Wait, is this one of those games where androgynous teenagers save the world? Yes, thank you, wise ass. We’ve all heard that joke a million times.
Suikoden V does have a pretty-boy teenage lead. Freyjadour Falenas, as he’s officially known in the wiki. But he has a good excuse for being in a position of such importance: he’s the prince of Falena. His porcelain features reflect his good breeding. He gets his snowy white hair from his mother, the regal Queen Arashat, and his washboard abs from the consort of the Queen (but not the King, more on that later), former barbarian Ferid. And it’s not him and his high school pals leading the charge against chaos. It’s him and 108 other named characters, plus an army of thousands. And they’re not saving the world, they’re quashing a coup in a civil war against usurpers of the throne. And he’s not even the brains behind the war effort. That distinction belongs to Lucretia, the strategist or Tenki Star (the star of wisdom). Because this is an entry in the mostly defunct Suikoden RPG series, where the gimmick is that you recruit 108 possible party members (the stars of destiny) and raise an army.
After the jump, nothing about Skyrim, but plenty about marrying ten year old girls
The ostensible inspiration for this series is a Japanese translation of classic Chinese literature called “Suikoden”, which I have not read. All I know is each title has you fighting a war for the soul of a country, all in the same fantasy world. This means there’s a bunch of political machinations and shifting alliances. It’s like Game of Thrones, only without incest, without cringe inducing descriptions of sex, with anime characters, and with fewer major characters to keep track of.
Falena has been ruled since who-knows-when by a line of queens. Federal law dictates that all fantasy fiction about palace intrigue have something called “Houses”. These are families of nobles the monarchy puts up with for some reason, even though they’re always plotting against each other. Again, like Game of Thrones, but this time there are only two houses to keep track of: House Godwin and House Barrows.
As in every Suikoden game, shit hits the fan after some shenanigans involving one of the true runes, super duper magical orbs that are part of the world’s creation myth. The capitol Sol Falena is home to the Sun Rune (hence the ‘Sol’), while two auxiliary runes, the dawn and twilight runes, reside in palaces to the east and west. Salum Barrows uses an uprising he’s responsible for (as it turns out later, nothing is the royal family’s fault in this game) as cover to steal the dawn rune. The queen is informed that the Godwins are going to steal the Sun rune, since the last theft will provide a good cover. She decides to bear the Sun rune, or “attach” it, cause that’s what you do with runes in these games. But these special runes can’t be unequipped, and the Sun Rune is too much for one person. So Arshat goes ape shit and evaporates the lake in Lordlake, the town that had the temerity to protest the Barrows, cause she thinks everything is their fault.
The game opens with the prince’s entourage investigating Lordlake, where they confirm that the lake is still gone, and that people in Lordlake are both unhappy and too stupid to build a canal (there are lots of rivers in Falena). They head back to the capitol to report to the queen, who has one of her sudden onsets of megalomania, and starts ranting about how all those peons had it coming, before her husband calms her down. The queen’s been frequently going into tirades and threatening to nuke everyone with the sun rune, so I assume everyone at the palace has learned to keep their heads down during these episodes.
But there’s a marriage to be arranged, to the prince’s ten year old sister Lymsleai (Lym), who takes after her father in hair color, unlike her brother. As tradition dictates, her husband will be whoever wins the gladiator tournament called the Sacred Games, held in a town with the manly name of Stormfist. The nobles usually win because they get to hire ringers to fight for them. The prince’s father is the exception, cause he’s Conan and he whooped everyone at the last tournament, which also gives our hero much-needed alpha male cred. Actually, there might be potential incest in this game, since one of the potential suitors is Euram Barrows, the son of Lym’s grandfather’s cousin. Is that really incest though? Never mind.
There are incest jokes though. After the prince wins an exhibition match, Lym’s bodyguard Miakis convinces her that the prince is an actual contender for her hand in marriage. This prank shocks the poor girl before you calmly explain the situation, while Miakis just giggles and is like “Ain’t I a stinker?”.
The plot thickens when the Godwins win the tournament by getting the Barrows’ gladiator arrested and by drugging their opponent in the final match. The royal family is wise to this blatantly obvious cheating, but they don’t say anything because of some mumbo jumbo about it being too politically dicey to call bullshit. But Gizel and his father Marscal know the royals are on to them, and they’ve already got another plan in the works anyways. As well they should, seeing as how the monarch has been going on about using the Sun Rune to nuke the whole country and the hell with everyone.
Back in the capitol, after the engagement banquet, the forces of House Harkonnen… err…House Godwin attack in the middle of the night. They’ve drugged everyone to minimize bloodshed, but the queen’s forces have taken an antidote beforehand. Gizel and company still win though, because they’ve got the assassins of Nether Gate on their side. The queen and her husband are killed, and House Godwin takes control of the capital, using Lym as a puppet ruler (and Gizel’s engagement to her) to give them a veneer of legitimacy.
The prince escapes in a canoe with the royal knight Georg, his bodyguard, and the queen’s sister, Auntie Ta-Tas, also known as Sialeeds. In one of the many meaningless choices you’re given, you can protest and try to stay and fight, but the prince’s bodyguard Lyon (pronounced “leone”, who looks like an overgrown ten year old) knocks him out cold with a jab to the stomach, further emasculating him after his mom embarrassed him earlier by coddling him with a big hug. The prince vows revenge, or would he if he ever said anything. He’s a silent protagonist, even during the voiced cut scenes.
At this point, the game unfolds like every other Suikoden game, as the prince slowly gathers an army and turns the tables on the Godwins. This setup might sound more like one of those Romance of the Three Kingdom games. But this is a fairly standard JRPG, with other characters dictating where you need to go next to advance the plot. The brilliant strategist Lucretia Merces is rescued from prison early on, and she’s clearly running the show when it comes to the overall war effort. With the country being ruled by a matriarchy, the fact that the Sun Tzu character (there’s one in every game) is a woman this time, and the whole sacred games thing, the subtext of Suikoden V seems to be that males are only good for insemination and smashing people’s faces in. At least the prince gets to be field commander during the canned war battles. In between war battles, the prince’s handlers…err…allies will instruct him to go to this town or dungeon on some quest, usually to recruit another faction.
But before I can get on with all that, I need to skip to the end of the game and then start over.
Up next: New Game Plus’n it
Sapper Gopher is a private pilot, he operates out of the Gemini Sector. He flies a heavily modified Tauras.