By ArbitraryWater 24 Comments
Ah yes. Remember me? Thought not. I used to blog here, once upon a time. But then I went to school and got addicted to League of Legends/procrastination/staying up far too late and the best I could muster was some talk about Deus Ex Invisible War, Dark Souls, and The Witcher in all the time I was in that dorm room. Oh. And I wrote my thoughts about Mass Effect 3 like the week after I got home. And that won't really change, because 32 hours of my week are devoted to my current job at a certain worldwide retail chain that ends in -Mart. I guess I could complain about that, but I'm getting paid and the job itself isn't all that hard so a lot of that is immediately null. So instead, I guess I can talk about the video games that I have been playing since I finished Mass Effect 3. Because I still enjoy doing this, oddly enough.
Games that aren't Suikoden III
You're right. I could have written something on Diablo III. I, like anyone else with a computer, both played and finished Blizzard's loot collecting simulator on Normal difficulty, and in my case I figured that was good enough for now and I could play on Nightmare when I felt up to it. But the thing is, as far as Diablo III is concerned, I really don't need to write about it because everyone already knows what it is and how they feel about it. Diablo III is a game that, much like Starcraft II, takes very few risks in differentiating itself from its 12 year old predecessor. And I'm fine with that because the game is fun. But that's all I have to say about it.
However, if we may, we can talk about some other games that I have been messing with, in case the idea of reading what I have to say about a decade-old niche JRPG doesn't tickle your fancy. Let's start with the games that I bought along with Suikoden, as part of a buy 2 get 1 free sale from my local creepy electronic media pawn shop:
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Advance Wars Days of Ruin is already 4 years old. That's insane, because it means that Advance Wars Dual Strike is like 7 years old now and that means that I'm old and I can't asfd;kjhaskdljfhaslkjdf. Ahem. Despite never owning the game in the past, I had played a decent amount of it when it came out and can continue to confirm my claim of “One step forward, two steps back” from the days of yore. Namely, while all the gameplay changes are really smart and make it a much better, more balanced game for the purposes of playing against other people the campaign is much more reliant on trial and error and the change to the “darker” aesthetic falls flat on its face due to everything still being as cartoony as the old games, but without the lightheartedness that made it permissible. Still, I will probably finish it because I love Advance Wars and because you need to beat the campaign if you want to unlock all the other COs. You know. So I can play online with my friends (joke).
Valkyria Chronicles II
Speaking of turn based strategy games that are on handhelds and are apparently not as good as their forebears, I also played a good amount of Valkyria Chronicles II. Despite the game failing to adequately explain some of its mechanics, I find it pretty enjoyable and would probably have prioritized it over Suikoden... except for the part where the story and characters are a smattering of every anime/JRPG cliché and trope imaginable. Obviously, I've always been a “Gameplay First” kind of fellow and think that if you are looking for good story and characters in a video game you are probably not looking in the right place, but Valkyria Chronicles II is grating to the point where it is actively diminishing my enjoyment of the game. Apparently the first and third games are a lot better, but I don't own a PS3 or live in Japan, so those options are sunk. Once again, you will most likely hear something about this again at some point, but not today. I think I'd actually rather finish Tactics Ogre instead, and that game has some pretty apparent issues despite being pretty cool otherwise.
I was also going to talk about Fire Emblem, but that would require a blog unto itself. So instead I'll just say that I saw Prometheus last night and could not tell you what I actually think of it as a movie, and man I should really watch Alien because apparently that movie is pretty good.
Yo guys, Suikoden III is pretty good.
When it comes to JRPGs developed post-SNES era, I'm perhaps not the most knowledgeable. The N64 was my first console and if you know anything about that console's library, it's that the best RPG for it was the original Paper Mario, which while clearly a great game that is one of my childhood favorites, is not exactly indicative of the kinds of things that were coming out on the Playstation around the same time. Same goes for the Gamecube and its abysmal RPG representation (Even after all these years, I'm still not entirely sure what Baten Kaitos actually is) Thus, while some of you can defend Final Fantasy VIII's bizarre and arcane magic system with a straight face, I can defend the fact that Donkey Kong 64 has the Guinness World Record for most collectable objects in a video game with a straight face.
