Suikoden 2 Effect

My recent article on Suikoden enjoyed some surprising popularity, so I thought I write a little about Suikoden 2, which I recently finished. Have a let’s play:

Even before I played Suikoden, I heard from a lot of sources that Suikoden 2 was in fact the masterpiece of the series. But it was difficult to get hold of it and I have a thing for playing games chronologically. It turned out I enjoyed Suikoden a lot so I decided to try Suikoden 2. I’ll be honest here and just admit that I haven’t bought the game used. The price was just too steep. I used some PSP trickery instead because it also meant that I would be able to carry over my Suikoden 1 savegame.

Which – again – is one of those odd parallels to Mass Effect. You can actually carry over the savegame from Suikoden 1 to Suikoden 2 just like in the Mass Effect trilogy. But the results are not as dramatic as in Mass Effect. There are no custom faces or important decisions that carry over. The game wasn’t designed with this feature in mind. However, some characters can die, there are custom names and you get an additional quest that revisits old friends.

Outside of that quest, the overlap between the two games is quite subtle. There are just a few characters that re-appear in the sequel – granted, two of them are very prominent. The story is a stand-alone thing as well. It even takes place in a completely different region of the world. So it’s actually completely valid to just start with Suikoden 2 as your first Suikoden game. Here is why it would be a GOOD idea:

  • It’s Beautiful – You might remember that I wasn’t very happy about the visual quality of the prequel. Suikoden 2 looks stunning. Especially the character animations are amazing. There are custom animations in most cut-scenes. The environments are full of lovely details such as a flock of birds that flies away as you approach them.

    Suikoden 2 - Birds

    Scaring away birds – Attention to detail that just never gets old. Note also the dust cloud your character leaves behind when running.

    To give you an idea of the kind of detail we are talking about: the eye blinking animations of the character sprites have MULTIPLE FRAMES even though the eyes are just 2×2 pixels. The background art is not always as stunning but it uses a nice, muted color palette that makes the characters pop even more. Suikoden 2 is a sprite-based game released at a time where the whole gaming world went 3D. If you are used to 16-bit SNES JRPGs it’s an eye-opener how far this visual style could have gone if it hadn’t been abandoned.

  • It Has Refined Gameplay – A big deal of Suikoden was the 3-way split of combat gameplay showing different scales of battles. The new thing about Suikoden 2 is that they replaced the grand battle gameplay with a Tactical JRPG system reminiscent of Advance Wars, Shining Force or Fire Emblem. It may not be as creative but it’s a very good match. The previous solution was basically Rock-Paper-Scissors and that was kinda redundant as the duels were also based on Rock-Paper-Scissors.

    Suikoden 2 - Major Battles

    A Tactical JRPG system for major battles seems like a good fit at first. Note that each unit consists of 3 characters you recruited. Each character adds a unique ability to the unit.

    I also like the way the different characters you collect influence the T-JRPG. Having every character as a unit on the map would be hardly practical considering that there are 108 characters in the game. Instead, each unit consists of 3 characters. Each character adds it’s own unique abilities to the unit. You are free to mix and match the characters at will. You want that unit to have the power to heal others? Just add doctor Huan to the mix.

  • You Can Spy on Your Team – My absolute favorite addition to the game must be Richmond. He is a private detective you add to your team. Richmond can do two things. He can give you hints on how and where to acquire characters you might have missed. An incredibly important and useful feature. With 108 characters to collect it can be very easy to miss somebody.

    But Richmond can also spy on your existing team members. He can dig out some factoids from their past or some additional info about their personality. It may sound creepy but it’s actually a great way to flesh out some of characters. Because it’s up to you which character you want more info on, you can focus on just the characters you really want to know more about.

    Suikoden2 Richmond

    Richmond offers all sorts of useful services.

    Again, Mass Effect comes to mind. The Shadow Broker DLC had a similar feature. When you finished it, you could read some dossiers about the characters in your team. That was similar except it was this huge, dull info drop – a wall of text. Richmond is interactive. The spying missions take some time so the factoids come in at a slow but steady pace. A beautiful solution to bring out the characters in a game that is all about characters. Something I’ll put in my pocket for my own designs.

