Suikoden: One of the JRPG World’s Most Underrated Franchises

Cover for the JRPG game Suikoden II

One of the most long-ranging and detailed JRPGs ever made, Suikoden stands out among the great video game franchises of all time. Almost like if Game of Thrones were originally created for the PlayStation, the depths it reaches (despite some infamously terrible English localizations) are lasting and impressive.

Being as extensive as it is, though, it can be easy to blur the lines between games. So this is the internet’s most complete, extensive, and comprehensive rundown of everything Suikoden!

Suikoden Overview

Loosely based on the classical Chinese novel Shui Hu Zhuan, Suikoden is a role playing video game series with turn-based combat developed by Konami that centers on the themes of politics, corruption, and revolution.

While each game has its own specific storyline in its own time, they all generally follow a protagonist who is fighting to bring peace to their homeland that has been taken over in a coup by someone who is deeply misusing one of the True Runes.

The 27 True Runes are basically gods – they are the sources of all magic and primal forces in the Suikoden universe. They are sentient, insanely powerful, and have their own will.

The True Runes often attach themselves to a living being, which makes them almost immortal (they don’t age or get sick, but physical trauma can still kill them) as long as they have it, and gives them power over the force the True Rune represents.

Many influential and powerful people seek the True Runes for the extended power and immortality, and multiple wars have been waged over them. Some of those wars have been instigated by the True Runes themselves.

The other main concept that ties the Suikoden games together is the 108 Stars of Destiny. They are 108 notable characters who band together to fight off a threat, and the player-character can recruit them to fight in their party. Recruiting all Stars of Destiny is not a requirement to finish each game, but it gives the player bonuses that affect the outcome of the story.

Suikoden (The First One)

The first Suikoden was released in 1995 for the Sony PlayStation. (Although later, only in Japan, versions would also be released for the Sega Saturn and Microsoft Windows.)

It takes place in the Scarlet Moon Empire, where the Hero (who the player names in the game, but is referred to as ‘Tir’ in official materials and throughout this synopsis) is the son of a great general, Teo McDohl. His father is called away to battle, so he is being cared for by servants and family friends – Ted, Cleo, Pahn, and Gremio.

Tir joins the Imperial Army himself, to follow in his father’s footsteps. Once he’s in it, though, he quickly realizes through his missions that the population of the Scarlet Moon Empire is enslaved and unhappy.

A top servant of the emperor hurts Ted, and through him, Tir also comes into possession of the Rune of Life and Death (also known as the Soul Eater), one of the 27 True Runes. It is being desperately sought after by corrupt officials, and Tir realizes that he and his companions have to flee Gregminster, the capital city.

They do so with the help of Viktor, a mysterious man with unclear intentions. Ted, who is wounded, stays behind to delay the enemy, and Pahn, unsure of his loyalties, chooses to remain with the Empire.

Once they’re home free, Viktor reveals that he is part of a rebellion against the Empire. He brings Tir and his companions into the organization, led by Odessa Silverberg. Tir isn’t sure about it at first, but when the rebel hideout is attacked by Imperial forces, and they kill Odessa while she’s only protecting a child, Tir is all in.

Tir becomes the new leader of the Liberation Army, and they work to unite rebel groups throughout the Scarlet Moon Empire until they grow into a force large enough to challenge the Empire itself, and the evil within it.

Suikoden II (Suikoden 2)

Often considered the best of the Suikoden games, Suikoden II (or Suikoden 2) was released at the tail end of 1998 for the PlayStation. Although some characters from the original Suikoden appear in Suikoden II, for the most part it has its own setting and main character set.

Due to a major plot twist in the game, it is impossible to give a complete but spoiler-free synopsis of the game. The interested reader can find plenty that tell the whole story online. What follows here is more a description of the setting and the very beginning of the story. But considering the depth of Suikoden II, that alone is still deeply dramatic!

Once again, the protagonist in Suikoden II is name-able by the player, but in official materials is called Riou. Riou and his childhood best friend, Jowy, are in a youth division of the Highland Army, which they fully believe is about to enter into a truce with the city-states of Jowston.

Over that night, though, the camp is attacked, and only Riou and Jowy manage to make it out alive. While sneaking away, their commander, Rowd, and Highland Prince Luca Blight see them – it is discovered that they had orchestrated the slaughter, and intend to blame it on Jowston to continue the war.

