Here’s something rather amusing: I was playing Suikoden II as it was announced over the weekend at Sony’s PlayStation Experience event that it was finally, at long last, coming to North America via the PlayStation Network. Take that, outrageously high eBay prices. Instead of dropping over $100, you can now download the epic JRPG for a sliver of that. I’ve read two different reported prices so far: $10.00 and $6.99. Either is a fantastic price for Konami’s sparkly, well-kept gem, one that many might not have gotten to play due to its rareness, as well as it being out-shadowed during its release by Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, the one with the floating garden school and Junction/Draw system.
That said, after a logged forty-nine hours and change and with my main party of characters all just under level 60, I can safely say that I have played Suikoden II. Again. The last time was definitely back in the 1990s. Hot off the heels of replaying Suikoden, I found my revisit to Suikoden II even more enjoyable, as well as at least seventy-five percent less goofy. This is a game about darkness and dark things, like betrayal, wavering confidence, murder, sacrifice, and rape. Sure, there’s still a good amount of silliness to balance out the grim, but all in all, this is a serious adventure in the same vein as current mega-RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Diablo III, with conflicting opinions and difficult choices all around.
Here, let me sum up the plot once more. Suikoden II‘s protagonist, who I named Hodor, goes from being a member of a youth brigade in the Highland Kingdom to being the leader of its opposition. Hodor and his best friend Jowy Atreides each end up acquiring one half of the Rune of the Beginning, both destined to become leaders. Luca Blight is heir to the throne of Highland, as well as a bloodthirsty madman who developed a strong hatred for Jowston early on after witnessing his mother’s rape by thugs hired by City-State capital Muse. Hodor will eventually find himself fighting against Luca and his best friend, for safety, for civility.
The six-party, turn-based combat from the first game returns, with visual upgrades for rune spells, but not many mechanical changes. Yup, there are more Unite attacks to use, as well as the ability to switch between rows during a fight, but I found using “auto” attack to work out well enough in most situations save for boss fights. Since the point is to recruit a bunch of different people for the war, the Suikoden series is one of the few–Chrono Cross is another–that really does encourage you to mix things up and try out new team members. You can’t go wrong with who you select so long as you have a good S/M/L range mix, keep them armored, sharpen their weapons, and give them strong runes. My mainstays throughout the campaign were Flik, Viktor, Nanami, Millie, Futch, Georg Prime, and Valeria, with Hodor acting more as a healer than anything else since his speed allowed him to act first in most fights.
Massive battles and duels are thankfully kept to a minimum, which is fine considering they still require a lot of guesswork or well-hardened knowledge of how rock, paper, scissors works. The massive battles are a little different in that you have to move units around for better positioning like in a strategy RPG, but it’s still a matter of attacking horses with bow and arrows and knowing when to charge with soldiers. If you want, Apple can take over your actions on autopilot. For every duel, I ended up using a wiki guide because, more often than not, these pixelated duels take place after a big boss fight, and I didn’t want to lose any progress. It’s just a matter of selecting the correct choice of defend, attack, or wild attack based on what your enemy says.
By Suikoden II‘s close, I did end up recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny, but not in time to get the “good” ending, though I still like the ending I saw. Many refer to it as the “tragic” ending, but seeing as I myself recently went through a tragic ending this year, it is rather apropos. Plus, it does that thing from A Link to the Past, where you check in with everyone after the war’s over to see what they are up to. Well, not everyone. Sorry, [redacted] and [redacted]. I missed/skipped out on a few other elements, like Clive’s timed side quest, recruiting the additional squirrel warriors, doing every Richmond investigation, unlocking the hidden bath scenes, and so on. There’s so much small, side stuff in Suikoden II that it can feel very overwhelming; most of it has no effect on the plot, but provides cool little moments or bits of backstory to a game already oozing story from every orifice. Still, after nearly fifty hours, I saw plenty.
If you thought the castle headquarters in Suikoden was neat and fulfilling to explore, just wait until you begin seeing it grow in Suikoden II. I mean, you could spend a good hour just running around the place, examining things, talking to people, seeing where they go when the place upgrades. There’s also mini-games to tackle, like fishing, cooking, and even whacking moles, but I might touch upon those more in a separate post. My regiment was that, every time I popped back to HQ, I’d check the suggestion box for new notes, start/complete an investigation with Richmond, make a pitstop at the warehouse, and then run over to the cafe to do the latest cook-off challenge before using Viki to teleport wherever I needed to go to next. There is legitimate excitement in my heart after recruiting a new member for the group and then scouring the castle for where they reside.
Right. Fun times. I’m going to take a wee breather before moving on to (and starting over) Suikoden III, but I think closing out a less-than-stellar year with one of my absolute favorite gaming experiences next to A Link to the Past is a good thing. Very good. Now, in the wise words of Viktor: “Oi!!!!! Let’s end this damn thing!!!”