Actually this should’ve been a review of Suikoden 2. What follows isn’t a negative write-up of a cult classic, but rather a report on why I couldn’t enjoy this game.
Suikoden 2 is one of those games that through circumstances take on a new identity in the collective gaming conscience. Its peers are titles such as Planescape: Torment, No One Lives Forever, Okami or Strife. They’re games that broke new grounds, differentiating themselves in a positive way from the pack, and through that proceeded to NOT make bank in the mainstream market. Then, the people who DID play them at the time recognized their uniqueness, left in dismay when they saw that the wider public didn’t give a shit which caused developers to abandon such unprofitable paths.
While I was a kid whose primary console gaming experience was on the PS1, I was too focused on Final Fantasy to pay attention to the Suikoden series.
Fast forward to early 2015 and Suikoden 2 has just been released on PSN after years and years of fan pressure. They even formed a unified movement, the Suikoden Revival Movement. This is just another indication as to how much unknown-gem cred this game has.
So I decided to play this game and review it. My feelings are mixed, and ultimately I didn’t beat it, but this game has a lot of stuff to discuss.
Game of Thrones for 90’s kids and young teenagers
When you read a review of Suikoden 2 in today’s post HBO Game of Thrones world, you’ll learn that this was a game like that, with political intrigue, groundedness and dark themes. And yes, all that’s true. I’ve witnessed shocking turns of events where a character would betray their faction, I’ve seen burned down villages and orphans crying. There really weren’t any elemental crystals to collect to defeat the big bad (up until the point I played).
What most people fail to mention though is that this still is a 90’s JRPG, and though it’s a PS1 game, it’s aesthetics are clearly based on the even earlier 90’s SNES(read: childish) style. Every dark scene you witness, it’s presented in a cutesy Japanese anime way. If you don’t pay attention, you’d be forgiven to not ever noticing how dark this game can be. There are no graphic deaths like in GoT, no sex scenes or any of that stuff, so it’s a bit dishonest to claim that Suikoden 2 is like Game of Thrones.
Tile-based JRPG graphics on crack
If the PS1/N64 generation never made the jump to 3D graphics but just added fidelity to 2D, Suikoden 2 is what we’d get. It’s luxurious tile based 2D. The real cost for this approach comes in the variety and quantity of unique animations and the pixel count of sprites. The more pixels an average character sprite has, the more expensive it is to make an animation. Suikoden 2 has more complex sprites than any SNES JRPG, and it has a lot of animations that are used in only one scene, hence me calling this luxurious. If you’re a 2D tile based graphics connoisseur, you’ll have a lot to enjoy here.
Another great thing about this is the performance. Where PS1 Final Fantasy’s animations were cutting edge and jaw-droppingly gorgeous to behold in 1997, they didn’t exactly reach perfect frame rates, and could really slow down (or for the cynics out there extend) play time. Suikoden 2 has none of that. It’s fast paced, no non-sense combat. A random encounter pops in and is resolved faster than a guardian force attack animation in Final Fantasy 8. It’s turn based, but not on a character basis. This means you’ll select all the actions for your party and all their attacks will play out almost simultaneously. It surely makes grinding a lot more easy to do (not that grinding is necessary).
Advice on how not to play this game
Here comes the downer part of this write up. Suikoden 2 has 108 recruitable, playable characters, many of which even have some back story. Over the course of the game, you’ll amass them like Pokemon and even get to be the lord of a fortress from where you base your resistance against the big evil. Consequently, the most people you recruit, the more bustling and busy your fortress becomes. It’s all very cool. But there is a down side.
You see, people will always talk about how there are multiple endings and if you collect all 108 characters, you’ll unlock the best ending. It encourages are very thorough play style, because there are recruitment opportunities that expire. All this lead me to grab a walkthrough and closely consult it while playing, which meant I was playing without really enjoying my experience with the world and characters, instead looking up the FAQ and scrolling and reading and worrying about selecting a wrong answer, going to a wrong place at the wrong time. I wanted to get all the characters, because any lesser ending would feel like I didn’t truly beat the game. I was so preoccupied with beating Suikoden 2 the perfect way that I was hindering myself from ENJOYING Suikoden 2, or even having FUN with it. So my tip is: don’t try to get all 108 on your first play through. Just fucking play the game. It’s quite open and sometimes you don’t really know where to go or what to do to advance the plot, and in those instances I’d recommend consulting a walkthrough, but beware from falling into the same trap I did.
And it’s a trap. This approach burned me out on the game some ~15 hours into the game, because I’d gone too far with recruiting that it felt stupid to stop, but at the same time, I had zero enjoyment. I also didn’t really do much exploring and wasn’t really invested in the game’s world to keep me going that way. All in all, I felt like I had to quit Suikoden 2 outright.
All in all, Suikoden 2 is obviously a quality game. It’s clear in the intricate story, the fresh ideas, the great presentation. It’s very playable even today. Just don’t play it like I did. I still have my save, so I’ll probably revisit this game one day when I’m freshened up again.