Suikoden II - Retroview

A Captivating Modern Classic

By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 8
   Plot 8
   Localization 3
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

20-55 hours


Suikoden II

   After a mildly stellar outing, the Suikoden series took its second step forward in the fall of 1999 with the release of Suikoden II. While some truly great concepts were introduced in the first game, the execution of the whole left a bit to be desired. On the other hand, Suikoden II scooped-out the best elements from the first game and tacked on improvements on seemingly all other facets, making for a spectacular and unique game that will live on forever. Who said sequels couldn't be better?

   The relentless war between the six City-States of Jowston and the Kingdom of Highland had come to a stop thanks to the signing of a temporary peace treaty, but the agreement has been broken immediately afterwards due to unexplainable circumstances. Two friends of the same village will be separated by unforeseen events and woven back together by their destiny. It's a story of ambition and greed, but also of eternal friendship and hope. It's a captivating storyline and a timeless classic.

   Following in the first game's footsteps, Suikoden II reintroduces virtually the same fast-paced battle system. The handy "auto attack" feature is (thankfully) back, saving you the hassle of selecting the attack option for all six characters of your party. Again, the fact that many characters will act their turn at once keeps things moving quickly and seamlessly. The three character range specification, short, medium, and long is also back, forcing you to keep your party balanced with equal dosage of fighters and magicians. "Unite" attacks let two or more characters perform special techniques, is also back. It works the same way as before, letting you inflict big damage in contrast to often incapacitating someone for a turn, but there are now many more of them.

Battles are a breeze
Battles are a breeze  

   The big innovation over the first game's normal battle system is the opportunity to embed up to three runes on a character instead of just one. Not every character can equip two runes or more, but you're still offered more customization options with your fighters. The four levels of spell points are also back, so it is once more imperative to use your spells sparsely because the only way to replenish your magic is by staying in inns. Slight improvements upon an already good system, but it's still lacking in strategy, making for easy and strait forward battles throughout. Nevertheless, the speed of the battles lets you fully enjoy the amazing storyline, while never boring you with excessively tedious dungeon-crawling.

   The duel fights are fun to witness and participate in but once again, guessing your opponent's action is made far too easy by their incessant careless commenting. Major battles were offered a huge face-lift however, for the better. You will have to arrange many different units while considering your generals' strengths to try and create balanced combat units. You move your troops on a grid version of a part of the world map, and once you instigate an attack on the enemy you'll see a bunch of shouting little combatants run through each other, much like in Romancing Saga 3. Each troop's strength is determined by your generals' overall attack and defense stats, and personally I enjoyed those strategic sequences immensely. Seeing your guys trounce through the enemy in one giant sweep is always fulfilling.

   The menus took a giant leap forward in Suikoden II to finally attain a certain level of decency. The equipment menu is now much more comprehensible and easy to organize compared to what was done in the first game. You don't have to guess whether you've already equipped a helm, armor, or accessory because now every part of your gear is well sorted in its appropriate spacing. The amount of information in battles is also greater, especially when it comes to rune spells. You now have a little bit of info on every spell before casting then, such as the area of effect and expected damage, which lets you better gauge the upcoming results of your actions. However, the major annoyance of prepping your party is back, once you get hold of your castle that is. If you want to unequip items, sharpen weapons, or embed runes on someone you have to bring that person along in order to do it. It takes a lot of time arranging your party for their daily excursion, and we would have had to wait until Suikoden III to finally see a solution to the problem.

