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A look at one of the latest additions to the Suikoden runes system.
Sword of Magic In-Depth

The Sword of Magic is a new rune in Suikoden III and acts as a fighter's own support magic, being able enchant the bearer's weapon as if an elemental rune (or rune piece) were attached to the weapon a la Suikoden I and II, and it also can add a level of protection from that element.

Wait a minute, this new rune seems so limited! First of all, the Sword of Magic rune comes in 3 separate flavors (Fire, Lightning, Wind), and since you can only attach so many runes to your character, it certainly has its limitations on elemental diversity. Paired with the new spell-casting skills system, your character will want to use a precious free skill slot just to efficiently cast any Sword of Magic spells... and it uses an entire turn to enchant the bearer's weapon and this rune can ONLY target the bearer, letting the rest of the team not get in on the offensive and defensive bonuses! What's the use?! What the good points??

Honestly, there aren't too many good points to this new addition to the Suikoden series. This information is more interesting to know about than useful.

There isn't much to say about the level 2 defensive spell. It's most useful when killing yourself for the Level 99 Trick. This spell is very unproductive: it only adds 1 level of protection from the Sword's element, and only to the bearer. (See the Rare Armor Guide for information on elemental protection.) Also, repeating the spell will not add another level of elemental protection.

We not move on to the level 1 spell.
This guide has two main sections
The level 1: Sword of (element) spell
A comparison: Sword of Magic Rune + Skill vs. another rune and skill

The level 1: Sword of (element) spell

Believe it or not, casting speed for this level 1 spell is VERY important for the bearer because the caster will use the remaining time of the turn to move and attack, if possible. If the spell takes much too long and the bearer is naturally very slow, he/she will not move at all after the spell is cast. If the casting time takes just a little too long and the enemy is far away, the bearer will run up to the enemy but not strike, leaving him/her open for a direct attack. As casting time decreases, more time will be available for the bearer to make a complete attack and attempt to complete his/her entire attack series on an automatically selected target.

First Strike
Some characters *ahem Leo, lizards, ahem* are much too slow for their own good. These characters usually move and attack after every other object on the battlefield has moved, and they often cannot even reach the target to attack. These unproductive characters in the end are just a waste of party space. Utilizing a Sword of Magic spell would be similar to using Wild Arms 1 Jack's "Accelator" skill, allowing the big guys to attack possibly before the opponent casts a heal spell and other fast attacks. It's not "a waste of a spell" by re-enchanting the bearer with the element (which does NOT further increase the elemental damage, by the way) in order to have him/her take out the enemy before it and your allies move.

Damage bonus
So how much damage does this baby do? With all the limitations, you should expect the payoff should be worth the effort.

The way the element causes damage is similar to that of Suikoden II: the elemental damage is dealt after each swing. It should be noted that the attack itself remains element-less, so even when enemies are resistant to your particular element, the enemy will still receive the full damage your character normally deals and little to no damage from the element. Enemies that are weak against the element receive double the elemental damage. It should also be note that it is possible that the animation/damage time between each hit may actually eat up action time that is available for the character--that is, if you character is trying to do 7 hits, he/she may only get to do 6 because so much time was lost between hits for the elemental damage animation. This is unconfirmed, but if this is true, the Sword of Magic would be more efficiently used by characters with less swings, since the extra damage caused by this rune does not depend on number of hits, only amount of damage dealt. However, 6 swings with the elemental bonus is very likely to beat out 7 swings without any bonus.

When enchanted with an element, the additional elemental damage base is 15% of the result of the attack. But hold on, the Sword of Magic skill will add 3% at E, 7% at D, 12% at C, 19% at B, 26% at B+, 35% at A, 50% at A+, and a whopping 70% at S to the 15% base. That's...

