Review: Suikoden II (PS1)

CaseDeveloper: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Genre: RPG
Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $9.99 (PSN)

 

 

 

 

Suikoden was among the first RP’s to be released on the Playstation. The game gained itself a strong fanbase and while it wasn’t outstanding in sales, it did well enough to bring about a second title. The ending left fans with a multitude of questions regarding not only the fates of some of their favorite characters but in regards to how the world itself developed after the conclusion of the first game. Suikoden seemed to end abruptly, giving the player very little satisfaction. Suikoden II was not only received well but to this day it is considered not only the best of the franchise, but also among RPGs in the genre. The graphics, sound, and story flow were greatly improved upon for a visually appealing product with an engaging plot without the distraction of clumsy dialogue and pacing. Old favorites made a strong return 15 years after the events of Suikoden  and a cast of new characters was introduced to bring the player into the new journey they were about to embark on. Unfortunately, its popularity in Japan did not carry over well into the US. In its initial release the game was difficult to find and because of the awkward presentation of its predecessor it was often passed over. Suikoden II hard copies to this day are next to impossible to find and cost a pretty penny to obtain. As is Konami’s standard with the Suikoden games, Suikoden II was released in limited quantities. It’s tragic, but by the time the game picked up any positive feedback new players were unable to play the game without dropping a hundred dollars on it. Most gamers opted not to invest in Suikoden II because while critics were holding it up as a masterpiece, they weren’t willing to take the risk. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Konami finally conceded to offering Suikoden II on the PSP network for a reasonable price. I highly encourage newcomers to the series to take advantage of this and join the community in bringing this title into the spotlight. With enough attention, we can only hope that Konami will continue the classic series.

Story

Suikoden II Heros 5

After years of training side by side, childhood companions Riou and Jowy enter into the youth division of the Highland Army. Their commanding officer and the Highland prince, Luca Blight, orchestrate the tragic butchering of Riou and Jowy’s unit within the division in order to lay blame to the city-state of Jowston. Such a tragedy and an outrage would provide Luca with reason enough to invade Jowston and begin his conquest. Riou and Jowy were fortunate enough to escape the initial slaughter with their lives, but are perused to the edge of a cliff overlooking a river. Knowing of the internal betrayal, Captain Rowd orders the death of both Riou and Jowy. The leap from the cliff into the raging waters below, narrowly avoiding death at the hands of Rowd, but are separated in the process.
Riou is fished out of the river by a group  of mercenaries led by Flik and Viktor, two characters who played a dominant role in Suikoden. Riou is forced to work for the mercenaries and live in captivity until Jowy, who was saved by a young girl downstream, comes to his rescue. The two flee to their hometown of Kyaro of Highland. Upon their return, they are swiftly arrested as traitors and spies and sentenced to death. They are rescued from the gallows by the mercenary leaders, Flik and Viktor, who found Riou’s perseverance in captivity admirable.
Riou and his company take refuge in the town of Toto following their escape from Kyaro. Unfortunately, Luca Blight is already on the move. He attacks the town of Toto and butchers the majority of the town’s inhabitants. Following an unsuccessful attempt to defend the mercenary fort, Riou and Jowy decide to join forces with the resistance. During their retreat from Toto and the fallen fortress, Riou and Jowy encounter Leknaat, the blind rune keeper. The two are bound to one another through the Rune of Beginning which is split in two. Riou is chosen to bear the Bright Shield Rune while Jowy becomes the bearer of the Black Sword Rune.
At this point forward, Riou must stand firm against the Highland Army and their mad prince, Luca Blight, in order to free the nation from bloodshed and tyranny.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content:
Suikoden‘s lore revolves heavily around the 27 runes of destiny which are semi-sentient magical entities that inhabit a bearer and brands their body with a symbol that represents their true nature. The Rune of Beginning represents the initial chaos of birth associated with order coming from chaos in times of creation. The rune splits into two parts — the Bright Shield Rune and the Black Sword Rune — but binds its bearers together. The Bright Shield Rune represents the power to protect while the Black Sword Rune represents offensive power. When compared to the darker, almost demonic, nature of the rune in the previous entry to the Suikoden series, the Rune of Beginning is a lighter, more spiritual rune. It can more easily be likened to the Armor of God than anything inherently evil.

My friend and I seal our thoughts here. We deeply regret that we could not make them one.

– Inscription in Toto regarding the True Rune

Magic is common within the Suikoden games, especially through the minor runes available for purchase and discovery within dungeons.
Luca Blight, as depicted in the official Manga.

Luca Blight, as depicted in the official Manga.

