For me, the ideal form of the JRPG is the 16-bit style. After that, flash and confusion seemed to take over. That and a decade long love affair with Neon Genesis Evangelion. I played a ton of PS1 and PS2 RPGs and most left me wanting something different. There were tons of enjoyable, even great games in there, just not exactly the kinds of games I wanted to play. But occasionally, one would stand out as being pretty much exactly what I want. Sometimes they were enhanced ports that I didn’t realize were actually old games, like the Lunar series. Sometimes they were prettied up throwbacks, like Dragon Quest 8 or Skies of Arcadia. The first two Suikoden games, though, just simply were cut from the same cloth as Chrono Trigger and the like. While there is much to love about Suikoden 1, Suikoden 2 is easily my favorite Playstation game.
While working through the lackluster translation can be a problem, Suikoden 2 is just a joy to play. The series gimmick of 108 party members gives means that there are so many characters thrown around the player is bound to love at least a few of them. The battle system is simple and breezy, with just enough going on to keep things interesting. It doesn’t quite move at the breakneck pace of its predecessor, Suikoden 2 is still a speedy game. The player moves from scenario to scenario very quickly.
What sets Suikden apart is that its stories are largely local. Most RPGs task the player with saving the world, Suikden the player is mostly trying to save one kingdom. The war in Suikoden 2 is both local and very personal. It eventually pits best friends Jowy and Riou (the player character with no actually name, but that one is “official”) against each other as leaders of the respective armies. While they do not want to fight, history has convinced Jowy that their two countries will remain at war until one side conquerors the others. The player mostly wants the war to end and to have his friend back. Throughout this thing there is love and loss and tragedy. It is just all the things I want in a video game story.
One of my favorite characters in the game is one that is a Star of Destiny, but he is not usable in combat, nor does he provide a useful service at you home base castle. Fletcher is probably spy. And he is probably on the player’s side. It is hard to tell if he is just the weasely coward who is just out for himself or if it is all part of an act. He is helpful several times throughout the game, but he has a way of just appearing when he is in trouble and helping you has a way of helping him. He is not a character that could exist in most games, but he works just fine in Suikoden 2.
The one problem I have with Suikoden 2 is that I do not own it. My brother does. He bought it at a pawn shop and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him for beating me to it. Too bad Konami is resistant to letting more people experience the game through download services. It is really just a fantastic game.