Suikoden II Review
If there is one thing that the Sony Playstation will always be remembered for, it will be for bringing RPGs out of the niche market, and into the mainstream in the US video game industry. Thanks to games like Final Fantasy VII-IX, Xenogears, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, and Lunar: Eternal Blue, the Playstation enjoyed one of the best runs of "Grade A" RPGs than any other system released previously in the US. But, everything has to start somewhere, and for the Playstation, its first true RPG epic (if you overlook the painfully mediocre King's Field and Beyond the Beyond) was Konami's Suikoden. The game seemed simple on the surface, with 2D graphics that probably wouldn't have even challenged the Super Nintendo. But, behind its simplistic graphic style was an epic tale of loyalty and rebellion which captured the imagination of RPG fans everywhere. Sure, the game kind of was forgotten once the big guns like Final Fantasy VII started to show up, but I always think of Suikoden as the beginning of the US Playstation's vast RPG library.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the series. By the time Suikoden II was released in September 1999, most Playstation owners had already all but forgotten about it, and were concentrating on the upcoming arrival of Final Fantasy VIII. This is a real shame, because Suikoden II is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Not only is it a much longer, more challenging, and more dramatic story than the first, it's also incredibly fun to play.
As the game opens, a war that has been going on for years between the Imperial Highland Army and the City-State is nearing an end. A peace treaty between the two parties is on the verge of being signed. You play the part of a soldier (whom you name before the game starts) who fights for the Highland forces along with his childhood friend, Jowy. The two friends of dream of returning to their home in Kyaro town now that the war is over, but their dreams are cut short when the military camp is ambushed in the middle of the night. Jowy and your character rush out of their tent, and meet Captain Rowd, the head of the group. He tells them that the State Army has broken the peace agreement, and that they should escape the camp. Jowy and you rush out of the camp, but soon realize that the enemy might be waiting for them in the woods, so you return to camp to ask Rowd if there's another way. When you return, you are shocked to find Captain Rowd talking to Luca Blight, the bloodthirsty prince of the Highland Empire. Apparently, Luca is not happy with the recent peace agreement, he wants the war to continue. So, he has set up this "ambush," planning to blame the State Army, thus whipping the Highland people up into a frenzy over the "attack," allowing the war to continue. Captain Rowd discovers Jowy and your character overhearing this, and sends his soldiers after you, trying to keep you quiet. the only way to escape is for Jowy and you to jump into a raging river nearby.
When you come to, you find that Jowy is gone, and you have been discovered by a small band of mercenaries led by Viktor and Flik (two characters from the original game). Since they're supporters of the State Army, they capture you, and make you do various odd jobs around the fort for a while. Eventually, Jowy tracks you down, and helps you escape from the mercenary fort. You both return home to Kyaro, where you try to get the support of Jowy's family and your tomboyish, but protective, sister, Nanami. Unfortunately, Jowy and you are now seen as enemies in your former home. Captain Rowd has spread rumors that you are spies, and enemies to the Highland Empire, after you escaped from him that night. Nanami believes that you're innocent, but no one else does, and you're captured, sentenced to be executed as spies. Fortunately, both you and Jowy escape this fate when Flik, Victor, and even Nanami, come to rescue you. You're forced to flee Kyaro. Eventually, you will learn the truth behind Luca Blight's intentions, and be forced to fight against your former home.
When Suikoden II came out, it received lukewarm reviews from magazines and web sites. Some even said that the game had the exact same story as the original. This is not true at all. The first was the story of a young boy defying his father, and creating his own life, rather than the life that was pre-destined for him. Suikoden II, while it shares many similar themes, is ultimately a tale that centers on friendship. The friendship between the main character and Jowy is at the center of the story, and how it survives, despite the hardships and betrayals.
Suikoden II's gameplay is fairly similar to the original. You must help the mercenary army grow in their effort in battling the corrupt Highland Empire. You do this first by finding a suitable headquarters, and then by recruiting soldiers to join your cause. Like the original, there are over 100 characters to recruit. Some join right away, others you have to do favors for or need a certain character in your present party, and others won't join until you've reached a certain point of the game. The more characters you recruit, the bigger your fortress will become. Some of the characters you recruit can also open up various mini games including gambling, and even an Iron Chef-style cooking tournament. It's really great to see your community grow and prosper, and all the things you can unlock as the game goes on.
Like before, the game implements three different kinds of battle systems. The first, and most common, are the regular battles, which are shown in an isometric view, similar to the Breath of Fire games. You can have six characters fighting in your party at one time. These occur during random battles on the field map, and during boss fights. The second most common form are the strategic army battles. These have gone through a major change over the original. In the first game, they were almost like a glorified game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" where you had to guess which attack the enemy army was going to do, and use the attack that could beat it. This time, the army battles resemble an actual strategic RPG, where you have to move your different units across a battlefield, and choose different attacks or skills to wipe out the opposing forces. The third, and least common, battle system used in the game are one-on-one battles, where the main character faces off against a single opponent. These are usually only used during key dramatic points of the story.
Some other slight changes have been made to the gameplay, as well. Once again, your characters equip Runes to themselves. These Runes give them access to certain spells. However, this time, you can equip more than one per character. Each character can have up to three Runes equipped at one time. It also seems that you can hold more items in your inventory than you could in the original. However, perhaps the biggest change is that Konami listened to the biggest complaint most fans (including myself) had with the original. Suikoden was a great RPG, but too easy, and kind of short. Suikoden II is not only much more challenging (I dare anyone not fight the Luca Blight boss without screaming obscenities at least once), but it's also much longer. It gives the great characters more time to develop, and more time for the story to unravel.
The graphics keep the tradition of the original game alive, while adding some slight upgrades. Like the first game, Suikoden II is entirely 2D. It may not be as lavish as some other 2D RPGs like Legend of Mana, but it's livable. There's good animation in the characters, and good use of color. There's also some nice shading, too. Some people criticized Suikoden II as looking exactly like the first game, but this game does have a lot more attention to detail, both in the characters, and in the locales you visit. Some brief CGI cinemas have been added at certain points, but they're too sparse and far between to make a real impression. The only downside of the graphics is the nearly microscopic character sprite of your hero as he makes his way across the game's world map.
One of the things that made the first game stand out was its soundtrack. Suikoden II's music is far from bad, but it just does not leave as big an impression. The soundtrack starts out strong enough with an inspiring symphonic and choral melody during the game's opening intro movie, and continues with a hauntingly beautiful piano melody during the game's opening credits. However, the game's synthesized melodies are not as strong. Some of the town themes are quite pleasant to listen to, but none of them leave as strong as an impression as the town themes in the first game. The music in the original just seemed more epic and inspiring than the tracks used here.
This is truly a great RPG, and it just about earned a perfect 10 score with me, due to its great and epic story, and likable characters. However, the main reason I'm dropping the final score by one point is because of Konami's translation work on this game. The translation itself isn't that bad, there's no real moments of bad dialogue that made me laugh out loud. What makes the translation bad is that Konami obviously made no attempt to proofread the dumb thing. This game has more spelling and grammatical errors than any recent RPG I can think of. Sometimes, they can't even be consistent in the spelling of a character's name! How this translation got by Konami, I have no idea. Someone must have noticed the multitude of errors. It's a shame that an RPG with such an epic and serious story has to be hampered by this third grade spelling and grammar attempt.
Despite the tragedy of the translation, Suikoden II is an RPG you truly must experience. It's one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and I believe it would have gotten a much better response if it didn't come out around the same time as Final Fantasy VIII. Do yourself a favor, and pick this game up if you can find it.
Final Score: 9
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