Throwback Bit Thursday: Suikoden

Suikoden Box Art

Released in 1996 on the original PlayStation, Suikoden found commercial (on a small scale), and critical success nearly a year before Final Fantasy VII opened the mainstream market for games in the genre.

For many PlayStation owners, Suikoden was their first RPG on the system. To others, their first good RPG on the systems as Beyond the Beyond was a terrible experience.

Suikoden’s visuals were rightly criticized at the time. Most people who played the game had just bought a pricey and shiny new PlayStation system only to find that Suikoden didn’t look much better than most Super Nintendo RPGs. In some cases it managed to look worse than some of these games.

Yoshitaka Murayama, the game’s director is partly to blame for the game remaining in the 2-D space. He wasn’t impressed by the PS1’s 3-D capabilities:

The early polygon tests I saw were not impressive. I think the technology was still too young. The 3D-models didn’t feel like people, they were to expressionless. We chose to make a pixel based game instead, because we would better be able to express the characters, give them more soul. – Yoshitaka Murayama

Suikoden is not one of my favorites but…

Still, I enjoyed my time with the game. I enjoyed the strategy driven battle system, and the political/war charged story. Building your own castle by recruiting 108 characters was a nice touch. I had never played an RPG in which I could recruit or acquire such a large cast of party members.

Suikoden, coming from Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI, looked and played like a riskier project. The kind of game that today would find more success on the indie market. No modern publisher would be willing to take gamble on it. That statement might be the reason why Konami eventually abandoned the series. Even when JRPGs were a mainstream genre (97-05), the Suikoden Series never broke out of the “only for the hardcore”  mold.

That said, the original game introduced a massive, recruit – able cast, and a compelling (if unpredictable) story.

The game’s combat systems were interesting though. The combat was turn-based. I remember that six characters at a time could be used, and their positioning on the field (long, mid, short range) made a crucial difference during some of the toughest battles. The game also had 1 on 1 duel battles, and Army on Army strategic combat.

Suikoden battle
Battle positioning in Suikoden was key to success.

All in all, for a time (until Wild Arms arrived in 1997) Suikoden was the best J-RPG on the PlayStation. I have some fond memories of the game, but the series did not really capture me until its 3rd entry.

Today, the game can be found on Amazon for a reasonable price. If getting an original copy is not feasible, and you own a PS3, Vita, or PSP, it can be acquired through the PS One Classic digital store. Suikoden is an important piece of J-RPG history that fans of the genre should try.

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.