If you’ve never heard of Konami’s popular Suikoden series or its ridiculous cult following, then I weep for you (since I’m admittedly one of the cult leaders). It’s a classic game, and anyone who loves JRPGs should play it at least once. Copies of Suikoden 2 were selling at about $300 a pop on Amazon and Ebay until Konami finally acquiesced to their whiny, crazed fans and made the game available for purchase on the Playstation Network.
Thank the gods.
Suikoden 2 opens with an exciting bit of treachery, immediately introducing you to characters you’ll love, hate, love to hate, or hell, even hate to love. But we’ll get to the story later; for now, we’ll start with everything that would agitate the average gamer.
The Suikoden series has never been big on visuals. This game was released in 1998 for the Playstation at a time when the powers-that-be were pushing for 3D graphics. Suikoden 2 resisted the temptation, choosing instead to use the flat 2D graphics from the SNES era. And truth be told, some SNES games look a lot better than Suikoden 2. The game has an occasional movie, but they don’t add much to the game and should have probably been left out. Graphically, this game doesn’t deliver. But no one plays it for eye candy!
For some, bad translations are an unforgivable sin and should be punishable by a lifetime of torment and anguish. That’s why you should know this upfront: If you can’t stand games with atrocious, almost laughably bad translations, then Suikoden 2 might not be for you. At its best, it’s rife with terrible punctuation and grammatical errors. At its worst, you’ll notice characters regurgitating terribly written garbage that was clearly meant for someone else. That’s right, they didn’t even align the text with the right characters 100% of the time! Really, really bad translation.
Although light years ahead of its predecessor, Suikoden 2 still suffers from a few bad mechanics. If you’re lucky, you’ll be too busy loving the rest of the game to care about constantly being asked whether or not you’d like to change your party’s formation. Far too often, characters will leave your party only to return two minutes later – during the same cutscene. Very, very annoying.
Blah, blah, blah, fun, interesting, blah, blah, blah, deep, entertaining, blah, blah, blah.
Suikoden 2 is essentially about a war between two nations, the city-state of Jowston and the Highland Kingdom. When the game starts, Jowston and Highland are enjoying a cozy peace treaty, but, well, it hits the fan, and fast.
I don’t do spoilers. Suffice it to say, Suikoden 2 provides a story with a complex world, complex characters (a few of which are aggravatingly mysterious), rich histories and great drama. Two words: Luca. Blight. Enough said. You’ll understand when you play.
You take the role of a character who is one of “108 Stars of Destiny”. All of these characters have their own stories and unique personalities. Eventually, you’ll find yourself a headquarters. As you recruit more and more of these 108 characters, your headquarters will grow and flourish, and you’ll have an easier time pounding the enemy into submission. Many of your comrades are natural-born killers who will aid you in the heat of battle, while others just lend a supporting hand by opening shops or performing other tasks back in your headquarters. It’s insanely fun trying to catch them all (yes, I went there), and it helps you obtain the best ending possible.
Konami’s Suikoden series has been called the Game of Thrones of the RPG world, and it’s not hard to see why. Even though there are 108 recruitable characters, there is an equal number of awesome characters you can’t recruit, and you’ll find yourself wishing you knew just a little bit more about them and their motives. When so many of these great people come crashing together, you have it all: love, hate, betrayal, tragedy and death.
For these reasons, the story is good.
The pacing, however, is not. At about 20 hours, it’s a short game, but sometimes certain points drag on and on and you’ll just want to gouge your own eyes out with a wooden spoon. The game too often leaves you clueless about where to go next when all you want to do is go beat stuff up, get stronger and find someone new to play with. If that isn’t bad enough, Suikoden games have never really been good at providing a great end-game experience. In Suikoden 2, the most climactic moment happens long before the game ends. When it’s finally time to call it quits, you might be left wanting more.
This is where the game really starts to shine. You start with your typically boring, turn-based JRPG battle system, except with a few neat twists. You can command up to six characters in battle (woohoo!), and more than one person can attack at a time. It’s not unusual to see two or three of your characters lunging for different enemies all at once. Depending on their individual stats, characters can dodge, counter attack, attack multiple times and land critical hits. The camera will dance around, zooming in and out depending on what’s happening. Despite being able to control more characters than in any other RPG you’ve played, the battles are very, very rapid. It’s addictive.
