Whilst the original Suikoden side-story ‘Suikogaiden Volume 1’ was very much a sampler of the world, companion piece and introduction to its leading man, Volume 2 is a much more fleshed out visual novel experience that delves deeper into the player character’s personal story and manages to tie in both elements of Suikoden II and III in a manner that bridges both games beautifully.
Nash as a character has been very well developed through these two titles and it very much makes his appearance and subsequent recruitment into Suikoden III feel like a natural evolution for an otherwise intriguing but under-developed individual. Suikoden III positions him as an agent of a foreign power who triggers a positive change in a central character, shifting her perspective and radically altering her trajectory, but leaves Nash’s background quite sparse. The level of interaction had with him and his supporting cast in the gaiden series turns him from a background player to a major element in the Suikoden tapestry. It really cannot be stressed enough that these games are worth playing, and tie together elements of larger titles in a natural and fluid manner reminiscent of short stories produced by major authors between novels.
Graphically there are very few recycled assets from Suikogaiden Volume 1 on display here. This is perhaps because of the ‘illustrated scene’ nature of the game, but it would have been easy to recycle supporting characters instead of draw new ones for filler purposes and this is largely not the case. Each scene is drawn very well, though obviously not in high resolution given the period and medium for which this title was released, in a manga style and shows a great deal of polish. Art assets are to a very high standard and most sequences are vivid in their layout and framing. The UI is unchanged, which closely ties this game to Suikoden II visually whilst the plot strays into Suikoden III territory. The game opens with a beautifully animated sequence that lets you know the kind of tale you are in for and sets a strong sense of world alongside a slightly more serious tone that in its predecessor.
Sound effects are used well throughout, and though the game has a limited number of music cues they are implemented to good dramatic effect. The development team have chosen to approach audio in the manner not unlike that of an audio drama, which helps to make otherwise-unspoken sequences keep the action flowing naturally. Music is of a high standard, and sits well with the scenes on screen, building to a very satisfying soundscape.
The narrative is very much the attraction of this title, with the game picking up almost seamlessly from the title that came before it (even allowing for save data to be imported) and Nash stumbling almost immediately into trouble as he makes his way homeward for a reckoning with his once thought dead rival. Immediately the game gives a strong sense of his character and introduces us to relatives and people from his past, fleshing him out in new and interesting ways. Nash is a likable protagonist with a story the player is drawn into exploring, making for some exciting set pieces that are of course interwoven with characters from the main-line series, some of whom are shown in an interesting new light.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged, using a classical visual novel style to present a branching narrative. The player still acquires points for good decision making, both of the risk/reward and sensible in-character type, and these still unlock both better choices that would otherwise be unavailable and bonus content, making for multiple playthroughs if you want to see everything. The bones of the game are pretty much unchanged, however this sequel is bigger in almost every way, offering longer chapters to enjoy, more choices thrown at you more regularly, and some very clever scenario writing.
Overall, Suikoden Volume 2 is very much the cumulation of everything set into motion in the original Suikogaiden title and a pretty thrilling ride that manages to juggle tense action sequences with sentimental moments that are legitimately touching. As visual novels go, it’s a brilliant example of the genre, and as a tie-in with a larger narrative it makes for a thrilling addition to the series. Though the game was never officially released outside of Japan or translated into other languages, an excellent fan translation of very high quality is in circulation online and can be accessed easily with the use of emulation. Sadly this is the best we can hope for as it is unlikely that Konami will bother to add these titles to their re-releases of the classic Suikoden titles. You owe it to yourself to spend some time playing these two games.