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Stories from the Past: Suikoden 2

[We tend to forget that every person will experience a game in a different way. We’re all unique people with unique pasts, after all. It was this consideration that bred the idea for this series. Like the name suggests, I’m going to use this series as a platform to simply talk about my experiences playing certain games in the hopes that you can share in the experience through my eyes. Please note that this will contain spoilers.]

Memory is a strange thing. It tends to retain some of the most random moments from our pasts, such as a fairly innocuous dream or the way your house looked on a particular day. It also works in some incredible ways; just look at the manner in which the brain connects memory and music. It’s something that scientists still struggle to understand.

However, there are also those experiences that stick with you for the most obvious of reasons. For me, one such experience was my time spent with Suikoden 2 on the Playstation. In some ways, the game was a typical RPG: the type of game that, by the time it was released in 1999, I had played many times before.

Regardless, many specific moments, decisions, and feelings that I experienced as I held that controller in my hand still remain clear in my mind: I remember where I was sitting, what I was eating, and most vividly of all, what I felt.

So let’s take a trip back to 1999…

As I always did with RPGs of this time, I entered my life-long nickname, Kauza, as the name of the game’s hero. Perhaps I can attribute this to a desire for escape; an angry father and drug-addicted brother often made things at home unbearable outside of my room, so when I was able, I tried as best as I could to completely insert myself into these games.

The opening of Suikoden 2 made it easy. Life seemed great: army life wasn’t so bad, and I had my best friend Jowy by my side: one thing that my real life luckily never lacked. Somehow, I was immediately in this character, despite the fact that (or, perhaps, because) he very rarely talked.

Things quickly changed.

My unit is slaughtered. My friend and I have no choice but to escape by jumping into the river below, promising to meet back here should we get separated. We didn’t get separated, however (at least not yet), and at the time I didn’t know the true significance of this moment. I let the game’s events take me where I needed to go, and it wasn’t until the game’s conclusion that I saw that moment for what it really was.

As the story tends to be in life, shit happens. Armies are formed, castles are built, and battles are fought. My own best friend, Jowy, now fights against me in the enemy army. Did our friendship mean nothing? Still, I must seek out new allies from all across the game’s world. I travel to distant towns, fight a lot of shit, and jump through some ridiculous hoops in the quest to unite the 108 Stars of Destiny: the vital allies that I’ll require if I’m to find victory get the best ending.

All the while, I decide (for some silly reason) to make my own soundtrack to the game. My current music taste compels me to choose No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, an album that will remind me of this game for the rest of my life. In particular, my mind latches onto one song, entitled “The Climb” and the words “So high the climb, I can’t turn back now.” In the epic journey I’m taking (and the constant walks to the top of the castle), the song becomes the perfect soundtrack: both meaningful and appropriate. My time with the game is forever tied to that song. Thanks for that, brain. Still, it serves to make my feelings about the game even more intense.

I soon reunite with my sister Nanami: an entirely likable girl who consistently supports me. I choose to keep her in my party at all times, even when it isn’t mandated by the game. Perhaps it’s just my longing to have a normal sibling relationship, even a virtual one. But I come to care about the sister that I never had. Her presence—her constant support and companionship—is a necessary part of the game to me.

Soon, that world would come crashing down on top of me.

With my entourage behind me, I struggle through a pivotal section of the game: a long trek through a difficult castle. When I am finally treated to a cutscene after what must have been an hour or two, I breathed a sigh of relief; finally, I could relax. Nanami and I encounter Jowy, and words are exchanged.

Suddenly, we are ambushed, and the enemies fire upon us with bow and arrow. I’m given the following choices to respond to the situation.

“Look out!”

As was the norm with the game, I knew that choosing the wrong one could have a negative effect. With responses as vague as this, I needed time. Which one would allow me to protect my sister? What’s the right choice here?

Suddenly, without having input a command at all, the dialogue box disappears. Nanami charges forward and begins to block arrows with her weapon.

However, the fourth one finds its mark, and Nanami falls.

What in god’s name have I done?

I hold the shaking body of the sister that I never had in my arms. I know exactly what has happened as her body goes limp. Even as one of my soldiers tells me that she’s still breathing, I know I’ve lost her.

Hell, I even remember going through the five stages of grief.

First, I told myself that the game wasn’t really killing off my sister. She’d be just fine. Even as the game confirmed to me that she was dead, I refused to accept it. The game would bring her back.

This is bullshit, I then told myself. The damn game didn’t even give me a chance to make the right choice. Why the hell did it put a time limit on that choice? It had never done that before. It’s not my fault; it’s just the shitty design of the game.

Wait, what if I just restart? Load my last save! It’s brilliant. If only I could trudge through the two or so hours that I would lose, then I could go back and make everything right. I could save her.

But, no. I wasn’t going to do that. I had just fucked up the only normal sibling relationship I had ever had. Why bother even finishing the game? What other important characters would I allow to die?

After sitting for minutes on my floor, staring at the screen with the controller in my lap, I finally decided to press on. Picking up the controller, I accepted what happened and vowed never to let it happen again.

[Later, I would learn that Nanami died no matter what I chose, and that the only way that she ended up alive at the end of the game was by recruiting all 108 characters in the game. However, at the time I wasn’t a FAQ monkey, and I wouldn’t learn this until my second playthough. Says something about gaming experiences and the use of FAQs, methinks.]

