This week saw the long overdue release of Suikoden and Suikoden II on PSN in all remaining territories, bringing to a close a 15-year availability drought for these games throughout most of the world.
Suikoden has been mostly inactive for several years having not seen a new installment since 2012’s tepid Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki, which was relegated to the ailing PSP and never even left Japan. [ref]CF’s own John Layfield took this bullet for us with his import review, here.[/ref] The last central game in the series was 2006’s Suikoden V. It’s been a pretty rough road since then.
One big reason why we’re all still pretty bummed about the conspicuous absence of fresh Suikoden falls squarely on the strength of those first two games. [ref]More reasons include too many loose ends to count, but that’s a subject for another day.[/ref] Suikoden, while sporting more than a few frayed edges 20 years later both visual and mechanical, is still far better paced compared to most modern RPGs and is still well worth the five dollars and couple dozen hours necessary to play it to completion.
Suikoden II is the real gem in this conversation, however. Most of the biggest problems with the original game were resolved and the rest improved upon greatly, to the point where jumping back to play the first Suikoden after Suikoden II is a rather painful transition, despite how similar the two games appear on the surface. Suikoden II’s streamlines, speeds up, nips and tucks its way to greatness, even before you factor in its genre-leading storytelling. [ref]This combination of quality, rarity, and relative obscurity, kept eBay prices for physical copies well above $200 for most of the last decade or more.[/ref]
Developer/publisher Konami has been notoriously cagey about the current state and future of Suikoden for the last few years until some fairly recent developments tipped the scales a little, such as their frequent livestreams on Twitch. Even more props might be due for the Suikoden Revival Movement; without their efforts, it’s entirely possible that these releases wouldn’t have happened at all. A rare success story in an era of countless online petitions that tend to go nowhere.
Simple! Just give these games a shot. One, or both, in whatever order you feel like. Release order is of course preferable if you intend on giving Suikoden your full attention, but for the uninitiated or the uncertain, Suikoden II is probably where the franchise really begins to put its best foot forward and so it carries my strongest recommendation for that reason. [ref]And this is despite several very noticeable bugs, too. Be sure to push all the gates you see.[/ref]
Want some bonus credit? Go drop a Like on the SRM page linked above. Maybe tell a friend or two. Read an LP of the PS2 games that aren’t on PSN yet. Write some fanfiction about Gengen’s debilitating chocolate milk addiction. Cosplay as one of the flying squirrels. Y’know, ordinary fan stuff.
This week marks the release of Suikoden III in North America ten years ago. The game also came out in Japan at the same time and, infamously, never came out in PAL territories ostensibly due to quality control rules regarding localisation languages in Europe.
Suikoden III is an interesting game in that it marks the end of a lot of things about the series. This was the last game that original scenario designer/all-round Suikoden creator Muryama Yoshitaka worked on, for starters.
Muryama created Suikoden as a one-off game. Through a mixture of good timing and luck, the first Suikoden came out in a relative barren RPG landscape on the original PlayStation. That game did well enough to earn itself a sequel. Suikoden II, although set in the same world as the original game, three years in the future, functions as something more akin to a re-imagining of the original title. The (contextual) success of this title saw Suikoden become a bonafide franchise with three side games and a slightly dizzying array of merchandise and publications separating Suikoden II from its numerical successor.
By this point, Muryama had some sort of idea about the greater plot of the series. Although each game deals with regional wars in a technologically stagnant world, the arcing plot was growing more to encompass the role of the 27 True Runes, the magical crests which governed every aspect of the world. Their role in the struggle between Order and Chaos, intersecting with questions of free will and destiny were commented on in the first two games but really came to the fore in Suikoden III.
Despite the successes of the original batch of Suikoden games on the first Playstation, Konami had reservations about the direction of this overarching plot. The rumours persisted as to the reasoning, from simply busybody executives, to concerns that if the plot were to be wrapped up soon, then the reliable profit earner would be no more but in the end, the result is the same; Muryama Yoshitaka was to leave the team towards the end of Suikoden III’s development cycle.
