Review by Black Hayate
"Suikoden's Finest Hour"
Suikoden II is a direct sequel to the original Suikoden. Everything about Suikoden is very much improved in this fine sequel. Many series fans and veterans state that this game is the best entry of the series, I full heartedly agree with them.
The game is set three years after the end of the first game. Suikoden II focuses on the Dunan region which is north of the first game's setting the Toran Republic. A recent truce has been met between the City-State of Jowston and the Kingdom of Highland. Two young boys from Kyaro, Highland were inducted into a youth brigade, with bright prospects of proudly serving their kingdom. One of the boys is the hero, the Tenkai star and the other his is best friend Jowy, eldest son of the wealthy Atreides family. Both were extensively trained in weapons-based martial arts by the hero's adoptive grandfather, Genkaku.
Genkaku's grandson and Jowy are on mandatory patrol in Tenzan Pass. They and their fellow brigade members have been away from home for quite some time. Lately, Prince Luca Blight has been stirring up some trouble within the Highland military he's taken complete control of. Prince Luca is a crazed war-monger who revels in taking lives and shedding blood. After some serious complications inflicted by Luca, the hero and Jowy are separated. Their long story of war, friendship, betrayal, politics, loyalty and fate begins.
Story is the main strength of Suikoden II. Characters such as Viktor, Flik and Lorelai return from the first game. Many of the characters are unforgettable. It being a direct sequel to the first Suikoden makes the story even more in-depth and makes it especially enjoyable to veterans of the prequel. Suikoden II is not about saving the world from destruction, but to bring an end to a costly war that has caused so much damage and suffering. Suikoden is among the few video game series with its own layered history and political intrigue, that's among the reasons why it has such loyal and adoring fans. The only thing that comes close or even rivals the plot of Suikoden II is possibly Square Enix's (Squaresoft, back then) masterpiece Final Fantasy Tactics.
Gameplay is nearly identical to the first Suikoden, with a few tweaks in places. Once again you must unite the 108 Stars of Destiny to build your own army of loyal and powerful followers. Your army would reside in a headquarters which expands as you recruit more and more characters. With many characters being playable, you can get pretty varied with your main fighting team. Magic-casters, fist fighters, swordsmen are staples. Some more unique characters wield tonfa batons, three-sectional staffs, talking swords, magical sniper rifles and even a book tied with a belt. Random battles are fought with six characters as usual. Strategic battles are now fought on a grid-based map, using a system resembling a basic strategy RPG. Duels are rock-paper-scissors style fights which haven't changed at all since the first game. Some characters can perform Unite attacks with other characters and deal bigger damage against foes.
Weapons are upgraded at the blacksmith's once again and magic comes in the form of Runes once again. This time around some characters can attach up to three runes, while some only get two at max which is still an improvement over Suikoden's one-rune-per-character policy.
Town and dungeon exploration didn't change one bit from Suikoden 1 and that's relatively a good thing. This game lacks analog control, so the absence of diagonal movement may come as a frustration to some. The main character can now dash by simply having the Circle button held while in movement so the attachment of a Holy Rune is obsolete.
The world map is much larger this time around. Many mini-games are present within the game. A highly enjoyable Iron Chef-esque cook-off game and a game of dice are among the few.
At the start of a new game, you can to upload your cleared data from Suikoden. If you do so, you'll be treated to some nice extras that would surely enhance your play experience.
Suikoden II has a relatively poor translation, much like Final Fantasy Tactics. While the text is coherent, sometimes a character would say something another character was supposed to say. Spelling of the characters' names isn't always consistent either (ex: Jowy/Joei). The translation isn't an earth shattering flaw that ruins the play experience but it is indeed a blemish.
The graphics engine is essentially the same as Suikoden, but with much more refinement and colors. More detail is shown on pretty much everything from buildings to boss monsters. Character sprites now have movement (scarves blowing in the wind, blinking of the eyes, bouncing, etc.) when idle in battle as opposed to being stationary like in Suikoden. Rune spells and Unite attacks are nicely animated and are visual treats. Like in Suikoden, characters tend to get very pixilated when the camera zooms in on them when a critical blow is dealt. This can be easily fixed if you're playing the game on the PS2, with smoothened texture mapping.
Music in the game strays away from the more Asian-themed Suikoden soundtrack. Many different tracks inspired by various European cultures play through out the game. Overall the music is good, European-inspired and atmospheric. Many fans consider the music in this game far inferior to the first. I consider it just a little bit worse. Sometimes, there is a lack of music where there should be music. Some strategic battles are void of music, other times it rightfully has the Latin chorus that is supposed to sound. Sound effects are the same as the first game's but this time around are much more crisp and clean. The sounds of swords cutting, fire balls blasting and bare fists pummeling are great.
Suikoden II is a game that has become extremely rare. Prices on eBay for a mint copy can soar up to $200+ and a used copy is about half that amount at times. If you're not willing to spend that much money on it, you do have some alternatives. Pray that a local shop has it in stock, a friend has it (preferably an oblivious one) or if you can read Japanese and own a PSP, get the Suikoden I + II import. This is a game you would want to play at least once within your lifetime if you're into RPGs.
+Good sound effects and music
+Vivid 2-D graphics
+Suikoden's finest hour
-Many translation errors throughout the game.
-Some audio problems here and there
-Minor graphical blemishes
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/23/06, Updated 02/27/06
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