Whenever people talk about RPG series they would like to see make a comeback, Suikoden is often among the titles named. This Konami turn-based series is known for its massive character rosters, underdog stories where a newly form army challenges and triumphs against an established, opposing force and overarching storylines and concepts. It might be a little daunting, attempting to determine how to get into such a series. Well, we’re here to help you get into Suikoden!
What is Suikoden?
In each Suikoden installment, players are tasked with creating an army to fight in a war that will change the future of the nation. Liberation and unification are common themes, with players’ avatars typically being some sort of character given the honor of leading the forces due to being chosen by a True Rune, an item that is essentially a sentient rune that grants its bearer incomparable powers. While you don’t always have to recruit every possible character to your cause, managing to get all 108 Stars of Destiny tends to have some kind of notable impact on the ending.
But why 108 Stars of Destiny? That number seems a little arbitrary, right? There’s a reason for it. Suikoden is inspired by Shi Naian’s Shui Hu Zhuan (Water Margin). This is one of China’s four great classical novels, held in the same regard as Sangokushi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), Saiyuki (Journey to the West) and Hong lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber). In Shui Hu Zhuan, 108 outlaws during the Song dynasty formed an army in China because of they were unsatisfied with corrupt government officials. After defeating Emperor Huizong’s army at Liangshan Marsh, the 108 outlaws are granted amnesty and made an official army to protect China from invaders and rebels. The games are based on similar notions where a group of 108 people from all walks of life eventually come together to fight for greater ideals.
Which Suikoden games are most important?
When it comes to Suikoden, there are quite a few different games. Some are part of the main timeline, following events in one specific world over a period of years. There are a few spin-offs that tell what characters from these games were up to when they weren’t taking part in major wars or retell already familiar tales. Then, there are Suikoden games that are turn-based RPGs with 108 characters to recruit, but don’t have any bearing on the major installments.
People referring to the Suikoden series tend to be talking about the installments released on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. These are ones in the main timeline. It’s best you start with one of these installments.
Suikoden (PlayStation, 1995)
In Suikoden, players are following the events of a civil war in the Scarlet Moon Empire. Tir McDohl, son of the Scarlet Moon Empire’s Great General Teo McDohl, is a new recruit in the Imperial Army. He realizes that it is corrupt and, after being chosen by the Soul Eater True Rune, forms the Toran Liberation Army with 108 people to unseat the unjust government.
The original Suikoden is notable for its range. You can find copies of it on five different platforms. It debuted on the PlayStation, but eventually was ported to the Sega Saturn, PC, PlayStation Portable (in Genso Suikoden I & II) and mobile phones. You can also grab it on your PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable or PlayStation Vita as a PSOne Classic.
Suikoden II (PlayStation, 1998)
Set shortly after Suikoden, Suikoden II follows Riou and Jowy, two young men who are new recruits in the Highland Army Unicorn Youth Brigade. However, Highland’s Mad Prince Luca Blight slaughters the entire force, with only Riou and Jowy surviving, blames the City-States of Jowston and starts a war. Riou ends up chosen by the Bright Shield True Rune, while Jowy becomes bearer of its counterpart, the Black Sword True Rune. The former friends are separated and forced to fight on opposing sides of the Dunan Unification War, with Riou becoming head of the New State Army and recruiting 108 allies and Jowy aiding the Highland Kingdom.
Like Suikoden, Suikoden II gets around. It started out on the PlayStation, but also found its way to the PC, PlayStation Portable (in Genso Suikoden I & II) and mobile phones. You can play the PSOne Classic version on your PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable or PlayStation Vita. A Game Boy Advance adaptation, called Genso Suikoden Card Stories, retells the tale with a card-based combat system.
Suikoden III (PlayStation 2, 2002)
Suikoden III is unique, in that there are multiple protagonists with their own storylines, all of which eventually come together to be led by the Flame Champion, bearer of the True Fire Rune, and 108 members of the Grasslands army as they fight against the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia in the Second Fire Bringer War. During the first portion of the game, people can follow the Karaya Clan’s Hugo, the Zexen Knight’s Chris Lightfellow, Twelfth Harmonian Southern Fringe Defense Force Unit’s Geddoe, a noble named Thomas, and a dog named Koroku. After a turning point, the last two chapters follow a combined army. Should all 108 Stars of Destiny be recruited, you can unlock a chapter where you follow Luc, a recurring character who appears in Suikoden I-III.
In case you can’t find a PlayStation 2 copy, you can always go digital. Suikoden III was released as a PS2 Classic for the PlayStation 3.
