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Memories of Suikoden - 15 Years Later

Written Dec 9, 2014, for Suikoden’s 15th Anniversary

April 1997, almost a year after my brother was gifted a Playstation for his birthday, I asked my parents for a Role Playing Game for the system. I had been avidly reading PSM: Playstation Magazine; the best way at the time to get news about upcoming games, since the Internet was still such an infant and had not yet learned to sprint at our house.

I was roughly 13 years old at the time, and my childhood experience concerning video games was comprised mostly of "Super Mario Bros 3" on the NES and good old 16 bit "Kings Quest I, II, & III" for the old DOS IMB. When the Super Nintendo was released, my parents would have none of it. NES was enough. We did not need a second game system. So while people who I would later meet and befriend were playing Final Fantasy VI (called 2 or 3 here, not sure which), I lived in complete ignorance that games like this even existed.

My grandma and grandpa had an NES at their house. They played "The Pill Game" (Dr. Mario) exclusively, but they kept a few games around for us to play. They had a Dragon Warrior game. This was my first RPG ever. I didn't know it was called an RPG. All I knew was that it was the best type of game there was, and I wanted more of it.

Fast forward to 13-year-old me. I had been reading PSM, and had learned that the term "RPG" was a THING (outside of Dad's definition, that he continually reminded me of: "remote propelled grenade"). After months of research, I begged my parents for the only real RPG I had seen advertised.

"Mom & Dad, please get me 'Beyond the Beyond' for my birthday!

So when April 27, 1997 drew around, and I turned 14, and I got that deliciously wrapped 6inX6inX2in square in my hand, I anxiously awaited to open it and see the words "Beyond the Beyond" peeking back out at me. It would be my first real RPG experience that I could own for myself. Please keep in mind, this was still several months before the masterpiece that was Final Fantasy VII graced our shores.

But accompanying that precious package was a card from my parents. I opened it, and inside was my Dad's familiar left-handed scrawl:

"The guy at the store said 'Beyond the Beyond' was really dumb. He suggested this one instead."

I was a bit disappointed in that moment, to be honest, having spent months hyping myself up for that game.

But I was wrong. SO wrong. Months later, I found myself picking up 'Beyond the Beyond' in a bargain bin to see "what would have been." I ended up returning it a few weeks later, having never finished the game. The guy at the game store was right. I wish I knew his name, so I could thank him for encouraging my parents to buy a different game instead, to thank him for changing my life.

What was under that thin veil of wrapping paper on my 14th birthday wasn't 'Beyond the Beyond.'

It was "Genso Suikoden."

17 years later, I still feel the compelling story of a war-torn boy, thrust into fate to lead an army of revolutionists against his own father, a general in the Imperial army. I still dream of the colorful world; a melting pot of feudal Asia & medieval Europe. I remember all 108 characters that I painstakingly searched for, and completed obscure task for, in order to recruit them to my cause; characters that would fight for me, cook me dinner, sing me songs, build an ornate bath house, store my supplies, take my money in a dice game, upgrade my weapons and armor, soothe my jangled nerves, betray me, die for me. My iPhone still plays the music I bought from Japan; ah, the music! Glorious and beautiful; with themes of ancient Asia & the lilting Celtic isles. I remember the magnificent Gameplay, the strategic warfare, the story! Oh, how it made me THINK! I learned to ponder, to see things as more than just black & white. Oh, how it made me FEEL! The sobs that exited from me upon the death of a beloved companion were many.

From April 27, 1997 and on, that game was knit to my heart.

Two years later, October, 1999, Suikoden II was released. It was instantly on my Christmas list.

PSM said that if you had a completed save file with all 108 Stars of Destiny from the first game, you could unlock special secrets in the second one.

I checked my memory card for a file.

None was found.

Crap! How did I not have a game saved? Did I erase it to make room for another game? Those memory cards can only hold so many MB after all.

I had my mission: 2 months to play Suikoden again from the beginning, get all 108 Stars, and compete the game.

Before Christmas.

Christmas morning, 1999, I awoke at 3am, hoping to finish the final battle of the first game before opening the second one a few short hours later.

And I did, thankfully.

From the moment I popped in the disk and saw Luca Blight's mad face accompanied by fire & a dark, Carmina Buranaesque choir, I was in absolute heaven.

Everything Suikoden was, Suikoden II was too, only better. It is by far the best game in the series. Still, to this day, it is the best game I have ever played. The characters, the story, the music, the mini-games, the three different battle systems, the character recruitment, the castle-building; everything is incredible. Plus, there's an Iron Chef-style cooking game. How can you not love that?

