Suikoden Series

Suikoden, as a series, is technically beyond the scope of this blog.  However, it’s an interesting game to discuss.  The game’s based off of a series of books called Water Margin (also known as Outlaws of the Marsh and All Men are Brothers.)  This Chinese novel series is an early novel, so it reads more like a combination of folk tales about various heroes rather than a smoothly flowing narrative.  Suikoden’s ties to the series are fairly vauge.  While you get people based off of characters in the novels, it’s not a literal retelling of events.

Why is the game interesting?  I think one of the more interesting plot devices in the game is the huge cast.  Each game has 108 Stars of Destiny.  While you usually need a guide to find all of them, you do get some interesting results from keeping them all alive and in your party.  For example, there’s random bits of backstory or unexplained world building.  A character in the first Suikoden, for example, reveals he has a teleportation ability.  It’s never used in the plot, or examined in more detail.  There’s Yuber and Persmerga who are basically two immortal enigmas locked in conflict.  At the end of the game in Suikoden, you tend to get a summation of each star and what happened to them.  For many of them, they die young.

I’m going to avoid the recent DS game and the side games, mostly because they’re either too recent or not from the main series.  While they are interesting, I think focusing mostly on the PS1 to PS2 era console games shows plot threads and differences more clearly.

Valeria was one of my favorite characters in the first Suikoden. She has a unique animation if you use her Falcon Rune.

The first Suikoden came out in 1995 in Japan and a year later in the US.  It’s mostly a fairly conventional RPG.  The battle system is a fairly typical turn based one, with the only change being that healing items will still trigger after all monsters are dead if you’ve started to use them prior to killing the monsters.  Many features in this game area echoed in later games.  The main plot of the game is the question, “Is fate inevitable?”  Since there’s a great deal of forced choices in the game, it may feel that way, however, in the end, the hero does escape.  There are massive battles, which involves a bit of luck to avoid killing your Stars of Destiny (it’s a rock paper scissors type of system.)  One on one duels are basically the same system (pick strong attack, weak attack, or guard) in response to various battle cries.  There’s also minigames.  You gather people to return to your base (in this case, a castle for your outlaws near a marsh,) and you can play those minigames in the castle.

While Suikoden II looks a lot like the first game, it's the plot that makes it fondly remembered.

Suikoden II came out in 1998, and a year later in the US.  It’s generally considered to be one of the best of the series.  In the series, magic comes from Runes, and a True Rune enables you to be incredibly powerful.  The villian of Suikoden II is a bearer of  True Rune, and is truly horrifying.  Your hero has a True Rune that is only powerful when combined with another.  In the best ending, he succeeds in doing this, and is able to regain his friends as well as defeat the villian.

Suikoden 3's default hero is the young man to the left of the duck.

Suikoden III is the first PS2 game in the series, and came out in the US and Japan in 2002.  It has several heroes, which allows you to see the plot from several points of view.  Eventually, you pick a hero to have the True Fire rune.  The main villian in the series is another True rune bearer.  Unfortunately, many people dislike Suikoden III.  The magic system and the battle system was criticized a lot for not being very strategic or easy to use.

The main villian, a former ally from the first Suikoden, is basically trying to destroy the world so someone will kill them.  A True rune, you see, makes the bearer immortal.  Part of the villian’s plan is to disrupt peace talks with a magical field of anger which apparently is unnoticed by any of the participants.  So, basically, you have a conflict that logically is mildly implausible and should be fixable with some conversation, a suicidal man who’s lashing out in far excess of what you’d assume he’d do, and some awkward changes to the game system.  This becomes all the more frustrating when you find out that the “default” hero has better stats with the True Rune of Fire than the other options.  This makes it feel like the game is trying to force a specific value judgment on the other heroes.

The silent hero of Suikoden IV unfortunately seems to have a permenant scowl. This makes some cutscenes a bit silly.

Suikoden IV seems to have been an attempt to backtrack a little.  Instead of the multiple heroes, there is only one hero.  Much like the cursed rune in the first game, the hero is given a cursed rune.  Unlike the battle system in III, IV’s battle system is aimed to be a bit more like the earlier games.  Unfortunately, the game is one of the worst in the series.  The hero’s odd running animation is strange enough, but the main problem is when you go sailing.  To get to almost everywhere in the game, you have to sail.  Your boat moves fairly slowly and has a run button.  The run button doesn’t really improve the travel speed.  The plot of the game has issues too.  One of the central conflicts in the game centers around your hero being accused of murder.  Since he’s a silent hero, he never speaks up for his defense.  (While I am skipping most of the side games, Suikoden Tactics was released later and it tries to fill in the plot a little more.)

