Where to start...
Gameplay: 9/10 Back on form! Apart from a few minor problems, the gameplay in Suikoden V (SV) is excellent.
With regards to the battle system, SV simply expands on what Suikoden (SI) and Suikoden II (SII) did - Not that that's a bad thing. No longer do you only have the option of using the basic formation of old, you can now use various formations, meaning you can make a party with any six characters work. Simple as it may seem, the option of changing the battle formations makes battles much more fun.
Speaking of battles, the now famous Suikoden war battles make a return. This time around they're in real time and are much more frantic, leading to both good and bad points. They follow a basic rock-paper-scissors principle, certain units giving and taking more damage depending on who attacks who. Sadly, they aren't all that well designed, sometimes leading to mass slaughter due to having to control too many units in too many postions at once.
I suppose the dual battle system is also worth a mention, although it doesn't get used very often during SV. I won't bother going into details since the dual battle system hasn't changed much since SI, using the same same sort of rock-paper-scissors principle that the new war battle uses. The only thing worth noting to Suiko vets is that you have to give your command straight away now, which makes the duals more interesting. Oh yeah, and the dual battle graphics look great.
Moving away from the battles, something SV improved on over its prequels is the character recruitment. It all seemed a bit too easy in past Suikoden games, most SoD would join you as soon as you asked. This time around, Konami make you work damn hard...no longer do most SoDs willingly join and risk their lives unless you put some serious effort into recruiting them.
The only thing that lets the gameplay down is the encounter rate...well, that and usual low difficulty level of Suikoden games. The encounter rate REALLLY annoyed me at times, like the time when I got lost in a dungeon and kept getting into random battles every few steps when all I wanted to do was explore. Konami really should've fixed the high encounter rate after Suikoden IV (SIV), I can't understand for the life me why they made it so high, it's not like they needed the high encounter rate to add extra length to SV!
Story: 9.5/10 Without a doubt, the strongest point of SV.
You get slowly introduced to Falena and the main characters, something most fans seem to moan about, but don't worry, the story is absolutely amazing once it gets going. If you want some sour to go with the sweet, the story does lose some of its momentum near the end; it starts to get a little on the dull and predictable side.
I mentioned that most of the SoD require more work to recruit when talking about the gameplay, and I'm happy to say that the SoD imporovments don't stop with them simply being harder to recruit. Nearly all of the SoDs have strong connections to the plot and other main characters, plus they all have their own unique and understandable reasons for getting involved in the war. If you're anything like me, you'll be straight on Suikosource for more information about certain characters after you complete SV.
Soundtrack: 10/10 Never before have I heard a more fitting and beautiful video game soundtrack. I want it! Someone buy it me, I'm too cheap!
Some video game soundtracks seem to fit in with the game without having any truly memorable tracks, others have some excellent tracks that don't quite work with the game, SV gets it just right and as near to perfect as a video game soundtrack can be.
As for my recommendations, you should check out these tracks:
A Sad Wish Determination ~Tragic Battle~ Overcoming the Grief Scar of Destruction
Graphics: 8/10 Perfect for people who enjoyed playing older RPGs...not that the graphics are bad, far from it!
If you're the sort of person who only cares for flashy graphics, don't get SV, please. I can't believe how some people actually dislike SV simply because it doesn't have KH2 graphics...I mean, why even play RPGs if you can't put story and gameplay first? It's beyond me. The graphics aren't even that bad, the facial animations are excellent, the only problem being that there aren't all that many cut-scenes to view them with.
Now, there is one bad point relating to the graphical side of things; the camera. You can't change the angle, all you can do is zoom in and out. I suppose it's pretty bad for a game not to have a fully rotatable camera, especially when you consider that SIV, the prequel of SV, let you rotate the camera. Still, the fixed camera angle doesn't really cause any problems, I can't recall getting annoyed with the camera during my first 78 hour SV experience.
Length: 9/10 7.4 inches...oh, the game? It's very long.
78 hours, the time it took me to complete SV on my first playthrough. I missed 9 SoD, I didn't mess around with the mini-games...you get what I'm trying to say.
In my opinion, you should play SV without a guide on your first playthrough. You probably won't get all 108 of the SoD, you'll also no doubt waste lots of time trying to figure out how to get them to join you, so why bother you ask? Well, it gives you a reason to replay it straight away, plus you get see an ending worth missing out on getting all 108 SoD.
Oh, and SV has (as far as I know) five different endings. I'm happy enough with the ending I got with 99/108 stars, let alone the best ending!
Overall: 9 The best Suikoden? Depending on how highly you rate SII, yes.
Don't let SIV fool you into thinking the Suikoden series is over, that couldn't be much further from the truth. Hell, maybe SIV was a blessing in disguise, who knows how good SV would've been if not for fans hating SIV so much!
Minor problems aside, SV was well worth the wait. It'll be truly sad if this gem of a game isn't played by every true RPG fan out there. If you can look beyond the graphical side of things, you will see one of the greatest games ever made.
9 / 10