Suikoden III was also the swansong for series artist Ishikawa Fumi. Ishikawa was the artist from Suikoden II onwards, replacing Kawano Junko’s slightly more art nouveau style of work with a hard-lined, bright coloured look and more detailed costumes which captured more attention in the early 2000s. Although there is no indication of disastisfaction with her, she would be replaced by her predecessor, Kawano Junko, once a new producer for Suikoden IV was announced. That producer? Kawano Junko.
Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that Suikoden III was the last traditional Suikoden title before it was overwhelmed by heathens, however. It is important to remember that Suikoden III was a very divisive title when it was first released. Although praised by contemporary critics at the time (the game still holds the highest average Metacritic rating for all Suikoden titles), the game proved to have as many detractors as supporters within the growing quote-unquote “Suikoden community.”
Although the Trinity Sight System that was the core of the games narrative proved relatively uncontentious, some complained of the repetition of visiting previously seen locales with new characters at different points in the narrative. Some were more irked with the idea that enemies, enemies, were Stars of Destiny in this title, showing the growing conservatism that quickly grips the fanbase of any media type.
This conservative element of the fanbase also dismayed of the series jump to 3D graphics over the beautiful sprite work of the first two games which lent the game a distinctive visual style. By choosing a slightly super deformed style over more realistic modelling, the game managed to maintain some semblance of a unique aesthetic while still maintaining clarity.
The majority of fandom complaints however stemmed from the battle system, which featured six characters sorted into three groups of two. You would choose the commands for one character in each group, with the second character entering into a sort of AI-informed support role on each turn, based on the commands selected. As far as RPG battle systems go, it’s fairly unobtrusive and easy to get to grips with even if it’s question what, exactly, it’s supposed to bring to the game but as far as a vocal segment of fans were concerned this was the equivalent of Dirge of Cereberus: Final Fantasy VII.
Suikoden III’s plot continued the themes of the original games, namely that of a local conflict where there are multiple points of view. The Trinity Sight System, however, allowed this to be explored with more than mere platitudes for the first time in the series. The ability to take on three different perspectives in the narrative, with the bonus of three other minor narratives for added detail, allowed Suikoden to process a more complicated and nuanced plot in a segmental manner, allowing layers to fall gradually and gaps to be filled in when dictated by the story and not the linear narrative of the first two games.
Not that Suikoden III’s story should be considered high art. It embraces the noble savage stereotype so hard you expect Kevin Costner to play the lead role and many story and plot elements are either of their time (if you’re being generous) or near farcical (if you’re not). But what it does, it does well, providing a broad stroke look at issues of colonialism, cultural development and the disconnect between war and those who would run them. Combining that with the most developed cast of characters in any of the games and the added layer of the predestination concepts mentioned earlier results in a plot that secures depth through the sheer physical mass of its storyline if nothing else.
In the end, Suikoden III was a game of incremental changes in gameplay, which angered a reactionary fanbase and plot nuances which met with wide approval. As a talisman for the series, it was largely a failure. It certainly failed to galvanise the series and fanbase in the same manner as Suikoden II.
Looking back, many fans view it as a sort of last hurrah for the series, even as it stumbles on like a zombie with 2011s Genso Suikoden Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki not exactly setting the world on fire. At the time, many thought it might mark the beginning of the end. Perhaps, uniquely in this case, they’re both right. Although it is amusing to think that a title which deals so much with stagnation preceded what some see as the biggest run of intellectual stagnation in an RPG series to date.
Fans of Konami’s long-neglected RPG epic Genso Suikoden have been starving for fresh non-portable, non-Kickstarter content these last several years, and while I’m sure this isn’t the first online petition to surface in that time, the Suikoden Revival Movement on Facebook does at least appear to be surprisingly well put together. But will it help?
Forgive me for being all bitter and pessimistic and “damn kids get off my lawn”, but the only time I’ve ever seen a fan movement on the internet accomplish anything was the “peanuts” campaign for Jericho, wherein fans of the cancelled post-apocalyptic drama secured a short second season by flooding the CBS mail room with packages of peanuts.
