Good Old Reviews
Suikoden II - Underappreciated But Imperfect

Stew Shearer | 17 Jan 2015 08:00
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Original Release: 1998, Platform: PS1, Developer: Konami, Publisher: Konami, Image Source: GameFAQs

After years of unavailability, Suikoden II has been re-released. The big question, of course, is how good this classic really is.

Suikoden II is one of those games. It's the sort of game that fans speak of with reverence. It's a skipped over gem or a "best game that no one played." This is a game that people have paid hundreds of dollars for the chance to play. You can perhaps understand, in turn, why I was so excited by the announcement that a digital version was finally going to be released to Sony's PlayStation Store. After all of the fantastic comparisons I'd heard (the Game of Thrones of JRPGs!), the prospect of getting my own chance to take it for a spin was incredibly exciting.

And now here I sit feeling kind of let down. Don't get me wrong, it's a great experince and , overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit. That said, after years of fans raving, I felt like I'd been promised the moon. What I got instead, was a solid JRPG with a collection of flaws that, ultimately, kept it from grabbing me the same way as my other favorite JRPGs did in the past.

The game opens on the eve of a peace agreement between the City State of Jowstan and its enemy, the nation of Highland. The player starts as a soldier in Highland's youth brigade, eagerly awaiting the promised peace with his peers. Hoping to reignite the war, however, parties in Highland, led by the sadistic prince Luca Blight, slaughter the youth brigade, blame Jowstan and frame the player as a traitor. After escaping from an attempted execution, you soon find yourself caught in the middle of a widening conflict where you're tasked with raising and a resistance army to fight back against Luca Blight.

Reading up on Suikoden II in the past, that sounded awesome to me. Some of my favorite games are JRPGs, but the subgenre, on the whole, is one that I could often take or leave. I can only stomach so many games about plucky teenagers defying the odds to save the world from some supreme, world shattering evil. Suikoden II sounded splendidly different from that; focusing on a bloody but localized conflict between two nations. The big bad guys are people just like you and your goals are tangible things like securing political alliances and bolstering your army.

Unfortunately, I felt that the story's execution was, at times, uneven. To be sure, when it focuses in on the war and the surrounding political intrigue it's exhilarating. I personally couldn't get enough of the twists, turns and backstabbing that make up some of the best parts of the plot. And don't even get me started on the scenes involving Luca Blight. They pull no punches with this guy. He destroys villages, conquers cities and proudly murders people for the sheer fun of it. He's an unrepentant embodiment of human evil who is absolutely intimidating and steals the show whenever he's on screen.

Not every moment is enthralling, though. There are times when the game definitely drags things out too long (infiltrating the Greenhill academy) and its cast of heroes struck me as being largely less interesting than its fantastic villains. A lot of this owes to the fact that Suikoden II, famously, includes more than 100 recruit-able NPCs. Now, to be fair, the whole recruiting shtick is, legitimately, one of the game's bright spots. It adds a nice collection element and helps to establish a tangible measurement of your army's growth. Unfortunately, when you have that many characters, it's hard to make all of them memorable. The game certainly makes some admirable efforts to combat this problem. Different characters brought to the same plot event will, for instance, usually have unique pieces of dialogue written specifically for them. In my experience though, there were characters the game clearly favored and the rest were different degrees of bland.

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