The modern RPG is characterized as being a massive undertaking of graphics, action combat systems, and story. And while they are undeniably impressive in scope, the modern RPG can come off as slightly disjointed in regards to the main story that is driving the character’s actions. In this regard, many of the original old school RPGs were forced to craft plots that were captivating because the technology at the time was not able to accommodate flashy graphics or incredibly complex combat systems. It was in this age that games like Suikoden 2 were able to shine.
Originally released on the PlayStation 1 by Konami in 1998, this JRPG looked and felt very similar to many other games in the same genre. It starts with the silent protagonist and his friend Jowy serving as guards on the boarder between two waring countries with their squad of youth brigade soldiers. Things quickly devolve as the outpost is overrun by the regular soldiers who turn out to be under the command of the evil prince Luca Blight, despite the fact that you are all on the same side. With this horrendous act of child murder a chain of events is set off that leads to intrigue, civil war, and shifting alliances that would do any Game of Thrones fan proud. Certain heroes take pretty nasty measures in order to win, and not all the villians are as straightforwardly evil as you might want to believe they are.
As a teenager first playing this game, I had jumped in expecting a rather straightforward plot. Having played a few JRPGs in my day, I thought that I knew what to expect, however Suikoden 2 consistently defied my expectations, combining tragedy, emotion and realistic characters in a way that I had not seen to that point. Over the course of the campaign, I grew to love the characters that I collected and identified with them and their problems, feeling a connection to each of them. These weren’t just digital sprites to me, they felt like fully developed, fleshed out people. This feat is even more amazing considering there are 108 characters that can be added to your party that will help you in combat or add overall improvements to the castle that you eventually acquire.
The combat system is fairly normal territory for this type of game, being turn and menu based. However adding a slight wrinkle was the ability for characters to combine their attacks into devestating team up attacks. I had never experienced that mechanic at that point and it felt fresh enough that it kept me engaged in the majority of the combat. Further, Suikoden 2 also went on to create a mass combat system that functions as a simplified version of the typical 4x combat that we see in games like Civilization. Although many of these battles are scripted and will have certain events that occur to swing the battle in one armies direction or another, there was enough strategy and variation to keep me on the edge of my seat and feeling like a tactical genius when I was able to defeat much larger armies.
Between the riveting story, a densely packed world, and the unique combat features Suikoden 2 kept me hooked for the duration. I often find myself comparing the story of other games against Sukodien 2’s and refer to it as my yardstick. Very few games have ever reached the pinnacle of innovation that this game did, and when they have, they have almost always been masterpieces in the medium. If you haven’t already, go and grab it on the PlayStation network. It will be worth the time and cash investment.
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