Riou and Jowy leap off of a cliff into a river to get away from Rowd and Luca Blight, neither of whom believe Riou and Jowy to be dead. The two are saved from the river by Jowston mercenaries.

They attempt to go back home and rescue Riou’s sister, Nanami, but are caught by the Highland Army and tried as spies. Rescued at the literal last minute by the Jowston mercenaries, they go back to the Jowston city-states with changed allegiances.

From there, the game follows Riou and Jowy as they fight to defeat the Highland Army, and deal with the consequences of the decisions soldiers are forced to make in war, or decisions they made to try to make the world a better place.

Screenshot of Suikoden II Gameplay

Suikoden III (Suikoden 3)

Suikoden III (or Suikoden 3) came out in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 (or PS2). Like Suikoden II, some characters from the previous games recur, but the setting and main characters are unique to this story.

Although it has the most simple, straightforward plot of the main series, Suikoden III is unique in that you experience the events of the story from multiple points of view. There are five overall “chapters” in the game, but most of them get played several times from a different character’s perspective.

Suikoden III takes place in the Grasslands region, which is ruled by the loosely-bound Six Clans. It is bordered by the merchant nation of Zexen on the western coast, and Harmonia on the far side of the mountains to the east.

Fifty years before the start of Suikoden III, Harmonia had attempted to conquer the Grasslands. The Clans fought back, and a leader emerged from among them known as the Flame Champion, believed to hold the True Fire Rune. The two forces clashed in a huge battle that left huge numbers dead, and at its conclusion, Harmonia agreed to sign a truce.

At the beginning of Suikoden III, the Clans and Zexen have been clashing, but hope to draw that fight to an end. A truce agreement meeting goes wrong, though, and the skirmishes continue with painful casualties.

The player experiences these events through the point of view of Hugo, the son of one of the Clan’s chiefs, Chris Lightfellow, the Acting Captain of the Zexen Knights, and Geddoe, a mercenary hired by Harmonia. Naturally, they all bump into each other as they seek out the Flame Champion.

But is the Flame Champion still alive? Is everyone’s enemies really so inhuman? And is there maybe a greater threat emerging from inside Harmonia itself? The game follows the protagonists as they struggle to discern what they want from what they need, and fight to ultimately defend what is really important.

While the three primary points of view are the ones above, there are also three additional ones. There is Thomas, the illegitimate son of a northern noble, who runs Budehuc castle. The main antagonist’s scenario is unlocked if the player recruits all 108 Stars of Destiny before the end of the game. And there’s a short chapter for Koroku, a dog, that is mostly intended for humor.

Suikoden IV (Suikoden 4)

Suikoden IV (or Suikoden 4) is widely acknowledged for being the weakest game in the main series. Released in 2004 for the PS2, it differs significantly from its predecessors.

For starters, Suikoden IV takes place roughly 150 years before the first Suikoden game. It is almost entirely at sea, which means there is a lot of time spent sailing and fighting on ships. This is the first Suikoden game to feature voice acting. And it’s the first Suikoden to not be made by series creator, Yoshitaka Murayama.

Suikoden IV starts with the Hero (who goes back to being name-able by the player) becoming a knight along with his best friend, Snowe Vingerhut. On their first mission, though, their ship is attacked by pirates who they have to fight off. The pirate captain is the bearer of the Rune of Punishment, but when he is defeated, it jumps to the Hero’s commander, Glen.

On the way home, their ship is subject to attack from several enemy fleets, and Glen is forced to use the True Rune to repel them. It wipes him out, though, and the Hero finds him in the aftermath as he’s dying. The Rune jumps to the Hero just as Glen dies and Snowe discovers them there, and it’s believed that the Hero killed Glen.

As punishment, the Hero is sent into exile. A couple of his fellow knights and a wandering merchant decide to join him. They drift on a raft at sea until they are picked up by one of the militaristic Kooluk nation’s ships. The captain, Troy, discovers them eavesdropping, and they are set adrift once again until they are picked up by a ship from the friendly Obel nation.

The Obels see the Rune’s mark on the Hero’s palm and bring him to their king, Lino En Kuldes, who hires him to help defend against a potential Kooluk invasion. They quickly realize it’s too late, though, as the Kooluks are already coming in, and they have to escape in Lino’s flagship.

