Revisiting the Classics – Suikoden II
The last few weeks have given rise to various articles highlighting the birth of a petition for Konami to bring back Suikoden I & II for a worldwide PSN release (you can check out their Facebook page here). Given how successful the Operation Rainfall campaign was in bringing Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story to North America, it certainly gives gamers hope to see something like this picking up steam. The first Suikoden game is relatively inexpensive, and it can be found on the North American PSN for about $6. However, the second game released near the end of the PlayStation life cycle and got a relatively low print run.
As such, prices for the title on many online websites have reached somewhere in the hundreds for a complete copy and has yet to see a re-release. Japanese PSP owners got a collection of both games, but this compilation never left its home country. This is understandably frustrating for those who have longed to give it a try, especially since the other games in the franchise can be had with relative ease. So is the game really that good to be worth that kind of cash, or is it a case of people just seeking it out for its rarity? I sought to find out.
Those who had the pleasure of playing the original Suikoden beforehand should feel right at home. Right away, the visuals and the interface are instantly recognizable, featuring 2D visuals that will sometimes zoom in and out as well as rotate depending on the action on screen. It looks very much like a high end Super Nintendo game, which is a far cry from the fully 3D Final Fantasy titles that were releasing at the time and could very well be one of the reasons for its obscurity. Each character had many frames utilized to express emotion though, so there were some advantages in terms of storytelling. There is no voice acting at all either, which again, might have put off some people when compared to games like Grandia. Despite that, the musical compositions are top notch and certainly one of the highlights of the package.
Suikoden II takes place only a few years after the original, placing you in control of a new main character that is stationed as part of the youth division of the Highland Army. However, the prince of the Highland Army, Luca Blight, has the entire unit slaughtered in order to place the blame on the neighboring Jowston and give ample reason to invade. The main character and his friend Jowy wind up being the sole survivors of the whole ordeal, and desperately try to escape execution at the hands of Highland officers who are trying to keep them quiet. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of the Hero’s rise to power, political struggles, and betrayals.
While the localization quality dipped in places, the core story was incredibly solid for being released in 1999. I found myself enjoying it far more than the RPG’s that have been released in recent years (especially JRPG’s), and that’s saying something. Suikoden II marks the return of the 108 Stars of Destiny, which is to say, the 108 characters that you are able to recruit throughout the game. Certainly, you don’t have to do this, but pursuing this goal is honestly one of the best parts about it.
Running around from town to town learning character backstories while trying to recruit them into your army is very reminiscent of the latter half of Final Fantasy VI where practically the entirety of that leg of the journey is spent trying to round up your scattered party. You can even look no further than the Mass Effect games for a more recent example of this. The point I’m trying to make is it’s an effective way to engage me in optional content and I loved every second of it.
In addition to giving you something to do and adding to your roster of playable characters, recruiting the 108 Stars of Destiny has other added benefits. Not all of the characters you recruit are in your army for the purposes of fighting. Some of them will simply setup shop in your fortress and make for a more convenient place to do shopping. There are also others that will craft elevators, teleport you places, and forge weaponry for you. Plus, getting them all is the only way to unlock the best ending.
If you had a saved game on your memory card from the original Suikoden, you can even import it and have access to the main character from that title (who is ridiculously powerful I might add). Other characters make cameos too depending on your ability to obtain the 108 Stars of Destiny in the first game. In a way, Suikoden II was ahead of its time in enabling your saved games to affect future titles, at least at the console level.
Players had three different gameplay types to contend with in Suikoden II. The majority of the game was played as a traditional turn-based RPG filled with random battles. You could put together a six person party with combatants that could be equipped with runes to augment their powers as well as different ranges depending on what weapon they used. For example, some characters can only hit enemies in the front row while they themselves are in the front row while others can be positioned in the back and hit nearly anything. Certain character combinations even had access to team attacks that required all of the participants to spend their turn in order to execute, similar to Chrono Trigger‘s tech skills. Konami managed to strike the perfect balance with these, leading to battles that were over quick, but still maintaining a level of strategy with each encounter.
There are also times when your main character will engage in one-on-one duels, particularly during a story event. You are given three options: Attack, Defend, and Wild Attack and the outcome of that round will be decided on which one you pick. The only clues you are given as to the correct option is based on what kinds of things your opponent will say. Sometimes it’s based on luck as their phrases can be quite vague, though you can get away with making a few mistakes as long as you are able to damage them more than they can damage you.
Finally, there are turn-based strategy segments very similar to games like Shining Force. Your army will be based on a grid and can navigate and attack based on who is in that unit. Engaging enemy forces will treat you to a sequence where your army clashes with theirs and the victor is determined by how many units are lost in the skirmish. If all of your soldiers fall during a class, that commander is removed from battle and their units can no longer be used. A lot of these strategy battles have pre-determined outcomes and so you will progress regardless of your efforts, but they are still more in-depth than those in the prior game.
Suikoden II was way more fun than a 13-year-old game has any right to be. The mechanics have aged incredibly well, the story still holds up by today’s standards, and there is far more optional content than the previous game. I fully support any effort to get this title in the hands of more gamers, and a PSN release would be the perfect way to do that. Whether it be a digital only release of the version of Suikoden I & II that Japanese gamers got on the PSP or simply making Suikoden II an addition to the PSOne Classics line that Sony has on their PSN store, this game needs another shot. I sincerely hope Konami is listening.