  • It Has Really Evil Villains – Let’s face it. Villains in JRPGs are mostly crap. From the entire Final Fantasy series, only Kefka and Sephiroth spring to mind. And even with them I can’t remember what their goal was. Suikoden 2 blew me away. There are two big villains. Both of them are emotionally incredibly resonant. They are frequently shown doing just horrible things. There is an early scene in the game that really shaked me. It’s not bloody, just cruel.

    One of the characters that joins you is Pilika, a small girl orphaned by the villain. You take care of her as you escape the bad guys and organize a Resistance movement.

    Suikoden 2 - Pilika

    Pilika is a good example of incredibly effective storytelling. She infuses the central conflict of the game with some powerful emotional significance.

    Pilika is well written. There are a lot of poignant scenes with her. She is an emotionally effective reminder of why you fight. Take that, creepy nameless Mass Effect 3 catalyst kid.

  • It Has Epic Setups & Payoffs – Another thing I really enjoyed about the writing in Suikoden 2 is how the entire story is framed in one huge setup & payoff structure. You know how good stories often have something seemingly trivial happen in the beginning that comes back and becomes this big deal all the way at the end? Suikoden 2 is like that. And it’s not just a cheap trick either. The entire story is centered around a very clear theme of how a friendship changes because of a war. Even after 40 hours, it never fails to drive this idea home. A rare gem in game storytelling.

So the verdict is that it’s great game and we can move on. Well, not quite. You see, while I really appreciated all the great things about Suikoden 2, I was also let down by it in some regard. Here are some of the things I did not like about it:

  • Find The Random Plot Thing – Suikoden had this already. But it becomes almost unbearable in Suikoden 2. Every now and then, the plot grinds to a halt and the game leaves the player struggling to find the random thing to stumble across in order to make the plot continue. Generally, a variation of the Invisible Causality problem mixed with the lack of guidance.

    Suikoden2 Random

    Early example of the issue: We are prisoners but we can do what we want? How does that work? What does “trouble” mean? Who are we recruiting people for? Translation: Walk around aimlessly until the next plot thing happens.

    Here is an example that comes up over and over in the game: you are instructed to get some sleep. You go to your room. Your character falls asleep and wakes up in the middle of the night. No reason given why. You need to walk around you castle aimlessly and talk to everybody until you randomly find some person you were supposed to talk to or stumble into some cut-scene. And then you need to walk back to your room and hope that you got it right. Because your character won’t fall asleep until you found the correct random thing. There are numerous instances of this problem. It’s annoying, it breaks the flow of the plot and it drags out the game unnecessarily.

  • Confusing Castle – To add insult to injury, the castle in this game is really big and really confusing. In Suikoden you refurbished this small cave and turned it into a nice, cozy castle. In Suikoden 2 you refurbish an entire village with a castle attached. It consists of multiple buildings connected to each other with convoluted hallways and staircases. There is an elevator that was supposed to let you access the floors quickly. But it’s made almost completely useless by the fact that the interesting locations are often on the same floor but just horizontally spread-out. There were locations in my castle forgot about or never bothered to visit. I never even got an establishing shot of that place, for god’s sake!

    The inhabitants are not better either. Besides the 108 characters you recruit, there are also nameless NPCs in the castle. This helps to make the castle look more crowded and lively. But it also dilutes the experience of recruiting people. You are never really sure who the people hanging around in your castle are and who brought them here. Also, it’s so time-consuming to talk to all those people you eventually just stop doing it.

  • Ludonarrative Dissonance – Here is that crazy word again. The T-JRPG part of Suikoden 2 suffers from a huge deal of Ludonarrative Dissonance. This is basically just a fancy way to say that the story and the gameplay don’t work together. For starters, almost none of the battles you fight actually finish properly. In every damn battle, one of the factions retreats after a few rounds in a scripted sequence. Initially, I thought this was some kind of tutorial thing. But almost every battle in the entire game works this way. It completely undermines that whole part of the game. None of your strategic decisions really count.

    Suikoden 2 - Retreat


    What’s even more annoying, the story focuses very much on various tactics like flanking, ambushes and the use of terrain. In fact, many of the above mentioned retreats happen because of ambushes. But the game mechanics never actually reflect those aspects. It’s never important which direction you attack from. Units can’t be surprised or demoralized. Terrain does play some role, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as the story suggests. So all the strategic justifications and motivations fall completely flat.

