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Retrospectives – Suikoden series, part 2

posted on May 16th, 2007 by chris

Continued from part 1

Suikoden 2
Suikoden 2 takes place a few years after the events of Suikoden 1. It is not only the rarest and most expensive Suikoden (sometimes reaching the $100 mark) but is also usually considered the best of the series. I have to agree – it improves nearly all aspects of the first game, develops a more interesting plot and has nicer artwork.

First off, the second entry builds much upon the success of the first plot-wise. The game takes place in an area to the North of the first one, three years after the revolution in the Scarlet Moon Empire. This is the continent of the rival countries of Jowston and Highland.

The young prince of Highland, Luca Blight, is both ambitious and bloodthirsty. He chooses the main character’s army brigade as a sacrifice for the cause of war, and though the main character and his friend Jowy manage to survive, they are still swept into the ensuing conflict between the two countries.

Of all the game villains I have seen, Luca Blight takes the cake. You personally see him kill several people; you see him conspire to slaughter hundreds more, and know that he destroys entire towns and cities despite orders not to. The scene where you finally fight him is actually epic-feeling (versus many games, where the evil mad boss-guy is really a pansy who goes down in two hits), and the amount of effort it takes to take him down really brings out a great feeling when it is done.

Though the main plotline concerns none of the characters from the first game, many favorites return – Viktor and Flik captain a mercenary brigade in this game, for example. If you have a savegame from the end of Suikoden, you can load it at the beginning of Suikoden 2. The returning characters get a slight boost based on the save, and the plot elaborates more on what characters were doing between the two games. You can even get the main character from the first game if you load a save, though it can be a little infeasible to keep him in the party for long.

It may seem a little unfair to those who don’t have the first game, but I think this is the best kind of “added” content for completing the previous game. No bonuses are particularly significant. Most of the dialogue changes are small bits here and there that players of the original will appreciate, but others will likely find boring or out of place.

The battle system and interface are somewhat tighter and more refined in this entry, with the only battle change being the occasional double-attack. The ability to run in towns and dungeons also makes the game much more user friendly. Character recruitment is much easier, thanks to the detective system which allows you to get hints on how to recruit characters.

The major change in gameplay is immediately noticeable in the strategy battles. Fans of Shining Force or Advance Wars will immediately see the resemblance. Each unit on your side has between one and three generals, which you pick from your pool of candidates. Though it is still a very simple system, it involves more strategy than the first game’s equivalent did.

Graphically, Suikoden 2 is much improved over Suikoden 1. Character sprites and artwork are both cleaner and more detailed, as are environments. Musically, both games are about the same – there are a couple songs which are great and many more which are good but forgettable.

Characterization is where Suikoden 2 outshines its predecessor, and I feel it is what makes the title so enjoyable. Though there are, again, 108 characters, many get fleshed out through the course of the game. One of the 108 is a recruitable detective who can find out more about any character you have recruited, and can also find out how to recruit others. This allows you to research those characters you find most interesting without requiring much more effort on your part. This system works out really well for the series, and it is implemented in later games as well.

There are two things this entry sadly does not improve enough upon. Though it is a good 5-10 hours longer, the game is enjoyable enough that it is over incredibly quickly. The second problem is still the translation, where blacksmiths say choice lines like “I haven’t sharped in very long time”. The main storyline is, again, higher-quality work, but almost everything else suffers from weak editing.

Suikoden 2 is among the best games available on the Playstation, and one of my favorite games of all time. It has excellent characterization, a solid battle system, and a good plot. Unfortunately, its price tag keeps it out of reach for many. A remake of the first two Suikodens on PSP was released in Japan, but localization is unlikely.

Suikoden 3
The transition from 2d to 3d was well carried-out in the form of Suikoden 3. Characters are done in an anime-ish deformed style, so they don’t look particularly realistic, but it adds to the charm of the game. As the graphics became more complex, though, Konami also added more complexity to the game’s system and story – to the point that many fans of the first two found themselves confused when playing this one.

Let me explain. I have been called obsessive-compulsive when it comes to games. My roommates have occasionally joked that I do not enjoy games if they do not have menus and statistics. And, to some extent, this is true. I like minimaxing and strategizing, but I am still overwhelmed by games like Disgaea. Suikoden 3 managed to keep me confused for several hours the first time around, which is some indication of how complicated the system is.

Combat is completely revamped. Characters are controlled in three groups of two. During a turn, you tell each group what to do (attack, defend, have one of the two cast a spell, etc). Thus, you can only have three characters casting at a time, you can only use up to three items in a turn, et cetera. Combat now takes place on a location-based map (similar to Lunar) where spells have areas of effect. With six characters and no way to manage individuals, combat can become very hectic.