It's a trade-off, and thus for a JRPG to catch my interest, now that I actually own a PS2, it has to be crazy (Final Fantasy X-2), balls hard (SMT Nocturne) or especially novel (Persona 3). Suikoden III is the third one, because its not hard, nor is it the delicious “stupid to the point of self-parody” styling of X-2. Thus, it is novel for a number of reasons: First, it has a story that doesn't dip into the JRPG cliché well all that often, instead playing itself pretty straight for the most part and managing to handle an ensemble cast surprisingly well. Of course, the main villain still wants to destroy the world and cheats in order to steal the macguffins needed to do so, but up to that point there is a lot of nations at war and a lot of the world's history is introduced in context rather than being forced down the player's throat through unnecessary exposition, not to mention how the story is told from multiple perspectives before everyone teams up to beat the bad guys and stuff. While the localization is perhaps a bit dry at spots, it is similarly very well done. If there is a weak point in the story, it is Thomas' chapters, which are totally optional for a reason. Even moreso than kinda dull young-guy protagonist Hugo, Thomas' story of how he gets the castle that houses the 108 stars working is equal parts boring and cloying, not only because he doesn't get to fight all that much but also because his conflicts are, by comparison to the rest of the story, pretty petty. The main characters themselves are quite good however, with Hugo being less awesome than mercenary captain Geddoe or Knight Commander Chris. I also made the mistake of choosing him as the Flame Champion, which meant that the last two chapters centered around him, but he's not so bad as to make the story unenjoyable.
The second trait that makes the Suikoden series novel is the whole 108 Stars of Destiny gimmick, whereupon you can recruit hella dudes to join your cause. While doing that in the first two games supposedly requires a guide, there are only a few in this game that would really require such. I went up and did it, and while the reward for getting all the characters isn't amazing (basically an hour long side story from the perspective of the villain), it's pretty fun in and of itself. While most of the non-main characters are pretty much defined by their quirks, they usually get a decent amount of exposure through incidental dialogue. Where it gets really crazy in that part is when you get the theater director character and decide to put on the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with whomever you please. It's random stuff like that that gives Suikoden III personality. I got myself a copy of Chrono Cross, and that game is ostensibly how not to do a bunch of different characters, so that should be fun to see. Also, much like Deus Ex Invisible War, I have to know for myself how much of a trainwreck that game actually is.
That being said, the gameplay is pretty standard as far as the genre goes. That's not to say that it isn't well done, with its 6 characters but only 3 commands type thing, but it never gets hard enough for you to really worry about using any advanced tactics, and the only battles that are hard are ones that you are supposed to lose anyway, but can win if you are lucky/grind a bunch. Being that there are a ton of characters, there is also a ton of customization in how to spec them and build your party... but only for the last two chapters and even then there are clearly some characters who are much better than others. Before that point you are pretty much stuck to whomever the story chooses to put in your group. There are also duels, which are glorified Rock/Paper/Scissors type things and strategic battles, which once again are only hard when the game wants them to be. It's a pity, because much like the basic RPG combat, the strategic battles only really get interesting near the end, and at that point the game is almost over anyways.
Ok. well, I think I've written enough. I'm sure some jerk is going to put a tl;dr somewhere in here, but in conclusivity, Suikoden III is very much a game I am in favor of, and I will totally seek out the rest of the series as a result (though I hear that Suikoden IV is kind of a bummer all around). It doesn't have the highest production values (indeed, the graphics aren't great and the soundtrack is pretty forgettable) but it makes up for that with personality and a story that avoids the pitfalls that the genre seems so willing to fall into. And that, my friends, is enough for me. Now, to finish me some Fire Emblem...