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Suikoden II (PlayStation) artwork

Suikoden II (PlayStation) review

"Ever since the first Suikoden’s debut on the Playstation, the RPG series has grown into a popular franchise. Suikoden has spawned two sequels, two text adventures and a couple card games, not to mention a devoted following. In the videogame industry, sophomoric efforts are often times inferior to the original. Just look at the likes of Syphon Filter 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2(I’m not counting the NES games). Fortunately, Suikoden II joins the ranks of Silent Hill 2, Dynasty ..."

Ever since the first Suikoden’s debut on the Playstation, the RPG series has grown into a popular franchise. Suikoden has spawned two sequels, two text adventures and a couple card games, not to mention a devoted following. In the videogame industry, sophomoric efforts are often times inferior to the original. Just look at the likes of Syphon Filter 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2(I’m not counting the NES games). Fortunately, Suikoden II joins the ranks of Silent Hill 2, Dynasty Warriors 2 other superior sequels.

The previous Suikoden had a great storyline that focused on how people and places change during wartime. Its story was simple, but at the same time engaging and touching. Suikoden II features the same basic theme but takes it to the next level with much deeper characters and a more complex plot. It’s a shame that Suikoden II has one of the worst localizations I have ever seen in a game. There are more grammatical and spelling errors in this game than in my reviews. However, if you can decipher the atrocious comma use and oddly written sentences then you’ll experience one of the best storylines of all time.

The game starts off with Jowy and his friend, the main character that you have to name, in their military camps. Jowy and “Hero” are members of the Highland Youth Brigade. In the middle of the night their camps are attacked. It appears that the city-state of Jowston has violated the peace treaty, but as the boys’ captain says in one scene “The world is no longer just black and white.” It turns out the boys’ captain and their own Highland prince, Luca, has attacked the youth brigade in order to fan the flames of war and justify an attack on Jowston.

Jowy and Hero manage to survive thanks to the help of a few familiar faces of the Suikoden series. Eventually the two boys manage to join forces with Jowston and various other regions and fight against their country that betrayed them. What makes the story so deep is the effect the war has on Jowy and Hero’s friendship. Their relationship reminded me of Shakespearean plays, primarily due to the complexity and motives of the characters. And I guess the often-confusing sentences had something to do with it too.

The main character is one of the silent protagonists that have been seen in RPGs for years, but you can make plenty of decisions that can define his personality. In one portion of the game, it’s possible to get away from all the war and violence and actually “beat” the game. This particular ending is lackluster, but having the freedom to make it possible is definitely worth it.

More layers of depth are added to the plot thanks to the villain, Prince Luca. Luca at first appears to be a one-dimensional villain: the kind of villain seen in all 8-bit RPGs and James Bond movies. He’s slightly delusional and believes in the racial superiority of his race, an obvious allusion to Adolph Hitler. The reason why Luca feels this way is touching. I actually pitied this violent warmonger when I found out more about him. While Hitler was a frail, weak man, Luca is a nearly unstoppable swordsman. The battle against Luca is one of the most unforgettable and intense I have experienced in an RPG. Prince Luca is probably one of the greatest villains ever seen in a role playing game.

One of the main draws of the Suikoden series has been the ability to recruit 108 different characters to help out your cause in one-way or another. Many of these recruits will be familiar to veterans of the last game, but playing the previous game is not necessary to enjoy this game. Speaking of the previous Suikoden, you can load your save data to unlock one of the best goodies I’ve seen in a game. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the scene is an unforgettable delight for anyone who even remotely liked the first game.

The 108 characters live in an enormous castle that you eventually take over. Most of them can fight with you in battles, but the others usually contribute something more unique. Some set up shops, minigames or various other services. The plethora of minigames includes whack-a-mole, a couple card games and an amusing Iron Chef-style cook off. There’s little gameplay involved in the cook off game, but the tongue-in-cheek humor makes it a delight.

With 108 different characters, some are given a lot more time in the spotlight than others and some are barely given any attention at all. Thankfully, a detective named Richmond can find out information about all the characters for a price. These juicy tidbits of info add some appealing backstory to the characters, even the ones who are neglected plot-wise.

While there is a bounty of minigames, there are also three different types of battles. The random party-based battles are incredibly simple, yet enjoyable. Up to six people at a time can join a party and participate in the turn based battles. The battles are almost the same as in most other RPGs, but the auto attack command makes it superior. With the auto attack command all of your party members automatically use physical attacks, which makes most non-boss battles last barely a minute. The enemy encounter rate is fairly high, but since the battles aren’t drawn out at all, it really does not hinder the game.

The cumbersome inventory system from the preceding Suikoden has been totally revamped. Originally, all items had to be carried by individual characters, which made switching items a pain. Now, all items are placed in one big party inventory and each character can equip up to three different kinds of armor, potions and various other things. Figuring out what to equip in the right situation adds some welcome challenge and strategy.

The second type of battle is the one-on-one duels. These play out a lot like the kid’s game “rock-paper-scissors.” The enemy taunts you and you must attack, defend or do a risky blow depending on what the other duelist says. The poor translation makes this a bit harder than it should be, but overall I welcome the duels as a way to vary the gameplay.

My favorite of the three battles are the full-scale wars. You move your squads of soldiers one by one through a grid-based map. Much like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, the battles are turn based. When you engage an enemy, dozens of troops are shown attacking the other squad. Most of these battles are challenging, but they are a blast to play. Pretending I’m a tactical genius is something I tend to enjoy.

The graphics will disappoint anyone expecting something as impressive as Final Fantasy VII, but anyone who played the first Suikoden will be delighted about all the visual improvements. All of the 2D sprites can display more emotions thanks to more varied animations and the villagers are nowhere near as repetitive as they were in the past. A few of the changes are much more subtle. Rivers and streams actually flow now and now longer remain still. Also, the camera now shows the sky during battles instead of just the ground. These changes are small, but worthwhile nonetheless. Konami also tried appealing to newer RPG fans by adding FMV scenes, but these scenes are so rare that I wonder why they put them in at all. With the exception of the entertaining opening scene, the FMV scenes feel like nothing but an afterthought.

If the graphics fail to impress, the music definitely won’t. As soon as I heard the music in the opening movie I knew I was in for a treat. The few tunes with vocals are easily the best on the soundtrack. Some of the vocals sound Middle Eastern, but the music in the background is traditional piano or synthesized orchestra. This may seem like a strange coupling of sounds, but the end result is truly sublime. The rest of the music is also good, but these few tunes are truly the best. There’s more than one piece of music for the battles. After playing the game for more than twenty hours, you’ll definitely appreciate it. Sadly there is a small glitch that prevents music from being played during a few scenes. The silence is definitely awkward, but this only accounts for about fifteen minutes of the game.

Suikoden II is a fantastic RPG, but the translation prevents it from being one of the greatest ever made. Even with the poor localization the plot still shines. Some of the characters are so deep and interesting that it’s hard not to play through to find out what happens next. The game is only about thirty hours long but none of it is boring filler added just to pad out the length. The gameplay is just as good as the plot. My only gripe aside from translation is that there is no analog support. Besides a few minor quibbles, Suikoden II is definitely worth checking out. If you’re willing to shell out the $75 or so it costs on eBay, then I suggest playing the first one to fully get your money’s worth.

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Community review by djskittles (February 16, 2004)

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