Taking a short break from writing up Final Fantasy reviews, I was pondering the fact that Konami have massively neglected their Suikoden series, which in my mind could’ve given Final Fantasy and the other JRPG IPs a run for their money.
Suikoden was an ambitious series spanning across five games on the PS1 and PS2.
There were multiple things that drew me to the series on the recommendation of a close friend, but not least the fact that the game contains 108 recruitable characters within it.
108 is chosen because of a specific story from the Chinese religion of Taoism.
It is believed that every person’s destiny is linked to a specific ‘star of destiny’ of which there are 108 variations.
Each star of destiny originally started out life as a demonic overlord. One of Taoism’s supreme gods managed to banish all 108 demons and imprison them.
Unfortunately after a long period of time they were accidentally released from their prison, but much to the surprise of everyone involved the demons had repented for their sins and set out to become 108 heroes who were strong in their own rights but were an unstoppable force when they banded together to fight for justice.
Suikoden borrows from this concept, by having a protagonist who is caught up in a great war and who is in need of an army to help defend his home or his family, and so forth.
In each of the games, your protagonist travels the world recruiting allies for his army and working his way through the events that unfold.
You acquire a rather basic looking castle early on, it could be a plot of land, or a run down old area with not much going for it. As you meet new allies, not all of them are fighters, some are stonemasons who help out by building bigger and better walls for your castle.
One fella in each game is responsible for inventing and then installing a lift for your castle. You acquire medics, mages, teleportation experts, guards, chefs, all sorts of useful people that would build your castle community up and up.
The game allows you to go as deep or as shallow as you need to. In theory you could recruit very few people and still complete the game. The ultimate achievement however is to make the ‘right’ decisions throughout the game, and reach the ending with all 108 ‘Stars of Destiny’ by your side.
I don’t believe your success is hindered by failing to do that, but it does impact the events of the game dramatically. In one of the games a character is at deaths door and it takes the power of 107 stars to keep him alive, meaning if you’ve missed 1 character, you lose another.
In another of the games, you have a character that fights a major boss with whatever equipment you’ve decided to give him. In my first play through, that was nothing because he was not a main party member for me. So facing a knight in shining armour, he was slaughtered.
This affects the game, because had I prepared him better early on, given him the best armour, weapons and experience points, then he would have won the battle and continued as a party member with me.
Very few games are so able to have a character live or die without breaking the rest of the story, but it seems like a no brainer to me that you should be able to lose party members if you make a mistake.
The Stars of Destiny coming together is meant to mark an extremely important point in the history of their world and it doesn’t just happen once.
Another awesome thing about Suikoden games is that for the first three, you can take your save from game one to game two, and include a handful of characters, with their best equipment, with their best runes and magic, and have them recruited into your new team as members of your new 108 stars of destiny for that time period and event.
This is another thing I wish games did if they were to be set in similar worlds.
It makes no sense for the character to hang up their sword at the end of game one and then completely disappear when the world needs them next, or for them to ignore the major weaponry you got them in game one and head out to another war armed with nothing.
Suikoden allows you to feel like you’re playing through the history of an entire nation.
There was no save game share between 3 and 4, which means your chain breaks there, but I believe there are connections between the later games too, as well as some ‘tactic’ spin offs and such that aren’t really part of the Suikoden world.
Being true to the size and scope of the battle you’re overseeing, you also get multiple battle types.
I touched on the one above where a character lives or dies based on your decisions.
These one on one duels are scattered across the series. There are also generic RPG battles, your party vs enemy parties in a turn based approach.
On top of that there are ‘army’ battles, where you have to make tactical decisions on where to strike.
Some of your 108 party members will be specialists in tactics, casting major spells, or building defences for your army, which can make a huge difference in turning the tide of the war for you.
You can visit your castle and trigger events, maybe a cook off, or something else to entertain the residents.
Some of your characters are insanely weak fighters who prance about throwing flowers at the enemy, but when they’re in your castle they help make important changes that add to your overall readiness to fight.
You would expect the story to feel rather shallow when they’re trying to shoehorn in 108 characters, and make no bones about it, you don’t get a full rich history into each persons motivations, hopes and dreams.
But the overarching war, and the story of the main characters within the 108, are well written and deep.
There are mysterious characters who somehow appear in every game, despite the fact that 4 is set hundreds of years before the first game, and the entire story spans centuries in the same world.
There is always the story of the initial war, and then multiple people who are up to something more sinister behind the scenes.
I unfortunately never finished 3 because my import copy broke on me, so I don’t know how this all bound together and never got to play 4 and 5 – as such I don’t know the underlying story that threads between them all, but it felt epic finding out more about their world as I played and I’d like to think it would’ve lived up to the buildup they gave it.
Unfortunately Konami released very few copies of Suikoden in the UK, then got upset when Suikoden 2 barely sold. They absolutely gave up on Suikoden 3 and didn’t release it here, before making the odd decision of doing English versions of the subsequent games.
As such, many many people missed out on at least Suikoden 2 which is one of, if not the best JRPGs ever, Suikoden 1 is perfect too, but I think 2 just builds on the greatness slightly more and delivers a better game as a result.
I see online that in Japan this series was released on mobile phone as well as a ton of platforms. Yet in the West, it seems to have been butchered all over the place because it was considered a disappointment in terms of investment vs return.
I’d love to see Konami pass the rights to Suikoden onto someone who cares about it. Remaster the series and rerelease them.
If I had the money, skill and ability I’d almost consider taking all five games and merging them onto one release simply called Suikoden. Let the gamer play through centuries of war in the same world – building up the ‘Stars of Destiny’ at key points.
I think this would be epic, and could follow the release timeline without much damage. Having the 4th part of the game set in the past, and affecting the future story of part 5 before rounding things off with new content.
A remaster could straighten out the art style – the first 2 had a great shaded JRPG style that suited the series well, they tried to go for 3D modern graphics in 3 and it wasn’t as endearing.
But with modern games spanning hundreds of hours, and expecting a lifetime of dedication to them, there would be great mileage in playing this series as a singular game allowing you to focus on the underlying mystery of the world from the more magical character’s perspectives.
Have you played Suikoden? Did you like it as much as me?
Is there some way to play the series now that I’ve not heard about beyond emulation?
Leave a comment as always!