Tierkreis's generic animu intro video tells you a whole lot about the game by itself. The game is a weird attempt by Konami to draw new interest to the series by dumbing it down, and in the process vetting it of most of what the established fanbase loves about it. The only real "Suikoden" aspects left in this one are 108 characters to recruit and a castle HQ, really. Gone are the serious, often grim "war operas" featuring regional conflicts between kingdoms, in favor of Magical Animu Kids who can't die, on a quest to defeat the Big Evil Who Will Destroy The World Because Raaaar. Gone is the contiguous world maintained throughout all of the previous games - including the crappy spinoffs - of which we only saw relatively small chunks in each game, allowing the stories to focus in on the characters inhabiting them, fleshing them out in a way most JRPGs can't be bothered to. In its place is one of those ridiculously tiny worlds which we rampage all over while pursuing generic themes and archetypes of Seals and Heroes Of Destiny and Magical Hoohas. Gone is the pretty good writing of the better entries of the series, in favor of kiddie bullshit and a seemingly neverending stream of cliches.
Gone is any real sense of challenge at all. Aside from the kiddie, tween-focused plot not having space for, say, a Luca Blight executing civilians on-screen just for the lulz, the game is a prime representative of the masturbatory "push X to win" school of JRPG design that doesn't even attempt to be mildly difficult. The random perma-death of ancilliary characters that is a Suikoden staple is gone - they always revive with 1 HP at the end of battle, provided you don't choose to use a "Revival Statue" before that, which are cheap and readily available in unlimited quantity. Not that death was even anything to worry about to begin with - you level so quickly, and there's so little room or need for any kind of strategizing in the battles (other than Don't Make Retarted Formations and Heal Once In A While) that you can select "auto-fight" for 90% of the game's battles and just idly watch as your party one-sidedly curb-stomps the opposition. With completely toothless battles, no perma-death and an adolescent framework that can't accomodate a genuinely menacing villain, there's absolutely zero sense of tension to be found in the game.
Gone is the lovely 2D art of Suikoden 2. The 256 MB DS cart was the perfect excuse to bring it back, but instead we get that typical blocky N64-looking crappity DS 3D. There are some fairly pretty hand-painted backgrounds, to be fair, but everything animated is ugly.
Gone are the epic soundtra ... well, actually, the music here is the one thing that's consistently good.
Gone is blissful silence during dialogue, in favor of voice acting nearly on par with that of Mega Man, and bizarrely sped up in an apparent attempt to squish it all into the confines of the cartridge. And no, it can't be turned off.
Gone are interesting locales, in favor of long-ass meandering dungeon and wilderness areas that are completely empty yet stretch on for far too long, have lots of dead-end pathways, re-use boring terrain constantly, and have an encounter rate of about one battle for every ten steps.
Gone are compelling, deep villains, in place of people who turn evil because LOL ynot.
LONG gone is any point to having 108 characters. The first Suikoden game did it as a reference to Water Margin, and since then it's kind of been a pointless tradition. Even the better Suikoden games were weighed down with a roster of useless chumps, and the way they forced you to collect them all by dangling the "real" or "best" ending over your head (as well as save file import unlocks for the next game) was always a little irritating. At least you got *something* out of it, though. In Suikoden 2, you got a much better ending. Not the case here, where it's the same shit ending no matter what, just with some vaguely homoerotic fanservice animu clip tacked on to the end of it for your troubles. In Suikoden 3, there were frequent strategy battles in which you deployed your whole army, and having more optional characters (trained and equipped as well as possible) gave you a much better chance of survival, and of not losing someone to perma-death. There's no strategy battles whatsoever here. Occasionally you have to form three or four parties to fight simultaneously, but inevitably all but the main character's party fight chumps, and the characters that the main plotline throws you automatically are vastly better than everyone else anyway.
Somehow, in spite of all this, the game kept me playing for 20 hours. It does just enough right to make you think it's ABOUT to deliver, but the payoff never comes - just more shit dialogue and shit dungeons to spend half an hour trudging through. You start opening up gates to other worlds, but as it turns out, you never actually get to go to any of them. You finally get a REAL castle HQ, but nothing interesting ever develops there - the neat mini-games so frequently found in the previous Suikodens are completely gone. It keeps seeming like there's going to finally be a strategy battle - or at least a *meaningful* split party battle - but there never is. The story seems like it might be about to find its way out of Animu Clicheville, but then it hangs a hard left and continues going in circles. I think the main reason I played it for so long is that I was in finals period in college at the time, with a lot of stressful work and studying, and the "mash X to make game keep going" thing (which required zero effort or real thought) was actually somehow appealing under the conditions, combined with the generally high production values outside of the 3D models and the voice acting. The game finally lost me at a volcano dungeon that was some huge, boring maze with endlessly repeating scenery and a too-high encounter rate; I ended up getting lost, walking in a giant loop, and then being unable to remember which doors I had already gone through given the incredible samey blandness of all the backgrounds. At that point I felt it was time to cut my losses and move on. I don't know how the saga of Folksy McTierkreis ultimately concluded and I really could care less, and that's a long way from what this series used to be.
* Director interview
* Gameplay video