Friday, August 10, 2012

AGE: Suikoden III and the Lost Generation

                                                                                                                                          Gamer Limit

When I first began seriously building my video game collection, I was happy if I could keep $1,000 in the bank at any given time. Now I could re-buy my entire collection ten times over and don't have the time to play any of them. So while I had intended to get through my list of Almost Got 'Em titles this summer, I ended up not even making a dent in the last game I was playing, Suikoden III. However, with what I had played and what I remember from my first attempt at scaling its heights (and Ayn's subtle threats of physical violence if I didn't post something while he's on vacation), I've got enough material to tackle one more post about Suikoden III and how it represents a void in the overall Suikoden narrative that may never be filled.

One of the enthralling things about the Suikoden series has been the lore of the world it takes place in. The creator of the series, Yoshitaka Murayama, originally conceived of the second game first. When he was greenlighted by Konami to make a game for them, he decided to put his grand vision on the back burner to test out the waters with a prequel to his concept. So Suikoden, the game so good it was the whole reason I bought a Playstation in the first place, was the game Murayama made because he needed to prepare the world for what he really had in mind.

"4 stars? It's a start."

And what a story he told! In the span of two games Murayama gave us the Toran Republic and the City-State of Jowston. The epic retelling of the classic Chinese tale The Water Margin with its rebel alliance and domineering empire and impenetrable Death Star.

It's a trap!

Through two games, separated by three years of in-game time, a tale was woven of stalwart heroes and tragic villains, of powerful runes and ancient civilizations, of love, sacrifice, triumph, tragedy, all while making a moving statement about the human condition. Suikoden I and II introduced us to the concepts which were at the heart of Murayama's vision; a saga about a world with 27 True Runes as the focal point of not just magic, but the tragic wars and inspiring heroism that envelop their owners, and the power of the hearts of 108 heroes joined together to change the world.

When Suikoden II was released, it thrilled many players almost right off the bat by not only revealing the fates of two heroes from the previous game who had vanished at its conclusion, but then adding them to your party. This set the stage for discovering that the world would be full of previous "Stars of Destiny" still shining 3 years later. Not only that, but people and areas only referenced in the first Suikoden were now revealed in full, building a whole new layer to an already fantastic story. When Suikoden III was released, taking place a full 15 years after the first sequel, it not only followed suit, but introduced more children than either of the two previous games, hinting at another big time jump and a thrilling new adventure in store for all the fans of the series in Suikoden IV.

And then that never happened.

Yoshitaka Murayama set a goal for himself when he began working for Konami. He would stay with the company for 10 years and then seek his fortune elsewhere. In the span of that decade, he made the first two Suikoden games and nearly completed the third. That "nearly," see, that's the rub, because when he fulfilled his ten-year promise to himself, Murayama did indeed take his leave.

Apparently this left everyone else in Konami without an ounce of desire to finish what he started.

Planning for Suikoden IV gets underway.

As a result, Suikoden IV took us back hundreds of years rather than moving forward. Suikoden V moved us back within a mere 3 years of the original Suikoden, but besides filling in some minor back story points, also did nothing to advance the plot. Now, with Suikoden Tierkries and the recently announced PSP addition, it seems that Konami is focusing on simply exploiting the Suikoden formula rather than completing its story.

Which is a shame because before he left, Murayama gave us a hint at what the next generation of Suikoden heroes was going to look like. In this post I'm going to break down who these kids are, and where they could have gone had Suikoden III not been the real final entry into the story.

The Saint Loa Knights, Melville, Elliot, and Alanis, are a group of 10-year-olds you meet in one of the primary cities in the game, Vinay del Zexay.This trio plays at being real Zexen knights together, until Alanis is taken away by her father's work. Ultimately, you reunite the trio and they join the 108 Stars. At the time of Suikoden III, they're all roughly 10-12 years old. If a sequel had taken place 5 or 10 years later, where would they be?

"Young Star of Destiny" is synonymous with "Child Celebrity."

Melville was the most serious about becoming a knight, but what if time made him more like his drifting treasure-hunter father, Billy? Would we see an older Melville as one of the new top knights in the Federation, or would he be roaming the countryside searching for lost troves or sunken ships? Would Elliot be following him along dutifully, or would his pudgy, asthmatic friend have taken his own road in life? Maybe Melville would go on to be a rogue while Elliot, aging out of his sidekick role, shaped up and became a dashing knight, winning the heart of Alanis. Or perhaps he played to his intelligence and rose to become a member of the Zexen council? Would Alanis end up with Melville or Elliot, or abandon the Saint Loa Knights altogether to pursue her own goals, or be dragged away by her father's work again, only to turn up later in some far-off land?

