The 108 Stars of Destiny have traveled through multiple Suikoden titles and have made it to your pocket, in the Nintendo DS’ new handheld RPG, Suikoden Tierkreis. Suikoden has made a very specific name for itself under Konami’s banner within the realm of traditional turn-based RPGs. The series is famous for its “108 stars of destiny”, the term used for each title’s 108 recruitable party members. Depending on your tastes this may come across as an exciting prospect or a daunting task, and the process is true of both. Collecting all 108 characters requires a large time dedication, a drive to see the task through to the end, and the desire to see the game’s “true ending”, which each of the Suikoden titles have boasted in the past should a player go so far as to recruit each star of destiny. Although this function alone makes Konami’s string of Suikoden games seem unique in their design, the series also benefits from a reputation of politically driven storylines, large party sizes, a strategic and in-depth combat design. They also house a unique magic system based on “rune usage” – different elemental representations that can be affixed to each character to enable varying magic abilities and properties, based on the element itself.
Konami’s handheld adaptation of the series remains true to most of the formula that made the previous titles successful, but the minor deviations from the list of qualities that fans have come to expect from the Suikoden games may turn the more hardcore crowd away from Suikoden Tierkreis. What Tierkreis has done in an attempt to step away from traditional standards in the direction of a more basic handheld experience is remove the standard rune system in lieu of a somewhat simpler magic system. The newer system still allows characters to have up to four runes equipped, but limits each rune to granting characters only a single spell or ability whose element is determined randomly based on the move learned. This reworking may succeed in simplifying Tierkreis’ character customization process, but also limits the player from designing a character’s elemental affinity, and thus, the options in combat become less intimate to each player’s experience. Aside from this drawback, Tierkreis is gifted with a four-man party limit and three available character slots for the frontline and backline, giving the option of keeping long-range characters such as casters, archers, and spear users safe behind the more melee-oriented characters wielding swords, claws, hammers, and shields (amongst others). In addition, certain character combinations within a party enable the use of “combination” attacks, which deal hefty amounts of damage following small-scale cinematic scenes in exchange for consuming the turn of each character involved in the attack. During key plotline events where the use of multiple parties becomes required – such as storming a castle from different sides, or causing a commotion with one group so another group can infiltrate a key location – these strategic character choices and placement decisions become an integral part of surviving a complex attack. This required foresight draws the player into a degree of depth and planning that remains easy to manipulate but deep enough to keep your attention, as the series has been continually popular for. If ever having 108 playable characters required justification, these multiple-party scenarios succeed in doing so.
Where Tierkreis truly shines is in its story development. From as soon as you select “new game” to the moment you read “the end” you will be enthralled by a constant stream of in-game events that succeed only in afflicting you with the desire to find out what will happen next. Keeping in touch with the underlying Suikoden storyline themes of old, the plot revolves heavily around a political injustice that leads to rebellion and/or civil war. Tierkreis’ conflict is staged in a world that is gripped by an ever-growing religious faction known as “The One True Way”, which believes that all of life’s events and emotions are pre-determined and to deviate from your pre-determined future is a crime punishable by exile or death. This “restriction” forces citizens into certain professions, relationships, and status, and at the top of the pre-determined food chain resides a bishop who acts on behalf of the One King, Tierkreis’ omnipotent antagonist. As you can imagine, such a large scale web of social control bodes ill for some, and as the influence of The One True Way leaves the larger capital cities and begins to encroach on smaller outlying villages, we are introduced to our hero. Whilst patrolling the border of their home, our hero, along with three of his village friends chance upon a “chronicle” – books that induce a vision of an alternate world’s history and grant its viewers the ability to use “marks of the stars”, the runes that Tierkreis’ magic system functions on. With their new-found ability to wield magic and the chronicle’s knowledge of how other worlds suffered at the hands of The One True Way, our heroes and initial 4 members of the 108 stars of destiny set out on a journey to recruit an army large enough to oppose The One King. With this, the stage for the unfolding events of the game is set to capture your interest and keep you satisfied well into the final credits, at which point you can choose whether to embark on the game’s nifty wi-fi quest options.
However, it goes without saying that every rose must also have its thorns, and Tierkreis is no exception. As memorable a story as Tierkreis boasted, the game is plagued with some of the most horrendous voice acting that any title has ever suffered from. The main protagonist’s voice sounds abysmal and similar to being forced to fit entire lines of script into three-second intervals, and only a few of the many voiced characters stand even a remote distance away from being dry, boring, and absolutely forgettable.
Suikoden Tierkreis isn’t perfect, but its strengths more than make up for its few weaknesses, and as a game representing a series whose fans have come to expect a degree of quality, it does the previous Suikoden titles justice in its successful orientation into the world of handheld gaming. If you own a DS and enjoy RPGs, then you should own Suikoden Tierkreis, that is to say you possess the constitution to persevere through what may very well be the worst voice acting in videogame history, and aren’t so much of a stickler for Suikoden formula that the alterations to the rune system throw off your enjoyment.