Suikoden V: Opening

I am replaying Suikoden V; it seems impossible to me that this game is more than a decade old. I’ve recently been looking back on the PS2 era very fondly as I find myself increasingly out of sync with modern video games. It seems more and more that the games I like are on the margins of the gaming landscape and are slowly but surely disappearing. This feels odd to say with games I love, like Breath of the Wild and Monster Hunter World selling tons of copies, but those are more the exception than the rule. Over the last decade or so my interests have slowly but surely faded from prominence. Alternatively, maybe the stuff I liked was never really that popular. The Suikoden series, and Suikoden V in particular, are perfect examples of that. I consider Suikoden II to be on of the greatest games ever made, and while it is well regarded, it was always rare enough that many people haven’t even heard of it, let alone played it. The series seemed on the verge of breaking out in the PS2 era, but by the time Suikoden V was released in 2006 the PS3 was coming fast and a backwards looking game like it was almost perfectly designed to be ignored by the zeitgeist. Which it was; the game is more of a footnote for the series and the genre than anything else and I have long found that to be a great injustice.

Suikoden V is an awkward game that doesn’t get a lot of love. It tries to turn back to what people loved about Suikoden II after the largely disliked fourth entry in the series, but managed to feel cheap, untested, and unfinished. Still, there is a lot about the game that I genuinely love. I plan to write a lot about it; I have at least three posts planned as I work my way leisurely through the game and am likely to expand that to five or so. This post is going to be about probably the most maligned part of the game; its long, slow opening. Suikoden V does start slowly; depending on how one counts it, the game doesn’t really start for about 5 hours. On this playthrough it took me nearly 7 hours to get past the coup that serves as the game’s inciting incident. However, I think that becomes one of the game’s strengths as it goes along.

I have never been an opponent of games with slow openings. I will get into arguments with people who judge Zelda’s based on how long the games takes to give the player a sword. (Skyward Sword is mad underrated) Especially in the context of story heavy JRPGs, I think games that take few hours to set the table for a 70 hour game are usually using the player’s time wisely. I will point to the Persona series for games that do this well. A lot of Persona 4 happens before the player gets to the dungeon crawling. I don’t think any game does it much better than Suikoden V though. Yes, it takes more than half a dozen hours before the game puts the player in control of the usual Suikoden stuff like planning big battles and recruiting the members for the army. But those first few hours are not without their fair share of interesting gameplay and all of the story and character stuff it sets up makes the rest of the game all the more interesting.

There are essentially three parts to Suikoden V’s opening; a trip to survey the demolished town of Lordlake, the Sacred Games to choose the princess’s spouse and the trip to the sacred springs for a pre-marriage ritual. Each of these impart important knowledge on the player. The first shows how powerful the protagonist’s mother, Queen Arshtat, is with her Sun Rune. It shows the power she wields, or how that power wields her. It also lets the player know that something is wrong. Then there are the Sacred games, which more fully flesh out the political situation in the Queendom of Falena. It shows how the systems are corrupt and backwards, as well as how effective the eventual villains, the Godwins, are at manipulating things. Then there is the trip to the baths that is more character focused. It shows how much many people around the royal family have sacrificed to effect even a small change on the status quo, a change that is currently on the verge of disappearing. And after that, the game kicks into high gear.

These hours of set up are necessary to make the game work. If the game doesn’t give the player the opportunity to see the protagonist’s family and how they relate, then the loss of that family would have no sting. It is vital that players see how the Prince interacts with his sister the heir, with his mother and father, with the various members of the Queen’s Guards, including his ever present bodyguard Lyon. You meet the womanizing Kyle, the playful Miakis, the cold Zahhak and the nakedly ambitious Alenia. The core cast really makes it all work. There is the protagonist the Prince. He is always joined by Lyon, his young bodyguard who is soon revealed to have a mysterious past that Ferid, the Queen’s husband and father of the protagonist, saved her from. Then there is newcomer and all around badass Georg Prime, who’s amazing skills and lack of familiarity with the country each serve a purpose. And lastly is the Prince’s aunt, Sialeeds, who alternates between carefree playfulness and sardonic bitterness. Knowing what Sialeeds (more on her in a later post) has given up makes events that happen 30 or so hours down the line feel all the more tragic and inevitable.

