A Perfect Game.
Full of Characters with Heart, 108 of them to be exact.
Ape’s Ranking: #7/100
How does a forgotten JRPG from the forgeone PS1 era manage to make it onto so many “best of all-time” lists? Because few games evoke what Suikoden II does.
Suikoden II should still be considered a hidden gem. Even though it is considered one of the best games for the PS1, far too many people still haven’t played it. It’s hard to get a physical copy (only selling for around $500 dollars at the moment ☠️), and its release on the PS Store is limited to the PS3, Vita, and PSP. It is a game and a franchise that needs more attention.
The central mechanic that succeeds so well is the ability to recruit 108 characters. These characters turn your dormant, abandoned castle into a vibrant community. Everyone has some role to play, big and small. With each pass through HQ, you notice new buildings, areas, or social circles. This then helps you in the game itself, further pushing you to recruit more people.
For instance, I remember returning from another continent to see that the people I recruited had built a library. Here, I could store away ancient texts I collected. Now being able to read them, I learned more secrets about the game which prompted me to go out and recruit more characters.
It is this symbiotic circle which drives the entire game: by recruiting more characters, it unlocks more things, which propels you to get more characters.
It’s All About the People.
It is easy to get attached to everyone. As you walk through the castle, you see old friends and chat with them to see what they are up to. Overtime, they move around to new locations, reminiscent of running into someone in town unexpectedly.
This makes Suikoden II feel extremely alive. Until you recruit people into your army, they live in towns or countrysides. New, recruitable characters are layered in as the game continues. Anyone with a portrait is a possible recruit, and you will be racking your brain to figure out how to get everyone to join.
If you are having trouble figuring out how to get someone to join, Richmond is a recruitable private investigator. For a small fee, he will find out about potential recruits or investigate your current team members revealing secrets about them. My slight crush on Kinnison made me want to find out everything about him to only find there wasn’t much to know. So mysterious!
What’s fun about recruitment is you never know what the person is going to provide. It ranges from being a formidable fighter, augmented abilities, store owner, or just plain silly. Yuzu, a Little Bo-peep incarnate, takes care of all of your livestock after you find her three missing sheep. Taki, the granny, just provides one-off fun facts. Annallee will sing any song from the game’s music catalog.
The game is also quirky and full of hidden things. You can recruit Tetsu, master of hot baths, and get this location unlocked in your castle. Staying in the hot bath long enough will get you the “toasty” status effect which automatically heals HP. Throughout the game, you find items that you can actually place in your hot bathes to decorate. I found an item called chick, and it did not disappoint.
This could go on forever with 108 characters. It is amazing how much was packed into this fifth generation console game. Completing a mission and returning to your castle is the highlight of the game — these people really become your friends! You’ll find yourself spending more time just walking around HQ then actually progressing the main story.
JRPGs have an odd trajectory: you start the game by defeating enemies with the strength of field mice and end it in a battle against god for the future of humanity.
Suikoden II stays grounded throughout. It is a very human story. It revolves around the three childhood friends of Riou, Nanami, and Jowy. Their country, Highland, is at war with a neighboring city-state, but they soon learn that their side isn’t politically pure. Luca Blight, Son of the Emperor, is a bloodthirsty tyrant who reneges on promises to set up opportunities to invade for the sport of killing.
What makes the game special is the split that Riou and Jowy take. Riou takes the moral path of uniting the city-state to raise an army to defeat Luca Blight. Jowy, instead, decides to perform political subterfuge and actually joins Luca in an attempt to build up enough political power within the Highland army to overthrow him.
All three have a perfect part to play.
Nanami, Riou’s sister, is the comedic relief and her tomboyish, over-the-top antics lead to laugh out loud moments. Jowy is overly serious and willing to stop at nothing to rid the world of evil, even if that means committing evil himself. Riou is your classic JRPG silent protagonist. While mostly a blank slate, he quietly goes about his business recruiting a formidable army through his unwavering commitment to doing what is right.
You become attached to all three, and there are plenty of times in the game where they dangle the fate of each of them above the jaws of fate.
I won’t ruin the juicy parts of the story here. What is nice about Suikoden II is that since it is less well known, most of the bits aren’t ruined for you. Surprisingly for the year 2021, online guides for this game aren’t always clear and concise which is an appropriate throw back for a game from the 90s. It is amazing that a game this good has come this far without being plastered all over the internet.
The Sound of Music.
This game is full of bops. Overall, the game has a much more Asian feel than most games that were exported to America at this time. The music definitely reflects that in the instrumental choices and composition of the music.
There are plenty of arrangements to be found online, but here are some of my favorites from Suikoden 2 starting with a stringed arrangement of Her Sigh, a main town:
In this next one, you can find the main theme of Suikoden nestled throughout as a repeated guitar riff gives you the feel of being “carried on rippling waves.”
And finally, the main theme of Suikoden II that captures the bittersweet separation of the main characters:
Odds and Ends.
For some reason, Suikoden II doesn’t nail the translation of animal noises into onomatopoeia. Burururur, um um um, Ho hmmm are how a horse, sheep, and cat respond respectively.
In battle, characters can “unite” to unleash powerful combos. In one particular sequence, Gengen, a humanoid dog, rides Shiro, an actual wolf, using a stick and a doggy bone to do double damage. Sooooooo meta.
In other news, I worry about this dog’s back.
At the end of the game, you get a small vignette to tell you the fate of each character. Some were particularly rememberal.
A game chock full of secrets, people, and character.
Other People’s Takes:
- Moa Rants: “Another cool thing you can see is if you walk around the castle during downtime, you can see your people live their own lives. Maybe it’s about a teenage girl having a crush on one of your general, maybe you’ll see a dog being hanged upside down like laundry.“
- ulaghchi.blog: “One of the most interesting aspects of this game is the base building mechanic. What begins as a humble and raggedy abode eventually transforms into a grand palace as you recruit more characters and advance the story.”
- No Games Here: “Last but not least, now you can finally play the game with just your left hand, in case you have other really important things to do with your right hand.“