Well, that, plus the Browncoats buying DVD set after DVD set of Firefly out of their own pockets until Universal caved and greenlit Serenity. In both cases, the results could only be considered partially successful as they provided closure rather than continuation, or an easy-out for the studios to finally get all those pesky fans off their backs.
This isn’t an indictment on the Suikoden fans out there; I am one myself, after all. Hell, if it weren’t for my dabbling in the various Suikoden fan communities (Dukedom of Gaien represent!) I might not even be doing this right now, and my long-time posse of John Layfield and Thor McOdin and most of the forum folks wouldn’t be here either. All I’m saying is that Konami could be well beyond hope at this point. Quoth Jim Sterling:
…the fans are dealing with Konami, a publisher that might not even know it’s a videogame publisher these days, so I can only wish them luck on what is sure to be a frustrating journey.
That said, it’s important to note that the Suikoden Revival Movement’s campaign is very pro-active, rather than simply collecting social media props, and they aren’t shooting for the stars here either: their first goal, to get both Suikoden and Suikoden 2 on the Playstation Network worldwide, is probably quite attainable, or at least mostly attainable as regional versions of those two games currently exist without any major restoration or localization being necessary. The more development effort required on Konami’s part, the less likely this is to happen.
Personally, that might actually be enough for me. The ultimate goal – a proper continuation of the main series continuity a la Suikoden VI – has felt like a total impossibility for years and I think most of us are resigned to that fact by now. Suikoden VI happening seems about as likely as Sega dusting off the original pre-online Phantasy Star franchise for a refresh, or Square Enix finally doing something new with Chrono Trigger.
Still, Konami stands to lose very little by getting Suikoden 2 up on the Playstation Network alongside the original, already available in most territories. HD remasters of the PS2 games, or even just straight-up ports for PSN, are total longshots yet still fall squarely into the “would-be-nice” category in my mind. Hoping for anything else feels like a setup for heartbreak.
If you’re interested in adding your voice to the chorus, hop on over to their Facebook page and click the Like button. It’s not phone calls and emails or tiny packages of peanuts, but it’ll take maybe three seconds out of your day and sometimes a little moral support can be really nice to have. If you do happen to have more time to spend on this cause, check out their activity calendar: it’s quite forward-thinking, meaning that unlike 99.9% of petition movements out there, these guys might actually stand a pretty good chance of accomplishing something.
The so-far Japanese-only Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki (translated as Genso Suikoden: The Game Whose Names Inspires Arguments About Correct Localisation Between Fanboys Who Will Likely All Be Wrong Should This Game Ever Be Officially Localised) is the eleventh unique title in what was once described as Konami’s franchise RPG series. These days, franchise is exactly the correct term seeing as just like any pizza place can get a Domino’s franchise if they don the uniform and put up the sign, any old RPG can get the Suikoden name stapled onto it if it embraces the trappings a little.
If that sounds bitter, it really isn’t meant to be. Rather, it is an attempt to divorce myself and any “classic” Suikoden fans from the idea that a Suikoden game is only as strong as its continuity. That’s simply not what the franchise is about in 2012. This game follows in the footsteps left by 2008’s Suikoden Tierkreis by setting the game in another world that could be considered tied to the rest of the series by the concept of other dimensions, a flavourful bit of background trivia in older games and the basis of the plot for Tierkreis.
But nevermind the big names; if the rising tide of Kickstarter is indeed lifting all the boats (ugh!), then one of those little boats more people should be jumping into is Max K. Lam’s Americana Dawn, a Japanese-style RPG with strong artistic and mechanical influences from Konami’s criminally neglected Genso Suikoden franchise.
Here’s hoping that this little gem will roll out soon now that its funding goal has been met and exceeded. Not only could that particular era of American history really use a fresh take, via edutainment or otherwise, but it’s been almost six years since the last proper Suikoden game and as far as I’m aware, no other project taking those games as a primary inspiration have ever gotten this far. Or, for that matter: existed.