Suikoden IV (PlayStation 2, 2004)
In Suikoden IV we follow a young man named Lazlo who inadvertently inherits the True Rune of Punishment, a rune that shortens its bearers life every time it is used and immediately transfers to the next available host when it kills the person it is currently attached to. The Cray Trading Corporation and Kooluk Empire are attempting to invade and use the southern Island Nations for their own purposes, and Lazlo gathers together 108 people to unify the islands and fight back against Cray and the Kooluk Empire.
Like Suikoden III, Suikoden IV is available as a PlayStation 3 PS2 Classic. As an interesting aside, the Genso Suikoden Pachisuro pachislot game follows the events of this entry.
Suikoden Tactics (PlayStation 2, 2005)
A companion piece to Suikoden IV, it is used to explain the history of previous Rune of Punishment bearers and show how the Kooluk Empire was able to create an incredibly destructive Rune Cannon. The Scarlet Moon Empire’s Walter and his son, Kyril, are investigating Rune Cannons in the Island Nations. There, they meet Steele, current bearer of the Rune of Punishment. After some traumatizing events, which leads to the Rune of Punishment passing to Brandeau, the game skips ahead to three years after Suikoden IV and acts as a bit of an epilogue.
Suikoden Tactics has yet to receive a digital rerelease; you will need to find a PlayStation 2 copy if you want to play it.
Suikoden V (PlayStation 2, 2006)
Suikoden V documents another civil war, the Sun Rune War. The Falena Queendom’s royal family is overthrown by the House of Godwin in a coup d’etat. However, they are challenged by the bearer of the Dawn Rune, a True Rune, Prince Freyjadour Falenas of Falena. He gathers 108 allies to form a Loyalist Army to fight back against the usurpers.
Unfortunately, Suikoden V has not received the honor of being made a PS2 Classic. You will have to actually find a copy of the original PlayStation 2 game to play it.
Is there some sort of Suikoden timeline?
Yes, there is! All of the numbered Suikoden games, as well the main installments’ spin-offs, take place in the same timeline. The thing is, they aren’t happening in chronological order. This means players new to the series have an option. They can play the games in the order Konami released them or go chronologically. Either option works, though I highly recommend playing Suikoden before Suikoden II and Suikoden Tactics after Suikoden IV.
Each Suikoden numbered installment focuses on a major war. Characters who are minor NPCs can appear in one, then join your army in another. This means we get to see how conflicts impact the world and its people.
Let’s go through the timeline!
- A few years before In Solis 302: The events of Suikoden Tactics begin a few years before the Island Liberation War, which begins in IS 302. This spin-off has a timeskip during it, causing its story to end in IS 310.
- IS 307: Suikoden IV follows the Island Liberation War after Lazlo becomes leader of the Island Liberation Navy.
- IS 449: Suikoden V takes place during the Sun Rune War. It ends in IS 450.
- IS 455: Suikoden covers the Toran Liberation War.
- IS 460: Suikoden II chronicles the events of the Dunan Unification War.
- IS 460: The Genso Suikogaiden Vol. 1 spin-off follows the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia’s Nash Latkje, with other characters from Suikoden II making cameos. It was never released outside of Japan.
- IS 460: Genso Suikogaiden Vol. 2 once again follows Nash, as well as other familiar faces, on adventures taking place three months after Suikoden II‘s ending. It also was never released outside of Japan.
- IS 475: The main Suikoden series timeline ends with Suikoden III and its coverage of the Second Fire Bringer War.
What are the stand-alone Suikoden games like?
There have been only two games released outside of the major Suikoden timeline. According to the lore, all of the Suikoden games take place in worlds happening in the same multiverse. So while these games both involve recruiting 108 characters, there are no True Runes and many other familiar concepts are absent.
Suikoden Tierkreis (Nintendo DS, 2008)
Suikoden Tierkreis follows a young man named Sieg and his quest to work with 108 allies to stop The Order of the One True Way. This group wishes to use The One King to combine all worlds into one world with an unchanging Perpetual Day. Gateways allow people and monsters to travel between worlds, meaning players encounter characters from many different parallel worlds. You could say its focus is on alternate present spaces.
Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki (PlayStation Portable, 2012)
Where Suikoden Tierkreis deals with multiple worlds, Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki involves different periods of time. Terras Firma comes every 100 years to try and destroy the world. At the outset of the game, the player’s avatar and his friends are sent back 100 years. They then must train with and recruit 108 allies in the present, 100 years in the past and 200 years in the past. It focuses very heavily on a job system, where characters can learn skills lost in time by meeting new characters, and limits people to who can be used and when due to people and equipment being bound to the era in which they existed.
Unfortunately, Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki was never released outside of Japan and is a very text-heavy game, making playing an imported copy a daunting task for people who are not fluent in Japanese.