It is not like the player is not playing the game at the time. Yes, the game gives the player no control over the party or any real access to the word map, but there are three or so dungeons in those first few hours and the protagonist should end it around level 20. It also introduces players to close to a quarter of the game’s extensive cast. (This is Suikoden, with its 108 Stars of Destiny) What makes it feel not a lot like really playing is that this is the largest portion of the game that gives the player access to Georg, one of the stars of the game and a brokenly badass fighter. He is unfairly good in combat, and seeing him make short work of every enemy you come across does a lot to sell him as the ultimate badass that he is, but it also means the fights don’t have a lot punch, as he can make short work of anything.

The game could have artlessly told the player these things; that is essentially how Suikoden I operated. That game got by on brevity; it can be completed in little more than a dozen hours. Suikoden V is attempting (I would say succeeding) in telling a story with more depth and nuance. It achieves that depth by slowly introducing the player to the world and the important characters in the drama to come. I can see how it could be off putting for new players, but anyone who sticks with the game through it is in for a treat.

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Solo Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a movie that seems to be completely mistaken as to what is strengths are. And it has quite a few strengths, it is mostly a very good movie. However, it repeatedly takes the time to emphasize its weakest elements, bringing everything else to halt to give the viewer time to roll their eyes.

Solo tells the early life story of the most popular character in the Star Wars franchise: Han Solo. It shows a bit of his youth on Corellia before he joined the Imperial Navy, which he then left for a life of adventure and crime. Theoretically, it tells the story of how he came to be the man that young Luke met in that cantina in Mos Eisley in the original Star Wars. Pretty quickly, Han is separated from his love interest, meets and bonds with Chewbacca, and gets tangled up with all-around scoundrel Tobias Beckett and his crew. Beckett owes money to Dryden Vos, and Han is tied to him. After a series of heist and schemes, Han is left with just Chewie as he continues his adventures.

What didn’t work for me were the attempts at fanservice. The movie seems determined to give the viewer answers to questions nobody asked or showing them things they’ve seen before, but pretending it is meaningful. It is the bad version of what The Force Awakens did so well. The movie pauses for a second to let the music swell as Han and Chewie get behind the controls of the Millenium Falcon for the first time. It adds nothing and the viewer already knew what was going on. That has nothing on the groaner that is the movie showing how Han got the last name Solo, the answer to a question that literally no one was asking. Honestly, the movie came close to losing me right there.

Luckily, it recovers with some excellent action scenes. The war scene is brief, but it mostly works. However, the train heist is wonderful. It has enough moving pieces and feels truly momentous at times. You can almost see the tragedy that it becomes as soon as the plan is outlined. And the raid on the Kessel mines is solid as well.

It also brings in quite a few interesting characters. Beckett is Han’s future, the cold hearted criminal that is not necessarily evil, but certainly out only for himself. Han and Chewie are pretty great. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t really feel like Harrison Ford, but he does good work anyway. Han’s love interest Qi’Ra works, though the movie seems to hold her final character work for a theoretical sequel. The highlight is Donald Glover as Lando; he does great by the character even if the movie isn’t really sure why he is there. The same goes for is droid co-pilot, L3, who is a lot of fun even if the movie can’t decide if she is important to Lando or just another tool.

There are structural problems with the movie, mostly it seems from pulling things back and forth through its troubled production. In many ways its is not unlike Justice League, a movie whose tone and characterization varied wildly from scene to scene. The general thrust of the movie seems to be intending in getting Han from a similar place as where Luke started to the Han that we met in Star Wars. But it never really gets there. He is naive and optimistic through most of the movie. Even at the end he is doing something heroic. Instead of showcasing the character development from Star Wars, it sort of negates it. Han was apparently always a good guy, there is no change. This is despite most of the movie working to strip of any optimism he might have had.

While the seems do show, the movie is still very entertaining. I had some similar problems with Rogue One. In fact, I might like this movie more than Rogue One; I am certainly going to revisit it more often. It is something of a mess, but I liked a lot anyway.

