Published on September 17th, 2013 | by Nich Maragos5
GIA de los Muertos
The week before TGS, USgamer editor and old GIA confrère Jeremy Parish tweeted about an unspecified “exciting TGS rumor/lead” that he was following up on. Naturally, his followers went aflutter with speculation, which included hopes for Suikoden VI, a revival of Konami’s former flagship RPG franchise.
Suikoden’s had a rough time of it for a long while now. Its crowning moment was Suikoden II, way back in 1998; depending who you ask, various of the three PS2 sequels were good attempts at recapturing the magic, but most fans agree that none of them quite reached the heights of those glory days. And the two most recent games, which abandoned the series’ previously established world, timeline, and tone in favor of dimension-hopping hijinks, are better left ignored. Konami evidently thought so too, since they didn’t bother to release the last one outside of Japan.
It’s a sad picture of a series in decline. But hope springs eternal. Maybe someday, fans hope and pray, Konami will see fit to grace them with a real Suikoden sequel. A Suikoden with fast combat and six-character parties; with castle building and 108 party members; with a focus on the far-reaching consequences, political and personal, of warfare. Maybe they’ll even set this one in Harmonia!
It’ll never happen. Suikoden is dead. Suikoden V was released in 2006; by now, the core team that made the games people remember and cherish has almost certainly scattered to the four winds. Without those guiding minds behind a new Suikoden game, you get, well, Suikoden Tierkreis. On top of that, Konami isn’t the sort of company to devote internal development releases to a full-throated, packaged-product RPG these days. A Suikoden game released in 2014 would be a free-to-play mobile game where the 108 stars are randomized drops behind a paywall. And on top of that, even if Konami had a startling change of heart, and allocated the proper resources and staff to making a genuine Suikoden game again, and while we’re fantasizing let’s say it’s a next-generation console game, at that… it wouldn’t sell. The market, both domestic and overseas, has changed since 2006, and sober political dramas like Suikoden aren’t what players are buying. 2006, recall, was also the year we got Final Fantasy XII. Now we get Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Don’t mistake this for a rant about the declining fortunes of the Japanese game industry. I could write similar paragraphs about why we won’t be getting more No One Lives Forever or Baldur’s Gate. All I really wanted to make clear was that Suikoden, a once-vibrant series, is now stone dead. And that’s okay.
It should be dead. Franchises should die. Endings are sometimes appropriate in creative fields, especially when the original creators are gone. Do we want games to be comics, where revenant properties shamble on long after the spark that made them worth reading has died out? They still publish X-Men books and Gasoline Alley strips, but the audience for both has dwindled to the diehard followers who mainly still read out of inertia. Is that what we want for Suikoden? Should Yoshitaka Murayama be chained to his creation for another ten years to make games neither he nor most of his audience is interested in anymore?
If you’re tempted to say yes, it might be instructive to look to one of Suikoden II’s 1998 contemporaries: Metal Gear Solid. For around ten years now, Hideo Kojima has expressed a desire to hand that series off and do something else after every single entry, yet time and again he finds himself compelled to do another, and then another. Do you ever wonder sometimes what we might have had from Kojima instead of Portable Ops? Or Metal Gear Solid 4? Or the upcoming Phantom Pain, of which Kojima is so bored that he’s resorted to begging Yoji Shinkawa to sex up the character designs so he can stay entertained in some way during production?
Generally speaking, the longer a series goes on, the more it declines in quality. And there’s a good reason for that. With every follow-up, creators are caught between having to provide something new and sticking to what worked before. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare revolutionized first-person shooters with its experience system and perks. But ever since then, whatever developer is stuck making the game this year has been saddled with giving the series’ millions of players the same thing as last time, only more so. At this point, the smallest possible change to any part of Call of Duty elicits only rage from the fanbase. All they want is what they already have.
Until the next thing comes along. Respawn Entertainment, freed from the shackles of their success, is poised to deliver Titanfall – by all accounts, a next step at last for beyond Call of Duty. It won’t be much like the series that made their name, but that’s a feature, not a failing. In being allowed to do something new, not only was Respawn creatively reenergized, but players get to reap the benefit of their renewed passion and get a game that—finally—is allowed to be better than Modern Warfare. This is not a unique cycle. When Bioware stopped making Baldur’s Gate, we got Knights of the Old Republic. When Harmonix handed off Guitar Hero, we got Rock Band. When Hideki Kamiya left Capcom, we got Bayonetta.
So no, it’s not a crime that there will never be a Suikoden VI or a No One Lives Forever 3. The real crime, and the issue fans should be speaking up about, is that there’s no good way in 2013 to play Suikoden II or No One Lives Forever. The state of preservation and archival in the industry is appalling, as re-releases and ports of classic games are senselessly stigmatized by gamers and carelessly handled by publishers. When classic movies are re-released in a new format, the studio gives them the royal treatment, but games? More often than not we get shoddy, token efforts like the Silent Hill HD Collection or Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition—or nothing at all.
There are a few who do it well. GOG, formerly Good Old Games, has been such a success at repackaging classic PC games for modern machines that it’s earned CD Projekt financial independence on the development side, just as Valve found with Steam. (Steam also has a hefty selection of classic games, for that matter, though Valve’s not put the work in that GOG has to keep them running.) Among the major IP holders, Nintendo is far and away the best at ensuring that the old games on its systems remain evergreen with Virtual Console services on Wii, 3DS, and Wii U… even if they can be slow about rolling them out. But these are a few bright spots in a mostly black sky. They’re showing the way, but precious few are following.
It’s not wrong to mourn the halcyon days of gaming gone by. But when you find yourself wishing for a return to Suikoden II, or Mega Man Legends, or Earthbound, ask yourself something, and be honest with your answer: do you want something like that, or do you want that? And if you find it’s the latter that you really want, then don’t ask the publishers of the world to dig up the corpses. Ask instead for more fitting memorials.