According to my friends, I have a “guilty pleasure.” I’m not sure why they classify it as such, but I suppose they think I shouldn’t advertise the fact that I enjoy playing otome games. I think they’re generally baffled because they usually focus on things that I just have no interest in. You know, things like attempting to please slightly terrifying boys who I’d ordinarily have no desire to be around and engaging in narratives I generally find a bit disgusting. I think it also baffles them because I don’t really follow anime, and I haven’t really been very interested in it since Cowboy Bebop.

Regardless, I spent a couple days playing dUpLicity ~Beyond the Lies~, which I’d only ended up ‘buying’ because it was in a bundle I’d purchased. You play as Yukina Kudou, a girl who is in her final year of high school and is also working as a secret assistant to her principal, Kouichi Serizawa. He tasks her with observing his clone, Youji Kataoka, by becoming his girlfriend. Yukina lives with her best friend and roommate, Nao, who you learn is also observing Yukina; she does this at the request of her principal-uncle because Yukina is also a clone. Throughout the varying story paths, you are introduced to Rei Anderson, whose initial name is ??? because he’s a Mysterious Boy.

Help Kouichi's job, huh?

Help Kouichi’s job, huh?

First, let’s just say that the status screen provides little information. The hints, should you use them, state you need to have about 50 skill points by a certain game date, yet there are no numerical indicators to actually tell you how many skill points you have. This really doesn’t serve much purpose, honestly. It seems like a superfluous mechanic that was haphazardly thrown in and only serves its purpose to create a scene with either Youji or Kouichi. The only use in getting zero skill points was to get the Normal Bad Ending; after you did that, there wasn’t a use for it at all, since you automatically improved your skill points by studying, gossiping, or spending time with Youji or Kouichi.

The story’s a bit lacklustre with a few major and obvious flaws, namely that clones could start their lives as teenagers rather than as infants and would be born of a medical tube. Though not falling into the regular trope of automatic double, they still fail to recognise that both Yukina and Youji should be much younger than they really are. I suppose this was to avoid the fact that it would make the story path of falling for your creepy principal, who also “took you in” according to the false memories he implanted, a little more viable.

To be honest, I loathe every path that places Yukina and Kouichi together. The True Love route has her referring to him as ‘Daddy’ and him calling her ‘Mommy,’ and I find that tragic in pretty much everything. He also refers to her as his ‘most prized possession’, which I actually feel is a major insult because she’s her own person. Plus, he shows a lot of awkward jealousy for anyone being interested in Yukina, even though he constantly refers to this mysterious “her.”

Seriously, Kouichi's kind of scary.

Seriously, Kouichi’s kind of scary.

Which leads to the reasons that he even created Yukina and Youji. At first, he wanted to bring back his dead girlfriend, Yukiko Kudou, so that he could get over the sadness he felt from losing her; he believed that he was responsible for her death and that he never tried hard enough to save her. What he hadn’t counted on was that clones could be different from their originals, despite being a scientist genius; I’m assuming he casually neglected reading about how personality isn’t a transferable thing. Regardless, while creating Yukina, he finds that he has a heart condition and has approximately four years to live. Not knowing how Yukina can survive without him should he die (creepy), he hastily creates Youji, forgetting to give him false memories. He then sets up a deal with each of them to get them to date, hoping that they’ll at least like each other enough to stay together. Forever. Because that’s how every otome game works; it’s always forever.

I have a lot of problems with Yukina’s subservient nature to Kouichi, which is largely because of how much he manipulates her (and others) in order to get what he wants. Even if she feels indebted to him for taking care of her, I find it quite difficult to understand how a person could continue to go along with something that they repeatedly mention feels wrong. Perhaps she wants to please him, but I just find it infuriating that she would gladly let her benefactor-principal manipulate her into doing anything and openly go along with it. This isn’t a problem just for this game; it’s a common issue in the genre.

I also really wish that Nao was utilised a lot more. For a little while, she appears to have no actual purpose. Then, during both Kouichi and Rei’s routes, you find out who she is and that she’s been observing you, initially acting as your best friend. However, she does genuinely like you and doesn’t want to hurt you by letting you know what her purpose is. It’s just strange because, even in the routes where you learn who she is and how she’s related to everyone, she still has no point. They literally could’ve just left her out of the story, and it would’ve been relatively the same thing because she had absolutely no impact on anything at all. It’s so nice to know that friends are useless!

Nao and Youji show off odd hand positions.

Nao and Youji show off odd hand positions.

The art and music selection are fairly decent. The music is quite common to the genre, but it’s a bit more enjoyable because this game actually finds a way to make the music sort of match the mood of the event and the location. The art’s a bit wonky, sometimes being cute but occasionally having some really terrifying hand positions. The two characters that fall victim to the Creep Hand are Nao and Youji, sometimes even appearing together to freak you out a little bit. There’s a great use of colour, though, and I kind of actually liked the snowflake transitions between scenes or at the start. I think it’s because I just like snow, honestly.

If you can overlook a lot of the major problematic elements, though, it’s kind of cute in its own ways. Honestly, I only really like three of the endings: one where she goes off on her own with neither man, one where she stays with Youji, and another where you end up with Rei some years later. Otherwise, it’s kind of a bust.

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.

Image from Suikosource.

Viktor and Flik drinking in Suikogaiden. Image from Suikosource.

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.

Leknaat chastises Luc for his misguided actions after he returns to her as a small spirit.

Leknaat chastises Luc for his misguided actions after he returns to her as a small spirit. (Suikoden III)

Switching Sides
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.

Cooking competition where Lester (Suikoden I) makes a cameo.

Cooking competition where Lester (Suikoden I) makes a cameo and hits that Gremio (also Suikoden I) has a good recipe to learn.

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.

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.

Core games of the Suikoden series. All art belongs to Konami.

Suikoden I to V covers. All art belongs to Konami.

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.

Very important information in Suikoden I-III.

Vital information found in Suikoden I-III.

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.

Chronology
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.

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