When we last left our heroes, they were deep in preparation for defending the city of Muse against the oncoming onslaught of the Highland Army and Luca Blight, the bloodthirsty prince of...
Oh sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Hi there! You may notice that our format for Game Club is a little different this week. After a bit of discussion, we've decided that one staff member will be spearheading the Game Clubs from now; and since I'm the one who's been enjoying Suikoden II the most, I've been nominated to take the lead the rest of the way. In so doing, we'd like to expand community participation still further, primarily through our upcoming forums. To that end, please feel free to send an email with your extended thoughts on Suikoden II to firstname.lastname@example.org. I may run it in next week's Game Club entry.
Alright, now that we've got that bit of housekeeping in order, let's get back to the game proper.
Things are kind of desperate for the protagonist, Jowy, Nanami, and Pilika following the fall fo the mercenary fort and their flight to Muse. The Highland Army is advancing, burning and pillaging everything in their path, and Muse is next on their list. The mercenaries think they can hold Muse, but it will take a supreme effort. And as it turns out, they have a traitor in their midst.
I may have commented on this during the last Game Club, but one thing that stands out to me about the early parts of Suikoden II is the sense of desperation that follows the heroes. Moreso even than in the original, they truly are at rock bottom once they reach the castle that becomes their base of operations. Luca Blight is seemingly unstoppable, Jowy is apparently a turncoat, and Pilika is suffering from serious PTSD after seeing first her parents murdered, then almost getting killed herself.
I think it was Stephen King who once said that a good adventure will find heroes at their lowest; and just when things can't get any worse, they do. Suikoden II isn't quite to that point yet, but Jowy stabbing everyone in the back comes pretty close.
So let's talk about Jowy Atreides. Early on, he's established as the main character's best friend since childhood, eventually joining the Unicorn Army Brigade together. He's shown to be extremely loyal; when the main character is captured, he works tirelessly to try and save him. In general, he comes off as a kind and loyal companion. So it's a shock when he stabs one of the leaders of Muse's defense and apparently defects to the Highland Army, abandoning his friends to die at the hands of Blight.
At this point, I have no idea whether or not Jowy is actually a traitor. It seems more in his character to be a spy than actual traitor. On the other hand, committing murder and leaving a town open to be sacked by a homicidal maniac are grievous crimes, and they make it difficult to be sympathetic toward Jowy in any case. If you've ever read Harry Potter, Jowy's case reminds me of that of Snape. The difference is that Jowy's crimes might be even more unforgivable. Either way, whether he's a spy or an actual traitor, it's a strong twist in an already solid story, and it serves to push the heroes even lower than they already are.
At which point they fight a vampire.
Suikoden II's parallels to an anime series are pretty obvious. If the betrayal by the Unicorn Brigade and the leap from the waterfall is the first episode, then the battle with the Neclord and the hunt for the Star Dragon Sword is the two episode mini-arc developed to fill space. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of earning your castle, as it were. The anime parallels just seemed particularly strong in this instance.
Following the defeat of the vampire, the crew gathers together once again to consider their next steps. The Highland Army is still out there, and so is Jowy, but perhaps a resistance can be built that will ultimately put an end to Luca's... blight. And that's where we'll leave off for this week.
Next week we'll reconvene and talk about Suikoden II through the finale. I realize that we're not quite to the midpoint of the story yet, but I'll do my best to knock it out by next Wednesday. In the meantime, please feel free to send me your thoughts via email (linked above) for inclusion in next week's finale. And of course, don't be shy about continuing the conversation in the comments. I'll be happy to jump in and join you.
And yet, I never really felt like I was in danger of losing my entire party. Maybe at the end, I guess, when I was down to three parties and almost no runes. But otherwise, I felt pretty confident that I would eventually break through and win. Ultimately, that's just what happened, though it took everything I had. It's actually a pretty neat trick. I wonder if anyone else had the same experience that I did?
Barring that, I really like battle systems with an intricate system of damage buffs, such as Dragon Quest V. In either case, the idea is to make the player feel as if they are building toward something, balancing other concerns like healing in the process. Suikoden doesn't seem to have any of that, which can make boss battles feel the tiniest bit repetitive as I use the same attacks again and again. It's not as bad as other games I've played, but I'd go as far as to argue that Suikoden II's battle system is its least impressive feature. Which is not to say that it's bad! It's more that I find that I'm in it for the art and the storytelling than I am the systems, which is kind of a departure for me.