The Suikoden series was one that I cherished the most and have the fondest memories playing. I’ve decided to go back and revisit the core games of the series, Suikoden I to Suikoden V, while also including those that I just couldn’t handle finishing (Rhapsodia, also known as Suikoden Tactics) or hadn’t played in the first place (Tierkreis). This project may or may not be a good idea, but it probably won’t change my feelings for these games.
History of the Series
The concept for Suikoden started in the early 1990s, with Yoshitaka Murayama being asked by Konami to choose a type of game to create when they wanted to develop their own console; he was given the task of
creating an RPG. Konami’s console project was later scrapped, but the script wouldn’t be useless. It would just have to wait a few years and become the early version of what is known as Suikoden II.
Murayama and Junko Kawano (writer for Suikoden IV and Tactics) were tasked to create some of Konami’s first games for the Sony PlayStation; he was given the options of creating an RPG, a baseball game, or a racing game. Murayama wasn’t a fan of either baseball or racing games, so they decided to reopen the project for an RPG that they had been working on originally.
The concept was originally to have a colourful cast of interesting secondary characters and build the game around them, taking influence from mangas like Captain Tsubasa and Saint Seiya. But when the idea was pitched to their boss, Murayama thought there was a chance that his boss would misunderstand this idea. As a result, he used Shui Hu Zhuan (Water Margin/The Outlaws of the Marsh) by Shi Nai’an to illustrate his point. The boss was ecstatic for the idea of an RPG having 108 characters, which wasn’t quite what Murayama was getting at. But the idea stuck, as did the Japanese reading of the novel’s name for the game’s title: Suikoden.
Common Themes and Features
Every Suikoden game has roughly the same story structure, though it’s not implemented identically in each game. There is always at least one corrupt government (or person within that government) with an army, which is the direct antagonist to the protagonist’s own army. This obviously creates the constant war-related themes throughout each story, with a heavy focus on how the protagonist and their closest allies will react to aspects of it. These wars also cause inner-family turmoil and tension, though this is not left only to characters who are blood-related. There are struggles between life-long friends and comrades, which also play a part in some of the tales told during character recruitment or parts of the main plot.
Each story that takes place makes up the whole but also acts as a side story for you to meet the secondary characters and get to know them and their quirks. Some of them are optional recruits with a few lines or a fetch quest of some sort (an item, a mini-game, other characters, or certain level requirements for the protagonist or the ‘homeland’). There are other smaller stories throughout the game that act as methods to recruit certain characters, and many are often related to another character who is either part of the main cast or someone else that you’ve picked up along the way. And every story includes that minimum of 108 Stars of Destiny, who are people from a variety of backgrounds that act as part of the protagonist’s army and have many different roles both in the castle (as NPCs) and on the battle fields.
Essentially, you’re playing Pokémon: People Collection for the vast majority of time. Somehow, they found a way to make that work, and it’s been the trademark of the series ever since that aforementioned misunderstanding.
Those stars are always given a home that has to be fought for in some way; it either needs to be reclaimed for some dangerous creature or kept safe from those who want to take it over. Regardless of what kind of home they have, the collection of these stars creates a small city where pretty much everything is available. Two characters who make appearances in every single core game of the series reprise the same two roles. Jeane always joins to be your Rune Sage, selling and affixing a variety of runes to provide your characters with improved skills or magic abilities; Viki always shows up, usually at a frustratingly late point in the game, to provide you the ability to teleport anywhere that is available to you (and always in an inconvenient manner that requires you to find a second character who inevitably gives you the Blinking Mirror so you can teleport back home).
But with 108 characters, and sometimes more, as some instalments offered non-Star secondary characters to use in battles, it can be difficult to use all of them. While some are merely support characters in some fashion and never fight, there’s still a ridiculous number of characters that can participate in any battle. The sheer number of characters available is why they included a second type of battle system, which are simply known as ‘Major Battles.’ These battles allow you to utilise all characters because they’re part of a unit, and they’re generally somewhat different throughout the series. Most are more like playing some awkward version of Paper Scissors Stone with army units, ordering types of attacks, units, or elements to be more powerful than another. Some include a ridiculous amount of luck despite including stats for defence or attack, which can be a bit annoying.
Another battle element that also makes an appearance and, in my opinion, is massively under-utilised are duels. These are one-on-one battles that also use a Paper Scissor Stone strategy, though it’s Deathblow Attack Defense. The opposing characters provide you with one line of dialogue which indicates the action they will take; I think it’s fairly obvious that it’s your job to take a better ranked action than them. If they attack, you use a deathblow; if they defend, you attack; if they use a deathblow, you defend. Some lines are a bit wonky and confusing, which is admittedly kind of the point.
And finally, all of the fighting is always in response to the existence of at least one of the 27 True Runes that someone is trying to control. Other True Runes make appearances, but they are rarely fought over or have little impact on the immediate story being told. These True Runes often add more to the inherent struggle, as the corrupt government is seeking the individual who has the contested one.
The core games follow an irregular timeline that’s similar to Star Wars, with Suikoden IV and V being prequels in the series. This provides an explanation as to why – particularly in Suikoden I, II, III, and V – there are so many historical similarities and ties between the nation-states, along with the appearances of many of the same characters either as Stars of Destiny or in small cameos. It also explains the appearance of a Suikoden I character in IV, which is set 163 years prior to V.
It’s a series that has many asking for a sixth instalment, with some going as far as to create groups requesting its revival. Unfortunately, there’s been little factual information released about whether or not this will ever happen. Even people who have worked for Konami, such as Yuichi Haga, have tried at varying times to show them that the series could still have the popularity it once enjoyed and that people are still interested in the story.
With so many stories about the characters and Runes left to tell, one could only hope that Konami would revive the series with a new instalment. Even as I’ve been playing the games (and admittedly becoming more and more frustrated at parts of them), I can’t say I would be upset or disappointed if they released another game to tell more of the story.