Chuck (chuckro) wrote,

Genso Suikogaiden Vol. 1 - Swordsman of Harmonia

A visual novel that tells a side-story to Suikoden 2, featuring Nash Latkje, man-at-arms, rogue, spy for Harmonia and shameless flirt. He spends the first episode as companion to Sierra, and they open the story bickering like an old married couple despite having just met. The later episodes (there are four in total) feature other supporting cast members of Suikoden 2, feeding us greater detail of various events like Riou and Jowy's foray into the Highland camp, and the siege of Greenhill.

Despite supposedly giving you a low-down of what Nash is carrying or what resources he has, the game delights in "surprising" the player with additional tricks up his sleeve, like cursed swords or additional Talismans. New allies appear from nowhere if you choose the path that brings them out. This game doesn't really seem to believe in foreshadowing, I'll say that much.

(For that matter--good god, but Nash is a Mary Sue. Is there anything he can't do, or any situation he's not prepared for? The fact that his hypercompetance is shoehorned into an existing narrative probably helps this impression.)

The closest this comes to a "game" is the kind of obtuse system of "luck points" in a meter on the screen that goes up as you do "risky" things and get Nash beaten up, but is required to be high to make certain choices. (I was very limited in my options in Episode 3 because my luck points were low.) As this is a visual novel and not an rpg, there is no real danger at any point--you're guaranteed to get through the story--but there are branching paths and segments you won't see unless you make the right choices.

The game takes maybe four hours to go through once; the designers obviously intended you to get your money's worth by playing it over and over, looking for ways to unlock hidden scenes and events you hadn't encountered before along the game's branching paths. However, no branch lasts longer than a single episode (the overall arc is always the same) and it doesn't appear than any branch splits more than once before recombining.

The graphics are very static; most of the action is portrayed by flashing the screen and then text explaining what happened. Which, honestly, is the most annoying aspect of this as a visual novel for me; that it's not making good use of the medium. There's virtually nothing here that couldn't be done in a Choose Your Own Adventure graphic novel, so why put it on a PS1 disk at all? There are relatively few scenes, so why not animate more of them? Or at least make more of the still images very specific to the scene, rather than mostly using the generic ones, even during battle or tense situations.

The fan translation is decent, though the thin font and the text boxes don't always make for the best of friends if you're playing on a computer screen instead of a TV. (Did I mention this never came out in the US and you need to play the emulated fan-translation? Yeah.)

Overall: First and foremost, you need to play Suikoden 2 (and preferably Suikoden before that) for this to make any sense at all. And you need to like it enough to want more side-story and backstory details about secondary characters. Basically, if you've ever felt the need to read Suikoden fanfiction, this is probably for you. Because that's what it is, just officially-sanctioned.
Tags: reviews, video game reviews

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