The 90’s could be described the golden age of RPG’s. Every developer was throwing their hat into the ring, creating a very diverse and competitive market. When people think of great RPG series, a few quickly come to mind. You can name Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls, Diablo, and more recently The Witcher. But one series that escapes the memory of RPG fans is Suikoden. While never considered a household name, Suikoden should have been a staple RPG series due to its unique narrative and hybrid gameplay elements.
The first three games in the series are fantastic connected experiences, while the fourth can be considered a slight misstep, this was quickly rectified with the release of the fifth game which ended up being really solid. So what happened? What went wrong for this series to be forgotten and placed on a lengthy hiatus? Blame can and should be rightfully placed on Konami, but the bulk of the blame falls squarely in Suikoden’s competition.
Competing with Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or any Square Enix property is no tall task. So many other JRPG series have been buried by being in the shadow of Final Fantasy that it was only a matter of time before Suikoden fell as well. In fact, its a downright miracle that it lasted as long as it did. But I will say that without a doubt, I believe that the Suikoden series is better than Final Fantasy.
Here are three reasons as to why:
- Compelling and Personal Narrative. RPG narrativrs are typically clichéd; big bad threatens the world and a group of ragtag heroes are gathered to stop it. While every game is set in the same world. The different stories of Suikoden revolve around smaller conflicts that affect a specific region. These smaller, more personal stories make for a more compelling narrative that quite frankly other RPG’s have failed to capture.
- The 108 Stars of Destiny. Generally speaking, too many characters can be confusing, which is why the main cast of characters in most RPG’s are kept to a short list. In Suikoden, you recruit 107 other characters to join your army. The cast is large and diverse, with everyone serving a specific purpose. Their individual stories stand out and damn near everyone one of them is likable. It also helps that they breathe life into your base of operations as the more of 108 stars you have, the more your base changes and evolves.
- Diverse Battle System. Battle modes fall into three categories. The first controlling a six man party in which specific formations can yield combination attacks with your party members. The second is a duel system that plays out in a form of rock-paper-scissors, these generally take place during certain parts. The last battle mode are large turn-based battles between armies that will decide the outcome of a region. Carefully planning is required because characters can permanently die.
Suikoden pulled no punches, it was an innovator at a time where all RPG’s were considered knock-offs to Final Fantasy. You could spend hundreds of hours in any game in the series, that includes Suikoden IV, and you would come away wholly satisfied with your experience.
I will point out that while the series is generally solid, Suikoden II needs to be mentioned with some of the greatest RPG’s of all time. The story is compelling and deeply personnel as it spans numerous years of conflict. Every character is truly unique and fleshed out. Those characters that return from Suikoden I are scarred from the conflict of the first game and their personal struggles can be found through their dialogue. It also helps that Suikoden II features one of the greatest villains of all time across any genre.
To this day, there is not a single more monstrous boss in my opinion than Luca Blight. He is a completely human character, no magic, no frills, just concentrated rage and determination. Fighting him literally could’ve been the end of any game, but it was nothing more than the halfway point. Usually when the big bad dies, the quality of the game generally falters due to the lack of focus. For Suikoden II this is completely untrue, the back half of the game is truly fantastic. The final battle is memorable because it ends in a personal duel between friends. I won’t go into details, but it is a truly heartwrenching fight because the player gets to relive the history between the two.
The legacy of Suikoden should be one of quiet defiance. As a series, it worked diligently to buck trends found in other RPG’s so that it could separate itself from the pack. It crafted a fully realized world filled with unique characters and conflicts that players could fully invest in. While Metal Gear Solid is the more known commodity from Konami. Suikoden will stand as one of the earliest example of Konami burying its own franchises.
It is truly a shame because Suikoden is a series that deserves to be remembered and revived. It’s the sole reason I still have my PS3 as it can be bought on the PS Store.