How To Fix The Best RPG Series On The Planet

Suikoden is a video game series about destiny. About fate. About people who fight against near-insurmountable odds to accomplish things that shouldn't be possible.

So in a twist of morbid irony worthy of The Twilight Zone, this wonderful RPG series has spent the past 15 years embroiled in its own battle against fate, its own struggle against the odds. Destiny is working against Suikoden. A major force of nature — by which I mean Konami — seems to be conspiring to kill the series forever. Yet it's somehow still alive. It's hooked up to a respiratory machine, but it's still alive.

And it needs our help.

You might not be familiar with Konami's great RPG series. Perhaps your eyes glaze over the word Suikoden, pronounced SWEE-KOH-DEN, because your brain reads it as meaningless gibberish. It kind of is. It also comprises some of my favourite games of all time, experiences that have moved and affected me more than just about anything else out there.

There are five main Suikoden games, three spinoffs (one of which was released on the PSP earlier this year) and two Japan-only "gaiden" side stories. Every Suikoden game puts you in charge of an army and lets you go out and recruit a whole bunch of characters (usually ~108) by talking to them, solving their problems, and following them along various sidequests as you try to convince them to join your team. Every Suikoden game is all about big, sweeping plots filled with political intrigue, betrayal, magic, fate, and many, many crazy and interesting characters. Some are better than others, but they're all pretty special.

First released outside Japan in late 1996, the unfortunately-titled Suikoden was one of the PlayStation's first RPGs. It was short, sweet, and excellent — a harrowing tale about a son forced to rebel against the empire he once served. 1999's Suikoden II was straight-up perfection. It's my favourite game of all time, a masterpiece that fixed the first game's flaws, subverted all of my expectations, and told a story so interesting, so poignant, so utterly compelling that I don't think I'll ever forget it. And the music! The music!

Konami continued to release games in the series, none of which earned a ton of attention, no matter how much they deserved it. Most were released here, up until 2012's Genso Suikoden Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki, which has yet to make it to America. (I have asked Konami about this multiple times. They won't comment.)

Over the past decade, fans have watched in silent misery as Konami's non-Japanese branches ignored their favourite series in favour of sure-fire hits like Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania and soccer. The Suikoden series — a series that could have been a blockbuster sensation if handled properly — was swept under the rug, poorly marketed and ignored.

It's always difficult to watch a great piece of art die before its time. Veronica Mars, for example. Firefly. Way too many television shows and game franchises were unceremoniously beheaded before they even got a chance to peak.

But worse than watching a clean death is having to witness a great piece of art flail around like a chicken with no head, aimlessly bouncing around the room as its owner apathetically looks elsewhere.

Konami has mistreated Suikoden. They've mistreated Suikoden fans — particularly American Suikoden fans. And they don't seem to care one bit.

But hey. Let's not focus on the negative. Rumours have suggested that Konami disbanded their Suikoden team, but let's say they want to bring it back. Let's say they want to fix their mistakes. Here are some suggestions.

Give It A New Name

Final Fantasy. Dragon Quest. Persona. Japan's most successful RPGs overseas all have one big thing in common: their names are interesting, punchy and pronounceable.

And sure, correlation doesn't equate to causation. But say you're a casual RPG fan. Maybe you don't play that many video games or read websites like Kotaku (in which case: welcome!), but you occasionally head to EB to see what new RPGs are out. Assuming you're not very familiar with any of these games, what are you more likely to pick up on impulse? The game called "Dragon Quest" or the game called "Suikoden"?

In an industry where millions are vying for our money and attention every day, packaging is more important than ever. Why intentionally limit Suikoden's potential by keeping such an esoteric name? I'm not going to offer any suggestions, other than don't use "Stars of Destiny". That sounds like a hip hop reality show.

Okay, OK, here are some suggestions. Shattered Fate. Destiny's Soldiers. Pokémon.

Speaking of which...

Draw Up A Great Marketing Plan

A Kotaku reader pointed out a few months ago that there's an easy way to market Suikoden: Game of Thrones meets Pokémon.

It's friggin' brilliant. Who wouldn't be instantly hooked by a pitch like that? It's accurate, too: Suikoden blends the twisty, political, high-fantasy plots and schemes of George RR Martin's popular series with the addictive catch-em-all mechanic that has kept millions addicted to the Pokémon games no matter how little they change from year to year.

All you need is a simple slogan, a few emails to internet press and some buzz on Reddit. Bam.

Make The Older Games More Accessible

Suikoden is available on the PlayStation Network. Suikoden II is not, much to fans' dismay. Lots of fans' dismay.

A few thousand fans have even formed a Facebook group to unite and petition Konami: "Let us give you our money!"

Will Konami ever listen? The number of Suikoden fans in America might not reach seven digits. Maybe there are only a few thousand. But they're passionate, loyal and ready to advocate for this series to anyone who will listen. And they want to help get some of the old Suikoden games into more peoples' hands.

Enough With The Goddamned Spinoffs

If you think Suikoden is an awful name, how about Suikoden Tierkreis?

Released for DS back in 2009, Tierkreis wasn't a bad game, but it sure as hell wasn't Suikoden. It eschewed the heavy plotlines in favour of a more anime-inspired "go defeat the evil king" story, and it took us out of the big, detailed world in which all five major Suikoden games take place.

This was crushing. For fans, one of the most exciting parts of the Suikoden series is seeing tiny references that carry over from game to game, whether it's recurring characters (or maybe a recurring character's relative), references to historical events you experienced in other games, or even just old books filled with little hints that longtime fans can pick up on. Nothing inspires loyalty and commitment like the feeling that sticking with a series for the long haul was worth our time. You can maintain consistency without sacrificing accessibility: Suikoden V did that just fine. Why not keep it up?