Total damage caused by Element as a percentage of damage inflicted
F (no skill)EDCBB+AA+S
Maximum Sword of Magic Skill achievable
(no free rune slots or can't use rune)CBB+AA+S
Gadget Z
Gadget z
Sgt. Joe
Viki (Adult)
Viki (Child)
Wan Fu
Sanae Y

Great! So it looks like characters with A and better in the skill can whup some candy ass with this new Sword of Magic! But, wait a minute, what characters in this game actually HAVE a Sword of Magic Skill with A and higher??? The answer: Rody is the only character who can achieve an S in the skill; and Chris, Yuber, and Sanae Y max at A. Now let's take a closer look at each candidate: Rody is primarily a magician and is naturally a poor fighter with low accuracy and physical damage output potential. *Chris is one of the best physical fighters in the game, but at many times her one free rune slot is occupied by a True Rune! Yuber is not usable in the normal part of the game, and then there's Sanae Y. Now Sanae Y is okay at fighting, but she only has one free rune slot. Her permanent Sickle-Weasel attack would not gain from a Sword of Magic level 1 spell, but she seems to be the best high-skill user we have. My setup for Sanae Y as a Sword of Magic user would have Sword of Magic, Accuracy, Swing and Armor Protect or Repel as the skills. Unfortunately, Sanae Y is still an average-strength fighter, so there's nothing gamebreaking about this combination.

Many characters can use the Sword of Magic fairly effectively with a B+ max in the Sword of Magic skill. However, if you compare other options for a skill and rune (since this setup is only most effective with both), you will usually conclude that the latter options are better off. One of the few characters who doesn't lose much potential when using Sword of Magic is Lucia - she has 3 free rune slots, and similar to Chris, her most important skills are already fixed, making her 2 free skill slots available to really experiment with.

A comparison: Sword of Magic Rune + Skill vs. another rune and skill

The Sword of Magic puts many restrictions on a character in terms of rune and skill options. Both of these slots are extremely scarce, and this setup requires one of each. So you should really question whether this setup is more effective than alternative choices.

There are only a handful of common runes that aid in physical damage output. Out of them, the Sword of Magic and Killer Runes are the only one that only apply to regular attacks. Passive runes such as Fury, Warrior, Double-Strike and Gale all in some way can affect not only regular attacks, but special command/rune attacks and unites, and most of these even strengthen counter-attacks.

In this category, each rune offers something different, but in the end the effects of each rune and their drawbacks usually beat out the Sword of Magic in terms of efficiency (passive vs having to cast a spell to get its effects) and extra damage output. Sure, Sword of Magic can be combined with a Battle Oath spell to be stronger than just a Fury Rune, but this takes time and luck to set up. Warrior will only equal Sword of Magic's effects if the character has a very high Repel stat, but not being able to dodge in this game doesn't hurt too much. Double-Strike should only be used on characters that don't take too many hits or have high Armor Protect, making its drawback fairly safe and certainly beating out the Sword of Magic. The Gale Rune can lose out to Sword of Magic Rune, unless it provides a character with a second swing. If the Gale Rune is only adding one extra third or beyond swing, a B+ Sword of Magic spell will actually provide more damage. However, the Gale Rune is one of the least common runes in the game anyhow. The Killer Rune also can lose out to the Sword of Magic effect if the character has no Heavy Damage skill and has low Skill and Luck stats.

On most occasions, Swing and Accuracy are vital skills that should never be replaced by the Sword of Magic skill. Accuracy is simply necessary to hit enemies and reduce their chances of defending. Swing is so effective that being able to do 2 strikes in one turn beats out a B+ Sword of Magic on 1 strike. If a character naturally gains a second or more strike without the Swing skill and doesn't gain too many swings from it, then the Sword of Magic may be a good substitute. Usually, I end up deciding between the Damage skill and Sword of Magic skill. It is often the case that a character can achieve a B+ in both or a B in one and B+ in the other skill. Now, the Damage skill only adds 10% when at B and 15% when at B+, but remember that the Sword of Magic is a two-part deal--any other rune, especially when stacked with the Damage skill, will usually provide more power and versatility (Fury, Double-Strike, and Warrior apply to unites and counter-attacks) than the Sword of Magic setup.

Sure, the Sword of Magic rune and skill might not be the last choice when considering effectiveness, but it certainly won't be the first. If we had a few more rune and skill slots to work with, I would definitely add this to almost everyone's arsenal. But the sad truth is we can't (without a cheat device...). It is a fun new toy to play with in Suikoden III, but its results are disappointing, with not even one character that was designed to wield its power. Personally, after seeing Edge and the Star Dragon Sword, I wish Konami had given him the A or better in Sword of Magic, and we could have seen a Sword of Magic + Star Dragon Sword powerhouse. And Rody... was just a cruel joke.