****

What I Watched May 2018

Movies
Avengers Infinity War – read review here

Super Troopers 2 – read review here

Overboard – read review here

The Rachel Divide – The woman is delusional, but this documentary just makes you sad for her poor kids. **1/2

Candy Jar – A movie about two high school debate rivals who are forced to work together for a team competition rather than compete individually. Lessons are learned and kids grow up. It isn’t anything particularly new or original, but it is moderately entertaining. ***

The Week Of – Adam Sandler and Chris Rock are the dads of two youngsters about to get married. In this comedy (?) they learn heartwarming (?) lessons about family. I didn’t care for it. **

You Only Live Twice – Other than the completely baffling yellow face at the end of the movie, this is a really entertaining Bond movie. I wouldn’t put it quite as high as From Russia with Love or Goldfinger, but it is still good. There is an honest to goodness volcano lair at the end. ****

Diamonds Are Forever – This one, on the other hand, makes everything feel kind of tedious. It just feels sloppy. **

Live and Let Die – Uncomfortable racism aside, this is an excellent start to Roger Moore’s run as James Bond. It is a lot of fun. ***

The Man With the Golden Gun – Christopher Lee is great, but just about everything else about this movie is a complete mess. Terrible Bond girl, goofy sound effects, a super disappointing ending to Bond and Scaramanga’s showdown. Disappointing. **

Deadpool 2 see review here

Solo – review coming soon

The Kissing Booth – Another movie about growing up. This one really didn’t work for me. It seemed to be all over the place. **

LA Confidential – Wow, this is a good movie. Everything works together perfectly, with three cops working separately to solve a crime with roots within police force. Leaving Kevin Spacey aside, the cast is great. A lot of good work from Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. Just a great movie. *****

TV
Arrested Development S5 – I never thought Season 4 was as much of a disappointment as most people seem to found it, but there is undeniably more magic to this show when it can actually get the whole cast together instead of the scattered nature of the last season. It still isn’t quite to original run levels of quality, but I don’t think that is currently possible. Arrested Development is still really good. I can’t wait for the back half of the season.

Lost in Space – It takes too long to all the characters together and really get good, but this reboot of Lost in Space is solid. The biggest problem I had with this show is that the family is kind of dull. That isn’t a big problem when the other characters are around, but the first couple episodes, where it is mostly just the family, drag on a bit. Once Dr. Smith and Don West join in things pick up considerably.

The Flash S4 – The season almost redeemed itself at the end, but it really couldn’t make up for how terrible it’s central villain was. After the last two seasons of just godawful main villains, I hope the show abandons the device and tells mostly self contained stories next season. The show is still really enjoyable from an episode to episode basis, it just needs to figure out its season structure.

Bob’s Burgers – I recently wrote about this show. The most recent season continued its long run of excellence.

Brooklyn 99 – Cancelled and then saved, this show has rapidly become a favorite of mine now that I can watch it regularly on hulu. I don’t know what to say about it; it is really good and really funny.

Evil Genius – A true crime documentary about a bank robbery turned murder. A group of people conspire to rob a bank. Part of the plan involves tying a bomb around the neck of the man sent in to actually rob the bank. Questions remain as to whether or not that man, who died when the bomb went off, was a part of the conspiracy or an unwitting dupe. This show explores how this horrific crime came about. It is pretty good, though I think it could have been shorter.

Trollhunters S3 – I want to have more to say about this show than I do. Its real good. This third season takes some swings, but as its the end of the series that is to be expected. It loses a little bit of is charm in the plot, but remains a very entertaining cartoon. They also find time to set up an always planned spin off series. This last season does a good job of both wrapping things up and opening the door for new stories. This series is well worth a watch.

Now Playing May 2018

Beaten

None, I had finals.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I’ve played through the big opening segment, which I have a post about going up soon, and I have to say the technical flaws are dragging the experience down for me more than I expected. There are just too many instances of characters joining the party, with a blurb, only for them to leave two rooms later, with another blurb. The menus are a mess. It is in a lot of respects a really badly put together game. I still love it anyway.

Pokemon Crystal – I’ve been playing this. If I manage to finish it, it will be the first time I’ve finished a Gen 2 Pokemon game. I’ve failed several times with Silver and HeartGold and the like. Mostly because Gen 2 are the worst set of Pokemon games. Getting to go back to Kanto is great, but the level curve is messed up, the map sucks and the Pokemon distribution is terrible. Still, there is something overall just great about the Pokemon series that makes them compulsively playable.

The Alliance Alive – I am really starting to lose interest in this. I love the art and graphics and the SNES vibe to the story. Let’s be honest, though, SaGa style leveling is terrible, it has been terrible since FF2 and it is still terrible today. It adds another level of randomness that leveling didn’t need. I get the idea behind it, but it has never worked. I’ve got other games to play, but the positives about this game might draw me back despite that.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – Eventually I am going to take my PS4 back from my brother, and then I will play this. Eventually…

Super Mario Galaxy – I am trying to get back to this, but my summer schedule is somehow more full than my schedule during the semester.