    Generally, the gameplay just seems to be at odds with the kind of story the writers want to tell. It’s a shame because when you eventually get into a fight that goes for longer than 3 rounds, it’s actually pretty solid.

  • Too Long – And as always, the thing that really makes all of the above problems really matter is simply the fact that the game is too damn long. I finished my playtrough in 40 hours. I was thoroughly done with it at hour 25 or so. And it’s just easy to see that they could have told the same story much quicker. There are dungeons that could have been much shorter. There are cut-scenes that could have been more concise. Making the castle smaller would have reduced the amount of walking you need to do.

    The irony is that the game is actually made for re-playability. For example, there is a certain quest associated with the character Clive. It requires you to do a “speedrun” of the game, if 20 hours could be even considered a speedrun. But after 40 hours, there is no way you will invest another 20 just to get some a bit of additional dialogue. And that’s not even the worst. The game even has multiple endings depending on what decisions you made. Imagine learning that you didn’t get the “good” ending after investing the 40 hours into it.

    It’s not that all the interactivity is bad. It’s just that it would have worked so much better if the game was scaled appropriately. Because in the end, the story they tell is very clear and simple. So trimming off some fat should have been easy.

So is Suikoden 2 a good game to start the series with? I’m still not sure. It sure is easy on the eyes and does some really great things with storytelling. On the other hand, there is a good chance that especially adult players will just give up midway through and miss how the story wraps up. Considering how difficult it is to get hold of the game anyway, I would personally recommend starting with the original Suikoden as a more manageable title. You can always move on to Suikoden 2 if you get into it.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

12 responses to “Suikoden 2 Effect”

  1. johan

    hello , *sory if my english bad*

    bdw can you teach me how to create game like suikoden 2 . wht software to make it ???. old game but realy nice feature . i want to create game like suikoden 2 model . i love massive tactic in suikoden and recruit sistem in this game.

  2. johan

    i dont like software rpg maker model . the sized of caracther is small like louse. suikoden 2 model is nice model rpg . caracther in medium sized and cool .

  3. Krystian Majewski

    You are probably looking for something like RPG Maker:

    But you should realize that a game like Suikoden 2 was made by a large team of highly experienced developers. You shouldn’t expect to be able to pull of something like this by yourself.

  4. Wanderer

    Wonderful article !
    The T-RPG battles have some serious flaws. And here I was thinking why nobody pointed this out. I felt very frustrated in one of the battles, the enemy fled while I was convicted I was totally able to defeat him, the story tells that I was not able to win, but gameplay-wise, it was the contrary ! Also, there were several times when I couldn’t do much things with my weak and slow units, so instead of playing I was forced to wait for the plot to move on, this was frustrating, badly done.
    The best thing about these battles was the music, it is fantastic and moving.
    Still, as you say Suikoden 2 remains a wonderful JRPG.

  5. Guest

    I don’t think you should play Suikoden 2 before 1. I played 1 because everyone said the story is heavily tied between the games, and I’m glad I did. Quite a handful of characters return in the second game, and there are tons of references to the first game’s story.

    The ‘waking up at midnight to aimlessly walk around’ usually happens before one of the big battles story-wise, so if you think about it, the hero (leader of the army) is quite tense about the situation and can’t sleep, so he walks around.
    The scenes you stumble upon actually help in characterization. My favourites were the scene between Flik and Nina on the roof which you could only watch during these midnight walks (without giving any spoilers, the matter Flik and Nina talk about is actually sort of a continuation of Flik’s character development from the first game)
    I don’t think they were pointless at all.
    The castle wasn’t that bad. I did end up confused about where everything is a bunch of times initially, but it’s not labyrinthine at all.

    I got all 108 characters and the best ending, and my time was about 31 hours, and Suikoden 1 was about 20 hours.
    I feel they’re meant to be played consecutively. The world feels much more alive. 50 hours total is pretty normal for a RPG. It’s about as much as a single Tales or Dragon Quest game.

  6. Krystian Majewski

    I don’t think they were pointless at all.

    I never wrote that. I wrote “aimless” not “pointless”. “Aimless” as in “you walk around and you have no idea where to go”.

    50 hours total is pretty normal for a RPG.

