Suikoden II - Reader Re-Retroview  

War and Peace
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

20-30 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The son of Genkaku and his best friend Jowy serve in the Unicorn Brigade of the Kingdom of Highland. One night, power-hungry Prince Luca Blight leads a massacre of the Brigade and blames it on the City-States of Jowston to start a war. Genkaku's son and Jowy escape the massacre and ultimately find themselves working as mercenaries for Jowston. However, the acquisition of the two halves of the Rune of Beginning, one of the twenty-seven True Runes, will gradually test their friendship during the war between Jowston and Highland. Konami's Suikoden II was originally intended to show the events of the first game from the enemy's perspective, although Konami ultimately changed it completely to expand upon the first game's world with a different storyline. Production history aside, Suikoden II is a solid sequel.

   Like its predecessor, Suikoden II features three different modes of battle, the first of which is the normal random encounter, with up to six playable characters participating. Characters can attack, defend, use rune abilities that mostly require four different levels of MP, use items (this time around, each character has three slots into which the player can put accessories and/or consumable items), or use unite attacks with other characters. The player can also bribe the enemy away with money or escape (with the escape option sometimes becoming "Let Go" when the party's levels are high enough). Normal battles can pose a decent challenge given the deficit of revival items other than the Sacrificial Jizo, which a character must have equipped and which breaks and revives a character with partial health after his or her HP reaches zero. Still, normal battles are fast-paced and don't detract too heavily from the game.

More like deadly one-legged flamingos Not your typical garden flamingos

   Different this time around are major battles, where player and enemy units populate a battlefield, and both sides, in separate sessions, move their units around, which can execute various commands against one another when opponent units are in range. Effectiveness of commands largely depends upon each units attack and defense, with each unit able to sustain two strikes, indicated by swords on that unit, before disappearing from the battlefield. Sometimes, if the player loses one of his or her units, characters forming those units, chiefly those that don't play a major part in the story, can die permanently. Nonetheless, major battles are a nice diversion from normal battles and very much fit in sync with key story moments.

   One-on-one duels, however, remain largely unchanged, and like major battles occur at key story moments. Again, the player's character can normally attack, use a wild attack, or defend, with normal attacks beating enemy defense, wild attacks beating normal enemy attacks, and defense beating enemy wild attacks. The enemy's words, as with before, indicate which command they'll execute, with the player needing to match words with actions to triumph. Overall, all three modes of battle are solid, and provide reasonable diversity throughout the game.

   The interface is largely spotless, with clean menus and easy controls in and out of battle. Though inventory space is limited, moreover, it's fairly generous, with a depository allowing players to store away excess items. There are maybe a few instances where it can be easy to forget how to advance the main storyline if the player doesn't pay attention to the dialogue, although interaction is well more than adequate.

   Judging originality in a sequel can be fairly tedious, sometimes unfair, although Suikoden II does plenty to distinguish itself from its predecessor, such as featuring new terrain in the game's universe, a new cast (albeit with some familiar faces), tweaks to its battle systems, and the ability to import data from the first game, which can in fact unlock secret characters, that ultimately keep it fresh.

Except that revival items aren't that readily available in this game... Should've brought some phoenix down...

   Suikoden II succeeds well in weaving an intricate tale of friendship, betrayal, warfare, and so forth, with the conflict aspect of the story being fleshed out nicely, and even some key characters such as the hero receiving development and backstory. Luca Blight also stands out as one of the strongest villains of the series, perhaps even the RPG genre, given his passionate bloodlust and wickedness. Certain scenes, moreover, can differ somewhat depending upon the player's choices during the game, and multiple endings exist, as well. The only major blemish is the somewhat sloppy translation, with some recurring annoyances such as name inconsistencies, a redundant use of exclamation marks, and the rare garbled dialogue. Thankfully, these shortcomings hardly ruin the plot, which is very easily one of the game's high points.

   The soundtrack is solid as well, with a nice diversity of tracks such as those on the overworld, in battle, and in towns, which are never out of place; there are some remixes of a few central themes, as well. Sound can be a bit out of place at times, though, and there are some major battles and forests without music, but the quality of the music largely compensates for these flaws.

   The visuals are an improved version of those from the first Suikoden, with gorgeous environments, decently-proportioned character sprites, and cleaner character portraits. The battle visuals do contain some slight pixelation at times, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell a character's gender by looking at his or her character portrait, but Suikoden II is still very much easy on the eyes.

   Suikoden II, finally, is somewhat longer than its predecessor, taking somewhere from twenty to thirty hours to finish, with the typical task of finding all hundred and eight Stars of Destiny chiefly boosting playing time; a certain time-dependent sidequest can force players to breeze through the game more quickly, as well. Overall, Suikoden II is a solid sequel that nicely builds upon its predecessor by expanding the world introduced in the first title and featuring some nice tweaks to its gameplay, alongside solid presentation values. Like its predecessor, it has aged fairly well, yet has lamentably become difficult to find at a reasonable price.

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