Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Suikoden II (English version, released in 1999) and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.
Even though I have not played that many Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) on consoles over the past several years, I am really excited about the upcoming RPGs that will be released on Xbox Series X and the future JRPGs I am looking forward to are Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes and Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising developed by Rabbit & Bear Studios (led by Yoshitaka Murayama).
Who is Yoshitaka Murayama? He created the memorable Suikoden (AKA Genso Suikoden) RPG franchise during his time with Konami, specifically the first three games. I myself played and finished Suikoden on the original PlayStation in 1996 and it was a lot of fun thanks to the combined efforts of Murayama (who did the scenarios and game direction) and his teammates such as Junko Kawano (who did the design), Miki Higashino (who did the music along with four other teammates) and some others.
Then in 1999, the sequel to Suikoden was released and I can never forget the day I bought it at a local game store and rushed home with a lot of excitement to start playing it on our then aging PlayStation console.
So you must be wondering…how did I find the sequel? Was it an improvement over its predecessor? Did Murayama and the key creators do better than what they did in the first game? You can all find out in this look back at Suikoden II, published by Konami for the PlayStation (PS1).
The story begins with two youngsters – Riou (your character whose name can be modified) and Jowy – who are close friends since childhood now serving the Highland Army as members of their youth brigade. They spend time in a military camp in the forest as a peace treaty between two great forces is pending (note: Highland has been in conflict with the City-State of Jowston).
As some soldiers expressed desires to go home once the peace has been finalized, Riou and Jowy are ordered by their commanding officer Rowd to go back to their tent and sleep. However, a surprise attack happened which alerted them. As soon as the two close friends left their tent, they are shocked to see parts of the camp burning. Their officer Rowd informed them that their enemy is responsible for the attack and deliberately broke the peace agreement. Riou and Jowy are told to take the mountain path to the east and save themselves before it is too late.
Fearing that they might get ambushed in the woods, Jowy tells Riou that they should return to camp. Upon returning, they quietly witness the unexpected presence of Highland prince Luca Blight who gets briefed by Rowd. As it turns out, the attack on their camp was not committed by the opposing forces but rather it was all a self-inflicted operation by Highland. Rowd’s instruction to some of their selected soldiers to head east was a set-up. What happened was all part of a plan by Highland to escalate the conflict by blaming their losses on Jowston. Luca Blight expressed clearly that a peace treaty with Jowston and its states was not needed, and he strongly believes in the power of Highland to conquer them all.
After learning the shocking details, Riou and Jowy decide to leave for the cliff to the north as a way of escape. At the cliff, Rowd catches up to the two. Fortunately, Riou and Jowy were successful in defeating Rowd’s soldiers and pave the way for their escape. Before fleeing, they marked a rock and promised to return to that same place if ever they get separated.
Riou and Jowy jumped off the cliff and get separated. Some time later, Riou wakes up and finds himself in the presence of three men. One of them identifies himself as Viktor, the leader of an army of mercenaries and an ally of Jowston. Another member of the mercenary army in blue arrives and he is Flik.
Being powerless, Riou marches with them to the headquarters of the mercenary army…
Having played Suikoden a lot in 1996, I got familiar with the game design, the varied battle systems and other features that made it a solid RPG on its own. As for Suikoden II, I can clearly say that Murayama and his creative team built up on their foundation (in the first game), expanded the fantasy concept dramatically and ultimately made an extensive series of improvements and additions over each and every aspect of the sequel!
I’ll start first with the storytelling and writing. Compared to its predecessor, I found Suikoden II to be deeper and it took great advantage of the fact that the plot took place just years after first game and by this time the established world, the cities, tribes and geopolitical concept have been developed so much – backed with solid writing – they all become a lot more believable. In the middle of the great conflict are the three main characters Riou, Jowy and Nanami whose exploits and portrayals are pretty rich and lively to follow. It’s kinda like following the love triangle of Hikaru, Misa and Minmay through the war in the classic Super Dimension Fortress Macross anime TV series, except that you – the player – get heavily involved as Rious by making decisions that affect yourself and others, leading missions, building up a community (and force) of over 100 members, and overcoming challenges related to the conflict between Highland and Jowston.
The great news here is that the Riou-Jowy-Nanami emotional arc was written to be dramatic, engaging, intriguing and sentimental which ultimately will make you feel for them just as you make your way through the many events and twists of the war story. Beyond these three key characters, it should be noted that the scenarios are excellently executed and really showed how lively the fantasy world of Suikoden II really is. I’m talking about the portrayal of the many, many supporting characters and the interactions you have with them as the plot moves forward. Remember how lively your troops were in welcoming you back after winning your first army battle? Such a scenario was well directed and scripted, and the supporting characters you recruited really had their moments of participation which make sense within the narrative. I also should mention that the opposition figure of the game – Luca Blight – is still a powerful and complex villain in JRPGs even by today’s standards. Luca Blight is not evil for the sake of being evil, but if you pay close attention to the details about his background as the game’s story goes on, you will realize he is quite a complex character whose evil made sense within the narrative. Very clearly, the writing and storytelling done by Yoshitaka Muraya is not only greater than in the first game, but also very inspired.
On the gameplay and design, Suikoden II’s exploration of the world, towns and locations uses good old 2D graphics. The big difference here is that the 2D visual elements are more varied in terms of detailed sprites for non-playable characters (NPCs) and interactive characters, and visually the sprites as well as the art used for the in-game environments looked more polished (clearer, smoother and less pixelated). The controls are responsive enough for my taste, and it is also nice that my character moves faster while exploring. More on exploring, I do confirm that there are indeed more locations to visit (including those that are part of the quests related to finding the 100+ characters) and the art made for the locations are more varied as well.
More on the gameplay, two types of battle systems from the first game are back but with refinements. First to talk about is the party battle system in which players get to control a group of up to six members who face off with enemies by group, or a single powerful boss-type enemy. During the party battle, you get to pick options as to what type of action each member of your party will do – Attack, Magic (note: this involve Runes), Item or Flee (note: if your party is much stronger than the opposition, Bribe or Let Go options will appear).
The way the battles are designed, as in the first game, is smooth, very visually appealing (thanks to the dynamic camera and fine level of detail of the sprites and animation) and fun to watch. Adding further depth to the party battles are the combined attacks involving at least two characters. Take for example Flik and Viktor doing the cross-attack, or Riou and Nanami performing a series of combo attack moves in strong coordination with each other. These combined attacks are not only fun to perform and see, but also encourages you to experiment by mixing up characters (specifically combatants) and paying attention as to which characters they can do combined attacks with. This alone will encourage you to complete the 108 characters of your force.
The use of Runes has been improved a lot in this game as the combatants now have three slots to equip Runes (note: these slots gradually open up as characters’ levels go up). Runes are essential to use magic spells in battles and the improvement of the Runes – plus the Run Affinity system – add more variety in the battles.
Compared to other Japanese RPGs, the party battles here are much less stressful even though a random encounter system is used. There is also the option for automated attacks, which spares you from having to choose options for each member of your party to perform when fighting the enemies. Granted, I went through lots of random encounter battles and some challenges, but ultimately the stress level and tedium were very low. Doing party battles is fun overall.
The 2nd battle system inherited from the first game is the duel. Duels happen the least throughout the game but each time they happen, they can be quite engaging to do. As the one-on-one battle between your character and an opponent begins, you will see them in a 3D realm with the dynamic camera capturing the action. Your options are mainly Attack, Wild Attack and Defend, and before you can pick an option, you must pay attention first to the clues (note: taunts) from your opponent which can help you anticipate his/her/its next move. While the visuals are clearly improved, the duel is pretty much the same as in the first game.
The 3rd battle system – army battles – is clearly the most revised part of the game as it is radically different from the army battles of the previous game. This time the army battles involves the heavy use of a tactical map (where you move units in a grid-like system). Your units – composed of mainly characters you recruited, including the non-combatants – can be moved on the map to counter an enemy unit. Then a short, animated battle sequence will commence and based on the statistics of each unit, the winner and loser of the sequence will be determined. Take note that in events of defeat, recruits can die permanently. As such, it is important to pay attention to not only the statistics but also the types of troops you have such as archers, healers, knights, and foot troops. When controlling units on the map, your options are Attack, Wait and Rune. It is also very entertaining to see how the characters react (with dialogue, no less) to the battles. Overall, the army battle system here is clearly much deeper and more strategic than what was used in the first Suikoden.
Battles aside, there are also lots of things to do related to exploration. For one thing, there are these fun-filled mini-games the game creators set up such as fishing (note: not as boring as it may sound), the whack-a-mole game, rope climbing, Chinchirorin (dice game in a bowl) and, the most exciting and deepest of them all, the cooking contest game. When you fully invest your time into each of these mini-games, you will not feel relieved from the stress of battles and exploration, but also have a lot of fun free of stress. I enjoyed these a lot myself.
If you enjoyed building up your fortress in the first game, you will experience that here also! Building up your stronghold is related to your recruiting of people and some of them have certain talents that will establish key parts of your place like a store, a Rune shop, aa tavern, a restaurant, an armor shop and even a detective agency to name some! It may take an effort to have all possible establishments get realized in the game but I promise you, they are all worth it and you will feel thankful that you got to recruit lots of people. The other reward of building up your fortress is the establishment of a thriving community of people!
With regards to continuity with the first Suikoden game, the game developers implemented certain content (locations, dialogue, story and characters) that get unlocked by having your preserved Suikoden saved game content successfully loaded with Suikoden II running on PS1. I’m talking about being able to meet and even recruit Suikoden hero Tir McDohl, plus meeting even more characters from the first game. Very clearly, this is a clever presentation of fan service done by Murayama and his creative team who paid attention to the feedback of the first Suikoden.
The music done by Miki Higashino and Keiko Fukami are very varied and many of them reflect the places you get to visit, the emotional scenes you witness and the epic moments that happen. The great news here is that each and every tune in the game was made and performed with special care. This game’s soundtrack really stands out high among Japanese RPGs of the 1990s and even by today’s standards, it still is a great soundtrack to listen to.
If there are any flaws in this great game, it is the English translation itself as there were typographical errors, mistranslations and even NPCs with lines of dialogue that made absolutely no sense. Clearly there was a rushed job with the translation.
I really love Suikoden II and very clearly, it is a major improvement over its predecessor (which itself was a solidly good RPG). Suikoden II is a labor of love done by Murayama and his creative team and the result is a true epic RPG that has so much enjoyable stuff and high replay value for gamers. Its quality is still great and by today’s standards, Suikoden II is indeed a classic RPG that gamers should play even though Konami itself does not care to make it more accessible in this modern age of gaming.
Given the legacy of Suikoden II and the fact that Konami showed no signs of reviving the Suikoden RPG franchise, now is the time to look forward to Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes which Murayama and his team are developing for release in 2023 for Xbox consoles, Xbox Game Pass and other platforms. Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes clearly has strong Suikoden vibes and the distinct combination of 2D sprites with 3D polygonal environments, plus its party battle system strong resembles that of Suikoden and Suikoden II!
Overall, Suikoden II is highly recommended!
Now if only Konami would change its ways to make Suikoden II more accessible (go way beyond the PlayStation online store and ecosystem) to gamers by releasing it digitally through Xbox LIVE, Steam, Xbox Game Pass and other online stores or ecosystems. Paying hundreds of dollars for a legitimate hard copy of the game is simply too much.
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