    Just one hour can feel like a short moment or like an eternity. It’s not so much about numbers, more about pacing. I felt the pacing was more sluggish in Suikoden 2. You skipped a lot of content, so it’s natural we have different impressions.

    1. Eric

      They’re not “aimless”; the aim is development. And you never don’t have a clue where to go; you’re very restricted in where you can ever go in the game.

      As far as pacing, it’s one of the game’s greatest strengths. I’ve never played a game, bar Xenogears, that’s even close.

      1. Krystian Majewski

        You are still misunderstanding. I’m not talking about “aimless” as in “this scene has no purpose”. I’m talking about aimless as in “the game doesn’t tell the player what to do”. Please read more carefully before commenting.

  7. totoro

    most old rpg doesnt give straight forward clue to player, lets just say elder scroll’s morrowind, the npc just tell you some backstory and ambiguous clues. it’s your choice to help or ignore them.

    people nowadays easily claim themselves as true gamer just by playing mass effect and its kin.

    i mean no harm, its free to shout one’s opinion

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I get those sorts of comments a lot. Kids like you come along. They see I criticize their favorite game. They nerd-rage out. They have no counter-arguments other than claiming I’m just not a good player. As if that was related to do with anything I wrote.

  8. Eric

    Well, you made one major mistake in the first half of this article, and basically blundered the whole second half.
    One thing that you did not exactly get right in the first half: Suggesting someone play this game without playing the first would be robbing them of a ton of great subtleties, and really just taking away a massive amount of character development. Appreciating fully the recurring characters, the solidarity and relationships between these characters which come out both overtly and more subtly, and specific events in this game, not to mention the extras involved in loading a ‘complete’ S1 save, are all dependent on a (proper) playthrough of S1. Period.
    In fact I wouldn’t even recommend someone play this WITHOUT playing the first game, unless they want to play a much less powerful version of what this game actually is.
    As far as the things you didn’t like; I suppose one can chalk most of this up to personal preference. I see your point about the strategic battles, but they are in fact mainly a means of storytelling, a taste of the large-scale battle element in this war. The fact they generally lack any real strategy, or that decisions in battle have little impact on even winning/losing, is inconsequential in the scheme of the story telling.
    What you’ve said about random fetch quests is obviously a JRPG cliche, but in this case it’s adequate at worst in moving the story. In fact it is this game’s way of explicitly saying either “go explore a bit” or “go gain character development”. The game doesn’t allow you to do much wandering, and this works to its advantage. Finally, no actual fetch quest for fetch quest’s sake in this game is out of line; all have a stated purpose.
    Well, the castle? I liked the first game’s castle a lot, and I have appreciation for elements of the castles in the other 3 games, but the castle in Suikoden 2 is simply flawless. It is the best castle in the series, every detail seemingly well places, just the right size, with a GOOD amount of NPC’s, and recruited characters that shift around an adequate pace. There are various mini-games, the environment involved is also flawless, and the overall enjoyment in ‘exploring’ this castle is far beyond, FAR beyond that of the other 4 games.
    In other words: this is a flawless game. The positives about the game you nailed (for the most part); but you missed a key underlying aspect of experiencing this game ‘effectively’, that of playing a complete play through of the first game. And your criticisms range from unwarranted to simply wrong.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Suggesting someone play this game without playing the first would be robbing them of a ton of great subtleties, and really just taking away a massive amount of character development.

      None of the “subtleties” you speak of have anything to do with the points I raised. I agree that Suikoden 1 is the better game to start though.

      that decisions in battle have little impact on even winning/losing, is inconsequential in the scheme of the story telling.

      I believe a good game tells a story by making decisions and interactions meaningful.

      What you’ve said about random fetch quests is obviously a JRPG cliche

      I never mentioned fetch quests.

      It is the best castle in the series

      I disagree. For the above reasons.

      but you missed a key underlying aspect of experiencing this game ‘effectively’, that of playing a complete play through of the first game

      I played the first game as you suggest. The things I enjoyed about the game have nothing to do with the extra bits I gained from playing the prequel.

      And your criticisms range from unwarranted to simply wrong.

      What a surprise. So let me summarize: It’s a game you just happen to love and the positive things I mentioned are dead on while all the negative ones are wrong. And the reason is because I played it wrong. Cool story bro.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter