use up to 6 of your fellow comrades in arms. There are also combined attacks, or Unites, similar to Chrono Trigger, where you and your teammates engage in a joint attack for massive damage against the enemy.

Probably one of the greatest parts of the game are the multiple full scale army vs. army battles where you lead your army against the opposing force’s combatants. You are given a few options of attack and how you decide to attack and your opponent does will decide the outcome of the battle. Also, in a few places, you can actually engage in a strategic one-on-one duel with the enemy commander, with the same basic setup as the army vs. army conflicts.

For all of Suikoden’s accomplishments, it does suffer from a few minor, yet significant, flaws. On average, the game will only last the most novice of players about 25 hours the first time through. However, trying to find all of the hidden secrets and the 108 characters will take you much longer. Challenge is also severely limited and every “maze” is quite easy to complete, with the boss characters faring no better. The magic system also contains its shares of flaws, only allowing one “rune” to be equipped per person and forcing you to keep wearing the rune to still cast its set of spells. The inventory system has its share of problems and can get very frustrating having to carry such a limited supply of items, but Suikoden manages to overcome these problems.

Suikoden is an amazing title for the growing Playstation RPG library and it is a shame that it didn’t receive as much publicity as it should have. Combining good, colorful graphics, a memorable soundtrack, compelling characters, and a suspenseful plot, Suikoden succeeds in towering above a majority of the RPGs currently available. If you haven’t already laid your claim to Suikoden, make sure to take part in this rich gaming experience and watch for Suikoden II in early of 1999.