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ASK WHEELS
Romance of the Three Suikodens
July 20th, 2012

07/20- 12:00PM EST

Not since the contest that had many of you readers sending in pitches for sequels have I had this much letter volume on one subject. I guess many of you are big Suikoden fans! We have one other topic this week as well, as I'll be giving you my top five most hated RPGs. Also be sure to check out my Heroes of Ruin review, which can be viewed here.

Anyway, Suikoden time!





The Letters
Gotta Suikoden Them All

Hey Wheels,
Since there's been a lot of really cool discussion about Suikoden and its Water Margin provenance, I figured I'd chime in with a letter for those who are stayed awake through it.


Wheels

By all means! I hadn't known about the Water Margin connection at all, and I'm sure others are in the same boat. I'd be happy to hear more about it.

What may be more interesting to Suikoden players about Water Margin is that the resemblance between the two goes far beyond the characters in the first game.  The structure of the game, the overall premise, and several major events (the tea house, Teo's armored cavalry, the luring of Lepant) are pulled straight from the novel.


Wheels

Very interesting, so does this mean we give the original creator of Suikoden a bit too much credit? I mean, he did convert a lot of the elements into an amazing game, but that just makes it sounds like he wasn't quite as ingenious as we thought. Still, I'd really like to read the book to see all these connections.

Lesser known, though, is that Suikoden II has its narrative roots in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  Many characters, events, and even the overall structure of the narrative follow the novel - the most obvious being Luca Blight's basis in Lu Bu and Shu's basis in Zhuge Liang (who was recruited to Liu Bei's side after three visits - for an example).  If you're looking for a narrative similar to the Suikoden games, I would recommend Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Moss Roberts' translation) over Water Margin.  Less brutality, better structure, and much more interesting politics.


Wheels

See I did not expect that, and it makes me wish I had read Romance of the Three Kingdoms like I had wanted to many years ago. Anyway this means that this novel has influenced an absurd number of games. I'm going to have to track down a copy of that. Based on the price of the complete set of books I've seen on Amazon I may start with the abridged version. With this in mind, is Suikoden III influenced by any classic novels? I'm going to have to investigate this.

Opinions may vary on which game is the best, but to me it's hard to go wrong with any Suikoden game.  It's a fantastic series, and it got me interested in some of the best novels I've read.


Wheels

I would have to agree. An amazing and somewhat underrated series, given the tepid critical reception the first two games received on their initial release. We can only hope that more happy days await in the future. I'd love to see an HD collection of the PS2 games! I hope many readers will check out these novels, sounds like they are classics worth reading.

As another member of the Gaiden translation team, there are some pretty cool events in the game, but the first one really feels like just a love letter to S2 fans (not that anything's wrong with that...).  I've heard Gaiden 2 has more wholly new material.


Wheels

I'm going to have to give the translation a try, and I'll ask at the same time, any plans on translating the second Gaiden game?

Finally, since it is Q&A, a question - Would you recommend Romancing SaGa PS2 to someone who didn't really enjoy SaGa Frontier?  I enjoyed the Game Boy/DS SaGas a bunch, but SaGa Frontier seemed to have practically no plot or guidance, depending on which character you picked.  I've heard mixed reviews, but I'm interested in giving the entry a shot.

-Niahak


Wheels

So long as you liked the battle system in SaGa Frontier I would give Romancing SaGa a try. It's a bit more clear about were to go in most of the characters' stories. It also adds some nice touches to the SaGa battle system and has a graphical style that looks like a 16-bit game morphed into 3D. The soundtrack rivals the best of Square Enix's long and storied musical history. I can't say the story has a great translation or anything, but it certainly is better than sub-par translation that you suffered with in SaGa Frontier. It's still available for pretty cheap, so trying it out is a low-risk, high reward proposition. It's a much more complete and better structured RPG on the whole. If you try it out, please write in and let me know what you think!