A duel in Suikoden V. In the earlier games, it was mostly guessing if you should guard, attack strongly, or attack carefully.

Suikoden V is the last PS2 iteration of the series.  It came out in 2006, and is considered to be a return to form for the series.  It has team attacks – basically combinations of various characters to make special attacks.  It also has dueling.  Dueling is a one on one battle, usually with some kind of prediction system as you try to guess how the opponent will fight.  The main plot was again focused on how True Runes affected people in the world.

  1. yukie’s avatar

    Suiko2 is the one with Luca/Luka Blight, isn’t it? Sweet lordie that guy scares m. I’ve seen a lot of fans try to ape him and do so VERY badly if they’re pressed for a villain in an RP campaign.

    The series also has perhaps THE silliest vampire-name in the history of anything ever. And he looks like he fanboys the Hammer films, which amuses me. I found it interesting that he actually stole power from a female character who’s the rightful bearer of the lunar rune, and because he’s not the rightful bearer he can’t use it properly (maybe he doesn’t care to, he seems to be sort of a jerk anyhow XD) and acts like your typical jerkpire instead of like Sierra, who is just plain classy.

    Suiko3 – I’ve seen it played and while they do let you give any of the three heroes the true Fire rune they do lean on your dropping it on Hugo. I found that somewhat interesting, as when you first meet Chris she has a for-magical-use fire rune attached and she’s pretty dang good with it. And her scenario, regardless of who you give the TFR to, is very neat – while IIRC one of her squadron has a crush on her and another guy shows interest, Chris is NOT dragooned or shoehorned into a weak romance plot just because she’s the female character and indeed the character she shows the most interest in and whose loss hits her HARD is another woman… Yeah. Chris is very, very cool and I found you could tell a lot about some guy gamers by their reactions to Chris. If they whine about her being a bitch they’re hella clueless and will probably be frightened when I show evidence of having a spine or call them on things; if they start off with her scenario or go ‘dang she’s cranky wtf happened’ they’re going to be okay to talk to about various stuff with and will be more likely to see me as, you know, another human being.

    Suiko4 is – I giggle at Snowe XD He seems to have a thing for the hero, to me, though he doesn’t know he does.

    Suo5 just looks COOL and I really want to play it even though I would probably due a lot. I like the hero’s design a ton and I like that his VERY BADASS BODYGUARD is a young lady shorter than he is. XD The games can be niftily progressive in ways. No one bats an eyelash at Chris being a high-ranked officer, Hugo’s mother is awesome…

    In closing, another unsolved mystery: wtf with Hikusaak already!?

  2. Rav’s avatar

    For some reason, I got more people going ‘ooh’ over Yuber instead of Luka Blight. But yeah – it’s the same principle. Suave villainy type who’s really quite horrifying. I’ve never played Suikoden II (the price was almost impossible to afford,) but I’ve heard that Luka’s backstory involves rape with very little hiding the details.

    I love the costumery of various nations in Suikoden. Tierkries has that too. You can basically tell where someone’s from via their clothing. It’s not as diverse as a real world might be, but since most of the games were based in small areas –

    And yeah. Chris is particularly the one that frustrates me in Suikoden III. I mean, Geddoe is cool and older and has a fairly deep backstory. Geddoe’s reactions to the True Fire Rune is pretty nifty as well. Chris has the “I’m exhausted nobleman” sliding into “Okay, I’m willing to be more realistic” and a major tragedy. But – the game seems to think that the player would prefer Hugo.

    Suikoden IV is one of those games that I’m slightly fond of. The hero scowls at _everything_ and Snowe is amazingly – oblivious. The graphics are tolerable and the music is pretty good, but at the same time, there’s so little game spread over so much slow movement.

    Suikoden V is a game I haven’t played yet. From what I’ve read about it, it does have a lot of women as political mover and shakers or pawns during the game. Which is an interesting choice. I think you might like the game? You’d need a FAQ to get the best ending, but that’s the entire series for you.

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