There are a lot of disgruntled gamers out there. For every video game series that has been abandoned or mistreated by its creators, there's a group of fans who want nothing more than to see their favourite titles restored to glory. Americans who love games like Mega Man Legends, Mother, and Valkyria Chronicles are angry. Dissatisfied. Upset at how they've been treated by the companies that claim to care about them.
One particular series of Japanese role-playing games has never really received the respect it deserves: Suikoden, a series as bizarrely titled as it is beloved. Konami, the publisher and developer behind this niche group of games, seems completely out of touch with what its players want. And a small group of fans is hoping to change that.
I won't blame you if you've never heard of Suikoden. It's tough to pronounce. If you saw it in a store, you'd probably dismiss it as just another anime RPG. And Konami's done a terrible job of marketing what could be the best set of games it has ever made.
So let me tell you what's made people get so rabid over Suikoden. There's the story: every Suikoden game is stuffed to the brim with politicking, betrayal, and harrowing moments that subvert your expectations in some seriously surprising ways. There's the battling: in addition to main combat — a fast-paced take on standard turn-based systems — there are always multiple ways to participate in both one-on-one and large-scale warfare. And there's the recruitment: as sort of a side hobby in every Suikoden game, you can go around trying to convince people to join your army of heroes. It's these random side characters that make the series memorable; from warrior ducks to grizzly pirates to hermit wizards, almost every one of Suikoden's cast members is charming as hell.
Following the game's main five instalments — and a few random spinoffs, including a Japan-only set of side stories called Suikogaiden that were basically visual novels — Konami released Suikoden Tierkreis, a spinoff for the DS. People didn't like Tierkreis. People really didn't like Tierkreis.
For a number of reasons, but mostly because it ripped the series out of the rich world it had once inhabited. In previous games, you could recruit returning characters. You could read books about the world's extensive lore. You could piece together longstanding mysteries based on new information revealed in each new game. Each of the first five games could stand just fine on its own, but they worked even better as a whole. Tierkreis was totally different. It was the black sheep.
The last real Suikoden game was released in 2006. Fans have lost hope. So almost two years ago, when it looked like the series was all but dead (and rumours suggested that Konami had split up the Suikoden development team), Suikoden power-fan Chris Holmes started up a campaign on the forums of an old Suikoden fan site called Suikosource. Their goal: to convince Konami not to give up on their favourite series.
"The aim of the campaign is to revive the Suikoden series," he told me in an email. "Originaly, we were trying to make Konami see there is still a large enough fanbase for them not to give up on Suikoden. Essentialy asking for Suikoden VI. Then we got the announcement of a new Suikoden. But it wasn't Suikoden VI. So, really, the campaign is still the same. We want a new Suikoden, but not a totaly unrelated spin off."
The new Suikoden, released last December in Japan, still hasn't even been announced for western release. Maybe it's because the PSP is on its last legs outside Japan. Maybe it's because Konami thinks JRPGs should stay in Japan. I've asked Konami. They won't tell me.
Right now, if you want to play one of the older Suikoden games, your options are limited. The first was made available on PlayStation Network back in 2008, but the second, generally considered a masterpiece by everyone who's played it, has yet to show up. And people certainly still want it. As of right now, a new copy will run you $US750 on eBay.
"Having Suikoden II on PSN is a must," Holmes said. "It is a totally frustrating mystery to me why Konami has not done this already."
It's a mystery to me too. The game is already in English, and it seems like a surefire money maker. Over the past few weeks, I've contacted Konami multiple times to ask about a potential Suikoden II release on PSN. Their only response: "We have nothing to announce at this time." I've also asked about Suikoden sales figures. They won't say a thing.
Holmes says he's also gotten in touch with Konami executives. They had similar reactions.
"Despite providing hope amongst fans... there is not much more I can do," he said. "The fans need results. Or hope on a bigger scale. I have spoken to many Konami executives, most of which have brushed me to the side the same way the customer service departments did. Some of it has been promising, but, without yielding much results, the campaign will eventually lose momentum."
Still, I don't think Holmes and his crew, which he says is about 200-strong, will give up hope any time soon. Like the ragtag group of heroes in a Suikoden game, they might be fighting against near-insurmountable odds.
If you want to help support the campaign, you can join the Facebook group for what Holmes is calling "Suikoden Day 2012," an event devoted to the celebration of the series. You can join the Suikosource forums. You can write letters to Konami. Or you can just buy Suikoden on PSN and check it out for yourself.
It's tough to understand why Konami hasn't re-released Suikoden II on PSN. It's tough to understand why they won't bring over Suikoden I+II on PSP. And it's tough to understand why, in an industry where companies like XSEED and Atlus can turn a decent profit bringing even more obscure Japanese games to U.S. shores, a giant corporation like Konami can't seem to find the money to market one of gaming's greatest series.
"Konami seem to have made some really strange and unconfident decisions regarding Suikoden throughout its 16 years of existence," Holmes said. "If they really want to put it on the map, its about time they start marketing it properly. And why should they do that? Because it is their flagship RPG and we all know it has bags of potential. With Square in decline, and the news of the market trying to shift back towards JRPGs, Suikoden's time is now."
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.