Violence:
The antagonist of Suikoden II, Luca Blight, is both destructive and bloodthirsty. The introduction of the game depicts him standing on a pile of his victims laughing wildly. This sets the tone for the violence in the game. While this is still a PlayStation 1 game with limited graphics, violent deaths are still shown and implied. Suikoden II does not even try to hide the horrors of war and tyranny. Here, there are multiple scenes with dead bodies, blood, and violent conflict.
Language/Crude Humor:
Crude humor is implied and difficult to miss. An adult situation is strongly hinted at in regards to a street performer character and a soldier but nothing happens on-screen and nothing is directly said regarding the activity. The implication is a pretty obvious one, but younger audiences will easily overlook it. There are several advances between characters but nothing oversteps any serious boundaries for sensitive audiences. There is mild nudity in some of the monsters that are encountered, but nothing that violates Barbie doll anatomy.
The language is extremely mild. The worst of it involves d*** and h-e-double hockey sticks.
Drug/Alcohol Use:
Taverns are once again a frequent place of dialogue within the Mercenary army in the beginning of the game. Several recruits are obtained in taverns. One in particular is obtained via gambling within said tavern. When the player obtains and expands their stronghold, a tavern is eventually added on. Drinking is part of the character interaction but it’s never a focus point or a behavioral problem.
Positive Themes:
Suikoden II is, at its core, about the power of friendship. It highlights the strength that we find in a companion. After the player sends Riou and Jowy from the cliff the game cuts away to a cut scene showing the two characters as they grow up. The two grew up side by side, outcasts that found a place in each other’s friendship. Instantly, the player is drawn into the powerful connection between the two leading characters. They faced the rejection of their childhood, the punishment of bullies, the fear of joining the armed forces, and eventually the betrayal of the land they swore to protect together.

 

A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

– Proverbs 18:24

 

Riou Bright Shield

As with the first title, forgiveness is once again a powerful theme that comes into play when attempting to obtain the true ending. The player must suffer through heartbreak, loss, and treachery and somehow find the strength to forgive the unforgivable. Suikoden II forces the player to think outside of themselves and to overcome evil through courage and acts of kindness. Riou is rightfully given the Bright Shield because he was meant to defend, not to push forward an aggressive assault. In defending those around him, he not only strengthens himself but he strengthens an entire nation. His example shines out and inspires those around him to become greater. The Bright Shield Rune draws a powerful parallel to the Shield of Faith. Much of what Riou must persevere through requires great faith starting from his blind leap at the beginning of the game.

 

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

– Ephesians 6:16

Even Riou’s imprisonment early in the game holds heavily biblical parallels. He is imprisoned wrongly and forced to work in order to earn his meals at the end of the day. Like Joseph, he labors as hard as he can regardless of his circumstance. He’s never shown complaining or cursing anyone. His perseverance and hard work is enough to impress his superiors. It was this powerful impression of his good nature that led Flik and Viktor to follow him back to his home town and to ultimately save him and Jowy from death. Like Joseph, Riou returns to where he was enslaved and rises to lead.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

– Romans 5:3-4

Gameplay

You play as Riou, an innocent young man framed for the slaughter of his military unit. Through the game, Riou is accompanied by a maximum of 5 party members, each with their own attributes and strengths in battle. At multiple points in the main storyline, Riou is required to keep certain characters within his party to progress but there are always vacant slots for characters of the player’s choosing. Towards the end of the game, the player can customize their party to fit the situation based on their own modification of each character’s stats, weapon, armor, and magic set.
An example of a party formation arrangement. Characters are marked with S-L for their range capabilities.
An example of a party formation arrangement.
Standard to most RPGs at the time, the player moves across an open overworld in order to move from location to location. Random encounters with soldiers, monsters, and the local wildlife make up the majority of the battles in Suikoden II. The battles have their own mechanics that keep the player from mindless button-mashing and it makes them a little more bearable when grinding. For one, your party is often composed of your choice in characters. Characters are given three lengths of attack range, so arranging your party according to their range of attack is essential. Characters with a short range (marked by a “S” by their name) can only strike the first row of enemies, but they typically have higher attack powers and they typically are some of the more defensible characters. They should always be in the front of your formation both so they are able to attack and so they can take the brunt of the party’s damage. Medium range characters (marked with an “M” by their name) are able to attack the first and second row of enemies. They are well-rounded in terms of their stats without any clear advantages. They can be positioned in the front (though I would suggest keeping them far to the left or right) or in the back. Long range characters (marked by an “L” by their name) are able to hit any enemy on the field of battle. Long range characters are typically the archers and magic-users so their defense is minimal and they are highly specialized in what they are able to do. It’s always wise to make sure these characters are equipped with healing items so they can keep themselves on their feet if they suffer a blow. On top of these mechanics, the characters rarely perform non-commanded actions. For example, Kennison can trip when performing a unite attack and fall flat on his face. Some characters will jump in front of another to take the blow for them. It’s a very small addition but it adds personality and keeps the interest of the player during those long grinds.
Riou and Jowy's Unite attack, "Friendship Attack" strikes all foes on the battlefield rather than a single target.