As if the changes to combat weren’t enough, many of the characters’ statistics are based on a skill system. When you defeat enemies, you get skill points in addition to experience. Skill points are used to upgrade skills that a character can learn. “Swing,” for example makes the character attack faster, which can give a character multiple attacks per turn. Each character has a maximum level and growth potential for each of these skills, and all characters have innate skills (some of which no other characters can learn).

There are also three main characters. Konami calls this their “Trinity Sight” system – you choose the order in which to play the characters throughout the first half of the game. Though Konami could be criticized for making the engine so complex, Trinity Sight works out pretty well. The characters actually speak on their own – none of the three heroes is silent, which adds to their development. The first two games had an enjoyable plot, but using this new system, Suikoden 3 develops a deep plot from three different perspectives.

Though two are cliché and unsurprising, Geddoe is easily the oldest main character of any RPG I’ve seen (except some strange games), which alone would make him unique. The Trinity Sight system allows for the development of side-characters as well and allows them to become that much deeper. There is also the perspective of a minor character named Thomas. His story is optional, but gives development for still more characters and introduces the headquarters for the game.

Though the rest of the mechanics are made more complex, strategy combat is easy enough. Essentially, you have units of four normal combat characters and you control several of them. Battling takes place between these groups of four, with battling completely automated. It’s easy to learn, has some subtlety, and rewards you for doing well, so I enjoyed it.

Since so many characters are introduced through the four playable characters, there aren’t as many characters that need to be found and recruited. The detective system returns, making the task even easier. FAQs are completely unnecessary for recruitment, which makes the system feel more natural and less like Pokemon.

Unlike the first two games, this entry does not have significant links to the previous games. The game takes place 15 years after Suikoden 2, in a country considerably further away. You can load the data from Suikoden 2 into Suikoden 3, but this only gives you some minor plot exposition and no significant bonuses. The Trinity Sight system is really what makes the game stand up on its own so well. The threads of plot that come together when playing through the game are a treat, particularly in the bonus section unlocked for getting all characters.

Also entirely new in this game are “optionally-winnable” battles. Several times, you are supposed to lose certain fights to progress the plot. Almost all of these battles, though, are beatable. Winning them makes only minor changes to dialogue, but usually nets you a bonus piece of equipment. This is a great mechanic to allow less interested players to move on, and give the more challenge-oriented players something to chew on. I really enjoyed them, but they sadly do not come back in the sequels.

As far as the surface aspects of the game go, they are a mixed bag. Graphics are nice, and have aged reasonably well. Music is lackluster and, at times, inappropriate. Translation, though still stiff at points, is considerably better than in the earlier games, which really helps a lot.

Finally, though the first two are easier games to sit down and beat, Suikoden 3 is a deeper game. It is as long as the previous ones combined and has a more strategic system. The first time I played it, I was fuddling through, not really understanding the battle or skill system until halfway through the game. I didn’t really understand how the plot meshed, either. The second time I played through it I re-learned the system and beat a couple of the “optional” battles, figured out how to win strategy battles and build a powerful party, and enjoyed the subtleties of the plot.

To extend Jay’s metaphor for games-as-food; I see Suikoden 3 as a fancy meal. It is expensive time-wise, but if you can appreciate the subtleties without getting overwhelmed by the complexity of the taste, you will have a very enjoyable experience.

3 Comments

  1. chud666 said on May 16, 2007:

    Only one thing i dislike in this game, lack of a proper world map; you end up running through the Zexen forest and the mountain pass a million times. Damn those moths with their infinity long animation! Wait one more thing I hate, about all suiko games; contrived mandatory events. Like to progress plot often you have to talk to everyone in the area/town then go to sleep/inn, then talk to everyone again, and really for no reason. This is really a problem with Thomas’ scenario.

  2. chris said on May 16, 2007:

    The proper world map thing would’ve been better if they allowed you to skip through areas you’ve been through, I have to admit. Not a big fan of the contrived mandatory events, but Thomas’ scenario is the only really bad part of any Suiko game in that respect. I’m actually a bit surprised you like this game, though; almost every Suiko fan I’ve talked to seems to dislike 3. It’s not quite like the others, but it definitely has its place.

  3. chud666 said on May 17, 2007:

    Yeah well most suiko fans love 5, which while not a total disaster is kind of weaksauce. I chalk it up to Stockholm syndrome…

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