The rest of Suikoden IV follows the Hero and his companions as they use the Rune of Punishment to fight to recapture Lino En Kuldes’s kingdom and the other Island Nations that have been taken over by the Kooluks.

One of the biggest criticisms of Suikoden IV is its short gameplay and the lack of depth given to the characters. Hoping to fix that, Konami released a new spin-off game that takes place before, during, and after Suikoden IV meant to give more detail to the setting and story called Suikoden Tactics.

Suikoden Tactics

Originally called Rhapsodia in Japan, Suikoden Tactics was released in 2005 for the PS2. It’s the Suikoden series’ first strategy-based game, using grid-based battles instead of turn-based combat like the other Suikoden games.

Suikoden Tactics follows a new character named Kyril – although it brings in many of the characters from Suikoden IV – who is investigating the Rune Cannons, a weapon often used by the Kooluk Empire.

The game follow’s Kyril’s adventures through the Island Nations in and into Kooluk as he attempts to find the link between the Rune Cannons and Kooluk and end the usage of them.

Suikoden V (Suikoden 5)

Suikoden V (or Suikoden 5) is the final game in the main Suikoden series. Released for the PS2 in 2006, it was generally well received by critics but had disappointing sales, leading it to be the last installment.

Taking place six years before the events of the first Suikoden, Suikoden V is set in the Queendom of Falena, where only women can inherit the throne. The player is the Prince of Falena, named in game by the player but called Freyjdour in the manga.

Queen Arshtat and her husband Ferid rule the queendom as a steading force after the near civil war caused by the power struggles of her mother and aunt, but there are still fighting noble factions that have their own armies and agendas. Queen Arshtat also controls the Sun Rune, and its two “child” Runes, the Dawn Rune and Twilight Rune.

Two years before the beginning of Suikoden V, Lordlake, which had been considered to be a loyal town, rioted, and the Dawn Rune was stolen. Arshtat had kept the Sun Rune on a pedestal, but on this occasion she took it onto herself and used it to raze Lordlake to the ground. Ever since then, she’s been behaving erratically and vengefully.

At the start of Suikoden V, the Prince completes tasks to help his family rule. But after an event called the Sacred Games used to determine who his younger sister, the future Queen, Lymsleia, will marry goes wrong, everything gets thrown into chaos.

One of the two powerful noble families, the Godwins, wins the Games, and thus, power with Lymsleia by cheating. The royal family suspects this and brings a member of the Godwins’s rival noble family, the Barows, into the palace to discuss it.

The Godwins make a preemptive strike on the palace at this point, refusing to give up their power, and the struggle results in the deaths of Queen Arshtat and Ferid, the capture of Lymsleia, and the Prince and his bodyguards are forced to flee.

Suikoden V follows the Prince as he fights to rescue his sister and reclaim the country in the name of the rightful royal family.

Suikoden Spin-Offs

In addition to Suikoden Tactics, there are a whole slew of spin-off games and adaptations of the Suikoden series out there.

Suikoden and Suikoden II were adapted into light novels, written by Shinjiro Hori, that were only released in Japan. Suikoden III was adapted into a manga by Aki Shimizu; this one was released in English by Tokyopop.

There are also even more spin-off video games than there are games in the main series!

  • Genso Suikogaiden Vol. 1 – Swordsman of Harmonia was released for the PlayStation in 2000.
  • Genso Suikogaiden Vol. 2 – Duel at Crystal Valley was released for the PlayStation in 2001.
  • Gensō Suikoden Card Stories was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2001.
  • Suikoden Tierkreis was released for the Nintendo DS in 2008.
  • Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki was released for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in 2012.

Suikoden VI (Suikoden 6)?

Due to the lackluster reviews and sales of the latest entries in the series, it’s decidedly unlikely that there will be a Suikoden VI. Additionally, Konami had officially announced that the Suikoden team had disbanded to work on other projects.

Granted, it was after that, in 2011, when Konami presented the trailer for Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki at the Tokyo Game Show. But unfortunately, that game didn’t do anything to turn the franchise around critically or commercially.

In 2015, The Nikkei published an article saying that development on the series had been halted, and nothing new has come forward since then.

As much as it’s a disappointment that the Suikoden series has come to an end, it has left us with some of the all-time greatest RPGs in video gaming history. Any fan of epic stories and adult takes on the human condition can replay Suikoden endlessly, and still come away satisfied every time.

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