Riou and Jowy’s Unite attack, “Friendship Attack” strikes all foes on the battlefield rather than a single target.

Some combinations of characters unlock combo attacks (called “unite attacks in this game) which can deal out heavier damage or multiple strikes against foes. For example, Riou can perform a unite attack with Jowy (“Friendship Attack”) in which both characters attack aggressively and deliver double the damage with an additional damage bonus as the combo concludes.
In addition to the unite attacks, many characters include special runes (magical spells) that can be used in standard battles or in the tactical battles that occur between armies. The runes are diverse in their usage and how they build on the character that they’re attached to. Some characters can wield multiple runes while others are more limited. Runes can be directly offensive and strike one or multiple enemies, they can be defensive and bolster the party, they can heal one or multiple targets, or they can give the user a special effect such as additional damage when using a bladed weapon or increase to critical strikes when countering in battle.
An example of a unit make-up during a tactical battle.

An example of a unit make-up during a tactical battle.

Tactical battles have been vastly improved in Suikoden II from where they began in Suikoden. The player arranges several units composed of or including characters that they have  recruited into their army. This provides further initiative to get out and recruit as many allies as possible. Every character brings something to the field of battle. Some have special runes that give the player an advantage in tactical battles, others heal your allies, and others still provide special bolstering effects to help increase attack or defense. As the game progresses ,the tactical battles become more and more difficult. Some key characters can even permanently die if they are slain on the battle field. The player must arrange their units wisely and command them on the field of battle with special attention to the movements of your enemy. One false move can cost you a perfect game, so be sure you save before every tactical battle.
Flik's dialogue offers the player a clue at which action to take in a duel.

Flik’s dialogue offers the player a clue at which action to take in a duel.

Suikoden II has also reintroduced the duel battles with the same general mechanics of the duel battles in Suikoden. The player enters into a rock-paper-scissors style battle with another single character. The opponent will throw out a statement and based on what is said the player must choose whether to attack, defend, or use a wild attack. For example, the first duel you enter into (essentially your dueling tutorial for the game) is against Flik. When he says, “The next one’s going to hurt!” he is preparing to use a wild attack. You must defend against this in order to block the damage he is about to deal and deal your own damage in a counter-strike. There are several guides available online for duels and I highly recommend that one is kept handy as some duels are game changers.
Suikoden II has a very large world map for the player to explore with forests, cities, villages, dungeons, and a variety of other landmarks in which they can enter. Exploration is a major part of the game as many of the recruitable characters are tucked out of the way of the main storyline. Some recruits even require multiple interactions in multiple locations throughout the game in order to gain their loyalty. There are shops across the map that offer different runes, weapons, and armor in their “Rare finds” section and the player can take advantage of the diversity in shops by buying and selling products between locations. It’s time consuming but well worth it in the long run. Every character has a weapon that can be refined multiple times to increase their attack power. Refining is costly and with 108 characters to attend to it adds up quickly. Thankfully, the traveling between locations is made less tedious later in the game thanks to a magic-user with the teleport spell.
About midway through the game a stronghold is established in which all the recruited characters are gathered. Some characters will open up shops and services that are among the best in the game so it cuts on travel time to seek out medicine, runes, and weapon improvements. Exploring the stronghold allows the player to interact with the characters that they have brought into their army and observe how they interact with one another. Some characters unlock entertaining mini-games with decent payouts for performing well.
Overall the gameplay is seamless. The loading times are minimal, crossing the world map reaps its own rewards, there are little Easter eggs and surprises everywhere, and the challenges encountered are fair rather than difficult as a result of clunky programming. Battles flow very nicely, the dialogue has been greatly improved upon from Suikoden, and the cast of characters is so diverse in skill sets that no two parties will ever be alike. There are endless ways to enjoy the game multiple times and the replay value is very high.

