Suikoden told the story and struggle of one Tir McDohl, a young boy growing up fast in a big world where politics and war meant ultimately the same thing. On top of dealing with betrayal and unfairness and the death of several close friends and all that jazz, young McDohl also learns early on that he’s destined to be the Tenkai Star, a prophesied hero fated to unite the 108 Stars of Destiny, bringing forth a new age of prosperity. Heavy stuff for just a lad.
Suikoden II, taking place three years after the events in Suikoden, is basically that plus more. More betrayal, more scheming, more large-scale battles, more heartbreak. The Kingdom of Highland is invading the City States of Jowston. The player controls Riou, a soldier of the Highland Army’s Unicorn Brigade. Together with his childhood friend Jowy Atreides, the two of them will get swept up in the seedy underside of the Dunan Unification War.
The greatest aspect of Suikoden II‘s yarn is its fair and rounded treatment of relationships. You truly believe that Riou and Jowy are great friends with a lot of history, and as the plot unravels it becomes clearer and clearer that the two will not see eye to eye on everything. Plus, each is given half of a True Rune, demanding that they work together for its full potential to be realized. Still, their separation is no surprise, but it’s still just as crushing. Jowy ends up working for Luca Blight, “the Mad Prince,” a villain as villainous as they get, and starts to move up in rank as Riou begins to build his own army and plans for stopping Highland. As things really get heated and the battle rages on, Jowy betrays Blight, revealing that he is trying to bring peace to the land, and that he never believed Riou could do it so he set out on his own to accomplish the task. There’s some bitterness there, as well as relief.
You also believe that Riou and his sister Nanami love each other, all the way to the end. Two other characters with a great relationship? Old-time favs Viktor and Flik, of course.
There’s multiple endings, too. Three, I believe. Here’s how my one and only playthrough concluded. At the end of Suikoden II, Riou returns to a spot where he promised Jowy they could meet up if they ever got separated. The climb back to where it all started is hollow and eerie, with not a single sound to be heard. The two converse and then you’re given a faux choice whether to duel or not. Regardless, you’ll have to fight it out with your once BFF. Once Jowy is weakened, you have another choice, this time a real one: take his half of the True Rune or don’t. I did, knowing full well this decision would kill him, but not sure what made me want his Rune half; maybe his betrayal and murder of Anabelle still stung deep down. After that, Jowy makes his peace, and it’s montage city until the credits roll.
The story is smart, sophisticated. The battle plans make sense, and Luca Blight, while being a little over-the-top, is exactly what one fears in a villain–intelligent and passionate. It was clearly crafted with care, and it’s a story I will care about myself for as long as I can.