A Perfect Game - Suikoden II
In 1995, video games where entering the realm of 3D graphics. It wouldn’t be long until most games would be brought to you in that not-so-visually-pleasing, early, 3D polygon style, and many developers where already playing around with this kind of tech. Konami, and programmer Yoshitaka Murayama, instead decided to focus on story and gameplay
instead of the those 3D graphics that were becoming all the rage. This gave birth to the first Suikoden title, a JRPG with fun, fast combat, an excellent story based on the Chinese classic Water Margin, and a colorful cast of personalities. It did well enough to warrant a sequel in Suikoden II, which took everything players loved about the first one and made it better, giving birth to another example of a game I rank among the highest. No matter how many times I play this game, I can't think of a single thing I would change about it.
Admittedly, Suikoden II didn’t have the biggest splash on the video game world. But, despite competing directly with Final Fantasy VIII and being a 2D game in a largely 3D industry, Konami’s fantastic JRPG wowed any and all who actually played it.
At the core of what makes Suikoden II so lovable and timeless is a magnificent combination of deep but simple storytelling, streamlined combat, and beautiful graphics that complement all other aspects perfectly. The player controls a hero named by them, who, with his friend Jowy, are part of a youth division in the Highland army. They are betrayed by their commanding office and Luca Blight, Prince of Highland and legendary video game villain extraordinaire. After meeting up with some mercenaries, the hero finds himself involved in a massive war, one in which he is destined to play a big part in. He eventually gains control of an army, and even his own castle, which becomes one of the more enjoyable focal points of the game. The player uses these resources to bring the fight to Luca Blight.
And thus, players are introduced to the main focus of all core Suikoden games in the series: the finding and acquisition of up to 108 unique characters to help you fight the good fight and upgrade you army/castle. This is where Suikoden II, even more so than its excellent predecessor or its many sequels, excels at storytelling. Each character, recruitable or not, is unique in their personality, goals, aspirations, attitudes, and even the abilities they can bring to your army. Each character that you encounter adds more depth to a story that is already rich with political intrigue, betrayal, love, sadness, and triumph. On top of that, in true Game of Thrones fashion, no one ever feels safe from death, and players are hit hard several times with the loss of someone they have grown to love.
While the story is grand and quite deep, the gameplay further exemplifies that sometimes simplicity is the most fun. The basic turn based battle system, like typical JRPGs at the time, features up to six-on-six combat, including attacking, defending, magic, and so on. However, the auto-attack feature streamlines the combat so that weaker random encounters never feel tedious or burdening. The rock, paper, scissors style duels return from Suikoden, giving a bit of variety to combat, and more than a little personality and storytelling. The same could be said about the massive battle system, which returns with a much more streamlined and enjoyable system. It still features the same rock, paper, scissors style as duels, but each character your recruit puts more abilities and tactics at your disposal, giving you a truly unique experience whenever you are defending or laying siege, depending on who you take into battle with you.
Outside of the gameplay, Suikoden II is a stunning reminder of just how great 2D environments can be. The color palette is alive with vibrant images, the sprite-art animations are diverse for each character, giving an enormous amount of frames for character animations. The scenery and backgrounds themselves are striking, with bold outlines and a lively looking environment.
Suikoden II may have released to modest sales, especially in the states, but those who played it back upon release, and those that have been able to enjoy it thanks to its release on the PlayStation Network, know what it has to offer, even years later and after several sequels. Few games since then have been able to craft such a unique balance of everything a gamer could ask for from a JRPG.