Between playing some more Assassin’s Creed II this weekend and something else I’m not yet ready to reveal, I put a couple more hours into Suikoden II. When last I wrote about Hodor and his friends, they had just gained control of Dah Castle, with plans to fill it with friendly, like-minded people to assist them in taking Luca Blight deep down to the underground. Alas, not much of that actually happened, as the towns I revisited were short of recruitable Stars of Destiny, and so I got back on the main story path, settling a dispute between humans, kobolds, and winged demons, before eventually making my way to Greenhill, the newest of the five city-states and a strong believer in higher education.
Why is our colorful gang of warriors and wizards going to a college town, you ask? Well, army strategist Shu has informed us that the Highland army has taken Greenhill. Unfortunately, the Dornish army is in no shape to re-take Greenhill, but Shu wants us to rescue Teresa Wisemail, the town’s mayor, as we could greatly use her on our side. Our best bet for sneaking in is to use a party of college-age Stars of Destiny, with Flik as a bodyguard. I went with Hodor, Nanami, Gengen, Millie, Chaco, and someone else that I’m blanking on now. Um, dang. No, no–wait. Flik was an actual party member too, with Pilika in the convoy to boot. Right. Okay, it’s off to Greenhill, to learn!
Now, I’ve never played Persona 4, but I did watch the entire Endurance Run over at Giant Bomb, and my favorite parts generally involved Charlie going to school and actually participating in classes, quizzes, and socializing. There was also a good chunk of my life devoted to daily wizard lessons in Magician’s Quest: Mysterious Times. I don’t know. Maybe I just miss being in school, having that structure and chance to prove yourself, but I was hoping for a similar experience here in Suikoden II. Instead, it’s all fade-to-black summaries and talk of delicious cafeteria food instead of actually experiencing it. Let me explain.
Before you even truly enter Greenhill, Fitcher, who went ahead to scout the situation, recommends everyone come up with fake names to use while playing phony high school graduates. For Hodor, I went with Bubba. Nanami liked the name Beth, and Flik got Blue Thunder. No one else in the party was special enough to warrant a name change. Naturally, this is a callback to Suikoden when everyone picked new names while escaping Gregminster and crossing a guarded border, but a part of me actually hoped I would get to roleplay Bubba while I roleplayed Hodor in this Japanese roleplaying game. Considering that only a single scene later Nanami drops Flik’s real name out in the open for all to hear and the other fake names aren’t even brought up…well, no. It was just window dressing.
Once you’re inside New Leaf Academy, you’ll meet Emilia, who will review your group’s paperwork and show you around some of the classrooms. This equates to quickly walking around the school area and some light talk before a man named Shin interrupts everything. You are then free to explore on your own before returning to the dorms for the evening. There are a few items to find, namely Old Book Vol. 5 and Recipe #20, but little interaction. In fact, most of the classrooms are empty of professors, with kids simply sitting listlessly at desks. It’s easy to imagine them brimming with activity. It’s so easy.
Much to my dismay, you never actually attend a class or do anything school-like while you are pretending to be college freshmen and learning about what ultimately happened to Teresa and the townsfolk. Instead, you’ll do some investigation stuff while Flik is avoiding a young girl’s smooches and then retire to the dorms for the evening so that you can kickstart another day of plot-vital happenings. There’s even a warning about misbehaving and getting expelled, but there is nothing you can do to affect any kind of system. You can’t even behave. All I was hoping for was maybe an interactive class or two, a chance to earn a special item or learn a new recipe by listening to what the teacher said and selecting an appropriate response.
In summary, I think the idea of pretending to be students at New Leaf Academy is a missed opportunity for Suikoden II, one that can’t be undone as I’ve now left the school behind, eager to get back to Dah Castle and see what story beat is next. At least I know there’s still cooking competitions to look forward to.