One last moment stood out to me. When I originally played though, I screwed up enough to ensure that I wouldn’t get a very good ending. And, indeed, I didn’t.

Still, I managed to learn what the best ending of the game was, and it sounded incredible. In essence, the main character and Jowy have a final confrontation at Tanzen Pass from the beginning of the game. If you’ve done everything right, and you refuse to fight Jowy here, you, he, and Nanami will leave their respective armies and start a brand new life. Just as they had agreed to do, they met back at that spot after getting separated, both physically and metaphorically. It’s the ultimate friendship story, and it’s one of the most memorable endings in any video game…

…and one that I never got to experience first hand. This was, of course, years before YouTube offered every game ending ever, and I only heard about the “good” ending secondhand. I imagined the ending in my head, playing it over and over and longing to experience it for myself. But I couldn’t. I thought back to my moment of inaction, and how it changed things forever. Now that I’ve actually seen the ending, it’s not quite how I had imagined it, but my damn if it’s not great.

More than perhaps any other game, I truly found Suikoden 2 to be a journey: not only one that involved progressing from point A to point B, but one that explored the journey of characters, how they change, and how their experiences affect them. Most of all, it was a journey that fully included me, as both a player and a human being.

I’m sure that no player experienced the game in the same way that I did. In fact, if I were to play the game again today, I know that the experience would be vastly different—and perhaps this is why I fear playing it again. For all of its faults, and for all of my mistakes, it was an experience that was simply perfect.

“This was the place where our journey began. How many hours have passed since we were first here?”

“Let's go, Kauza. Let's make this place the beginning of our journey.”

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About Andrew Kauzone of us since 5:10 PM on 04.30.2009

In loving memory: PAX 2009 (thanks ZombiePlatypus! And WalkYourPath, of course)

I'm Kauza, which is pronounced like cause-uh. My real name's Andrew Kauz, if you'd rather go for that.

I like talking to Dtoid people, so please add me on your favorite social networking site:
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kauza
Gchat: santakauz[at]gmail.com.

Basics: I'm 25, and I write things.

Eternal thanks go out to Y0j1mb0 for the amazing header image you see above. So, thanks, sir!

Look at some of the things I've written.

Things on the Front Page:

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale
The Future: Demanding more from the voices of videogames
Love/Hate: A plea to play as a female Shepard
A warning: Regrets from a former life and experiences yet unlived
Top ten games for people who hate Thanksgiving
The wrong thing: Being evil should be more like sex
Staying dry in a sea of spoilers is a matter of building a boat
Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
Come, take your pilgrimage to gaming's one true mecca
Here's to you, random-JRPG-dialogue-writer-man
The forgotten: Crushing disappointment at the hands of Crash 'n the Boys
The people who have the power to change the world
Improving game communities: Enough with the negativity
The draw of exploration: Antarctica to Oblivion, Shackleton to Shadow Complex
I suck at games: BlazBlue and a slapdash attempt at fisticuffs
I, the Author: My Everest
Untapped Potential: The Gamer's Education
Other Worlds than These: Our World, Only Different

A series sort of thing about status effects
Toxic Megacolon and other fresh status effects
Curse you, status effects, stop confusing my heart
Status effects are poisons that turn my silent heart to stone
Also check out the related forum thread.

The Fall of the Titans (wherein I talk about dead or dying gaming companies)

The fall of the titans part 3: What once was shall be again
The fall of the titans: Sega died so that we might dream of the future
The fall of the titans: Why do the giants of gaming die?

Stories from the Past (a series about my experiences playing certain games):

Stories from the Past: Tobal 2, Tomba! 2, and console double-vision
Stories from the Past: Diablo and the Dark Ride
Stories from the Past: What the f*ck, mom?
Stories from the Past: Xexyz and the battle aboard Turtlestar Lobsterica
Stories from the Past: The One-Balled Man-Bear
Stories from the Past: The Battle of Olympus
Stories from the Past: Suikoden 2

Storytelling (a series about, well, storytelling):

Storytelling: The Problem of Genres
Storytelling: Mass Effect, Vonnegut, and the Fourth Rule
Storytelling: Doing Nothing in "The Darkness"
Storytelling: The Power of a Single Line (Yeah, it was my first post.)

Other stuff that is good:

Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
A consuming power: The demon and the borderlands
Can games transcend good and evil?
Nothing is sacred: We won't let you go alone, but we have made a tragic decision
How Destructoid single-handedly changed my mother’s opinion of gaming
Why Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest sports game of all time
Seven reasons that I will end you in creative ways if you don't play Folklore
Mother Nature and the Impending Death of the Gaming Spirit
Times Games Forgot: The Dark Ages
The Sins and Successes of In-game Collectibles
The Lock is Broken
When Music Surpasses the Game
Truckasaurus Rex and the Humor of Games
I Want to Cry (storytelling related, but not part of the series)

I have others as well that you can check out on my blog. You'll enjoy them or your money back.

Since it seems like the cool thing to do, here a list of my favorite games that is coming straight out of my ass and onto your computer screen, and in no particular order.

Fallout 3
Uncharted 2
Suikoden 2
Mass Effect / ME2
Metal Gear Solid followed by any number you can think of
Tales of Somethingendinginia (OK, and the Abyss)
Battlefield: Bad Company
Xbox LIVE:kauza
PSN ID:santakauz
Mii code:kauza


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