2023: The Year of Suikoden Chronicle

Konami has spent the better part of the last six years making Pachinko machines, Yu-Gi-Oh related stuff, and piss poor soccer games. Instead of developing new installments of games from their well respected back catalog, they’ve gone almost radio silent within game development outside the aforementioned. Fans have been clamoring for at least something to come out of their headquarters that revolved around one of their storied franchises. Oddly enough, Konami has obliged over the last couple of years, with a handful of collections and compilations, from Contra Anniversary Collection, to two Castlevania related compilations, to the recently released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection. While some of their franchises have been dormant after an underwhelming reboot or new release (notably Castlevania), there have been other franchises that haven’t seen the light of day since 2012, with their final installment never seeing the light of day in North America – Suikoden.

Spanning over a dozen releases over mostly Sony consoles and handhelds, the Suikoden franchise, also known as Gensō Suikoden in Japan, was a cult classic JRPG series that suffered from low print releases and lack of promotion. The first two games were released on the PS1 in the mid to late 90’s, with three more main line installments on the PS2, a tactical RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS2, and a Nintendo DS title that many have forgotten about. That’s just what came out in North America; Japan had re-releases of the two PS1 games onto the PSP, card games on the Game Boy Advance with an actual physical card game, visual novels, as well as the final installment released exclusively on the Japanese PSP (which has received a full translation patch, if you know where to look for it). The Suikoden franchise, while in many ways still feels like an obscure and niche franchise in the west, was still heavily represented around the world for over 15 years.

And then, the franchise went quietly into the night.

The Suikoden dev team was disbanded in 2012, leaving behind a cherished franchise that desperately needed representation beyond its only in Japan final PSP release. It wasn’t until 2020 that fans were introduced to a Kickstarter for a JRPG called Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, developed by a number of former Suikoden devs. The Kickstarter campaign was one of the most successful for a video game projects ever to come from the site. Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes is more or less the spiritual successor to Konami’s beloved series, lifting a number of familiar aspects, as well as incorporating new ideas, some gorgeous visuals, and more. This new studio, called Rabbit and Bear Studios, have been hard at work on this return to form, with a companion title already released called Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising (I still have to check that out), which is an action RPG in the same universe. With a 2023 release window, Hundred Heroes has quickly become one of, if not my most anticipated games ever. I’ve been desperately wanting to play a JRPG with the same feel as Suikoden, and this is shaping up to be the dream come true.

And then, like a thief in the night, during this years Tokyo Game Show (TGS), Konami stepped forward and presented something that us Suikoden heads have been begging for – the return of the franchise in some form!

While it’s not a brand new installment (and I’m not sure how that would work out with most of the team long gone from Konami), it’s instead an HD remaster of the first two games. Suikoden I&II HD Remaster: Gate Rune and Dunan Unification Wars will bring two of the most well regarded and respected installments of the franchise to the PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series, Nintendo Switch and Steam, with HD visuals, newer sound effects, auto saves, updated spell effects, and more. It was hard for me to stay emotionally composed while watching the livestream reveal; I can’t recall the last time I was so genuinely happy over something gaming related outside of Eiyuden Chronicle. The release window has been set for 2023.

Between Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes and the Suikoden I&II remaster announcement, 2023 has turned into, what I’d like to call, The Year of Suikoden Chronicle!

Originally released in 1995 in North America, Suikoden was one of the very first RPG’s released on Sony’s then brand new console, the PS1. With a low print and the visual style looking too much like something you may see from the previous generation of consoles, Suikoden flew under the radar for many gamers, but those of us who took a chance with it will sing its praises to their dying breath. The second game, Suikoden II, was released about four years later, with even more scarcity in terms of availability. While its own storyline, a number of cast members from the first title make their return for the second romp.

Although the first Suikoden can still be picked up for a relatively respectable price second-hand, Suikoden II has skyrocketed over the years, with a CIB copy fetching, at minimum, $500. With Sony’s flaccid attempts at preservation when it comes to their older catalog, the further the console iterations went, the less chance you had at being able to experience these gems. Thankfully with this HD Remaster announcement, a wider audience of gamers now have the chance to play two of the greatest RPG, and really IMO, two of the greatest video games, to have ever been released.

Why do fans of the franchise hold these two particular installments so highly regarded? Both games have gripping storylines, memorable plot points, moments that will emotionally scar you for life (or maybe just me, I dunno), all with the two best soundtracks ever in gaming. In fact, many of these moments throughout the game are bolstered by an accompanying song that accentuate the emotion and the moment in ways that’s been seldom seen in any video games before or since them.