You’ll have to constantly change your battle formation to make proper use of your characters, who specialize in short-range, medium-range or long-range attacks. Short-range characters can’t do anything from the back row. Placing long-range fighters in the front will usually get them killed in seconds. Medium-range characters are usually more versatile, and can attack from either row. How you use them is up to you.
Your characters use only one weapon throughout the game. Outside of battle, you’ll need to sharpen them in order to keep dealing adequate damage to increasingly brutal adversaries. You can also equip the typical RPG array of armor (head, torso, shield, boots) and have three slots available for accessories or healing items.
Suikoden 2 allows you to augment your characters through the use of runes. By attaching these to your left hand, right hand, or forehead, you can use magic or provide characters with supporting effects. For example, one rare “double-beat” rune allows you to attack twice in a turn, but the damage you’ll take if the enemy counters is doubled.
Some characters share a bond of some sort, and can band together to land powerful attacks. Sometimes these special moves will affect a row of enemies, a column, or the entire group. Trying to find out which characters use which attacks can really make an already dynamic battle system that much more interesting.
If all this sounds a tad intricate, then you’d be right. The battle system has an insane amount of depth, and it’s a lot of fun. Of course, that’s only one of the three battle systems.
At certain points in the game, you’ll be thrust into a one-on-one duel. They’re largely based on “rock-paper-scissors” gameplay, giving you the option of attacking, defending, or using a special move. Your opponent will usually say something to spill the beans on his next attack, letting you eviscerate him in a few seconds while simultaneously missing out on one of the best music tracks in the game. Fun, fun.
Last, but certainly not least, are army battles. The more characters you’ve recruited, the more soldiers you’ll have under your command. Thankfully, many of them can use special moves that really do give you a strategic edge. These battles really help elevate the unfolding drama and the music track accompanying most of them is truly epic, and probably the best in the game.
Oh, but be careful: Your 108 Stars of Destiny aren’t immortal. If you lose units during an army battle, there’s a chance you’ll receive an unfortunate report about their demise. This will prevent you from getting the best ending, but it certainly injects a certain amount of realism into the game.
Speaking of music, it’s generally hit or miss (and it’s the same in other Suikoden games). Sometimes events in Suikoden 2 can feel unnecessarily cartoonish, and the music doesn’t do much to remedy these situations. A few of the game’s tracks are sure to evoke some emotions, and they really do their job well. All in all, it’s a solid soundtrack and probably won’t sway your opinion of the game in one direction or the other.
If you’re interested, here’s the aforementioned track I think is the best:
Suikoden 2 is part of a greater whole
Reviewing just one of the five main Suikoden games is a tough thing to do, because each is just a small part of a bigger story. Even though the plot within each game is self-contained, you get the feeling that there’s a little bit more to this world. Some of the characters are enigmas, and the more interesting they are, the fewer details they seem to give up. Each game is set in a different land, each with its own distinct cultures and political situations, and it won’t be long before you realize the mythology is truly immense. You could spend hours reading through the history of these games online and you wouldn’t be disappointed. If you like Suikoden 2, you’ll want to play the others.
If you’re the type of person who wants to give truly unique games a shot, then Suikoden 2 should be a breath of fresh air. But make no mistake: That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to love, or even like, this game. Hyping games tends to reduce the emotional impact when experiencing them for the first time. Suikoden 2 is among the most hyped games in existence, and consequently a lot of people have been massively disappointed. Still, this is a rare game played by too few, and it’s worth a try!
Despite its many imperfections, I’ll happily award Suikoden 2 a rating of 9/10 (if you’d like a fair, yet less arbitrary number, then see the results below), because it’s a lot of fun, and games are supposed to be fun, right? You can download it on the PSN for $9.99!
Addictively Awesome, Despite Being Average
PROS: Great story, lots of political intrigue and elaborate mythology that goes well beyond this game, solid music, and one of the best battle systems in any JRPG I've played.
CONS: Horrendous translation, depressing visuals, with a sometimes clunky plot which unfolds without much fluidity.