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We are officially halfway through the year and I have (mostly) kept my word about digging into my backlog and only my backlog. About a month ago I played Suikoden for the first time knowing the franchises’ treasured history as one of the best Japanese role-playing series of all time. This time I’m back with the sequel in Suikoden II…considered the best in the series and one of the best JRPG’s in video games period.

Honestly…I see it. Much like I noted in my Back(log) to the Front: Weeks 21 and 22 when I played the first game, I expected improvements to be made on what was already there and that’s exactly what they did. It’s not perfect as certain things are still problematic such as the large cast of playable characters featuring little character development; but other aspects such as the war between armies is less rock/paper/scissor and more tactical based and even allows for the computer to take control if desired. My happiest improvement though would be running. Unlike Suikoden, the sequel didn’t need a special rune attached to run!

So let me start with the story. I was much more invested in the overall plot in Suikoden II than the previous game for several reasons. For one, treacherous actions take place that are followed through upon and not reversed. The first game had a little but ended up resolving them relatively quickly with nothing of note coming from it for the most part. In this however, it leads all the way to the endgame which I vastly prefer. On top of that, one of the main villains in this game that goes by the name of Luca Blight is a far better antagonist than anyone in Suikoden. While he may come off as a cliche’ villain at times, he actually has a demented and insane streak to him making him a character to fear. His actions speak as loud as his words and Suikoden II does an amazing job letting his character breathe and become the driving force for most of the game in splendid fashion.

Another aspect of the story also leads to the character cast in general. Had I not played Suikoden, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this game as much or even appreciated it like I do. Many of whom that appear in the first game make a return in Suikoden II not only as non-playable characters inhabiting the world, but also as potential party members to use in battle too. I’m not sure how much of this is carried over based on the save system (you can transfer the Suikoden game file to the sequel), but since I hadn’t deleted my save yet, I took full advantage of it. This led to reunited party members, lore as to what happened in the three year time frame between the first game and this one and even an old villain making a return. Missing out on the original game won’t suddenly make this game a terrible RPG, but having played it definitely makes it stand out that much more. Mix that with great writing in general to make you really appreciate a chunk of the main characters…really drove this story home in a way the first game never did for me.

The battle system is identical to the first game. Thankfully that’s a good thing as it is a fantastic turn-based system with the biggest update coming in both the rune system and equipment. In Suikoden, a character could only hold one rune giving them magic to use in battle. Not the case in Suikoden II as characters have the chance to hold up to three Runes broadening out what they can wield, although the spells themselves share a set number of uses. For example if there are two runes and each has a level two magic, you may only get to access a level two spell three times. So you could use one rune once, and the other twice, but not three individually. It keeps the characters from being too overpowered while giving players the chance to decide how to spread out the usage of magic.

Equipping the character is also a little different. In Suikoden, each character had a set number of items they could carry including equipment. Here, there is a general party bag for items. Each character still has equipment such as helmets or armor they can add which removes it from the inventory, but they also have the option for three “Other” slots. These can be other equipment to boost stats, but the character also has the choice to carry magic scrolls to use for spells or healing items in these slots. However, during battle, you can’t switch these out if you choose equipment. But if they are consumable items, they can be switched out or replaced in combat. I didn’t find myself using it for consumables late game, but it’s always nice to have them available on characters you believe will be the last one standing in dire circumstances.

I am going to confess something however. For both Suikoden and Suikoden II, I used a guide when it came to finding the party members. While I did find all members in the first game, I was about 10 short in Suikoden II. I’m not sure where I went wrong as the character events wouldn’t always pop off as instructed or expected. This loops around again to another problem I had with both games. Some characters are extremely easy to have join the party and some have specific requirements to fulfill before coming aboard that they inform you of. According to the walkthrough I checked though, so.e just never showed up and there was no reason given in game as to why they showed up or not.

This is another problem I ran into with the Clive storyline. He is searching for someone on the run and you go from town to town to find her. At some point, I couldn’t find her again. When I looked that up, it appears there is a time restriction to see that through to the end? It’s incredibly dumb and never noted in the game from what I could tell and frustrates me that certain unlocks that should happen don’t while other events are time based with no in-narrative explanation to let the player know.

The worst thing I could say about Suikoden II may be something to do with playing it on a PlayStation Vita and it being emulated. There were egregious frame rate issues on a number of occasions especially when it came to rune spells. I’m not great at determining frame rate, but if you told me it dipped into the single digits during these and other moments, I would not be shocked. If you thought Chrono Trigger frame rate was bad on the PlayStation, that’s nothing compared to the drops during some major battles.

Upon seeing the credits though, I’m glad I finally took some time out to play Suikoden II. It still hasn’t usurped Earthbound as my favorite game, much less JRPG, of all time but it’s still incredibly good. I doubt I’ll continue with the rest of the series though as not enough people talk about the sequels to leave me expecting good things, but at the very least, I knocked out one of the best JRPGs of all time from my backlog.

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