Presentation

While graphics have improved in the last ten years, Suikoden II is still fairly easy on the eyes. The graphics are a step above its predecessor with more detailed, expressive sprites, improved character art, and beautifully detailed backgrounds and textures. The overworld still looks a little silly with a massive, chubby version of Riou’s sprite roaming over small trees and tiny cities but it’s a very small nit pick.
The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful. The music fades in and out during emotional cut scenes to perfectly reflect the mood of the characters and the situation presented. Tension, desperation, sorrow, reflection, and joy are all orchestrated very well. Where the sprite art was limited in conveying the emotions of the characters, the score more than made up for it.
Expressive character artwork beside dialogue, detailed backgrounds, and a fantastic score add a lot of life to the game's presentation.

Expressive character artwork, engaging dialogue, detailed backgrounds, and a fantastic score add a lot of life to the game’s presentation.

The sound effects are well done, even if they are a little silly at times. Sharpening your weapon, for example, has the typical hammer-and-anvil sound but it concludes with what can only be described as the sound of being slapped in the face. Any strange sound effects only add to the unique sense of humor that the game offers.

Conclusion

Suikoden II is a true masterpiece.  Never has a game been able to capture the pure spirit of friendship through trials and never has a game been able to depict the strain that politics has on relationships. The story is unmatched in depth, emotion, and suspense. Old as the game is, few RPG’s have even come close to the level of storytelling that Suikoden II has accomplished. It’s very easy to see why Suikoden II is praised by critics and treasured by fans. This hidden gem of the gaming world has finally been made available again and I cannot recommend it more. It captures the nostalgia of the first generation of playstation rpg’s while having aged very well into a new generation of gamers.

Kelly

I was born and raised in a traditional Christian household, educated privately, and brought up with a passion for Christ. The works of CS Lewis and Tolkien were my greatest influences. I aspire to become a published fictional author, hopefully illustrating my own work as well. Christ is the center of my universe and my faith is the lens in which I look through in regards to everything. As far as games go I am swayed best towards fantasy/action/rpg's.

7 Comments

  1. Budi on September 9, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Very nice comments… agree with pretty much everything you said above… A hidden gem, unfairly underrated game, lack of publicity just killed the potential of the game… Imagine what might happen with better promotion and packaging of the first game.. Suikoden might even challenged Final Fantasy as the premier JRPG brand with much better story telling rather than pretty graphic (not to say that FF stories were bad, very few games can match Suikoden’s story line)

    • Kelly on September 12, 2015 at 4:18 am

      The sad thing is that it shared a release date close to Final Fantasy, so fans went with what they knew. Suikoden 1 didn’t do too well (I personally blame the art on the disk, I don’t even know what’s going on there…) so 2 was skipped over.

      You should check out the Suikoden revival movement group on facebook! They’re working VERY hard to show Konami that the game is well loved and deserves to be picked up again.

      I agree though. I do love Final Fantasy but the scope of the games is narrow and the stories are never connected. They seem kind of phoned in at times. Suikoden’s heart has never been duplicated in the gaming world.

    • Kelly on February 8, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      I completely agree! I think that part of why it was kind of brushed under the rug is that the first game was given a very quiet release. They changed the game case, which was very unappealing on the surface, they didn’t advertise it much, and it was kind of white noise in the era of RPG’s. I think that the Suikoden series has the best story-telling of any rpg, but that’s just me. >>; I do love FF games but they tend to be a huge hit or a huge miss.

  2. Michael M. on September 6, 2015 at 3:28 am

    Great review! I loved this game when it came out. I don’t remember how many stars I got, but I did get most…not all 108 though.

    Love how you relate it to the bible in several places, which are my personal favorite reviews on GUG.

    Also, I actually had a PHYSICAL copy of this game when I was a lot younger, and I think I traded it in to GameStop….*kicking myself* Could have sold it later on for MUCH more.

    • Kelly on February 8, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      some of them are really difficult. You definitely want to run this game with a guide and a check-off list. There’s even a part at the very end where if you DON’T button-mash, Riou will not perform a move that saves the life of another character. It’s well worth the effort though. The ending is moving.

      Thank you! I try to see God in everything I read, play, and watch so it’s a fun challenge to find suitable verses and Bible references for all these games. 🙂

      Oh no D8 Check local pawn shops! I had a good friend lose his copy to an angry ex and he found a copy of II for $8 in great condition. The shop didn’t know what they had!

  3. Lari Burkhart on September 4, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    I love this franchise! Suikoden 3 was the first one I played and then I had to go back and start at the beginning and I have loved them all. Great review!

    • Kelly on February 8, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Likewise! III was my first game and I got into it because of the manga. XD I loved the game so much I grabbed every title I could find. II was a birthday gift from my sisters and I guard it jealously. >>

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