If you’re a “tito” but have not yet played the Suikoden franchise—why?
Just last month, the Kickstarter campaign for Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, the spiritual successor to Suikoden, wrapped up. To say it was successful would be an understatement: The game raised more than $4.5 million in donations, flying past its original goal of $500,000 and hitting all of its stretch goals. This makes Eiyuden Chronicle the third-highest video game Kickstarter in history, putting it behind Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s $5.5 million and Shenmue 3’s $6.3 million.
It’s worth noting at this point that Suikoden never achieved peak popularity, even during its heyday—that honor was bestowed (and rightly so) to the Final Fantasy franchise. But with the Eiyuden Chronicle’s epic campaign, it’s time to look into what makes Suikoden such a sleeper hit, even after 25 years.
Oh right, it’s going to be full of spoilers, so here’s a spoiler warning.
For starters, Suikoden (or Gensō Suikoden) is a JRPG series loosely based on the Chinese classical novel Water Margin, known in Japan as Suikoden. (Oh, if you feel like geeking out, Dynasty Warriors is based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, another classical novel.) The series was originally created by Yoshitaka Murayama, who is also at the helm of Eiyuden Chronicle.
In the game, you play a character who is thrust in the center of a national struggle. The game’s ultimate goal, of course, is for your hero to emerge victorious from that struggle. To do that, the hero has to travel around the world and recruit allies who part of the 108 Stars of Destiny—a reference to Water Margin, where 108 characters banded together to defeat invaders from the Liao dynasty. An exception to this is Suikoden III, where some stars are antagonists.
Suikoden isn’t unique in its focus on war, politics and national scandals. At the time of Suikoden’s release, Quest’s Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, which explored Devan Pavel’s quest to bring order to war-torn Valeria, was already out. Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series also had similar themes. What set the series apart, however, was how each of the 108 characters you recruit has an important role in your cause. Not everyone was playable, but they all were significant in their own right.
Even Final Fantasy Tactics, everyone’s go-to game when it comes to political intrigue, doesn’t have that level of commitment. Sure, you have a few important characters, but it feels you’re getting them just because. (Also, since we’re at FFT—don’t get me started on Malak and Rafa.) The same can be said for Suikoden characters—I’m looking at you, Tuta—but each character is given their own unique stats, weapons and even endings.
This attention to detail allows the player to learn more about each character, which is why I can say that I’m not a big fan of Suikoden V’s Lyon (I mean, you build her up for her just to die) or Suikoden II’s Chaco (his personality is just annoying).
At the center of each Suikoden game’s struggles is the 27 True Runes, immeasurable sources of power that have caused wars and disaster across time. In particular, the Soul Eater (or the Rune of Life and Death) is what triggered the events of the first Suikoden, with Windy manipulating Emperor Barbarossa of the Scarlet Moon Empire in an attempt to gain the rune from Tir McDohl. Meanwhile, Suikoden II follows the fates of two people who each receive half of the Rune of Beginning—Riou, the protagonist of the game, getting the Bright Shield Rune and Jowy Atreides, his best friend, with the Black Sword Rune. The game is also known for its harrowing depiction of war, from the events at the Youth Brigade camp to its effects on Pilika, and heavy political themes.
The fact that the Suikoden franchise didn’t shy away from the realities of wartime—in particular, how these affect the characters—is also what made the games compelling. It’s also what made recruiting each character that much fulfilling. The events that led to Odessa Silverberg’s death in the first Suikoden wasn’t just a pivotal point for Tir. It’s also woven in Mathiu’s and Leon’s stories as well. (Editor’s note: don’t get me started on Suikoden II’s Pilika.)
Suikoden II was when the franchise really explored this idea. At the start, the game showed how Luca Blight’s cruelty and bloodlust (who could forget, “Die, pigs!”) and his scorched earth approach, which is often seen in games today. But it also showed how people, even enemies, aren’t just one-sided when it comes to war. (Editor’s note: But screw Luca, he made Pilika sad.)
This is what made the franchise such a masterpiece, even until now. In a gaming landscape dominated with real-time battles and ragtag teams that somehow end up saving the world, the success of Eiyuden Chronicle—2D sprites, turn-based battle system and all—is a refreshing callback to the legacy of its spiritual predecessor.
That said, I’m just as excited as you are. (Read: 5 games to give you that Suikoden feeling)
Before I end, here’s a disclaimer: My online handle is bastardized from the Scarlet Moon’s capital city.