One of the best mistakes to be made was a series with 108 individual characters, and that has been the trademark for every game in the Suikoden series. This even applies to those that are not core games and aren’t set in the same universe, like Suikoden Tierkreis.
I call this a mistake because, as previously discussed, Yoshitaka Murayama hadn’t really meant for there to be 108 characters in the series he was working on. He had wanted to create a story that was based primarily around secondary characters. However, when he decided to use Shui Hu Zhuan (Water Margin/The Outlaws of the Marsh) by Shi Nai’an to illustrate his point of basing a story on secondary characters, his boss immediately loved the accidental concept.
This is, with few exceptions, one of the most interesting and distinct things about this series, particularly as it enables them to have narrative links with each core game. This creates a more complex narrative where they already have a broad range of characters that people are fond of or familiar with to utilise; it gives them more chances to continue telling their stories as they grow up through the story or to create family connections between them.
Creating Narrative Comfort
For this series in particular, it also allows them to use aspects that people are already familiar with in new ways. Viktor and Flik make this most apparent. The player is already familiar with them because they appeared throughout the course of Suikoden I; multiple parts of the story included them, particularly as they were partners in your protagonist’s Liberation Army. They were present throughout the majority of the story, acting as characters who were giving Silent Protagonist Tir some of his voice.
They came back once more in Suikoden II as a major part of the story by first taking Riou (the protagonist) captive when he washed ashore. When they do this, a player who has finished the first game is already set at ease because they have history with these characters; they know that they’re not going to be bad guys and that, somehow, they’re going to become your allies. They continue by providing useful introductions to and information about various powerful individuals within the game’s narrative. Viktor’s back-story even provides the narrative for the player to finally access the castle, which enables the player to recruit other Stars and acts as the People Pokémon Storage Locker.
Other familiar faces that come back include characters like Apple, who is probably one my favourite. Apple appears in Suikoden I as the student of Mathiu Silverberg, the Liberation Army’s strategist; outside of talking to her once to recruit her, she essentially serves no functional purpose other than to take up space as a Star of Destiny. However, rather than create a whole new character, they used Apple again in Suikoden II. This time, she appears as part of the actual narrative; she attempts to help Viktor’s army of mercenaries fight off the Highland Army (the atagonists) despite the odds stacked against them. Believing that she is too inexperienced, she decides that Riou’s army requires Shu, a peer of hers under Mathiu who had been expelled, to act as the chief strategist. This wasn’t the end for Apple, and she appeared again in Suikoden III as the secondary tactician and assisted a young relative of Mathiu’s, Caesar Silverberg.
That latter bit, however, is quite frustrating; Apple clearly had a lot more experience than Caesar, despite his lineage. While he was her student, he often took center-stage and made most of the decisions.
While the Silverberg family repeatedly makes appearances in Suikoden I to III as strategists, another family makes an appearance in both II and III. During the war of II, Gustav Pendragon is the mayor of Tinto who initially doesn’t want to be a part of the alliance with the protagonist’s army; he later changes his mind after Riou and Viktor help him to get rid of Neclord, a vampire who has kidnapped his daughter, Lilly. In the third instalment of the series, Lilly has grown up in age (but still acts like a small child despite being 22) and impulsively joins the fight in some effort to protect Tinto.
Though many of the characters stayed on the side of ‘good’, there were a couple who swapped sides throughout the series. Leon Silverberg, who appeared as an optional recruit and the estranged father of Mathiu in Suikoden I, originally fought on the side of the protagonist; he reappears again in Suikoden II as the chief strategist for the antagonist’s army. However, the most obvious example of this is not Leon; it’s Luc.
Luc is the apprentice for the seer Leknaat, who is another character that appears throughout the series to provide vaguely predictive dialogue. In the first two games, she appears in the castle at a certain point and gives the player two items: stone tablets that list the names of each of the 108 Stars of Destiny so the player won’t lose track of who they had recruited and Luc. He’s meant to provide assistance, which he does so at her request. In Suikoden III, he remains as a Star of Destiny but is the primary antagonist in a group of four. Rather than simply switching sides, he causes the problem that your three protagonists come together to fight. The fact that he is an ally in the first two games creates mixed feelings about him and his reasoning; in fact, it sort of makes it more difficult to tolerate.
However, there was an example of someone who was convinced to fight for the ‘wrong’ side. During the events of Suikoden II, a Grasslands clan chief named Lucia was convinced to fight with the antagonist’s army because he promised that her people would be given land and it provided an opportunity to seek revenge against the people who had murdered her father. In the third game, she’s the clan chief who only wants to protect what is important to her: the people of the Grasslands and, most importantly, her only son, Hugo (one of the three protagonists). As a result, she actually becomes a fleshed out character instead of a haphazardly tossed in cliché.
Nostalgia and Function
Other characters from prior games who were part of the narrative were later added to be optional recruits. Though this provided players with nostalgia for characters they previously enjoyed, it definitely helped the creators to fill out the ranks of the extensive 108 Stars of Destiny. Rather than have to develop new characters with distinct personalities, they were able to draw on characters that already had existed and were familiar.
Humphrey and Futch take on this role in Suikoden II; they appear in the original game as part of the storyline and join through their respective events, but they come back and join through an optional side quest that enables the player to help Futch find his new dragon. While Humphrey doesn’t return, Futch and his new dragon, Bright, come back in Suikoden III and join you after a side quest to help him find his missing charge, Sharon; the three of them join you after its completion.
Some characters return in cameos or as non-Star characters. Both Lester and Antonio – the two chefs from Suikoden I – return as cameos in the cook-off side quest for the chef in Suikoden II, Hai Yo. Varkas – a character that you arrest after he’s accused of thievery, rescue after he’s been strung out to die, and later recruit in Suikoden I – returns as the NPC guard to a city that makes a cameo: Gregminster, the original game’s capital. And should a player load their ‘perfect’ game data from Suikoden I at the start of II, they can have access to the previous protagonist and his servant and friend, Gremio.
Too Many To Describe
There are far too many characters who make repeat appearances. Many have small roles, some are always optional recruits, and others are cameos. But every single time they include these characters from previous games, it makes the games more connected and familiar. Fleshing out characters who were previously nothing more than a few lines or using their backgrounds to create the cities and lands that would be part of the alliance for later instalments makes things a lot more interesting.
Plus, it seems to play a lot on a line fellow historians love throwing out: History has a way of repeating itself. And that’s something I want to discuss later.