It's widely believed that Mushroom Kingdom is just outside Grasslands.

There are so many combinations to explore that it's a travesty we'll never find out what happened to these three kids. Maybe they all continued to live out their dream together and became three Zexen knights. Maybe time sent them down different roads, and a sequel would be the vehicle for a touching - or acrimonious - reunion.

Kidd kept up the detective agency begun by Richmond in the previous game, would the Detective Conan knock-off have returned as an adult? Would we see Shabon grown up enough that she was no longer pursued by the creepy pedophile the game for some reason insists you recruit? Louis was clearly destined for something great, either becoming the next Salome for the Zexen Federation or madly slaughtering all of them for treating him like a pack mule.

They made him walk . . . he made them run.

And what about the children of Suikoden I and II stars introduced for the first time in III? Sanae, the daughter of Freed and Yoshina, journeyed all the way from South Window to Grasslands for training. There's no reason to think her travels wouldn't take her to some further point where she'd be called upon to assist a True Rune bearer once more. Emily, the impossibly strong daughter of the original Suikoden's Ronnie Bell, was the best fighter in the game as a 15-year-old girl. Let her loose in a game taking place in Camaro or Harmonia and let the sparks fly.

That Emily, she's a firecracker.

A sequel which actually pushed the story forward would let us see Belle as an adult with another version of Gadget, and maybe even tell us who it was Meg shacked up with to have a daughter in the first place. Milia's daughter Sharon would no longer be Futch's insubordinate subordinate, but a full Dragon Knight with her own ride. Max was around in both of the first two games despite already being ancient, there's no reason not to bring back Fred and Rico as they carry on the name of the Maximilian Knights. And of course any sequel worth playing would have to bring back Lilly and let us know how the prodigal daughter of Tinto's ruler turned out.

More importantly than that, Suikoden III showed us that the characters from the first two games were growing up and having kids, and that their offspring were going to keep being important. Had the story gone further, would we have seen the child of Hix and Tengaar? Maybe a long-lost and unknown bastard of Clive and Elza? What about Flik and Nina? Kirkis and Sylvina? Or better yet, Tir McDohl and Kasumi? Or a grown-up Pilika? All of these potential Stars of Destiny, now gone forever in the wake of Murayama's departure.

So when you think about it, he's history's greatest murderer.

If you ask me, and I'll pretend you did, the biggest wasted story comes from the technical main protagonist of the game, Thomas, and his faithful guard, Cecile. Unlike the previous Suikoden heroes, Thomas provides little more to the game than a heart-warming sub-plot about protecting the run-down old castle he becomes master of and rekindling the hopes of its odd-ball inhabitants. His power, like Tir McDohl and Riou, lies in uniting people under his banner, but unlike his predecessors he's more of an administrator than a front-lines guy, keeping the castle up while the Flame Champion does the heavy lifting.


But what would happen if we pushed the clock forward a few years and saw what Thomas was like after years of being the master of a renovated castle now recognized as a crucial landmark in both Zexen and Grasslands, and a hub of trade for the entire region?

I have this image in my head of a tall, regal Thomas with a keen eye and a full beard, wisely ruling the inhabitants of Budehuc Castle. Cecile would now be armored up like Chris and wearing her hair in the same style, and in command of a full compliment of castle guards. Would they be married? Would they have young ones running around? Would the years have only resulted in an unspoken, unrequited love Cecile harbored for Thomas that only you could bring to light? How would the castle have held up after the Second Fire Bringer War?

I loved Thomas's side-story about bringing the rag-tag crew of Budehuc Castle together and overcoming incredible odds to keep everybody together. The idea that now we'll never know how things turned out for him is frustrating every time I think about how much potential that story had to offer.

So there you have it. With the departure of one man, an entire series collapsed. Forget all the other unanswered questions about who Nash married, how Edge came to get the Star Dragon Sword, what happened to the Beast Rune, when Pesmerga will finally track down Yuber, all of it. What we really lost with Murayama's departure was the chance to see all of these kids grow up and continue encountering them as we made our way region-by-region into Harmonia (the inevitable final destination of the story). After seeing Futch and Tuta return as adults, it only stands to reason that more had been intended by introducing so many children in a single game - but now we'll never know why.

Though including this guy does make me wonder.

Though who knows - anything is certainly possible. Perhaps one day someone at Konami will think of the children, and Suikoden's lost generation will step back into the light.

Until that day, keep playing.

No comments: