So you've just bought Suikoden II on the PlayStation Network. Finally, for the first time ever, you're going to play through one of the finest role-playing games ever made. Exciting, isn't it?
There are some things you should know before you start, though. Tips to make your life easier. To make your gaming better. To let you enjoy Suikoden II more. To help you get laid. Maybe not the last one.
Play the first Suikoden
I know, I know. You want to see what all the Suikoden II fuss is about, but you don't have the time or energy to sit down and crank through two big JRPGs in a row. Trust me. The first Suikoden is short and sweet, a very good role-playing game that sets the foundation for what makes Suikoden II as great as it is. Many of the emotional moments in Suikoden II hit even harder when you're already familiar with the world and the returning characters. And if you get all 108 stars in Suikoden, you can bring your save file over to Suikoden II for a great sidequest that's totally worth your time.
Customise your controls
A lot of people don't realise this, but on the Vita, if you hold down the PlayStation button you can change your control settings for PS1 Classic games. Want to make your analogue sticks work like d-pads? You can! Want to make it so the back touchscreen stops setting off commands? You can! Want to change the cancel/confirm buttons? YOU CAN!
Pay attention to formations
Early in the first Suikoden, when you get the character Viktor, you might find yourself wondering why he's not attacking enemies. The game doesn't do a good job of explaining this, but characters' weapons actually have specific ranges that you can see next to their names when you choose Formation in the menu. Viktor has a short-ranged weapon, so he can only attack when he's in the first row.
A brief breakdown:
S (short): must be in the first row to attack
M (medium): can attack from either of your rows but can only attack the enemy's front row
L (long): can attack from either of your rows and can attack any of the enemy's rows
In other words, you'll want to put your S-ranged characters in front. The other characters can go wherever. (I like to stick my L-ranged characters in the back, because they're usually more frail.)
Use unite attacks!
They're really powerful. Play around with all sorts of different party combinations to see as many as possible.
Don't be afraid to use auto-attack/let go
One of the greatest things about Suikoden's battle system is that it lets you both A) breeze through easy enemies thanks to a fast-paced auto-attack system, and B) get rid of easy enemies by letting them go. Use these options -- they're great! Also, if you're in a pinch, don't forget that you can use Bribe to pay off the enemies in exchange for a safe escape.
You can revive dead people with medicine outside of battle
RPG conventions usually dictate that you need special items or priests/inns to resurrect your dead characters, but in the Suikoden games, you can heal anyone outside of battle with regular medicine, even if they have 0 hit points. Fun fact!
Make sure you keep your weapons sharpened
In Suikoden, there's no way to buy new weapons for your characters. Rather, every character has his or her own weapon that you can upgrade at blacksmiths throughout the game. It's easy to forget to do this regularly, which is why I'm reminding you: if you want your characters to do lots of damage, sharpen their weapons. This can get expensive, so don't feel compelled to dole upgrades out to everyone -- just make sure to maintain the characters you regularly use.
Don't use a walkthrough!
It can be tempting to look up guides for how to recruit all 108 Stars of Destiny in each Suikoden game, but I strongly recommend you don't do that. Hunt for characters on your own. It's way more fun that way -- and there's something really satisfying about figuring out how to recruit everyone in the game. It's like a series of minor puzzles.
Go on recruiting sprees between major events
Both Suikoden and Suikoden II follow certain rhythms: in both games, once you get your castle, you'll go through a series of major story missions to advance the plot and progress through the game. In between each of these missions you'll have an opportunity to hang around, do mini-games, and go recruit characters. Do this! Take the time to go out and find new cities, revisit old ones, and explore every nook and cranny in the game. Talk to everyone. It's all part of the charm.
Pay attention to people with unique sprites and pictures.
As you go through the game, you'll run into a whole ton of characters with their own sprites and pictures. Chances are, if someone has a unique sprite and a picture, they can join your army. Often you'll meet people before they're actually willing to join you, so try to keep mental track of where you run into each character... although it's worth noting, sometimes they will move around the world as the story progresses.
In Suikoden II, you can use your detective character to help you track down every Star of Destiny and figure out how to recruit them, which will make things way easier.
If someone offers to join you, SAY YES
The fun thing about the Suikoden games is that you'll get a lot of dialogue options, some of which don't actually do anything (the "but thou must!" conundrum) and some of which will totally surprise you by actually changing the story.
I won't tell you what to choose as you play, but I will tell you this: you can permanently lose party members if you choose not to recruit them at certain points in both Suikoden and Suikoden II. Don't make this mistake.
Try to recruit all 108 stars in each game
Yes, I told you not to use a walkthrough. Still. I have faith in your ability to recruit everyone. You can do it. To get the best endings in both games, you'll have to get all 108 stars, so it's worth trying to pull that off as you play.
Don't let anyone die in army battles
Though it's perfectly OK to let your characters die in normal combat, you CANNOT let anyone die in big major army battles, or else they will be permanently gone. If it happens, reset the game. Also... you probably did something wrong, so make better choices next time around.
There IS a point of no return
Some essential pieces of advice if you want to make sure you get all 108 stars in each game without missing anything:
Suikoden: Make sure Pahn wins THE duel (use him whenever you can so he gets nice and strong); get 107 stars before the Battle of Shazarazade.
Suikoden II: Do a single point of damage to Gilbert when you fight him in the army battle; don't miss the Clive cut-scene in Muse; don't skip the sidequest in Highway Village; get all 108 stars before the Battle of Rockaxe.
That's the only real walkthrough you'll need. And don't worry -- you'll know all this stuff when you see it.
Use whatever party you want
Want to stick with Gremio and Cleo the whole game? Do it! Wanna play around with powerhouses like Pesmerga and Mazus? DO IT. Part of the fun is picking your favourite characters and getting the most out of them, so don't limit yourself for any reason.
Use the dash button
In Suikoden, you'll need to equip someone with the Holy Rune to dash faster across the world, which may or may not be worth it, depending how you want to play. Play around and see if you think that's worth a rune slot.
In Suikoden II, there's a dash button -- don't forget to use it!
Get the blinking mirror as soon as you can
The "blinking mirror" is a Suikoden staple item that will let you teleport from the world map back to your castle. It's essential. In Suikoden II you'll get it automatically, but in the first game you'll have to pick it up in a city called Teien. Don't miss it!
Take advantage of castle storage
Your characters' inventories are limited, and you'll want to be smart with how you use armour and items, so make sure to use your storage guy/gal -- Rock in the first game; Barbara in the second -- to organise and store all of your loot.
Seriously, you guys are in for a treat with these games.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.