Serotonin: Konami, the world needs Suikoden VI

August 15, 2014


I moan about a lot of things, like how the traffic lights don’t sync up on Cook Street between Johnson and Yates. Or how much sunscreen I have to use during the summer, or even how the seagulls near my apartment seem to be practicing for the Sam Kinison choir, starting at 4 a.m. I’m sure we all have our little irks about life we want to change, and some are empowered enough to do so. If I were smarter, I would take a different route home from work, wear a hat when I’m outdoors and move away from mating birds.

Some grievances are beyond my help, or at least I can only do so little. The Snackbar staff are well aware that I’m a positive person, but when it comes to a lack of sequels for my favorite game series, I can turn from Mr. Rogers to Oscar the Grouch at the drop of a trash can lid. Lately, I can’t get Suikoden out of my head and how a Suikoden VI could knock it out of the park.

There are franchises with much longer dormant streaks (looking at you, Chrono), but with the increased power of the Wii U, Xbox One and PS4, the time is now for another Suikoden. If you haven’t heard of the series, I can’t really blame you. It’s not as niche as some of Graham’s awesome gems in Gaijin Guide, but no Suikoden title has ever come close to mainstream attention. The series of JRPGs focuses on building an army of interesting, diverse characters in order to weave your way through stories of political intrigue and warring factions. It’s totally refreshing. Sure, you might see a budding romance between a few heroes here and there, and the overall tone may feel like you’re trying to save the planet from an evil dictator, but the clear focus is countries fighting other countries, often blurring the lines between good and evil.


In a way, it’s more like Game of Thrones games than the actual licensed Game of Thrones games. You have impossibly-large casts who find themselves at the center of plot twists and betrayals that are more Shakespeare than Super Mario. Tragedy strikes often, and you rarely come out with a happy ending for each of your 108 party members. That’s another trademark, and arguably the most distinct aspect of Suikoden; you can add 108 unique characters in each game to your party. Not all will participate in battles with you; some will open shops in your base, heal you when you are injured, play music for you and myriad other options. It’s based on a legendary Chinese folk tale, Shui Hu Zhuan by Shi Naian. It tells of hundreds of peasants, soldiers and townsfolk (also known as the 108 Stars of Destiny) coming together to fight off an evil invading force aided by the power of magical crystals, the True Runes.

Side quests become far more interesting here. Instead of just obtaining experience or a new weapon, you’re likely to meet a new, mysterious personality who may become friend or foe as quickly as a simple dialogue choice. Party members often leave, arrive, defy death and outright betray you. It’s not entirely a revolving door, but the turnover is higher than most other games, making each scene critical to the plot and your interest. Who knows who will stay and who will go at any time?

Suikoden’s design to handle this many party members is quite sensible. Most heroes you recruit will be at a much lower level than you. Those who stay home, outside your party of six, won’t gain experience while you’re fighting stone golems in a cave. However, by inserting a rookie party member and obtaining a few victories, their levels will rocket up at an unprecedented speed. They won’t be your toughest ally overnight, but it doesn’t discourage you from experimenting with new allies just because they are level 13 and the rest of your party is level 37. Most of the Suikoden games also include combination attacks. They’re not always obvious, but teaming up friends in a party will often unlock devastating attacks. This also encourages experimentation, and with close to 100 potential battle members in each game, that’s a lot of combinations to try. Beautiful.

Suikoden games have never been technical marvels; they rarely push the hardware and almost always look like previous-generation titles. The textures, colors and environments are never the primary reasons why they’re enjoyable experiences. Thankfully, the soundtracks more than make up for it. Each entry, even the abysmal Suikoden IV, has marvelous tracks that perfectly fit the mood. The intro videos accompanying the main score are also a treat to sit through, although they border on spoilers, as they often have flashes of each available party member in typical anime style. They look terrific.

I mentioned complaining earlier, so I’ll be brief with Suikoden IV. All families have their black sheep, and Suikoden is no different. I’m not sure what Konami was thinking, but painfully slow world travel, bland areas, boring characters and a random encounter rate that will make you want to break your own fingers isn’t the way to endear yourself to fans. The less said, the better.

Suikoden II is generally considered one of the all-time best RPGs. I’ve written about it before, specifically the magnificent Luca Blight sequence, so I won’t go too much into detail. I will say that it has more twists, turns, betrayals, breathtaking escapes, devastating battles and appealing characters than 99 percent of the games you’ve ever played. It is a masterpiece. If Konami ever makes Suikoden VI, it should take a good, hard look at the blueprint of the second, and unquestionably the best.

So… why hasn’t Konami made Suikoden VI? I believe the answers lie, as they often do, in money. Only Suikoden III reached sales of close to a million copies, not exactly Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy numbers. The cost of each game must be high. Instead of a few main characters to focus on, you have 108 that all have unique lines of dialogue, animations, costumes and unique skills, among other individual traits making them who they are. Just imagining the whiteboard at Konami’s headquarters gives me a headache.


I mean, Suikoden‘s teams have already created hundreds and hundreds of party members. Maybe the creative well has run dry. Avoiding previous Suikoden games when looking for inspiration must be nearly impossible. Originality, like in any game, should be present. Otherwise it’s just a rehash, and what’s the point of that?

Now imagine if all 108 characters had different voice actors. Hiring professional talent in that area isn’t cheap. How can Konami look at a design like Suikoden’s, look at the risks and costs and possibly think it’s a good idea?

I admit, it’s a long shot. We’ve definitely passed over the golden generation of RPGs. The costs of developing these massive worlds in high definition haven’t been easy. Fully voicing a cast of hundreds, along with creating a unique battle engine and making the game world interesting and unique is a monstrous task for any game, doubly so for RPGs.

With the success of Game of Thrones and recently released improved hardware, I think it could work. I hope it will work. Suikoden is one of my favorite game series ever. The appeal of recruiting heroes from across the globe is too much to resist. Side quests are just as important as the main storyline. Warring factions and three-dimensional characters have paved the way for fantastic television, movies and games. It’s time for Suikoden to jump on board.


Konami will probably have to cut the number of characters, and I’m okay with that. 108 is too many. But imagine the possibilities. Building your own town or castle (or both!) a la Minecraft. Traveling the globe searching for friends, and passionately persuading them to help you join the cause. Training them in your newly bought armory with a legendary kung fu master you rescued from a psychotic police force. Walking into your town’s pub and seeing ten different backstories waiting for you with a pint glass in hand. Songs. Walks through your park at night. Hey, is that Jacob over there? Maybe he’ll have something to say about our recent victory at the lake. Maybe I’ll take a party of rookies and beef them up for our upcoming coliseum visit. Looking down at the Wii U GamePad and seeing real time progress of your town expanding while you fight on the main screen.

Part Pokemon, part Minecraft, part Game of Thrones, part strategy and part traditional JRPG, the Suikoden series is one of a kind. If you haven’t played them, I urge you to and keep an open mind to the possibilities of what a modern sequel could be.