RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jul 25th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under world building, analysis, playstation, rpg, konami, ps2

Since the beginning of role playing games, many details have been taken into account by everyone from the top tier game designers down to the dungeon or game master building their first campaign. However, few details are thought about as much as the design of the world the players inhabit. For most gamers, it is nothing more than passing scenery made to make you stop and enjoy the beauty before you move two steps forward and completely forget about it.

In modern video gaming, there are a few different kinds of world designs at play. Most Japanese developed RPGs, from the beginning to this day, are the world spanning epics. No stone is left unturned on these worlds as many are developed without the idea of direct sequels in mind. The juggernauts of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest almost always take place in a completely new world with linearity in mind. Dragon Quest I and II are notable exceptions to this, where the world of the first game is revealed to be just one small part of the full world that is revealed to the player in Dragon Quest II. This is the idea that Suikoden takes, as it will likely never will reveal the full world in one game.

Suikoden's world design is an enigma in video games, as it remains one of the only series that decided on a design strategy of revealing the geography of the world in piecemeal segments; each game takes place in one or a few independent states on a massive world. The only other major example of this design is the Elder Scrolls series, which did not start this type of design until its second game Daggerfall, released a year after the initial Japanese release of the first Suikoden. The creator of Suikoden, Yoshitaka Murayama, also understood the importance of characters when it came to the design of the world. His major inspirational source material, a classic Chinese novel called Shui Hu Zhuan, features 108 Stars of Destiny, which Suikoden rips directly from those pages and offers it to the players as a recruitment goal. This fits wonderfully with the narrative design of the main character building an army. Six to eight random misfits are, realistically, never going to stand up against a world spanning evil empire and Suikoden knows this.

The coin is rigged!

One major complaint that comes up quite often with people that are new to the series is that there is no way for 108 characters to have full development arcs. This is a valid complaint that the games understand, and the world design plays into this weakness to turn it into a strength. Two fan favorite central characters from the first game are Flik and Viktor. In the first game, Flik gets a full character arc where the love of his life is murdered not long after Tir joins the Liberation Army. Flik is inconsolable for quite some time afterwards and does not trust Tir McDohl at all. On the other hand, Viktor does trust Tir since he was the one who recruited Tir in the first place and knew that Tir was going be hunted and killed by state forces of the Scarlet Moon Empire. Tir's own father General Teo may even be ordered to deal the decisive blow. Eventually, Flik learns to see the brilliance of Tir, accepts the fact that his love Odessa made the right choice, and rejoins the Liberation Army. Both Viktor and Flik return in the second game, where Viktor gets his character arc and Flik takes more of a backseat. Some characters are nothing more than what they are, like Sarah from the first game being a laundry woman. She enjoys scrubbing clothes, an army needs clean laundry after all, and she joins after the player completes her Zelda like circle of fetch quests.

Some characters are hinted about long before you ever meet them. Georg Prime is one of the most important characters to recent political events and his existence is hinted at within a handful of minutes of starting the first game. A drunk soldier in the tavern of Gregminster has a slip of the tongue and reveals that Scarlet Moon Emperor Barbarossa took the throne with Six Great Generals. However, one of those generals has left the Empire, and the player only contends with five of them, including his own father. In Suikoden II, Georg Prime is one of the very last characters that is available to recruit in the game, giving him almost no time to be developed. The second game introduces a beautiful character and tool for extra character development, the detective. There are different characters in each main game following Suikoden II, but they serve the same purpose of fleshing out characters that may not get development due to time or irrelevance to the larger story. Richmond's first investigation into Georg Prime confirms that he was one of Barbarossa's six Generals. Later investigations reveal the Grassland, which is the main setting for Suikoden III, and the Queendom of Falena, the setting for Suikoden V. Players have still never seen Ebony Moon Knights, but Georg was one of them for a time, and it's quite likely that these knights are part of the Free Knights Alliance of Camaro, a land that players have not seen a single patch of dirt for.

Villains are important to the world as well.

This fluidity of movement for characters means that character arcs can span multiple games, with Futch being another prime example, since he's one of the only characters to appear in three games, Suikoden I, II, and III. Two characters, Viki and Jeane, are the only ones present in all five main numbered entries, for reasons which are entirely speculation. No detective is able to crack the code for either of these lovely ladies, which leads to wild fan speculation that has continued since the introduction of detectives with Richmond. There are also countries and entire continents that are entire mysteries to the playerbase simply because no game has ever visited those lands, though characters may have come from them. Kanakan is a land known for swordsmen and booze, but players have never seen it. The Holy Kingdom of Harmonia is known to be the largest state on the main continent, yet players have only seen a border town where trade and mercenaries congregate and neighbor a conquered Grassland tribe in Suikoden III. A much smaller number of players have seen some bits and pieces of the Harmonian heartland through the eyes of Nash Lajkte in the Suikogaiden visual novel spinoffs, which are in English because of fan translations. The Queendom of Falena, Suikoden V's setting, rests on a continent to the south of the Island Nations, the setting for Suikoden IV. Both of these games make reference to states which neighbor them, but can't be visited; this only adds to the depth of the non-visited regions that the first three games gave.

The game mechanics themselves and the mythology of the world can be used to build the backstory and history of the world the player explores. Suikoden is a world where magic is not only present, but is the keystone feature of the world's origins and the mythology of its distant past, present, and projected future. However, unlike many worlds, there is direct evidence of these myths being based on complete fact. The rules of magic also keep the average magic user from being too overpowered by limiting the use of spells during each day, similar to Dungeons & Dragons. However, the same system at place for magic is also a tool for physical minded and weak magic characters to use, as there are plenty of options for runes that give magical, physical abilities and upgrades. More powerful magical and physical runes exist, with the top tier being the 27 True Runes; these not only grant their wielders immense power, but immortality as well. The player is not simply told these facts about the True Runes, but is shown quite early on in Suikoden I. The overarching story is as much about magic as it is the down to earth conflict and political intrigue, as the True Runes have a direct effect on the fate of the entire world, despite the more localized world building in each game.

This design philosophy has lead to a world which is simultaneously one of the most and least fleshed out in all of video gaming. Areas of the world that are visited by players have incredible detail and the helpful hand of being able to believe the scale. A lot of Japanese RPGs would have one town be analogous to one kingdom, with few exceptions, but even smaller states in the world of Suikoden have multiple towns. The City-States of Jowston of Suikoden II all control more than one town, and city states have never been geographically large entities. On the other hand, parts of the world that have never been part of a game are mostly complete mysteries. Some tidbits are given to players such as culture and clothing through characters which hail from another region, or books and investigations which speak of war with known states. The aura of mystery which surrounds not only recurring characters, but huge swaths of the main world of Suikoden make it one of, if not, the deepest world in video gaming.

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I've wanted to play these games for a long time now, but I had no idea the narrative and the characters were so linked between the different games. Very cool, thanks for the info! I really need to play these...
@zophar53: The first game was one of my favorite playthroughs that we have done. Definitely in my Top 10 games of all time.
@zophar53: Not very many characters end up in multiple games, but the ones that do end up having something to offer or are the game's version of fan service.

Murayama's gone on record saying the first Suikoden was basically the tech demo for Suikoden II, so most of the character overlap is between those two games.

Suikoden III does the most to tie the world together, and its also the last one Murayama himself worked on.

There are also quite a few characters from I and II that make an appearance in V, which was mostly fan service.

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