Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 08/31/99 | Genre: RPG
Being the adopted son of a late legend, the hoi polloi have turned to you for succor when things go awry. You also sport the same magical rune as your predecessor, so the social responsibility quickly becomes an obligation. With the help of your sister Nanami and best friend Jowy you venture to assemble a liberation army powerful enough to thwart the bad guys'. That's a rudimentary skimming of a story that plunges much deeper--I didn't want to spoil too much.
The execution of the story is superb too. Since this is a true sequel (the first Suikoden occurs only a scant number of years before the events in this game) a lot of the characters and locations from the first game are in tact. Some of the old mercenaries will join the cause again this time around while others may choose to aid your opposition. In fact, chary gamers that held on to their saved game from the original might be in for a little surprise in the form of additional characters once they load the file into Suikoden II.
There are over 108 characters to possibly join your entourage, which makes collecting all of your party members more fun than catchin' Pokemon! Each character is unique in their abilities, personality, and inherent magical rune. The Konami team did an excellent job in imbuing every character with a soul, creating a reason for the player to choose one over another instead of just customizing blank slates. Once you gather enough members, you can take over a castle for your headquarters. Most of the members have a unique job in the castle as well, which is impetus enough for trying to get all of them recruited. The jobs range from livestock keeper to armorer to window maker, and they are all fun if not essential.
The combat in Suikoden II is pretty simple. You and an enemy trade hits until one of you is taking a dirt nap. Two or more related opponents can join together for a group attack, but other than that the combat is standard fare. But what have always made the Suikoden series' battles stand out from traditional RPGs' are the "campaign" battles. You act as general and control large groups of people on an enclosed grid in an all out battle against the enemy, much like Final Fantasy Tactics. In these chess-like battles the stakes are risen because you can permanently lose party members if they fall in combat, and since these battles directly oppose your enemy's strongest men you can expect these fights to be difficult. At times you may even face off against an enemy general in a one-on-one dual done in a rock-paper-scissors interface.
Holistically, the game does not offer much new in terms of aesthetics, but the already nice concept of the first Suikoden has been tweaked for optimum enjoyment. The large character sprites, immense towns, hand-drawn character portraits have all been ported over from the first game. But while the graphics may be noticeably dated, the style has been burnished to a blinding luster. It's actually fun to get into battle and try to discover every animation in this colorful creation. However, I must warn that in the presence of Final Fantasy VIII, the "old school" look becomes increasingly difficult to appreciate. The music, on the other hand, competes with and crushes most of its rivals'. For a game with a theme as epic as war it's only fitting that the musical score is equally massive. The impeccable tunes are the perfect vehicle for carrying the emotions elicited in key areas of the game.
Konami is not a name that normally stands out in a discussion about RPGs, but their stellar track record of terrific games like Vandal Hearts, Azure Dreams, and Suikoden are making them a force to be reckoned with. Konami has a lot of potential in the RPG market and Suikoden II only corroborates this fact. Ready your sword, and prepare for war.