Summary: Dr. Magnanimus
Many years have passed since the Toran Liberation War transformed the Scarlet Moon Empire into the Toran Republic. To the north, the warring Kingdom of Highland recently entered a cease-fire truce with the allied City-States of Jowson. A young man and his life-long friend, Jowy Atreides, both former Highland soldiers, become victims in Prince Luca Blight’s conspiracy to resume the conflict and crush the vulnerable City-States. Having been chosen by the Rune of the Beginning, the two fated youths march towards destiny to reunite the politically-fractured Jowson alliance forces and confront the maniacal prince’s mad schemes of conquest and bloodshed.
Review by: Dr. Magnanimus
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 1
It comes to no surprise that Suikoden is easily one of my most favorite JRPG series, having already put in my endorsement of the first installment. Nearly three years after the initial release, a sequel came forth that expanded on the ever-growing fantasy realm. Today, Suikoden II is still as enjoyable today as it was decades ago, with its tales of political strife, realistic depictions of warfare and diplomacy, charming characters, and an intense storyline where once again, heroes and villains are driven to fated battles with the guidance of magical runes of destiny.
The gameplay is very familiar to players of the first Suikoden game. The protagonists of the story have a much larger world to explore than the previous installment, but the points of interest are still easy to navigate. The equipment upgrade system has been retained: armor and accessories are replaced as the game progresses, and each character’s unique weapon is enhanced through blacksmithing. Once again, Runes continue to be a central focus in Suikoden II, not only as the primary source of magic for you and your allies, but also as engines that drive the compelling storyline. Level-building in this game follows the same principle of proportionate difficulty of its predecessor: the points earned are determined by the disparity between the party’s overall level and the enemies’ levels. The quest to obtain 108 allies still remains as the central gameplay core, many of whom you can choose from to accompany the protagonist on quests and other party-centric endeavors.
While most of the combat and adventuring gameplay has remained unchanged, Suikoden II added new fun elements, such as various mini-games and a trading system where the buying and selling of goods between certain towns and cities can grant the player a profitable way to generate a reliable income and make the costs of waging war much more manageable. The army-sized battles have been revamped and improved on, with additional tactics and strategy required to ensure victory. You move individual units on a 2D overhead grid and engage the enemy across the fields of battle, all the while being mindful of the unit’s “HP” and the real risk that some of your recruited allies may not survive the battle if they are not well-protected. You can also customize the placement of allies to command your army units as you wish to make use of their inherent strengths and abilities.
The graphics and music have been enhanced greatly, with the addition of cutscene cinematics that really draw you into the action. You can definitely see that the developers, armed with more experience, were able to utilize more of the PlayStation’s capabilities and push the hardware’s limits further. The throngs of battle are made even more intense with thrilling symphonic orchestra pieces and that familiar blend of classical/folk European and Asian musical themes that keep the player immersed in the world.
The storyline of the sequel is still as the first Suikoden. The young protagonists are portrayed from the very beginning as victims of war – as much as the rest of the civilians that they come to protect as the story progresses. Each ally that joins you, and each antagonist you face, has a different motivation for fighting and different kinds of relationships with one another that make for very good human drama in their own rights. There are no white knights or faceless villains, and the humanizing of both sides is a defining trait in both games that makes the constant fighting, betrayal, and political struggle worth seeing to the very bitter end.
Suikoden II continued where the original left off in terms of quality and improved on it. The gameplay is still as simple as it was in the original, leaving the player to more fully engage the protagonist’s world and enjoy the more aesthetic aspects. The creators continue to weave an intricate anthology of heroes, villains, and the Runes of fate that guide them, through a storyline that is not afraid to be elaborate and philosophical. Those who enjoyed the first Suikoden will surely enjoy the second, which stands alone as a solid title in its own right.