Suikoden Developers Conference

In a lot of ways, Suikoden is both a modern developer's dream and a nightmare.  What's freaky is that it is for the same reasons that it is both.  It's a dream because it has such a well-constructed world, with rich characters and history... and its a nightmare because that depth makes it impossible for a writer to take extreme liberties with a lot of story elements.  It doesn't have the absurdity of a Pokemon or similar games, where you can use the game world in neurotic ways and no one will complain as long as they get their fix.


Wheels

A fair point I suppose. Explains why most JRPG series don't try to do the whole connected world thing. Gives their developers more freedom. Still, I love a world with many games taking place in it, using a shared history and mythology. Can't developers suffer for our enjoyment (I kid, I kid!) ?

The main reason this is a problem - to be blunt - is that there is hardly any decent writing talent left in the jrpg business anymore.  Those that are still around are almost entirely locked up in what amounts to lifetime employment (the Xenogears writers with Nintendo, as an example), and those that aren't demand prices a greatly weakened company such as Konami can't afford or simply aren't willing to pay even if they can afford it. 


Wheels

That's a real shame. I suppose complicating the lack of good writers is the increased number of JRPG released over there compared to years past. So there isn't much Konami can do for the Suikoden series then if they can't even afford to get some great writers to work on it?

However, it's not in the best interest of the company to let a popular series name rot.  So they try to find a way to use it.  Unfortunately, they run into the second part of the writing issue... people who can write serious, down to earth narratives in Japan don't write for jrpg companies for the most part.  So, like many extremely short-sighted people before them, they decide to put together a random game with only the vaguest resemblance to the main series in an attempt to keep the fans they have, in the hopes that the situation will be resolved with time.  Unfortunately, this action backfires, alienating the hardcore fanbase and causing them to react by putting an even more randomly put together game  on the market, because learning from mistakes isn't something that game makers do very well.


Wheels

I wonder, did they just overreact to the sales issues with Suikoden V? Suikoden IV obviously wasn't a critical or fan darling, even if it wasn't hated by all, so shouldn't they have expected a drop after that? Seems like it still sold well enough to be popular, did they ever really analyze why the fifth game couldn't match the sales of the previous game?

Also, looking at it from Konami's perspective, the very controversy between hardcore fans and people who like the 'regular jrpg' atmosphere of the portable games in the series increases awareness of the series, actually increasing the chances of decent sales if they manage to make a new game in the main series... though that is just a hope on my part.  So, either Konami is being extremely clever or extremely short-sighted.  My personal opinion is for the latter, but I won't dismiss the former out of hand.


Sincerely,
Travis Lucius


Wheels

I'm going to go with the short-sighted bit. If anything it has just increased awareness of why the original games are so awesome and how the portable games just can't hold up. I'm not sure what Konami will do next with the series, but clearly they need to rethink their approach. Perhaps stall with some HD re-releases?

Suikoden Arena

Hi, this is my first time sending a letter here, so hopefully I don't ask you something you've answered 1000 of times already... Anyway, as a huge Suikoden series fan, I'm starting to feel lucky that 6 games came out in the original world considering how mismanaged it was and everything. I do wonder, though, if the series would have survived better if it had been published by a company with more games in the RPG market like Square. Nowadays I buy games from many different publishers and developers, but there was a time when the games I played were almost all Square RPGs because that's what my brother and his friends were buying. I guess I am lucky one of his friends had a copy of Suikoden that I was able to play, which led me to keeping an eye out for the rest of the games.


Wheels

I'm not so sure that it would have done better under a different publisher. Heck, I'm not so sure Square would have taken the chance on Suikoden, and may have even done a worse job localizing the first two games. Square does a good job pushing their big titles, but sometimes not so for the smaller ones. I think Nier could have done better for them for example. Also, being the only RPG series from a famous developer like Konami gives it a bit more allure, rather than getting lost in the crowded catalog of an RPG heavy publisher like Square. Then again Konami didn't exactly do a great job advertising the early games here in the West, so I could be very wrong.

Also, while I enjoyed Suikoden Tierkreis, the game doesn't offer up an obvious idea for a sequel. And instead of trying to continue in this new world, it seems like Konami was trying to bring us yet another world with the PSP game. Even if the PSP game had gotten good reviews, I'm not sure switching from world to world after spending so much time in one world was a good idea for the survival of this series. I can't speak for most fans, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who was became invested in the world more than each individual story. I would have preferred Suikoden Tierkreis 2 to a completely new Suikoden game.


