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Old 09-20-2012, 04:19 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Looking Back: Suikoden II's Narrative Surprises



Once the celebrated niche placeholder to Square's domination during the 32-bit era of JRPGs, the Suikoden franchise is a largely unknown property today. Where other classic franchises see re-release and re-hash, Konami has all but left the once legendary RPG for dead. Perhaps due to the justifiably tepid response to later PS2 entries in the series, Konami has failed to bring the series to the current generation of consoles. More a mystery though is how Konami has failed to re-release, at least in a direct PSX port via PSN, what is undoubtedly the series pinnacle, Suikoden II. Disregarding the greater issue of the mishandling of such an adored property or the various glitches that riddled the stateside release after localization (and that probably prevent its re-release) it is interesting to look back at what made the game such a lasting work, and how it remains as uniquely singular in today's market.

Suikoden II hosted what remains possibly the most diverse cast of characters to grace an RPG. Boasting 108 Stars of Destiny, the title could have easily felt bloated and its large cast empty, but on the contrary each hero felt wholly distinct, and despite a cast which included all manner of beast both mythical and real, intimately human. Not only this, but the title introduced what remains one of the most sinister villains to grace a video game, work of literature, film, or otherwise- Luca Blight.

Besides establishing such a fantastic cast and introducing one of the medium's greatest villains, Suikoden II's greatest testament is how the title utilized the conflict at hand. At the beginning of the game the lands stood ravaged by war while Blight and his Highland Imperial forces attempted to bludgeon opposition and squander fledgling rebellion against his tyranny. As is usually the case the fate of the country lay in the unsteady and unproven hands of the main unnamed protagonist. But rather than lead the player along until a final, ultimate conflict with the game's central villain, players found themselves felling Luca Blight'halfway through the game's narrative.



Where most RPGs are content to recycle an all-threatening force and the inevitable doom of everything, and saves conflict with said force for the predictable final battle, Suikoden II bucked the trend and saw the evil force removed entirely far before the game's final moments. What came back into primary importance was the relationship between the player character and their separated childhood friend, Jowy, who had since risen in the ranks as one of Luca's most prominent generals (and who would replace him after his death).

Rather than a universal threat that is ultimately distancing for players because of its implausibility (even if a metaphor for something more intimate) Suikoden II's narrative was at every turn defined by the most understood human relationship- that of friendships lost and (possibly) renewed and in Blight the potential evil within every man and woman.

The rise and fall of Luca Blight and the conflict between old friends which rested at the heart of Suikoden II's plot remains an inspiring tale and a cautionary one that puts into focus the most glaring faults of some modern Japanese role playing games. Utilizing common archetypes to fill a cast or flesh out a narrative is no folly as long as those archetypes are used to do something unique and surprising. Suikoden II's cast was rife with known quantities. Flik, the tempered warrior. Viktor, the crude barbarian with a heart. Clyde, (a personal favorite) the terse gunman/bounty hunter with a mysterious vendetta. Suikoden II's very setup was rather formulaic, but despite this Luca Blight's epic downfall was every bit inspiring, most because it represented such a departure from the norm.




It was merely the setup for a less showy, but far greater internal struggle and for that the title will be adored well into future generations of hardware. And I mean, what other game is going to let you arrange a party consisting of a Unicorn (Sigfried), a Squid (Abizboah), and a bookworm (Apple) who uses her book satchel to attack enemies?




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Old 09-20-2012, 06:45 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Looking Back: Suikoden II's Narrative Surprises

This series looks awesome!

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Old 09-20-2012, 09:42 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Looking Back: Suikoden II's Narrative Surprises

I love me some Suikoden. It's hard to use lots of characters without watering them down. Every Suikoden I've tried succeeded.
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