Again, because I *just* finished my first playthrough of this game, and I'd like to breathe a little life into this board, I'll post some thoughts:
Story - 8
Good. Not quite as immersive as SII or SIII, but I think it takes the basic formula of Suikoden and puts a few new twists into it. The beginning was veeeeery dragging, but I think that's more of a gameplay issue than a story one, because it was necessary to set the pieces for the eventual conflict. It was just making the player run around towns without maps that creates issues.
I thought the entire mystery with Georg and the assault on Sol-Falena was well done. A lot of people are complaining about Georg missing for the middle of the game, but I think it creates a very interesting dynamic, where you're not sure if you can rely on him or not. Sialeeds' betrayal was a liiiitle out of left field for me, and I felt her motivations were a little lacking, but nothing too major. For what it's worth, it freshened things up for the second act of the game.
I like that there were certain instances, such as fleeing the castle, that hadn't been done before, that again put a new twist to the classic Suikoden formula. But at the end of the day, it's still about the young Tenkai Star, his true rune, and his journey to find the Stars of Destiny and win the war, which I appreciated. One last positive was that the story was long, since most Suikoden games are rather short. This one gives you more time, and truly felt like an epic from beginning to end.
Characters - 9
I felt like among all the non-story-relevant casts of the series, this had the best. While recruitment was difficult (and I'll get more into that later), I felt like making each character come with their own mini-quest of sorts just gave them so much more personality, much more than the blank faces that you just talk to to recruit in previous games. Another thing that aids this is that so many of these non-relevant characters kind of weave in and out of the story, like fighting Nikea in Lelcar, or meeting the Dragon Cavalry in Raftfleet, or Oboro helping you in different parts of the game. This gives them more character and depth, makes you want to know more about them. It breathes more life into the Stars of Destiny, makes you want to try them out in battle, or see what they'll say in your castle, or how they'll do at war. I think this was actually Suikoden V's greatest accomplishment.
For the main characters, I felt that Georg was well done, and liked that he was both a main character, yet missing for majority of the game, creating an air of intrigue around him. Sialeeds was a complexity that I wish was explained better, but was a good effort. The Godwins were serviceable villains, nothing to write home about. Dolph was cool. Childerich was lame.
Lucretia, in particular to me, was rather boring, because she didn't have a glaring flaw in the way that Shu, or Ceasar, or Elenor did. Lyon and Lymselia were simultaneously the two worst things in the game (although maybe I just don't like the little sister trope, but my goodness, even Nanami wasn't that annoying). I think there were a lot of gems in the supporting cast, though: Roy was well-done, aided of course, by his optional death scene. Lun and Logg were funny. Zerase was mysterious, in a good way. The Sindar explorers were okay, interesting enough for the most part.
Gameplay - 9
Again, takes the basic Suikoden formula, and puts a few new twists into it. Formulas and skills were welcome additions because they freshened things up, although as previously mentioned, they were not quite used to their maximum potential. Rune animations and Co-op attacks weren't great, but that's a minor gripe. In terms of difficulty, the entire game was rather easy (most boss battles didn't even have group attacks) so points off for that, but admittedly, Suikoden has never been a difficult game. At the end of the day, though, it's still fun to fill your party with all these diverse, interesting characters that you've spent so much effort into recruiting, and seeing how they fight on the battlefield.
Speaking of recruitment, I think that's one thing that this game does well, and I think herein lies the game's true difficulty. While battles themselves are easy, it's collecting characters, training them, equipping and customizing them that's the challenge. Yes, it's difficult to get all 108 characters. Some are especially tricky and a pain in the neck. Yes the game punishes you by making some of them missable. But I think that's all great, because I don't think gathering 108 diverse, different characters from all over the country should be easy. As such, I greatly appreciated the different things the game makes you do just to convince these people to enter your army, and as mentioned above, the personality it gives them.
War battles themselves were serviceable. Not amazingly fun, but I like that they tried something new, and I appreciate that it's fast-paced. Wish they were slightly more difficult. Same goes with duels, which have some improvements like the timer, and nice animations, but are still just a little bit too easy at the end of the day.
Presentation - 6
This is where the game flounders. Graphics are nice in the sense that the characters all look good, but the camera angle really makes it difficult to appreciate. Some towns and dungeons are well-designed, but others can be bland and are a pain in the neck to explore (looking at you, Sol-Falena). The loading times, coupled with the absurdly high encounter rate, are a chore. It's a good thing that the battles themselves are fun.
Cutscenes are well-done enough. A little robotic in animation, but I understand that that may have been due to limitations in budget and whatnot. It's a shame, however, because I feel like some moments like the Queen's Campaign could have been excellent if done on a level of today's graphics.
The voice acting, though, was really bad in my opinion. Some voices were okay, like Sialeeds, Georg, Roy (I have no idea why people are complaining about this, I thought he had one of the better voices in the game), Ferid, etc. But others, like Lyon, Miakis, and Lymsleia made me want to throw a brick through my TV. It sounded very unnatural, especially because they would talk so slowly. Music as a whole was passable. Nothing great, but nothing terrible either.
Overall - 8.5
I've written a ton and I have no idea if anybody will ever read through all of this, but all in all, I felt the game took the classic Suikoden formula and improved on it by adding several twists and turns. While it's presentation falls flat several times, and is very tedious at times (the beginning is draggy, the load times are terrible), it does enough to update the formula to balance it out. Although some main characters are annoying (again, I cannot stress how much Lyon and Lymselia irritated me), there are enough good moments throughout the plot, as well as perhaps the most dynamic and interesting supporting cast in the series, to make it worthwhile.