Oh, hello there! I see you’ve arrived at this article via that phenomenal box art for the North American release of Suikoden. Well, why don’t we talk about it?
Suikoden II is highly regarded as one of the greatest JRPGs ever created. But, with me I have to start from the beginning of a series with few exceptions. After discovering the podcast Retronauts dedicated to retro gaming, I listened to their episode on Suikoden I and II and wanted to jump in right away. Luckily, it turns out I had already bought the original Suikoden on PSN in 2016 so I installed it on my Vita and got going.
Before playing, my experiences with the franchise had been largely anecdotal. I had seen top 10 lists with Suikoden II and it looked like a fairly quintessential JRPG. The hook was the 108 recruitable characters or “Stars of Destiny” in each game, but I wasn’t sure if that would be enough to carry me through if the story was lackluster. What I didn’t know about was the base-building system.
But first, let’s talk a little bit about the story. You play as the son of a general of the Empire, but quickly get wrapped up with rebels trying to overthrow said empire instead. For as generic as this game’s first impression is, I found myself enjoying the story a fair amount. It wasn’t enthralling but it more than made me want to keep playing to see what would happen next. The player character is a silent protagonist which I usually dislike, but it works well here. If my dad was the general of the government’s army and I started to head up a revolution against him by recruiting kobolds, humans, and elves, I’d be speechless too.
The gameplay itself is your classic turn-based fare but with six characters in your party at a time, three in the front row and three in the back. While games like Final Fantasy VII were pushing into the realm of 3D graphics, this also came with some reductions such as party size down to three to help with processing power. But Suikoden was just a gorgeous 2D JRPG. Sprites are large and expressive adding some gravitas to interactions. When I was younger, (and still sometimes to this day) it was difficult for me to take a story and characters seriously when they were basically a square (like in Pokemon).
The row-based combat is deeper than I originally thought. Each character has a weapon class: S, M or L. Characters with an S weapon can only attack from the front row and can only attack the enemy front row. Characters with an M weapon class can attack from either row but only attack the front row. Lastly, L designated characters can attack either row from either row. As you may expect, the S characters are generally more resilient, M all-around and L frail. However, you’ll see mages with the S designation which may seem odd at first. Sure they can’t attack from the back row, but they can use their spells. However, you need to be careful as spells have a set number of uses until you rest. Leveling up recovers spells partially.
The last aspect to combat are the Unite attacks, similar to the double and triple techs of Chrono Trigger. Certain characters have synergies with others that will enable the ability to perform an attack with several characters at once. For example, Lepant is a strong knight who does great damage. But if you include his wife in the party, Eileen, they have a Unite attack where she lights him on fire and he charges at the enemy dealing fire damage. Unfortunately, not all combinations that you think may work do. For example, Flik (one of my favorite characters) did not have any Unite attacks with the other members of his team, Viktor or Humphrey. I wish that there were more common sense combinations in the game rather than three characters composing the “Pretty Boy Attack” when the third member makes no sense to be a part of it.
Anyway, the second gameplay system are the large scale battles which, are nice to break up the standard combat and dungeon exploration. However, they’re based of of RNG as far as I could tell. In these sections your army is lined up against an opposing force (not your actual characters but tiny jumping generic sprites). Then you have four options from the menu: Charge, Bow, Magic and Other. Charge, bow and magic act as a rock, paper scissors system in that charge beats bow, bow beats magic and magic beats charge. The total number of forces will reduce at the top of the screen for each attack. The ‘Other’ menu option allows for some alternatives that will not take a turn. For example, you can send out any ninjas you have recruited to tell you what the opponent will do next. Thieves do the same thing, but have a chance of failure. You can also try to lure people over to your side from the enemy as well. And that’s about it. There’s a little less to it than I would like, but it’s still enjoyable.
The third pillar of gameplay are the 1v1 duels. These happen only a handful of times throughout the game and act similarly to the major battles with a rock, paper scissors system. Attack beats defend, defend beats desperate attack and desperate attack beats attack. However, with these you can try to read your opponent’s next move by what they say. For example, if your opponent says, “Nice try, come at me,” chances are he will be defending and you should go for a normal attack. So in that way it is nice that it is less random, but there isn’t a whole lot to it.
And that is Suikoden. I thoroughly enjoyed the 18 or 19 hours I spent with the game. It didn’t blow me away, but it’s a good time for any JRPG fans out there. I’m looking forward to how the story, gameplay systems and presentation will be improved moving forward into the sequel.
All images from Saikyo Mog and odino via Gamefaqs.