Distant Stars Anecdotes of a Suikoden II Fangirl

Sam Marchello

This piece would not exist if it weren't for the following people: Shayla, Kristina, Rosa, Ada, Kristin, Barb, Andrea, Steph, Erin, Caitlin, Lauren, Becky, Katie, Bonnie, and Kim. You guys are my original stars of destiny. Also to Filipe for not taking the game from me when you realized you could have paid rent with it.

Note: Major spoilers for Suikoden II ahead.

Suikoden II holds a special place in my heart, one that is somewhat difficult to explain. My relationship with the game has spanned many years, many friendships, and beyond. Unlike most people, I didn't play Suikoden first, as II was the game that was handed to me. A friend of my brother's allowed me to borrow the game from him, though I never did actually give it back to him (mind you, he also never asked for it back either). I was twelve when the game released on September 29, 1999, and it was a game changed my life in so many profound ways.

When I first got my hands on Suikoden II, I played the copy that was given to me into the ground. The first time I completed the game, I got a pretty disappointing ending, and I remember checking GameFAQs to see if there was a way to change the ending I got. I remember going into EB Games, and my mom buying me the strategy guide so I could obtain all 108 Stars of Destiny. I poured over that guide like a precious tome, taking it to my eighth grade class and sharing it with my best friend who would spend countless hours with me outside in the grass creating our own fanfic despite not knowing what fanfic was at the time. We replayed the opening sequence of the game on numerous occasions, constantly quoting Jowy's famous line from the Merc Fort prison cell, "Do you want my carrots?" We swooned over Flik and Viktor, and giggled at poor Gengen's misfortune in having to babysit "some kids" on the way to Ryube Village, when he was "the truest warrior" who had no time for that crap. Even now, many of the scenes in the game flood back as pleasant memories.

I invited her to play the game, but she found more enjoyment being a backseat gamer and getting a sense of who the characters were rather than having her hands on the controller. It got to the point where after we learned something from the Dandy Richmond Files, we'd visit RPGamer and download .gifs of the characters only to insert the pictures into Microsoft Power Point and create our own Suikoden version of "The Dating Game." I'm pretty sure "Blue Lightning" Flik ended up with every other girl but Odessa Silverberg. Back then, copies of the original Suikoden were hard to find and truthfully, we didn't know about the past relationships of these characters. We learned of Odessa Silverberg's death, yet during Operation Greenhill, we still kept trying to pair Flik with poor, crazy, Nina, who showed us that being the ultimate fangirl has its benefits. We laughed at the idea of Luc and Nanami having to attend school and being completely clueless about social etiquettes. We were nervous when Yuber attacked, but confused by his magic portal, which to this day, we still haven't figured out.

My love for the series continued to grow and I replayed the game numerous times. I was still learning how to use the internet, and I ended up joining many Suikoden fan groups, one in particular that I'll never forget. It was a mailing list fanfic group: you'd apply to be a Suikoden II character and write their fanfic life. I was... awful. I was an eighth grader pretending I could write, but the reality was that I didn't have a clue. I had so many ideas but I struggled to articulate myself. Truthfully, I was amazed I made it through the application process. Funny thing was, it was such an enjoyable experience that when the group broke away to create other games, I was there, still participating and writing. I worked on so many joint projects, from Juppo the Mobster and his clueless niece Meg in Nedokius: A Twisted Suikoden RPG (for which only a forum still exists) to running roleplaying games of my own.

Then came Livejournal. Funny enough, I had made more friends who loved Suikoden though that journaling service than I can count on my fingers. I still keep in contact with a lot of these people, even after migrating away from the service. In fact, I've even met a lot of them in person, through conventions such as Anime North and Fan Expo, to even going so far as visiting them or them coming to visit me. There is something so passionate about Suikoden fans — we are people who united under one love, one banner, and it was a fandom that created so many crazy pieces of fanart, fanfic, RP, and cosplay. We all knew each other, even if we didn't speak to each other. There were so many beloved websites and resources created by dedicated fans, some of which still stand today, while others are a distant memory. It's no wonder then, why fans old and new were demanding to see Suikoden II as a PSOne Classic on the PlayStation Network.

