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SummaryA great sequel, superior in every way, but lacks the epicness of the original
The GoodSuikoden II is a direct sequel to Suikoden I, taking place in the same universe and sharing for the most part the same gameplay mechanisms. However, if you missed the first Suikoden don't worry, you'll still be able to enjoy 99.9% of this game.
Just like Suikoden I, the complex and nation-war-oriented story line is the main selling point of this game (as opposed to strictly individual oriented storyline like seen in the Final Fantasy series). the game sets up in a war between the Kingdom of Highland and the City-States of Jowston, both countries are north of where the events of Suikoden I took place. You start off as a random soldier from Highland, a country lead by terror, violence and dictatorship by the extremely evil prince Luca, until you just escaped as you were going to be killed by your own country as a part of a strategy plan that is to find an excuse to invade the City-States of Jowston. Because you want to survive of course, you will escape and end up as a refugee in the City-States. Then a new adventure of rebellion will begin.
And also just like in Suikoden I, you'll have to build and then expand progressively your own castle as a resistance base, and that formula is still as epic as ever. Although I'd have to say in the end the castle was so big that it was hard to navigate in it, Suikoden I made this easier as you just got loads of mostly identical floors. Nevertheless, you'll spend a good portion of your playing time in your castle preparing your troops or just enjoying your time.
The graphics have *vastly* improved over the 1st game. They are still entirely 2-dimensional but this time they are detailed and shadowed properly which makes it easy to know where you're going. The battles are really similar in a fake 3D view, and there is still the extremely poor sprite scaling with very visible "big pixels", but however this time it works better as the graphics are themselves better. Also each town/city looks slightly different instead of using the same tiles, which is very nice.
Musically, this game is an absolute masterpiece. There is no words to represent how amazing the music of this game is, really. In addition to the more traditional video-game music, you have some songs which are played with vocals and a real orchestra, apparently nothing less than the Philharmonic of Warsaw ! Think of it like the music of Suikoden I, but 10x better. The sound effects are mostly the same as in Suikoden I, with some extra animal noises here and here in places where there is no background music.
Finally I must say the battle system slightly improved, as now you can very powerful combo attacks when multiple characters that know themselves comes in your party, and the rune system, while still obscure and a bit unbalanced, is slightly more useful than in the 1st game in the sense there's more healing and stat-boosting spells, so you'll be able to rely less on items for healing.
The challenge has greatly improved, the bosses are harder to pass, but they're still doable.
The BadThe only bad thing I can think of is that if a random player plays this game without a walkthrough, there's honestly less than 1 chance of 1 million that he'll get the good ending. Cheating or looking at a walk through is the only way to hope to see the good ending (hint : being able to recruit - and keep alive - *all* 108 possible character is one of the many requirements for this). However, the normal ending while sad is still OK (I mean, it's not incomplete and humiliating the player or anything, like the bad ending I got in Tactics Ogre, which really annoyed me back then).
Just like in Suikoden I, there is two alternate battle systems that are used within the game. The first is the duel battle which just like before is a good idea but sucks as whenever you loose or win is based on pure luck. The second, the war battle, has greatly evolved since Suikoden I. Instead of being based on a rock-paper-scissors menu, it is now laid in a Tactical-RPG style chessboard. Unfortunately it's not very good, and most of the fun you'll have in a normal T-RPG will be absent here.
No only are those battles extremely hard (so you'll be just trying to not get wiped out too quickly), your units can only move 1 or 2 squares per turn which is very annoying. But this mode seems very rushed, you can tell immediately the programmers implemented it at last minute just before the game was released and didn't have the time to get what they wanted to be done. The graphics looks like cheaply-anti-aliased, and much less detailed than anywhere else in the game. Everything looks very "static". However, those war scenes, while not the best part of the game, don't ruin the overall enjoyment of the game.
Also I really find that while this game is in a technical point of view totally superior in every aspect, it is missing something the original had. Perhaps it's also subjective as I discovered the series with the first game, but I felt like the first game was more "epic" than this game, even despite it's flaws. Sure the graphics were absolutely terrible for PS1 standards and it had horrible minigames, but it was like that and I absolutely fell in love with the game as is with its flaws. Suikoden II is more of a "perfect shiny gem" and so has less charm. I feel like, especially near the end, the story line is more boring and less stressful than the one of it's predecessor.
The Bottom LineOverall, I'd say if you enjoyed the original Suikoden you should definitely play this !
Otherwise, I think that despite its flaws, the original game is still slightly superior to this one, but this one is nevertheless very good too. The major difference between this and the mass of Japanese-RPGs is that Suikoden games are nation/war oriented instead of individual oriented storyline. With about 108 playable characters and 6 at a time, it sure feels different than what there is in most games in the genre. Also, the game has an overall more Asian feel to it.