If you're not all partied out from celebrating the 35th anniversary of Super Mario, take a moment to acknowledge the 20th anniversary for Genso Suikogaiden on the PlayStation. This obscure Suikoden 2 side-story isn't as monstrously popular as Nintendo's plumber, but it's an important adventure for anyone who loves Suikoden 2's narrative. It also has a fantastic anime opening. The wonderfully choreographed scene remains a stellar example of a lost art that was already on its way to the Uncool Zone when Suikogaiden came out in 2000.
Outside of its silky opening, Suikogaiden is a text-based adventure game that utilizes a lot of static images. Konami never localized Suikogaiden—please take a moment to recover from your shock—but there is a fan translation of the game. Suikoden 2's story helped the game earn its high rank on our Top 25 RPGs of All Time list, so it might be worth the effort to go through the game, or at least watch a YouTube Let's Play.
The events in Suikogaiden don't follow Suikoden 2's narrative exactly. Its purpose is in its name: "Gaiden" is a Japanese term for a side story. Suikogaiden lets us observe Suikoden 2's complicated character interactions and narrative through another angle—and by doing so, we learn a lot about the infernal machinations that kept the war churning.
Suikogaiden's main character is Nash Clovis, who was born as Nash Latkje. The Latkje family was a rich and powerful Harmonian family that fell into disgrace some time before the events of Suikogaiden. I'm going to take this moment to point out that "Latkje" is probably supposed to be pronounced as "Latke," as in the deep-fried potato pancake Jewish people eat (and share with their friends!) during Hanukkah festivities. I am still not over this, and probably never will be. The Suikoden series already utilizes legitimate Jewish surnames like "Silverberg," "Oppenheimer" and "Rosman," so I don't understand why it went rogue for Nash's surname. Either way, it's amazing.
After his family falls, Nash joins the Harmonian Southern Frontier Defense Force and becomes involved with investigations regarding the True Runes and the vampire Necrolord. The opening anime for Suikogaiden hints at some of the characters he meets, and some of the places he travels to. Yes, it's a side story, but it doesn't hesitate to check up on Riou, Jowy, Nanami, and the vampire Sierra who plays a major role in Nash's journey. The capture of the Suikoden 2 hero Jowy Atreides and his subsequent interactions with the Blight family are likewise big story moments that Nash observes as an outsider. (Read: spy.)
Even if you don't have the time to absorb Suikogaiden's story, you should clear away two minutes to watch its opening. There are so many great scenes for Suikoden 2 fans to point and holler at. I love the shot of Luca Blight, the Mad King, laughing from a top of a pile of bodies, his sword backlit by the fires he created. I love the energetic fight between Riou and Jowy. I especially like the brief snippet of Jowy dancing with his wife, Jillia. Suikoden 2 is never clear on whether Jowy sincerely loves Jillia, whom he married primarily to worm his way into the innermost heart of the Blight family. There are scenes and dialogue exchanges that suggest the two become increasingly fond of each other as the game progresses, but there are numerous moments where Jowy is cold towards her, too. The dance in the Suikogaiden introduction only lasts a few seconds, but Jowy and Jillia seem sincerely happy to be in each other's arms. I'm glad for their small moment of happiness. They deserve it. They're good kids—er, wait, no. Scratch that.
However you feel about Jowy and Jillia's marital problems, you can't deny the Suikogaiden opening is a lovely piece of animation from a lost era. To Konami's credit, Suikoden was decorated with hand-drawn anime attract modes for some time after Suikogaiden's release. The sequel, 2001's Suikogaiden 2, arrived swathed in another excellent anime intro that includes an energetic remix of Suikoden 2's South Window theme, and a battle in a rainy church. Hey, Cowboy Bebop was still at the top of people's minds. Suikoden 3 came to the PlayStation 2 in 2002, and it once again turned to a hand-animated opening scene titled "Transcending Love." I like it more than I like the game, to be honest with you.
Happy 20th anniversary, Suikogaiden. You're a hyper-obscure text adventure with a hero named after a deep-fried pancake, but you let us observe Suikoden 2's beloved story and characters from another angle. You also gave us one of gaming's last great traditionally animated introductions. Will the upcoming spiritual Suikoden successor, Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes revive this lost art? Oh, I hope so. I'm down for an anime cutscene revival. After so many years of cutscenes rendered with in-game models, I think we're all down for it.