The revival of Suikoden 2
"We'll have to jump for it," says Jowy Atreides as you stand side-by-side upon the clifftop. Before long, your unscrupulous captain and his Highland Army dissenters will storm the hill and finish you off. You've been done over by the establishment, one you once served so dutifully, and are now forced to make a decision that will eventually tear your friendship apart. You'll return to this same spot much further down the line, but will the system have warped you into a different person by then? That'll ultimately depend on the choices you make from hereon in. In the meantime though, you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and throw yourself into the river below.
The opening 20 minutes of Suikoden 2 is quite something. Almost at once, the player-named hero turns loyal soldier of the Junior Brigade, to enemy of the state, whilst parting ways with his closest friend along the way. His company is an overnight stay away from returning home, and the protagonist looks forward to reuniting with his sister. Instead he winds up on the run. In just 20 minutes, or thereabouts, we're shown themes of love, of loss, of friendship, of family, of uncertainty, of deception, of political and socio-political unrest, and of corruption - in less time than some modern titles take to conclude an opening cutscene.
When it arrived on European shores in 2000, Suikoden 2 entered a western world newly accustomed to three dimensional JRPGs, thanks to Final Fantasy 7 and its successor. Critics received it positively and those who gave it a shot are still talking about it today. But 2D sprites? In the 21st century? This proved too much for most, a fact echoed by the game's disenchanting sales worldwide.
It's a terrible shame, because behind the perceived second hand facade lay the game's complex narratives, heart-warming storylines and exquisite overarching Rune magic system - not to mention the 108 recruitable, and playable, 'Stars of Destiny'. In teams of six, the scope for experimentation and variation in turn-based bouts was near limitless.
There are many vestiges from its predecessor present - not least the multitude of characters and a similar tale of state sympathiser-cum-socialist vigilante - yet every aspect is improved upon, true testament to how a standalone sequel should be done. Although the standardised RPG format of good versus evil is laid forth quite explicitly, Suikoden 2 transcends the stereotype to pose a game rooted in anti-establishmentarianism. Everything from the Highland Army betrayal early doors, to the genocidal - and quite brilliantly abhorrent - antagonist Luca Blight evokes real life events in way of war, imperialist jingoism, and dictatorship. At the turn of the millennium, a game with such political sophistication was indeed quite rare - something which is arguably still the case today.
Suikoden 2 has only now made its way to the European PlayStation Store, its first digital release some 15 years after its console debut - a gratifying twist of the knife to the tyrannous eBay con artists. Yet fans have been calling for its digital introduction for years - not least the Suikoden Revival Movement. Instilled with the ardent camaraderie of the game's player-led rebellion army, the SRM. has campaigned tirelessly to see its beloved series revitalised.
"Suikoden represents a large part of my personality," explains SRM co-founder Chris Holmes. "Not only did it help shape me into who I am today - but I was also attracted to the game because it represented so much of what I was all about. It really has so much to offer the gaming world in terms of clever gameplay mechanics and unique ideas. But it also has a lot to offer the world at large in terms of its storyline, character development and philosophy. Suikoden is a rare treasure and it really deserves more time in the spotlight. I set out to make sure that happens."
After banding together on hobbyist site SuikoSource, Holmes, and fellow Suikoden aficionados Ryan and Matze, went about gathering a group of 1000 fans to celebrate the series in way of competitions, discussions, and cosplay, and after some quite high profile media attention the SRM was born. What followed was a regimental crusade of mass mailing campaigns, social media assaults, and mailing events where fans worldwide inundated the Konami Japan headquarters with suggestive letters in favour of capturing Suikoden and Suikoden 2 on PSN.
The relationship the SRM now enjoys with Konami has flourished, with both Konami UK and EU featuring articles about the movement on their respective blogs, as well as the US team hosting Twitch streams of Suikoden 2.
"It's been really incredible to see so much passion and energy from a whole community," adds Holmes. "It's pretty much all went how I would have liked it to, to be honest. I knew we would get Suikoden 2 on PSN eventually. It was such a long time coming that there were times I questioned it, sure. But it was such a basic and logical goal, something Konami should have done years ago, that I simply just did not believe that it wouldn't happen. I just couldn't."
The tenacity Holmes and his army have shown has paid dividends: now the Suikoden Revival Movement figuratively houses way more than the in-game 108 Stars of Destiny, its Facebook page. with over 26,000 followers; and Suikoden 2 now lives on PSN worldwide.
At its heart, Suikoden 2 is a game about coming of age, relationships, and rebuking a corrupt and in-just system. Without sounding overly profound, life lessons can be drawn from its premise - one need only look as far as the Suikoden Revival Movement for living proof. Somewhat ironically, the aesthetics which almost definitely hampered its success a decade and half ago are now flaunted by many of today's successful indie gems, some three console generations later.
The biggest positive for newcomers, then, is that you can now pick up Suikoden 2 for under a fiver. You should. And I wish I was you to experience it all again for the first time.