yeso Yeah I love Kirke in the first game. He’s like “well what I do is cut off heads,” and you go OK well will you join my group? And he’s like “are you sure? truly all i can do is cut off heads.” there’s a nugget of profundity in that, related to your sense of worth being determined by your social class, and actually a theme of the first game, as a player, has to be that people can transcend their circumstances if only given the opportunity. in the first game I’m not sure whether that’s intentional on the part of Murayama but in the second game I’m certain it is.
actually intention is really important to me when critiquing games. to compare Suikoden and FF, first of all I don’t know how to place FFVII, which is a political statement so plain that it’s basically pure allegory. the world is run by an industrial conglomerate that converts the life force of the planet into capital. the planet starts to die and defends itself by creating monsters to attack the humans. there’s never even a mention of representative government or how shinra overtook it; it just is. the capital city is structured into two tiers: the rich live on top and have access to sunlight; the poor live on the bottom in filthy slums. shinra’s scientific experiments go too far and accidentally create super soldiers that return to destroy it. etc. this is some jurassic park shit. in interviews with the creators they say the theme of the game is “life,” whatever that means; anyway, it doesn’t jibe at all with the basic premise of the story, so either they’re being coy or someone, maybe kazushige nojima, snuck the criticism of capitalism in.
VII is a huge outlier and from that perspective i truly don’t understand it. the rest of the series is pure spectacle and from the PSX onward are tech-driven spectacle (the least-enduring kind). although i’m not sure about X since i’m not done replaying it yet. i love VIII for…reasons, but as an example it’s a story about teenagers who were recruited into a mercenary soldier training school straight out of an orphanage, the basic ethics of which are never once even discussed. as you say, style with no substance. the theme of the game is, officially, “love” (lol)
the early suikoden games feel like proto indie games to me just in that they’re so purposeful and are largely the brainchild of one person with a clear vision, basically the opposite of FF. as moral statements they take one step beyond “do the right thing” and explore what “the right thing” really is. if you look at II, the right thing is probably something like: do the best you can in the situations you find yourself in, but don’t go trying to orchestrate events or you’ll become the bad guy yourself. a really smart observation on both history and politics actually. i’m sure there’s a reference to Machiavelli to make here but i haven’t read him
politically they take the despairing view that events are largely driven by psychopaths who are either convinced of their own greatness (Jowy, Luca, Barbarossa) or just see everything as an opportunity for personal advancement (Gorudo, Rowd, the Tinto mayor guy, Shu). and they take the comforting but plainly incorrect view that these people can be defeated or learn the error of their ways. and that they are countered by literal heroes. Viktor is Pancho Villa before he turned into an asshole, for example. Unfortunately this kind of person never really existed and there are basically no revolutionary figures that I know of who didn’t commit a massacre or some monstrous act at some point. Circling back to the idea that you should do the best you can, but always within a limited scope.
The class stuff I don’t know what to attribute to intent and what’s just the product of adapting Shui Hu Zhuan into a game. But I can’t imagine Murayama not finding it delicious to populate your group with executioners, sex workers, gamblers, thieves and others living on the margins of society. Again it’s a really positive view of history, one that isn’t borne out at all but nevertheless one that I find comforting and immensely entertaining. Suikoden 4 life