Suikoden II

While Konami’s Suikoden for the Sony PlayStation didn’t set the RPG world on fire upon its release in Japan and North America, it nonetheless received a decent following, what particularly with its distinctive massive cast of characters. Its creators then began work on a sequel, which initial propaganda indicated would tell the story of the first game from the enemies’ point of view, although it ultimately evolved into a follow-up expanding upon its predecessor’s world with plenty of new characters and places, Suikoden II, which is just as enjoyable as the original.

Like the first Suikoden II, the first sequel features three different modes of combat, the first of which is the standard random encounter, with up to six playable characters participating, organized into two rows of three and having short, medium, and long ranges of attack. Initial commands include manually inputting orders, running from the battle (which becomes “Let Go” if the encounter is against weak opponents), bribing the enemy away with money, or having all characters automatically attack with their weapons. Standard commands for each character include attacking normally, defending, using items, using Rune abilities, shifting position with the character behind or in front of them, or using a combination attack with another character.

There are some differences in combat in the first Suikoden sequel such as the ability of characters to have up to three Runes, although the game limits the number to less for most playable characters. Moreover, characters can either equip up to three sets of items, three different accessories, or a combination of the two, the player needing to balance defense with consumable items. If a character has a blank inventory space, they can use their turn to take an item set out of the player’s item sack. Battles are quick like in the first game given the frequent simultaneous execution of character and enemy commands, and experience acquired depends upon a character’s level.

The biggest change in Suikoden II’s game mechanisms are in the Major Battles, where player and enemy units appear on grid-based fields, and can engage in combat with one another if they’re within range. Many units, depending upon the recruited characters composing them, have passive and active abilities that can assist in defeating enemy units, with cutaway sequences indicating the units attacking one another. If one unit damages another, a sword appears on the damaged unit, and when a unit has received two swords, it disappears from the battlefield. As in the first game, recruited characters can die permanently in Major Battles.

One-on-one duels return as well, which again follow the Rochambeau formula where normal attacks beat defense, defense beats wild attacks, and wild attacks beat normal attacks, and the enemy dialogue clues players into which of these commands they’ll perform; matching dialogue with commands is especially necessary in a select few duels. Ultimately, the battle systems work nicely, although damaging enemy units in Major Battles in some instances depends upon random chance, and it can be somewhat difficult to choose between consumables and accessories for characters in regular fights.

Control is a slight improvement over that in the original Suikoden, with the player now having a three-page-long inventory that, while it does have a limit, is mercifully generous, the player able to dump excess items at a storage facility at their headquarters. One flaw, however, is that standard facilities such as a blacksmith, armory, an inn, and so forth are not initially available at the player’s castle (and towns don’t always have all these functions), and in fact many players can go for the whole game without these facilities at their HQ. There’s also occasional vague direction on how to advance, but in the end interaction helps the game more than hurts.

Much like the first game, the sequel weaves an intriguing political/military story, with an antagonist, Prince Luca Blight, who is evil incarnate, one of the best villains to date in a Japanese role-playing game and having plenty motive behind his wicked actions. One nitpick is the many dialogue choices the player receives throughout the game that don’t really impact the storyline that much, although a bigger flaw is the rushed translation job, with many characters, places, and things having different names at times. However, the second game like its predecessor sports epilogues for all recruited characters when the player beats it. All in all, the plot is a decent reward for advancing through the game’s toughest battles, and builds well upon its predecessor’s established mythos.

Miki Higashino returns to compose the sequel’s soundtrack, with plenty of catchy ethnic pieces that are never out of place, although quite a few Major Battles, for some reason, have no music at all.

The graphics are a touched-up version of those in the original Suikoden, with the most notable difference being the cleaner, albeit often androgynous, character portraits, with over a hundred to accommodate the massive playable cast.

Finally, the sequel is a little longer than its predecessor, taking somewhere from fifteen to thirty hours to complete, with multiple endings and the endless recruitable characters providing plenty lasting appeal. In conclusion, Suikoden II builds upon its predecessor in just about every aspect, with predictably wonderful results. However, the sequel has become something of a Holy Grail of RPGs, with expensive prices for the game online. While Konami attempted to rectify this in Japan with a combination of the first and second games for the PlayStation Portable, the collection lamentably did not see release outside the Land of the Rising Sun, thus making difficult to experience one of the PlayStation’s finest RPGs at an affordable cost.

The Good:
+Solid battle systems and control.
+Great story with multiple endings.
+Superb music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Spotty, inconsistent localization.
-No music during some Major Battles.
-Is expensive online.

The Bottom Line:
A great sequel, if you can find it at a good price.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 15-30 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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