In 15 years of talking about this game, I've heard the same thing. Everyone who has played this game says it is one of the best, if not the best RPG ever made, still to this day.

Unfortunately, not enough people played it.

It was poorly advertised, the weird sounding name (to American ears) didn't help, and it was released at the same time as Final Fantasy VIII, which already had quite a following. Social media as we know it did not exist in 1999, so it was much harder to find like-minded RPG players. Word-of-mouth didn't have enough oxygen to spread, and the fire went out.

But we loyal few kept or candles burning bright.

Over the last decade, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube took hold, and the Geek Revolution rose to power. We started coming out of the woodwork and communicating. Suikoden I & II had a grown a huge cult following. Whispers in the shadows about the best game no one ever heard about spread like wildfire, and this time, social media was the proper oxygen needed to spread it. As Suikoden III-V (and several spin-offs) were released for the PS2; more and more people were becoming engrossed in the series. From a small loyal few, the numbers of Suikoden fans were growing, much like the members of the social revolution armies you lead in the games.

"I love the Suikoden series!" One fan would say. "I've played III, IV, and V! They're awesome!"

"Have you played I and II?" another fan would ask.

"No. I came to the party late. Where can I find them?"

Unfortunately, for years, you couldn't find them anywhere. Konami printed a very limited number of copies, and the only place you could find any copies anywhere were on Amazon & eBay for no less than $300.

And some people were willing to pay it. small price to pay for the best game ever.

Unfortunately, there were so many others who desperately wanted to play the game, either for the first time, or for the first time in years (their original disk or PSX or PS2 having become lost, sold, or unplayable), who just couldn't find a way to play it.

The fans wept.

Then, A spark of hope! Video game companies had begun selling classic games in digital form for download directly onto their next-gen consoles. Millions of fans took this opportunity. Now, adult Millennials who grew up playing Mario on their NES and Final Fantasy VII on their PSX could download them onto their Wiis and PS3s for $5-$10 and keep them forever. No need to try and find an obscure way to plug in your old NES to your HDMI-only flatscreen!

Suikoden fans had their hopes high.

Suikoden I was released for download on the Playstation Network, and there was much rejoicing in the land! It would only be a matter of time before the next tile in the series was released.

Unfortunately, no Suikoden II. We waited. One year. Nothing. Two years, nothing. Seven years, nothing. The best game in the series? The game widely regarded as the best RPG of all time, despite low sales upon its original release? None for you. Nope. Sorry.

Fans organized. One of my favorite fansites, Suikosource, became "The Suikoden Revival Movement." I joined as soon as I learned about it. Fans grew in numbers. Fans that has never even played the game before joined in the cause. Our little band of 108 Stars of Destiny grew to thousands. We tweeted, facebooked, made fanart & fanfiction, wrote letters and emails, made phone calls, and sent it all to Sony and Konami; BEGGING them to release our precious game on PSN. "It will sell," we promised. "Look at how big we are. Look at how beloved this game is to so many."

For years, no response from Sony. No comment from Konami.

Like the Liberation Armies, we did not give up. We continued our fight, and bombarded the companies in charge with more, more, more. We knew it wasn't a futile effort.

Then, last April, like the birthday present I got when I received my first RPG ever, the ESRB rating for Suikoden II was released.

The fans rejoiced! The companies were considering our game! Finally, after years of campaigning! Hope was on the horizon. The final battle loomed with the dawn, and we wandered our castle, reminiscing with all of our friends we had recruited.

Then, on the evening of December 7th, 2014, I scroll through Facebook, and magic happens.

"Suikoden II finally released for Playstation Network!" my friend, Vilay posts.

Time froze.

Tears filled my eyes.

I checked several other sources, to be sure it was true.

It was.

We had done it.

It was real.

Suikoden II was officially released on PSN on Dec 9, 2014. Finally, those loyal few who grew into loyal hundreds, and thousands, and ten thousands, will be able to play this well-beloved game; either for the first time, or for the first time in 15 years. Finally, this magnificent story gets the laurels it deserves. Finally, I can weep with Nanami over Jowy again, I can relish Flik & Viktor's bromance again, I can cook with Hai Yo again, I can liberate Greenhill again, I can recruit all 5 flying squirrels again, I can wander the halls of my castle and watch it grow again, I can save my country again, even though I fight against my best friend.

I downloaded the game this morning, and checked and double checked that it was there, but I don't feel it's right to play it yet. I feel it's only right that I make the first time I play it again exactly 15 years (to the day) after the first time I played it ever.

Besides, I still haven't completed Suikoden I with a complete save file on my PS3 yet.

I've got a lot of work to do by Christmas morning.

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