The so-far Japanese-only Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki (translated as Genso Suikoden: The Game Whose Names Inspires Arguments About Correct Localisation Between Fanboys Who Will Likely All Be Wrong Should This Game Ever Be Officially Localised) is the eleventh unique title in what was once described as Konami’s franchise RPG series. These days, franchise is exactly the correct term seeing as just like any pizza place can get a Domino’s franchise if they don the uniform and put up the sign, any old RPG can get the Suikoden name stapled onto it if it embraces the trappings a little.
If that sounds bitter, it really isn’t meant to be. Rather, it is an attempt to divorce myself and any “classic” Suikoden fans from the idea that a Suikoden game is only as strong as its continuity. That’s simply not what the franchise is about in 2012. This game follows in the footsteps left by 2008’s Suikoden Tierkreis by setting the game in another world that could be considered tied to the rest of the series by the concept of other dimensions, a flavourful bit of background trivia in older games and the basis of the plot for Tierkreis.
So now that we know what this game is not, how about we take a look at what this game is. Lack of inter-game continuity may irk the traditional Suikoden fan but Tierkreis was a fundamentally solid, if uninspiring game. How does Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki stand up to both its ancient ancestors and immediate forbearer?
Not extraordinarily well, but well enough is the answer. There is nothing embarrassing about Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki. It just exists, devoid of extremes either way, like Taggart or Esmeralda in the original Suikoden.
The gameplay is the same core Suikoden stuff that has been repeated, and rarely strayed from, since 1995. There’s only so much to say without straying into minutiae but anyone who has ever played a Suikoden game, and most people who have not, will be very familiar with its front row/back row, turns determined by speed stat, experience points to level up format. It also carries with it a basic AP system as well as a town navigation menu much more comparable to 2005’s Suikoden Tactics than anything else in the series.
You could view this as familiar, or nostalgic even but at this stage, some 17 years removed from the original Suikoden on the PSone it also feels creaky and run down. Unlike previous games, there are no unique hooks to the gameplay, no matter how small, to engage the player and what were once considered deviations from the norm are now dusty. The battles simply will not feel as memorable to the player without even superficial differences to hold the attention or invoke the imagination. It lacks even the controversial spark of Tierkreis’ “innovations” (if you’re a follower of the series, you’ll already know these, if you’re not, you likely couldn’t give a toss) as the game seems content to tweak what came before rather than make any changes of its own.
Don’t be mistaken, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the battle system in this game. At this point, it is well polished and used as nothing more as a means to an end, as interruptions to pad out the story the game wishes to tell. This use of battles as simply a time-eater is probably its purest connection to the Suikoden games of old.
Now, one’s opinion on the story will vary, of course, and a great story can make even the most gameplay-deficient RPG playable. Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki takes place in a world which is routinely ravaged every 100 years by the Centennial Monster. Comparisons to Final Fantasy X’s Sin aside (and to be fair, those comparisons are superficial at best), the plot is fairly familiar to anyone who has played a video game in the last 20 years. Your plucky band of humble and quirky youths from a small country village are thrown back in time by a Luc-analogue and, surprise, the key to everything is to gather the 108 Stars of Destiny, this time from the present, the past and the even more distant past.
Playing the game in Japanese means that a lot of the fine details of the story are lost to me, but the broad strokes used to depict the characters and their personalities are less like broad strokes from a brush and more like using a paint roller. The voice acting represents this, with each voice actor overacting and not so much reciting their lines as trying to spit them out in such a way that they become physical knives, carving their traits into the listener like some sort of bizarre gang that really wants you to know that this girl is a tsundere, or whatever. By the way, I know Norse mythology is cool and all but I think Japanese RPGs have done all there is to do with the Yggdrasil/tree of life concept and it may be time to move on to something else, like a wreath of malaise or a mulberry bush of insomnia.
The plot fails to be breezy enough to set aside but neither is it intriguing enough to be the focus of the game. Many of the characters show some interest or spark of life, only to fade into the background once their allotted time in the limelight is up. This is a weakness inherent in the most games of the Suikoden series, due to its large cast (usually some 110-120 characters per game) but it would be remiss not to mention it, especially when it can be mostly avoided through effort, as 2002’s Suikoden III did for the most part.
Anime-style cut scenes punctuate the plot at points seemingly chosen by use of a dart board made up of an assortment of plot points, but such cut scenes ceased to be truly impressive around 1998 and add little save for fleeting opportunities for the plot to escape the confines of its own gameplay and graphical limitations. As atmosphere, these scenes add little and as a visual feast, they add even less. They are of better quality than Tierkreis’ compressed Quicktime video quality scenes, but otherwise, the content and execution of these cut scenes are near identical.
Graphically, the game resembles an upgraded, HD version of 2004’s Suikoden IV. There’s the same artificial “Emotion Engine” doll-type models, but better sculpted and with more animations and natural movements. The scenery is technically adept but familiar enough territory for anyone who has played maybe one or two RPGs with polygons in them since 1999. Almost every screen is a square, surrounded by impassible scenery that any normal person could probably traverse, never mind the chosen heroes destined to save creation, that sort of thing. It’s hardly game-breaking, but you’re not going to be wowed by anything here either.
When it comes to the music, everything functions as it’s supposed to. You have the sleepy country village tune, the “exciting but not too exciting because calm down it’s only some wild boars” random battle music and the “trumpets equal royalty” style tracks here. Interspersed with these are some classic Suikoden tunes which do stand out more than the wholly original compositions in the game but are still nothing amazing. You can only add so many (literal) bells and whistles to the “enter your name” tune or the “yay you won a battle” track.
For all of this though, there is nothing fatally wrong with Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki. You can have a good time playing it and at the very least some of the familiar trapping, such as the running sprite loading screens, will tickle your fancy. Some of the characters are interesting, usually the quirky, ancillary ones and once the plot really starts to kick in, you may find yourself drawn into continuing just to see who and what is around the corner.
In the end, however, it is difficult to recommend this game for import to all but the most die-hard of Suikoden fans. Its lack of uniqueness, in nearly all aspects of its being make it all but impossible to suggest it is worth playing through this title in Japanese. There are so many mediocre PSP RPGs out there that have already been localised. If you desperately need a serviceable game with a plot and setting that swings between comfortably familiar and an embodiment of the Grand List of Role Playing Game Clichés, then you may be better off picking up something like Sword of Vermilion or Hexyz Force instead. Should Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki ever get an English-language release, it may be worth a look but right now, if this game still appeals to you, save the extra $50 or so it would cost to import it and go buy Suikoden Tierkreis instead.