Suikoden III was a fun and unique experience, despite a few flaws
I really did not like the battle system change. It made boss fights frustrating at times. I liked how much detail they put into the character models, and the characters themselves. Almost all the characters had a rich storyline, and most of them were important to the story. I loved the story and characters alot, but I think because of the high emphasis on storyline and characters really made the game painfully linear. Separating the characters storyline forced each party to walk a certain path, which made it hard to backtrack if you wanted. Some characters couldn't visit some towns, and so on. It was another frustrating for because sometimes, in a Suikoden game, all I want to do is look for the 108 Stars of Destiny, but this game made it really hard for me to do that. You couldn't REALLY do that until the end of the game after you've visited each town, and even then you could trigger a storyline on accident and be thrusted away from non-linearity.
Invisible storyline triggers and why I hate them. Suikoden III has a habit of showing nice dialog scene, but not giving you a hint on what to do afterwards. Most of the times it just forces me to run around in circles within whatever town I'm in just looking for that one spot that triggers another cutscene. I wouldn't mind this so much if they would atleast give a HINT why I should go to sleep to advance the storyline, or to run to the other end of the castle and walk close to the man on the horse to advance the storyline. It makes no sense and annoys me.
Suikoden III is a turn-based RPG. All turns at placed in rounds, so for example you have to set all of your turns, and then watch the battle unfold until the next round. The characters or enemies with the best speed will go first and so on.
You can have up to 6 characters in battle. The system is a little different (for the worst I'd say) from the previous Suikodens. There's three lines of battle, like the previous games, so you have to set a front and a back for three lines. When you're in battle and your turn is up, you can only set the moves of each line. Which means, you have to control two characters at the same time. If you want to attack Enemy A, then you'll have to select 2 characters to attack them. While this speeds up the process of picking your moves, it also limits you. Say you want to use magic, well you can only pick one of those two characters to use them, and if you pick a front character to use magic, your back character will often just stand still in battle. Not only that, but some magics take up to 3 turns to complete. It's a very flawed and mismanaged system and can make some of the boss fights a little to difficult at times in a frustrating way. For example, lets say a boss uses an attack that hits all 6 characters and you want to heal them right away, well you can only use 3 items since that's all the moves you're allowed to do.
In some ways the battle system reminds me of recent Grandia games now. All the characters now run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Some spells can only work within certain radius, so you can only attack in a line or big circle, if the enemy isn't in that circle then it won't hit them. Some spells can actually hit your characters aswell.
Like the previous games, your characters only get 1 weapon through out the game, but they can be tempered at a blacksmith shop in towns to make them stronger. You can equip 3 pieces of armor (helmet, armor, and shield) and three accessories (items, rings, boots, etc). This can be quite expensive overtime, since you'll often have 6 characters with you at a time. The Rune system is just like Suikoden II, each character can equip up to 3 Runes, but they won't be able to equip three right away, you have to gain a certain amount of levels before you're able to do that.
Suikoden III has a pretty cool skill system though. Each character 8 slots they can manage with either Physical or Magical skills. At the end of each battle, everyone that survived will get Skill Points. After you've accumulated enough, you can visit a shop and visit either a physical or magical learning center to boost these skills. You can learn Damage, Armor Protect, Parry, etc at a Physical shop, or Fire Magic, Magic Resistance at a Magical shop. There's only 8 slots, so you have to pick which ones you think are best for the character. Some characters come pre equipped with special skills you can't learn anywhere else.
Dungeon's are extremely short and otherwise forgettable. All dungeons just require you to run from point a to point b with little interference. Sometimes you'll get a second branch to a different pathway, but most often than not it will just be a dead end.