Well through high school and into my college years that borrowed copy of Suikoden II circulated to many friends who then become converts. My circle of Suikoden friends grew from a small handful to an enormous crew. In my last year of university, a friend of mine found me a new copy of Suikoden II, which he paid six dollars for at a pawn shop. It was a birthday gift, he said, as he handed it to me. I remember clutching the game to my chest, and joked, "You do realize this could have paid off a chunk of your rent for the month if you'd had sold it on Ebay." His face contorted, laughing, he replied, "Then give it back to me!" We laughed but I knew it was something I was going to treasure considering what a rarity the disc was. That well worn borrowed copy, the one I lent to each one of my friends so they could fall in love with the game, could finally be retired.

Here's the thing: I've been replaying the game on my PlayStation Vita, thanks to its release on the PlayStation Network back in December. The more I played the game, the more I was reminded of all these memories that I have now shared with you. The story is still as strong and thoughtful as ever; the characters are wonderful and memorable. There's something so comfortable about Suikoden II, though for me, having played the game seven times all the way through, I can't help but immediately get into the groove of recruiting characters into the City-State Army. My fear of Luca Blight resurged, my love of Jowy grew deeper, I cared about every single character in this story, and all those feelings flooded back like an old friend whom I hadn't seen in many years, but the relationship picked up as though no time had passed. All the scenes and the story were just as powerful then as they are today.

If there's one scene in Suikoden II that always comes back to me, it's the battle against Luca Blight. With "The Chase" playing in the background, the fact that it took three full teams to defeat this "monster." It was a scene my friends and I always discussed with such fascination, because in terms of storytelling, it's one of the strongest moments in the game. You have a man who is seen as superhuman, disturbed, yet refusing to back down. No matter how many times I watched this scene, the more I found myself gripped by the intensity of Luca's character. He refused to surrender; he wanted to die for his Nation. The scene at the end of the game with Seed and Culgan dying for their nation, it's such a beautiful if sad moment. You understand that they aren't like Luca, yet their values are something anyone could understand and sympathize with. Jowy's betrayal — the murder of Annabelle — these the moments in Suikoden II where it shows just how brilliant the writing truly is. There are no holes; no confusion; there's a war going on, and many players wishing to rise to the occasion to stop it.

Despite the game's tougher themes and moments, there's something humorous as well. Many of my friends and I used to laugh about what Rina "really did" to the guard in Sparrow Pass, just as we wondered about how Bolgan was in fact related to the sisters. Hai Yo's cook off was one of the highlights of the game, and I always have to play that mini-game over and over in my replays, because his mafia plotline is surprisingly one of the most clever additions to the game, and one that can be easily missed if you don't bother with Hai Yo's special events. Plus, who could forget the disgusting concoction that was "Nanami Ice." This was one of the few games where I spent an insane amount of time on the mini-games, especially the fishing one — it was addictive. From Viki teleporting you to strange places, to finding oddities such as the "pornographic book" in Two River. While the localisation wasn't exactly the greatest, there's something humourous in Jowy not having a consistent spelling of his name.

While this really should have been an impression on the re-release of Suikoden II on PlayStation Network, I felt so nostalgic about my relationship with this game as I replayed it. Truthfully, everything about the game still holds up well. To those who have never played the game before, you're certainly in for a delight. I can say with certainly that there aren't too many games I replay anymore, but Suikoden II is one that I pick up and always complete every time I restart it. My memories of this series have brought some beautiful, important people into my life, some who refuse to play the game without me, others who still giggle at naming their hero something inappropriate with a question mark or exclamation point attached. Without Suikoden II, I never would have met the friends that I still stay in contact with, even years later. Many of them have moved away from the fandom, or even video games all together, but they still can recall fondly the memories of old, the crackpot theories that we created, and their favourite moments that the Suikoden series has given them.

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