For a certain subset of gamers, last December was big. Really big. Like, the biggest month in years.
[This article was originally published on December 9, 2014, when Suikoden II came out on PSN. I’ve bumped it up because I’m guest-editing Kotaku this weekend and am doing my best to turn it into a Suikoden fan site.]
That’s all thanks to the surprise reveal that Konami and Sony were teaming up to do something fans had been begging them to do for almost a decade: Bring Suikoden II to PSN.
I honestly never thought I’d write the words “Suikoden II is out on PSN.” But here we are, and finally, today’s gamers can play one of the world’s finest role-playing games without pulling out the old PS1 and wasting a small fortune on eBay. You can now buy a copy of Suikoden II that can run on both PS3 and Vita for the damn reasonable price of $10. And you really, really should.
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Need more convincing? Okay, Hypothetical Kotaku Reader. Let’s talk it through. Let me answer all of your questions.
Is this game really called ‘Suikoden II’? I mean, what’s up with that?
Yeah, it’s a Japanese phonetic spelling of a legendary Chinese novel upon which this series is loosely based. It’s not a great name in English, obviously, which is a shame—I’ve long believed that with a catchier title and some better marketing, the Suikoden games could have been huge hits outside of Japan.
How do you pronounce ‘Suikoden’?
And this is... the second one?
Yep. There have been five main entries and a bunch of spinoffs, most of which we probably shouldn’t talk about. Suikoden and Suikoden II were on the first PlayStation; Suikodens III, IV, and V were on PS2.
So why is everyone so obsessed with the second one?
It’s special. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First I have to give you some background.
But I don’t like background.
I’ll make it quick. In 1995, not long after the launch of the PlayStation, Konami released a 2D role-playing game with a killer soundtrack called Suikoden. Its creators—led by a programmer named Yoshitaka Murayama—opted to prioritize storytelling and atmosphere over the fancy 3D graphics that were just starting to take off, and perhaps because of that, people really dug it. For a while, Suikoden was widely considered the best RPG on PlayStation—sorry, Beyond the Beyond!—and it resonated with fans thanks to a great premise, fast-paced combat, and a poignant story.
The game performed well enough to justify a sequel, and that became Suikoden II, Murayama’s magnum opus.
And that one blew everyone away?
Not exactly. Suikoden II didn’t make much of a commercial splash, thanks to A) that clunky title; B) Konami’s insistence upon sticking to 2D graphics instead of moving to 3D; and C) the fact that it launched in North America just a couple of weeks after Final Fantasy VIII.
But Suikoden II blew everyone who actually played it away.
Just what’s so good about it?
So many things. SO MANY THINGS. It’s a journey that is simultaneously grandiose and intimate, somehow juggling both sweeping political machinations and close personal friendships without missing a beat. There’s a villain, Luca Blight, who ranks among the most terrifying creatures to ever appear in a video game. The characters are lovely. The story can be heartbreaking. It looks great. It sounds great. The combat is really satisfying. There’s a cooking mini-game. There are flying squirrels. There’s friendship and betrayal and love and death.
Also, you get to run your own castle.
Yep. You start out as a low-level soldier and find yourself entangled in a giant war that eventually places you in charge of your very own castle and army. Suikoden II—like its predecessor and every other main installment in the series—lets you recruit and collect a cast of 108+ characters, each of whom has his or her own function and personality. And as you collect those characters, your garrison expands, as does your home base. It’s really cool.
That’s a lot of characters.
It’s part of the charm. Some of the characters are boring or one-note, as is inevitable with such a large cast, but many of them are as interesting and fleshed-out as the stars of any good RPG. You’ll also find a good number of returning characters from the first Suikoden, including two particularly lovable bros that have become the stars of erotic fanfiction worldwide.
So I should play the first one?
Yeah, you really should. One of the things people really love about the main Suikoden games is the continuity. Unlike other RPGs, the Suikoden games are all set in the same universe, with recurring storylines, characters, and settings, making this franchise more akin to one big TV series than it is to, say, a movie. It’s sort of like Game of Thrones, if season 1 was only about the Starks and then season 2 starred the Lannisters in King’s Landing but was full of Stark appearances and references.
Also, you can bring your Suikoden save file over to Suikoden II for some bonus scenes and a Very Special Sidequest that I won’t spoil.
What if I can only play one of them?
If you absolutely can’t play the first Suikoden, you can rest assured that #2 stands on its own. The first one is worth your time, of course. It’s a great game—short and sweet—and it’ll make you appreciate Suikoden II that much more. (Plus it’s only $5 on PS3/Vita.) But if you don’t have the time or patience for a 20-hour appetizer, feel free to dig right into the main course.
Is Suikoden really like Game of Thrones?
It really, really is. “Game of Thrones meets Pokémon” might be the best way to put it. Like Game of Thrones, this is a story about human beings fighting for peace and power under unimaginable circumstances. And like Pokémon, you can spend hours trying to collect ‘em all.
I dunno. I’m really not sold yet.
Hmm. Well, you can be an Iron Chef.
I don’t really like most JRPGs, though. All that grinding, you know?
I do know! Fortunately, there’s no grinding in Suikoden II, and although some of the dungeons and bosses can be tough, regular combat is a breeze thanks to a quick “auto-attack” option and a leveling system that makes it really easy to get low-level characters up to speed. It’s also fun to play around with all of the different party members—about 60 of those 108 can be used in combat—as a lot of them have special runes and combo attacks to experiment with.
Is there anything I should know before I start?
Well, keep in mind this is a 16-year-old game, and although it feels smooth and all, there are some minor bugs and other issues. If you do choose to play Suikoden before Suikoden II, don’t forget to carry your final save over. Don’t use a walkthrough, but do follow the tips I wrote up for both games, and especially pay attention to the “point of no return” section if you want to collect every single character in both games (which will get you the best endings).
Also: take your time, explore, and soak everything in. The beginning’s a little slow, but stick with it. The build-up is well worth it.
Dude, it’s my favorite video game of all time. I don’t want to spoil anything about the story, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. It’s really, really good.
If it’s so good, why wasn’t it on PSN before today?
Great question. I’ve been trying to answer that for five years. Although Konami has never quite given me a straight response either on or off the record, fans have come up with lots of theories: minor bugs, licensing issues, whatever. Really, the simplest answer might be the correct one: Konami didn’t think it would sell. Somehow, fans convinced them it would. (Special shoutout to the Suikoden Revival Movement for their work over the past few years.)
Do you think it will?
I sure hope so, just so Konami realizes how good this game is and maybe decides to revive the series. But, more importantly, one of the greatest RPGs ever made is now for sale again, and everyone gets to check it out. You won’t regret it.
You can reach the author of this post at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jasonschreier.