Saturday, February 4, 2012

Suikoden 2 Review

It has been a long time since we have done a classic corner review, but as I was contemplating some of my favorite games from the age old era of the Playstation 2 I of course came to Final Fantasy 7. I then remembered one of my other all time favorite games ever, Suikoden 2. It is an rpg like Final Fantasy but it is so much more and it is such an undervalued game, and series. Almost every game in the series has been great, except for Suikoden 4, but now you cannot really get them anymore for less than several hundred dollars. I lost my copy of Suikoden 2 when my brother left home and headed off to school, but my memories remain and my memories still shine so very fondly on this splendid mix of rpg, tactics and base management. It was beyond its years and I must share this treasure from 1999 with you all.

The story: Suikoden 2 puts you in the shoes of a young man in the middle of a war torn country. You start the game with your best friend Joey and he plays a major role in the story throughout the game. Everything goes well for the friends, well except for the war going on around them, until they each find a half of one of the twenty seven True Runes, which basically endow the holder with the strongest magic in the world. Quickly after finding the Rune you become part of the war against a country called Highland, who has the main evil doer of the game leading some of it's armies while also being heir to the throne of Highland, Luca Blight. Throughout most of the game you are running from him or hearing of his actions against nearby neighboring Kingdoms and eventually you come upon a headquarters in which to start your own army against Luca. You and Joey technically start as part of the Highland but that gets problematic rather quickly. The story also does a great job of mixing serious tones and ideas with more light hearted ones. There are definitely some dark events in this game, but at the same time there are plenty of jovial characters and places to make this world feel balanced.

Part of the story, essentially, is the story of other characters as well. Throughout the game you collect allies and they come in the form of one hundred and eight characters that you can recruit and find throughout the world. They all their own story and if you can give them what they want they will join you at your stronghold. Many are merely warriors, mages or fighters, but there are also many professionals to recruit as well, like cooks, blacksmiths, painters, architects and even singers. Building your stronghold, figuring out how to recruit each individual person and managing your armies is by far one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game and the series. Obtaining the empty lifeless castle early on to see it get filled with life and to watch it get rebuilt throughout the game is truly wonderful. Your castle has some natural progressions throughout the story and gets to become something huge that is full of rooms and full of people. You also have many merchants that are operating out of the stronghold, merchants that can create the best stores in the game, but only if you collect the right people and right items. This whole idea of base building throughout the game is something that the first game introduced, but Suikoden 2 improved on it quite a bit and they still hadn't improved the formula significantly since then.

Gameplay: One of the other innovative parts of the game was the combat. Many other JRPG's have had similar combat styles to the Suikoden series, but none have ever handled it nearly as well. You had normal things like spells, abilities and items to use during combat but you also had buddy moves that were reliant on certain characters fighting together. On top of that you had parties of six, something very rare for the time when most RPG's had parties of 3-4, and your parties could be filled with a large majority of the one hundred and eight characters that you can recruit into your army. The rune system, basically the magic system, was also a bit unique. You could combine certain runes with each other, runes that complemented each other, to create powerful spells. There is also the true runes, which I had mentioned before, that are grant a single character the most powerful spells in the game. Your party of six could be interchanged at anytime and you could create some great combinations, especially when you have so many options. The skill system that you use for spells, combat, dodging and much more is also unique to the series. Instead of using numbers to represent stats you have skills that represent all kinds of different abilities with letters, for example a character may have "A" level skill in dodge while someone else may have "C" or "E" skill level. You can tell who is best at what based on their skills and how high they can level up them. Few characters in the game can make it past "A" and get "S" skills. Combat is fluid because of skills. Characters can dodge, block, deflect and all kinds of reactive actions that visibly make combat a bit more exciting, especially when you develop someone to become an expert in a combat skill. I also haven't even mentioned that this game is huge with a fairly large open world map and easily a hundred hours worth of gameplay. I also have mentioned duels either, but they do exist and are a blast, but often very challenging if your main character isn't very strong. To show off a tiny bit of combat here is some gameplay from early on in the game.

Strategy: One of the last things that I absolutely must go over is the strategy part of Suikoden 2. Not only were these games JRPG's with base building elements, but they also have significant amounts of strategic gameplay. Everyone of the Suikodens, except for maybe 4, has you build an army and lead it in battle. Suikoden 2 does this best by making the army really yours, you get to name, you get to select generals and you get to lead it. Battles play out in Suikoden 2 in a slightly familiar way for anyone who has played turn based strategy games, except in these it is all about stats, strategy and abilities. These battles could be really tough and you could permanently lose characters from them if their unit was defeated. These strategic battles were one of my favorite parts of the game, as much as I liked normal combat I absolutely loved the strategic battles. You get to play very many of them throughout the game and all of them have a hefty weight behind them, story wise, that makes every action really count. Thankfully there are videos of this online, so do check out this one.

Suikoden 2 had so much to offer. Between base building, strategic battles, combat and the engaging war torn story it was a hard game to put down. It was also a game full of secrets and multiple endings. Much like other RPG's of the time, like Chrono Trigger of Final Fantasy 7, there was a lot to do the second time around that you likely had no idea existed the first time you played it. People often criticized Suikoden 2 at the time for being too much like the first game, but the first game created many of these great ideas and the second game damn near perfected them. It's been thirteen years and no one has ever recreated anything like Suikoden, something I sincerely hope I cannot still claim in another ten years. If you still want to play the game these days you can either go with the newest edition, Suikoden 5 that came out in 2006 (the last real Suikoden), or you can attempt to purchase this game for $100 or more. I would rather suggest that you find the emulator version floating around, many people have had success with that. Hopefully we will see these games sometime on PSN, but don't hold your breath. I cannot recommend this game enough to any fans of old school JRPG's with big stories, fantastic gameplay, many endings and a lot of quality.

I claim this game to be Legendary
An experience that cannot be duplicated or found anywhere else, truly unique 

Thanks for reading.
*All images are from around the net, no longer any legitimate way to find screenshots for this game.  
-Sean Cargle


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