Experimentation Isn't A Bad Thing

Look, I'm not saying Konami should make a Suikoden game for iPhone. In fact, I should erase that line before they get any ideas. Pretend I didn't just say that.

But instead of investing millions into a risky big-budget console game that needs to sell hundreds of thousands of copies just to break even, why not make a smaller, digital release? Why not do something episodic? Hell, why not launch a Kickstarter?

Maybe it's tough to convince a Japanese company to care about its international audience when it feels like so many Western gamers are constantly trashing and unfairly criticising their RPGs. That's fair. But there are still RPG fans here, RPG fans who will happily pass around links and tell their friends to go buy Suikoden II on PSN right now because holy crap you don't even know how good it is.

Throw us a bone here, Konami. Suikoden deserves better. Suikoden fans deserve better.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.


Comments

    The only 'fixing' Suikoden needs is actually being localised and released.

      We are kindred today. *high five*

    I played Suikoden Teirkreis. It was ehh. Graphics were alright and once I patched out the voice acting it was actually decent. But it was nothing amazing.

      Tierkreis is a spinoff. It cannot be compared to main series. And as the article mentions, it leaves out a lot of what makes a Suikoden game a Suikoden game.

    Totally agree with the name. Suikoden, Shin Megami Tensai, and soon Ni No Kuni. I understand that this might look "cool" to the anime clubs around the world, but it's a serious misstep by the companies who might otherwise have wanted their games to have a legitimate global appeal. Just give them a new English title.

    Apparently "Ni No Kuni" means "Second Country." Sounds all right. Or perhaps "The Second World." That would be much more appealing to Average Joe's eyes than "Ni No Kuni."

    "Shin Megami Tensei" = "True Goddess Reincarnation." Hmmm... How about just "True Goddess?"

    As for "Suikoden," it apparently means "The Legend of Water Margins." Oh...kay... "Aqua Legend" perhaps? I dunno, anything would be more accessible than unintelligible Japanese words that no one understands.

      It's a Japanese RPG, with a Japanese name.....................crazy right!?

      Remember back in the 70-90's period..

      When producers tried to westernise Japanese animation/games

      Jp titles were going to be great so we had to make up our own "awesome" western version of the title? Sure they were cool at the time... now we all look back and scoff at how cheesey the titles became. And now we're arguing "for" this practice again?

      go learn another language

    I was 13 when I watched gremio die. That scene broke me

      I know right! But i discovered that none of your closest friends need to die if you play the game a certain way (hint - beat Pahn in the 1-on-1 fight )

        Suikoden 1 and 2 will always be amongst my favourite RPGS. I dont know if it was finding the 108 stars of destiny, the story it tells with its ripped up plot, or the amazing amount of random sidequest stuff there is. Its that it also had dire consequences if you didnt do X at point B or Keep Y Alive at point C. Maybe im just too hard on RPGS today, but they just dont have the same appeal :(

    I have to comment about those that think Suikoden needs an "English" name. My argument is 2 words long and it goes like this. GROW UP!

    If your brain is so small, and your prejudice is so large than yes by all means call the game "Redneck 108" or "Waffle waitress wars" (or WWW for short if that's too many words).
    Seriously what the hell is wrong with keeping it's Japanese name???!!!! If anything it makes sure that it is not confused with some other game title, but more importantly HOW OLD ARE YOU?!

    Too many books that get released in America are renamed.....WTF!......just for America mind you, the rest of the world likes it's original name just fine. So why are you so much different to the rest of the world? Why do you need so much hand-holding and "special" help?

    Now THAT's a subject that DOES need your attention. And leave the name as it is. Jeez.....

      +10

      It's like that novel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". The original name is good enough, why change it?

    So while we're at it, should we rename all the art works with foreign names? Why is Pokémon acceptable (it's the Japanese portmanteau for Poketto Monsutaa) but Suikoden is not? Why can we have have games called Oni, Maken Shao (it's coming to PSN soon!), and Tenchu (A word close to Tenchou, a store owner!), but not Suikoden?

    I guess it irks me because Suikoden is one of my favourite series and to hear another fan say the name is stupid just grinds my goat. The name is what attracted my attention when I first saw it, perhaps because I know Japanese (nowhere near fluent, but enough to recognise basic conversation), or because it was an exotic name. Having a unique name, it's also recognisable amongst a slew of similar sounding game names. (eg. Games with Fantasy or Dragon in the name) Though, if you *had* to give it an English name, I'd suggest "True Runes".

    Suikoden V was a really good game and when I played it I thought "Yes! they are doing this right! this game is great. maybe Suikoden is in for a full fledged revival" but then I heard it didn't do that great because it was released too late into the PS2's life with bugger all marketing because Konami evidently thinks marketing should be something only Metal Gear gets.

    At this point I completely agree that the best course is a new name but for different reasons . Suikdeon could have hit that level of Final Fantasy and Persona but just never did. If a new Suikoden game hopes to reach that level (which - if done well - it sure as hell could) it's gonna have an easier time of it without a '6' in its name to scare off new people. Also yes, for the love of God market it decently Konami.
    The only actual downside to name Suikoden in my eyes though is that I have three friends who all pronounce it differently.

    I loved Suikoden (I always pronounced it Suu-ko-den) and I thought the name always kept it as a genuine jrpg series. My main problem with the series as a whole was the only way I ever had access to the games as a kid was pirated versions from bali [pirating a game with pirates ;) ] I'm still yet to play 1 and 2 but oh boy did I love 3/4 and Tactics. Soo much fun! They just need to go back to their roots but actually advertise in western countries! If I heard a new game was coming out and it was an actual Suikoden RPG I would buy in an instant.

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