Right. I’m going to try to do this review with the utmost professionalism and restraint.
Suikoden II is THE BEST GAME EVER and if you haven’t played it you’re not human, let alone a gamer!
I said I’d try, not that I’d succeed.
Suikoden II tells the story of Riou, a member of the Highland Army Youth Brigade, and Jowy, his best friend when, one night, the camp is attacked, apparently by the City-State. The rest of the unit is wiped out trying to flee while Jowy and Riou work out that maybe there’d be an ambush at the ONLY escape route. Clearly, these two characters are the only smart ones in the game.
Our heroes attempt to report to their commanding officer and over hear him talking to the best villain in any media, Luca Blight. A man so cartoonishly evil that he literally laughs his head off while murdering a woman who is acting like a pig. Really. This happens.
Anyway, Jowy and Riou eavesdrop that the attack was actually at the order of Luca, who is prince of the Highlands, to make it appear that the City-State broke a recently signed peace treaty and inspire his country into a war that no one wants. The only way for our heroes to escape is to leap off a waterfall after promising that, should they get split up, they will return there. Riou gets found by a few State soldiers and nursed back to health and that’s as far as I’m going with the story. The story line is so unique and charming that I can’t go into detail without giving away spoilers. This review would turn into a two thousand word essay on that aspect of the game alone.
The game play itself is as you’d expect for a turn based RPG. You select your attack, or item, and choose which enemy or ally you want to use it against. You have magic taking the shape of runes and your characters can link up together in ‘Unite’ attacks. This is where two or more of your party attack at the same time, using up both of their moves, to do a special attack . Typically, Riou and Jowy’s is the most affective unite in the game, but it makes it fun taking a different party than you usually use and trying out all the various abilities you can use.
It’s a good attempt to make every single character feel useful. In some games with there are characters that I just never use, Mass Effect is the biggest example of this. As soon as I get Garrus and Liara I never use anyone else.
I said, ATTEMPT because that’s exactly what it is. In reality, you will have five other characters you like, either personality wise or combat wise and you will simply never use any of the others unless the game forces you to. This is particularly annoying when you get lumbered with an awfully weak character and told you have to spend the next hour with them in your party. There are several times I was wiped out and I place the blame firmly on one characters head. He knows who he is.
This also makes it frustrating in possibly the most memorable scene in the game for me. You are charged to ambush an important member of the Highland army and need three groups of characters to take him down. You can get away with only winning with Riou’s group, but he becomes so much more difficult to beat if you fail with the other two. It’s the toughest boss fight in any game and features the most memorable scenes ever for me.
There are also several mini games within the main game including a lovely little iron chef game, again, I’m not making this up. A chef joins your army and receives challenges from others and you have to select what food he makes. It’s hilarious, if a little out of place. I refuse to believe that the leader of an army defending itself from the Highlanders has time to cook.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. The game has a special place in my heart, however it can still be frustrating at times. The dungeons are possibly the worst part of the game. I understand that they want to test our skill, but the general feel of any dungeon in the game is, if you want to get from A to B you first have to go through X then back up to M before going to C, then back to S. It has the most circuitous routes I have ever seen, including one time when I went the entire way through the dungeon then realised I was BEHIND where I started! We have magic, why didn’t we just blow a great big hole in the wall and save ourself two hours and fifty thousand random encounters?
Oh lord, the random encounters. Remove the word random and replace it with “Every two step” encounters. That’s a far more honest term for them. The main culprit being in the final area, which I suppose I can understand, but it doesn’t make it better. I swear, in the space of a ten second corridor I was attacked five or six times. Luckily the game employs a system where you can ‘Let Go’ an enemy, so if you are far too strong from them, you can immediately exit the combat with no penalty which sounds good, but it absolutely destroys the immersion and flow of the game. So, I get attacked by six Highland soldiers, I tell them it’s fine, they can leave and they go without a fuss? They’re not very good soldiers then are they? Maybe this entire war could have been avoided if I just told Luca Blight, it’s fine, he’s excused.
Back into the positives come the battle systems, of which this is an AWFUL screenshot…I decided I wanted to use more screenshots of games but promptly forgot until I was almost at the final boss battle…Ahem…
Anyway, you control various infantry, archers and magic users made up of the various 108 characters you can collect. Some are stronger than others and some your main focus should be not getting them killed. If they are defeated in battle they can die permanently. For real. And if they die, you cannot get the best ending in the game.
That’s right, multiple endings! This brings me to the last obnoxious point of the game. You need all the characters to get the true ending, however, there are characters that if you miss you can NEVER get back, therefore making it impossible to get the best ending. There is one character where if you don’t go to a certain bit of a certain city at a certain time, he doesn’t appear again and you have to reload a save usually cutting out hours and hours of grind. There are some characters where, if you’re skipping through dialogue too quickly, you can accidentally press the wrong reply and tell them to get stuffed when they ask to join you. Again, these characters will NEVER appear again.
Saying that, they do try and make it clear what characters are recruitable. A characters sprite stands out from a mile against the NPC sprites and all characters of importance have a portrait to accompany their speech, so if you see one you can bank on either having to kill them later or them joining you, or sometimes both.
Overall, I feel my first paragraph sums up my feelings towards the game. It is my favourite of all time. The characters are likeable and well rounded, that goes for all 108. They all have their unique quirks and most of them have a funny line or two to make you warm to them. It does get harder to like characters you recruit towards the end though as they are with you for such a short period of time. And typically these are the strongest characters in the game as well.
If you like JRPGs, play this game. It is hard to come by, but I’m sure you can emulate it if it comes to that. In fact, if you don’t like JRPGs try this game out anyway. The story is a roller-coaster that included bits that made me laugh and, I’m not ashamed to admit, parts that made me cry. There are truly heart wrenching scenes in this game and you’ll always remember the first time you complete it.
10/10 – No surprises if you’ve read any of this review whatsoever. I could forgive a lot because the story line is so good, but the combat is so well presented and executed that it doesn’t NEED to be forgiven. Plus the fact the battle system breaks up the tedium regularly so it never gets dull means that, if I could go higher, I would. I seriously can’t recommend it enough.