Buried underneath a mountain of farm and animal sims the DS has a strong line of RPGs granting the hand-held plenty of flair. Suikoden is one of the latest to arrive in Europe and even though it can't compete with the best, it's a solid purchase if you're aching for turn-based stats fun and can stand the Japanese hairdos.
Suikoden is a long-running series that started its life on the first PlayStation. I never played any of the previous installments, but I heard a lot of good about these first games. For fans it's important to note that Tierkreis is not a direct continuation but a spin-off, as it not as closely connected to the core of the 5-part storyline. I can't really judge how well it compares to the other games, but as a stand alone effort it manages pretty well.
The start of the game is like many other J-RPG. You're a young kid in a somewhat peaceful village, but trouble is brewing. The peace lasts through the short introduction, after which the earth needs saving and you start your journey. The villains are evil, you are good and off you go for 50 hours of numbers, swords and magic.
I found it a little hard to get into the game as the start is somewhat bland and the mechanics of the game need some getting used to. You can't simply walk through villages but have to pick destinations in the village which you can then visit. There's a somewhat strange trade system that gets you the necessary money to buy stuff and the fights appear quite random at the start of the game. But most irritating of all is a small quirk which prohibits you from selecting the standard option during conversations. This is probably done to counter unwanted selections, but it's hardly a graceful solution.
Visually Tierkreis is almost impeccable. The 3D battle sequences can look a little muddy and edgy at times (a few camera issues with bigger enemies that obscure hit counters and such) but towns, areas and maps look truly gorgeous. The animated videos in between are of high quality too, which is not too surprising if you know that they were done by the people of Production I.G. Add to that the varied and detailed character designs for 100+ characters and you have a game that will go easy on the eyes.
The music too is pretty nice, though nothing out of the ordinary. Battle and victory music is nice enough and most towns and areas have their own recognizable background tunes. Sadly the voice overs are a completely different story. Grating English dubs that go way too fast and manage to be more than merely annoying. Not just a little issue, as there is a lot of conversation during the game, most of which is dubbed.
The battle system is rather advanced with several types of weapons belonging to one of three categories. All enemies have varying resistance to each category of weapon. There are magic spells for each character (of which you can select 4 for each character) and there are group attacks for specific combinations of characters. If you know that there's a total of 108 characters there enough fun to be had. On the other hand, the difficulty level of the game is pretty low, so most of the time standard attacks will suffice (and will be quicker than watching the elaborate animations of fancier moves).
The problem with Tierkreis for me was that the format of the game could've been tailored better to the needs of the DS. For a hand held console the game is pretty strict and demanding. It's not an easy game to pick up as there is lots of conversation and a serious lack of save points. This either means starting over or leaving the DS on if you have to leave before you reach a save point. On the other hand, if you have the time Tierkreis is a very engaging game that outshines its flaws with ease.
If you plan to buy this game for some quick dashes of RPG fun you will be disappointed. But if you have the time to spare and are willing to spend the time needed to engage yourself to the Suikoden world, it's a cool game with a vast team of playable characters, lots of secret missions and items and an interesting storyline that adds shades of grey with every hour you'll play. The choice is up to you. I was lucky enough to play this during my vacation, so I enjoyed it immensely. It's telling though that I spent 2 weeks on the first 40 hours, then two months to finish the last 15.
Check the trailer to get warmed up.