This review of Suikoden: Tierkreis is specifically intended for people who’ve been fans of the Suikoden series for a long time, a discourse about how Tierkreis compares to the rest of the Suikoden games. It doesn’t cover the basics a normal review would give you, and it doesn’t involve any kind of scoring system. If you’re looking for basic information on the graphics and sound quality and blah blah blah, well… you can find that elsewhere, written by people who do that for a living. If you’re just wanting to know if you can expect a real Suikoden experience from Tierkreis, however, then this review is for you.
The Setting, The Story, The Hero
The first and most obvious difference is that it does not take place in the same world as the other Suikoden games. All five of the main games, as well as Rhapsodia (Suikoden Tactics for us English-speaking countries) and the Suikogaiden games have taken place somewhere in the same world. However, this game seems to be set in an alternate universe. The world in which the game mostly takes place is connected to a plethora of other worlds by magical gateways. This conglomeration of worlds is known as The Infinity, and the worlds are connected to each other by magical gateways.
This plays an important part in the main storyline of Tierkreis. Past Suikoden games have chronicled wars of international scale, focusing on tactics, strategies, intrigue, and the reasons people go to the lengths they do. Not so, here. There is still some political jockeying, and it definitely involves war on a grand scale. Human nature certainly still has its part to play in the events that unfold. The primary conflict in Tierkreis, however, is between the army led by your hero, your allies, and a threat to The Infinity as a whole. This is not a bad thing. It’s still a story worthy, in my opinion, of the Suikoden name.
This is especially true in combination with the fact that your hero is not a silent protagonist. That’s something I’ve never thought was particularly well-done in the main Suikoden games anyway. It always made the main character seem totally lacking in personality. I know — that’s kinda the idea, to make it so you can fill his shoes in with your feet, but I believe a silent protagonist still needs some body of his own. The hero in Tierkreis is very gung-ho in his quest to fight the bad guys. Your choices still don’t make much — if any — difference in how the story unfolds, but at least they create enough dialogue for the “wrong” alternative to make it worth your while to see and then don’t force you to fake-choose again until you pick the “right” choice. It’s a good thing, really.
Suikoden Rituals and Sources of Magic
Firstly, when I say “rituals,” I don’t mean that in a virgin sacrifice, let’s-raise-bad-things kind of way. I mean it in the sense of, say, graduation, or marriage, or a funeral… the events marked by ceremony that pepper most peoples’ lives. ‘Cause let’s be honest: the Suikoden games have a certain amount of formula to them. There are certain events that happen at some point in the course of each of the main Suikoden games. Those events are as follows.
- The game starts with the beginning of the traditional Hero’s Journey. The world as your hero knows it is violently ripped away from him, his misconceptions about the world as a nice place are shattered faster than a greased vase in a klutz’s hands, and he’s left with no mentor figure to guide him. (This isn’t unique to Suikoden, though, of course.)
- Your hero takes up with some sort of rebellious force. They’re not as powerful as the bad guys, but they, like you, want to see the bad guys go down. They’ve already got the seeds of an opposing force in place, which they’re trying to water by gaining alliances with as many of their enemies’ enemies as possible.
- Being outnumbered and outgunned, so to speak, you find yourself in need of a Strategist, a person who can topple whole armies with only the power of his (or her) mind, a small band of rag-tag fighters, some scotch tape, and a couple of matches. Getting this Strategist on your side entails overcoming some kind of obstacle.
- No army is complete without a base of operations. The world in which the main Suikoden games take place seems to be littered with ancient, abandoned, huge castles, and in most of the games you take one to be your army’s HQ.
- At some point, it is revealed that your hero has been chosen to bear one of the True Runes and to lead the 108 Stars of Destiny in the war you’re fighting. You get the tablet (tablets?) on which is listed each Star of Destiny, including the name of the individual attached to the star in question. (From game to game, the individual filling a Star’s slot will usually change, but each person filling that slot has similar characteristics. Only a few stars are in all five of the main Suikoden games. The only two I can think of offhand are Jeane and Viki.)
- You continue forging alliances, taking strategic hotspots, and building up your army until you’re ready to take on the bad guys in an epic final battle.
That’s the distilled version. Anyone who’s been a fan of Suikoden for a while will know that each game’s plot has enough interesting things going on to make up for the formulaic nature of the games. When I started playing the fifth game, though, I found myself thinking things like, “Excellent, they’re going to direct me to a strategist in a bout five minutes,” and “Oh, that must be my castle, then.” Everything was earmarked in such a way that, as a Suikoden veteran, I could see the formulaic Suikoden elements coming.
Tierkreis keeps to this formula a little more loosely than the other Suikoden games. The Strategist, for instance, didn’t need to be convinced to join me or broken out of captivity or otherwise obtained by breaking through some wall. He was a friend from my village who’d been with me from the start of the game and happened, when the need arose, to have a head for tactics and strategy. That village, by the way, is not destroyed or made inaccessible to your hero and his friends (at least not up to the thirty-hour mark I’ve reached). The Hero’s Journey in Tierkreis begins when your hero and his friends find out that the world as they know it is changing in crazy ways, and they as Starbearers (the Tierkreis equivalent of the 108 Stars of Destiny) are the only ones who can protect it and the ones they love.
The True Runes are unique to the world of the main Suikoden games, being part of that world’s creation story. They are seemingly incompatible with the concept of The Infinity presented in Tierkreis, and do not make an appearance. In fact, all magical power in Teirkreis stems from the sources of the power bestowed on the Starbearers. People who have spent years studying the sources of the Starbearers’ powers can use some magic, but even they are no match for a Starbearer come fully into his own. As the story unfolds in Tierkreis, you discover more Starbearer power sources, and that is what gives you more spells and special abilities to work with.
A Little Bit About Gameplay
While this isn’t a review like most reviews, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the gameplay differences at all. The biggest gameplay differences between Tierkreis and the main Suikoden games are in the battle system. Tierkreis has no special duel system and no special army battle system. If a duel is called for, you face off against your foe within the bounds of the normal party battle system, one on one. In situations where armies face off against one another, you make several parties and fight one or more individual battles with each party. A party number four fighters plus one non-combat support member. On the plus side, your combat characters don’t come stock with one weapon they’re doomed to die fighting with (which is to say, you can switch equipped weapons out like in most other RPG video games). You also still have two rows of three slots to put your four fighting characters in, which means you can still count on the row/column thing to protect your weaker characters.
In a nutshell, the gameplay changes made for Tierkreis have taken out most of what made the Suikoden games unique in the gameplay department. It’s still enjoyable to play, though. The only thing that’s really irked me about the gameplay is that a great deal of double-tapping is required if you’re using stylus controls. It’s faster and easier to just use the buttons in an old-skool manner. Everything else has worked out to an enjoyable, if somewhat easy, gaming experience.
Unless you’re an extreme super-duper ridiculously hard core Suikoden purist who couldn’t ever possibly even think about trying to play a game with the Suikoden name on it that isn’t really a Suikoden game because it’s off by a smidgen, then don’t pick up Tierkreis.
There’s enough of the old-skool Suikoden in Suikoden: Teirkreis to make it worth the while of most Suikoden fans, though, I think. The important parts that give it the feel of a Suikoden game are there, but tweaked enough to make the game a new experience even for old fans. The story is good, and it still evokes more thought and emotion than a lot of the games I’ve seen recently.