To be frank, the gameplay is serviceable. You’ll find countless other JRPG’s with stronger gameplay loops and more memorable interactive battles (outside a couple duels in both of these games). It’s enjoyable to play, but actually doing battles and such are secondary at best. Suikoden’s gameplay is merely a vessel to progress the star of the game – the story, more so than any other game in the genre. The visual style is quite archaic as well, and likely one of the reasons why many gamers didn’t bother with it. On a console that’s supposed to be pushing polygons and effects not seen before this generation, looking at Suikoden didn’t really elicit much desire to give a chance, which has been an absolute shame. That, and the aforementioned low print run of these titles and lack of publicity really hurt its exposure in general.

Each of the main line Suikoden releases have leaned heavily onto memorable, well told stories, and with each succeeding release, Konami worked on shoring up their shortcomings with the visuals and gameplay. It’s a franchise that stepped up its game all the way through Suikoden V on the PS2, though unfortunately, every main line entry in this franchise has seen low production numbers, with Suikoden V being the hardest title to track down for a reasonable price on the PS2. For those in the know, for the fans of the franchise since the beginning, we’ve known how special Suikoden was. It’s gained a cult following over the years, and as gamers have slowly been exposed to the franchise, the more the legend has grown.

The first Suikoden holds a very special place in my heart. Up until maybe five years ago, I considered it my all-time favorite video game – a ~20 year streak, and while it’s easily still in my top five, it has always, and will always mean the world to me. My first exposure came via Blockbuster Video. Being an RPG fan that was looking for something new to satisfy my cravings, I decided to give this game with a ghastly box art a chance. I recall getting right near the end (took me 20 hours to get to that point during the weekend that I rented it), and having to bring it back. The following weekend and rented it again, and completed it.

Suikoden has the distinct honor of being the first video game with a storyline and characters that hit me emotionally, in a way that I had never experienced before, and only just experience a second time with Yakuza: Like A Dragon. While the ending to the latter produced the ugliest ugly cry in the history of man, Suikoden genuinely broke me down to tears at multiple moments that I naturally won’t even go into any kind of detail, other than to say one of those moments came from the ending. I’ve beaten the game multiple times, and each time I reach those specific moments, I can’t help but to get choked up each time. It was masterful storytelling and character development, on a level all its own really. I cheered for the victories that the protagonists claimed, I grew upset with each setback they experienced. I ran the gamut of every possible emotion you can have with a video game, and there are countless moments that will be in my memories for the rest of my life. Suikoden II I don’t have that same high level of attachment – actually, I’ve only beaten it maybe twice over 20 years ago. While it does hold quite a meaning to me, it’s the original release that made such a lasting and profound impact to my life.

I had been resisting a playthrough of these two games until I got to the end of my PSX Mania project, as they would have been my final two games played. Being that I’ll never realistically get through every US PS1 game (even on a showcase type project), it looked like I’d never get around to replaying them. But with the announcement of the HD remaster of the first two Suikoden games, I now have my excuse to play them again sooner and not later.

More importantly though, Konami has finally given gamers the ultimate access to these two games. No longer chained to the PS1/2/3, PSP or PS Vita, we all have a chance to play them on our console of choice. Everyone who has heard fans gushing over these games over the last two decades, can now give these games a go for themselves. The gameplay will remain unchanged, and again, the gameplay is elementary and for the most part, nothing worth praising like the storyline, characters and soundtrack are worth praising, but the journey with these games are the selling point.

I’ve noticed that over the last several years, I’ve started to become quite the jaded gamer. Most of the big name game reveals lately have been met with less fanfare than others, with only a small number of games eliciting genuine excitement from me (Mass Effect 4, the Like A Dragon announcements earlier this week, Tears of the Kingdom, Eiyuden Chronicle being the only games and announcements that have drawn any kind of legitimate joy and excitement for). The reveal of Suikoden I&II HD Remaster: Gate Rune and Dunan Unification Wars excited me maybe more than any other game announcement outside of Eiyuden Chronicle.

To have not only the first two Suikoden games being remastered for modern consoles, but also the spiritual successor of the franchise releasing in the same year, is truly an emotional rollercoaster that chokes me up even as I am writing this. These two Konami masterpieces hold a special place in the hearts of so many fans, and to finally know that we are going to finally be able to have them widely available – it’s truly one of the greatest feelings when it comes to gaming. And to have Eiyuden Chronicle on the way as well? It’s a feeling I can’t completely convey.

If anything, these announcements have made me want to go back and replay the PS2 Suikoden games in preparation. It’s such an exciting and blissful time to be a gamer, and I’m over the moon to be so enamored with gaming releases again. My hope for all of this, is that fans of JRPG’s will come together to usher in and celebrate 2023 as “The Year of Suikoden Chronicle“, play through each of these three games and share their experiences and last memories with each other.

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