   The mystical Konami composers who did the soundtrack for the first game have been replaced with the less elusive Miki Higashino-san. Though her past work remains unknown to me, I still hold a great deal of respect toward her for the job she did with Suikoden II. The tone is set right at the beginning with the amazing opening composition and the piano rendition of the main theme during the prologue well demonstrates her ability at creating harmonious music. The world and castle themes are once again very pleasing, and the various mood compositions used during the key events are spectacular. However, one can't help but to be saddened by the exclusion of the acoustic guitar, which really helped give the first game its charm and personality. Some tracks in Suikoden II also fall behind expectations, particularly when it comes to the dungeon music, which is very dull and repetitive. But considering the incredible magnitude of the soundtrack and the generous portion of powerful compositions, it is quite a spectacle for the ears. The many sound effects are also impressively appropriate for every situation, adding even more pleasant notes to the game.

Walking around whistling happily
Walking around whistling happily  

   As a whole, not many changes have been implemented over the first game. However, not many RPGs offer all the quirks found in Suikoden II. It's not only about having a cast of 108 characters and your very own castle, but war-oriented RPGs are also not as frequent as they should be. Speaking of that castle, you'll spend numerous hours playing in the various mini-games, talking to the residents, and participating in the widely entertaining "Iron Chef-style" cooking games. You may well end up lying on the grass simply to watch the clouds fly by while listening to the awesome music.

After the upheaval in the southern region of Toran, the new quest for the liberation of the land takes place mainly across the six regions of the City-States of Jowston. Enjoying a close and favorable relationship with their Northern neighbors the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia, the Kingdom of Highland wishes nothing more than to be the supreme ruler of this huge land. The trademarks of the series; the acquisition of your castle, a side-story related to the 27 True Runes, and the assembly of the 108 Stars of Destiny are all back and executed better than before.

The strategies employed for the many Major battles are surprisingly intelligent and mystifying, making every story sequence interesting. Combined with many tear-jerking plot twists, difficult relationship decisions, and a huge emphasis on friendship and betrayal the storyline in Suikoden II has been crafted to remain impregnated in your heart forever.

During my first playthrough, I hadn't noticed the overabundance of typos and mistakes in the dialogues. Conversations between characters seem very natural, and each person displays his or her own personality competently well. However, there is an abusive use of the exclamation mark in almost every occasion, and the script is filled with typos and incoherence. On far too many occasions will you see a character refer to himself in the third person, or someone speaking while a different portrait is displayed near the dialog box. Some names are also spelled in several different ways, and some sentences will simply leave you guessing as to what the person was really trying to say. The casualness saves the script from falling flat on its back, but the overall quality of the localization is disastrous for any standard.

There should always be time to sit near a tall oak tree
There should always be time to sit near a tall oak tree  

Speaking for myself, I have played the game six times all the way through, and I still get cravings quite often. Many things make Suikoden II worth replaying, aside from the incredible charm the game carries. First off, gathering the 108 Stars of Destiny on your own can prove to be a difficult task, but a rewarding one indeed. There are four different endings to the game, and the "true" ending requiring all 108 Stars is quite a marvel to behold. There's also a time-intensive quest for one character's story forcing you to get to the final dungeon in less than 20 hours, bringing another reason for a subsequent playthrough. Furthermore, you'll have the opportunity to take on different paths, view some major battles from different angles, and load your previous data from Suikoden I for added nostalgia. It may take you less than 20 hours, it may take you upwards of 55 hours; but no matter how you like to play your games Suikoden II offers something for everyone.

Suikoden II is perhaps one of the last 2D RPGs in its visual offering. The advantage of hand-drawn character sprites is evident as soon as you start playing. Neither the backgrounds nor the characters are very complex or lifelike, but everything is sharp and colorful. The various bodily expressions are acted very smoothly, and the range of movement, particularly in battle, is quite eloquent. Special effects are also surprisingly crisp and vibrant. The opening movie is somewhat bizarre with its still character portraits, and the few FMVs scattered through the game aren't technologically impressive, but the game as a whole carries a very distinct artistic flair.

Suikoden II is simply a game unlike any other. The storyline always possesses the right impact and the several well-developed characters are quite hard to forget. As part of an epic series, Suikoden II carries its weight as the true precursor to what may one day be a classic of storytelling.

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