Suikoden III brings back the One-on-One and Strategy gimmick battles. I feel these gimmicks are mostly a waste of time and once again I'm correct. The one-on-one battles are just so much easier this time around, which is a good thing but they're so easy they're almost pointless. It's basically rock paper scissors, but the character you're dueling will say something, but usually what they say is obvious what their next attack will be. The strategy battle is similar to the Suikoden II battles, as they're turn-based strategy at heart. The board is set like a Chinese checkers board. You can move across which ever dot is connected and initiate a fight, use magic or defend. When you get into a fight, you get to choose if you want to fight, run or defend. Your team is set into a randomized fight, similar to Ogre Battle 64, where they'll fight each other for a certain amount of time until there is a winner. You can win or lose early if your leader is killed, but it's random so you can't just aim for the leader. This gimmick is another failure because most battles are pre-determined. You have to follow one path, and that one path is mostly to sit in one spot while a storyline takes place. Most battle objectives is to "wait", and I'm not making that up. Both of these gimmicks are once again a waste of time.
The best thing about Suikoden games are finding all 108 Stars of Destiny. This means, there's 108 recruitable characters scattered within the world and it's your job to find them and convince them to join your castle. Since this game doesn't really have a main character, you get to run your castle with a fourth avatar, Thomas. Thomas has 2 chapters all by himself in the game and it's his job to build a castle from scratch. So he eventually hires Chris, Geddeo and Hugo to find more people to join his castle. Not all 108 will join your castle (some are bad guys) and not all 108 are able to join you in battle, but most are.
This is probably the easiest Suikoden game, in terms of finding all the side characters. Most of them join you automatically through the story, while the rest are really simple as hell to figure out how convince them to join. Some characters will even join you without a test. It's weird but to simple. There was only 1 character I just couldn't figure out, and only a handful of characters I just couldn't find.
----------Characters / Story----------
Suikoden III uses a system they call the "Trinity Sight System", which means you get to play as three main characters, that go on three different quests, that intertwine with each other. So you get to see from their own perspectives. You get to choose between Chris, a noble knight from Zexen, Hugo a young warrior from the Grasslands, and Geddeo a neutral mercenary. War is brewing between the noble Zexen army and the savage Grassland tribes. Each character and their team are on a quest to find the fabled Flame Champion that holds the strength they need to defeat their enemies and end the war.
The story was pretty damn good. I was constantly shocked how much detail they put into the characters and their personalities. Like in the previous two Suikodens, after you recruited someone, they usually become background fodder, but Suikoden III kept a good majority of the characters within the storyline. I liked the "Trinity Sight System", it was painfully slow but after you learned more about the characters and the lands and the people they're interacting with, it turns out to be a fun story.
Suikoden III doesn't have any real connections to the previous two games, but they do throw in some nods to them. For example, the Star Dragon Sword makes an appearance, Viki is back as the teleportion mage, Apple from II is back as a strategist, and a few other minor winks and nods can be found.
Everything is in 3D from the towns to the characters to the battles. The character models are highly detailed, the characters show a ton of emotion and you won't see alot of reused animations during cutscenes. The characters mouths even move along to the dialog, despite the fact that there is no voice overs.
The game opens up with a nice anime cutscene spliced with CGI effects, showing all the characters. The spell attacks in this game are very underwhelming, they look like something straight out of a PS1 game. The dungeons are extremely small and linear with little to do within them other than to reach Point B.
I like the music quite a bit, catchy and rememberable music you should expect from a Suikoden game by now. I really dislike the lack of voice acting at all in this game. I know there's like 200 characters in this game, and you can't voice all of them out, but if they atleast added a few grunts, emotions, sighs, or most importantly battle cries within the battle field, then I would of had an easier time with the game. Oh well.
The world map is a weak connect the dots map, similar to that of a Final Fantasy Tactics game. Each dot connects to a town, field or dungeon. You can't warp around the world at an instant, you have to manually walk through each field (usually about 2-3 screens) until you reach the next dot. This can be a slow process. I much preferred the overhead world map of the previous Suikodens.
You'll eventually meet Viki, and she'll allow you to teleport to previously visited areas, but you don't meet her until the end of the game.
----------Time to Complete Game----------
The game doesn't save after the final battle, so time doesn't include that battle or credits. Ok ending I guess. Looooong extended ending showing all 108 and what happened to them after the game. I missed 14 characters overall.