Wheels

I agree wholeheartedly. They didn't seem to have much of a plan to continue the series beyond this one game. This isn't a series like Final Fantasy with a history of massive changes between games. Like I described in the previous letter, I think they greatly overreacted to Suikoden V not doing as well as the previous games. It isn't like V completely bombed after all. I dunno, I still don't understand what Konami is doing.

In a somewhat related note, with Persona 4 Arena coming out, what other series would you like to see come out with an arena game? I think a Suikoden one would be pretty cool. Well, a lot better than a slot machine game... I would have also suggested Xenosaga, but it's too obvious that KOS-MOS would have to rule over pretty much everyone else in that game.

-riulyn


Wheels

I'd like to see a complete Shin Megami Tensei arena game where you could play as a slew of different demons and characters from the series. I think that would be a cool way to expand from Persona 4 Arena. Other than that, I'd enjoy some kind of zany Disgaea arena game. That could be a lot of fun if done right!

So Much Hate

What are your five most hated RPGs of all time?

-SeventhCircle


Wheels

With further ado, here are my top five most hated RPGs of all time!

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
I still don't know why I played the entire game. Reusing environments from the first Kingdom Hearts games and containing a story that moves at a pace slower than a frozen snail, this game has nothing to offer. You play a mission, likely watch a scene with the main characters eating ice cream, rinse and repeat. There's some good ideas in the battle system that are just wasted by all the bad ones. You place skills and such on a board that takes the whole game to expand enough to be interesting. The game also replaces MP with a system that makes magic almost completely useless. I hate this game.

Star Ocean 3 or whatever its actual name is
Let me put this simply, this game made me scared of tri-Ace games for years! Featuring an incredibly boring battle system and a story that will put a player to sleep and then blow their mind (in a bad way) with a twist that ruins the mythology of the first few games, I don't think tri-Ace could have effectively destroyed this series any other way short of canceling it. I think it would win or at least contend for the single worst plot twist in the history of video game plot twists. Please don't make me talk about this game any more!

Silver
You can't make me relive this nonsense, so I'll let someone else describe why I hate it so much.

Cross Edge
I like NIS America's output in general. I had enjoyed the heck out of the Disgaea games and their other SRPGs, and had a fun time with many of the other games they were bringing out, such as Ar Tonelico 2. So when they decided to bring over a strange cross-over title starring characters from Disgaea, Ar Tonelico, Atelier, and even Darkstalkers, I figured, why not try it out? NIS America hadn't steered me wrong. Boy was this a mistake. Not only did the game have one of the worst and most inept stories I've ever had the displeasure to suffer through, the battle system was utter garbage. The artwork looked like they took a rejected PS1 game and inserted some random 3D models into combat at times to spice things up. The sprites make the low-res fair in Disgaea 3 look positively gorgeous. The game even has the gall to have horrendous load times despite the lack of any kind of real graphics to load. Idea Factory has a bad reputation as a developer among gamers, and this game shows exactly why.

Shining Force Neo
Shining Force is a long and storied strategy RPG series. So what better way to revive the series after being dormant for years, than to get the developer of the Lufia series to make an action RPG that is quite possibly one of the worst action RPGs ever to grace any system? How could that idea fail? This game is one of the most heart breaking pieces of garbage I've ever been forced to deal with. There are many ways that Shining Force Neo could have successfully brought the series to an action RPG, but making one of the major features in the game gauntlet-like portals you have to destroy to prevent more monsters showing up is not one of them. I won't even get into the voice acting, because anyone who has played this game has suffered through it enough. Developer Neverland has made a lot of good games, which even combined can not make up for this disaster.


Dishonorable mention:
ClaDun
A largely tepid and boring action RPG in an ugly retro style, this game is saved from the list by its absolutely amazing soundtrack.

IN CLOSING

That's it for this week folks, kindly forward your anger for my hated game choices to wheels@rpgamer or @AskWheels on Twitter!

-Wheels


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