Remembering the best JRPG ever

This is a column by Jason Schreier dedicated to the analysis (and occasional mocking) of his favorite genre, the Japanese role-playing game. Whether it's because they're too antiquated or just too niche, he believes JRPGs don't get enough attention in the gaming industry today. It's time to change that.

Good news and bad news.

The bad news is that today's column will be my last. I've accepted a full-time job elsewhere and I won't be able to write for Joystiq anymore. It's been a blast talking about JRPGs with you all, and I hope you enjoyed reading my articles almost as much as I enjoyed writing them.

The good news is that I'm taking this opportunity to write about one of the best JRPGs of all time, a game I always fervidly rank at the top of every "Best Games Ever!!!" list. Few games know how to tell a story this poignant, this engaging, this memorable. Few games blend narrative and mechanics together this smoothly. Few games are so powerful that they convince you to ignore some significant flaws, like bizarre bugs and a terrible translation effort. But this one is.

It's called Suikoden II.
You might have heard this oddly named title mentioned among JRPG faithful, but unless you were lucky enough to snag a copy when it first hit the U.S. in 1999, you might not have had the chance to play it. Unfortunately, there's no way to acquire a legal copy of Suikoden II today unless you're willing to sell your kidney. (Feel free to send Sony lots of angry letters until they release the game on PlayStation Network.)

Fans who did enter the world of Suikoden II (and its predecessor, Suikoden) were treated to an RPG that combined traditional turn-based gameplay (fight/magic/items/etc.) with an addictive, oft-hair-raising recruiting mechanic. Every Suikoden game tasks you with building up a castle and enlisting 100+ different characters -- each with his or her own quirky personality -- to join your cause.

But where the series really shines -- and where Suikoden II stands out -- is in its narrative. Suikoden II tells a tale both sweeping and personal, a story of two best friends who accidentally fall into divergent destinies that they just can't seem to shake. The circumstances may be supernatural, but the obstacles your characters face are truly human.

I want you to play the game and experience it for yourself, so I won't touch much of the plot here, but story-lovers and story-tellers everywhere would do well to check it out. What is particularly impressive is the way that its writers were able to take the save-the-world trope and weave it together with a heartbreaking tale of love, betrayal, and friendship, the type of story you might see on the silver screen or read in a Murakami novel.

Even more impressive is the way Suikoden II turns its silent protagonist into an evocative, animated character with his own motivations and desires. Your hero changes drastically as he grows from a faceless soldier to the leader of a powerful nation, and he doesn't need to say a word to do it.

In other words: When somebody complains about stories in video games, tell them to play Suikoden II.

I hope you've enjoyed my JRPG articles over the past few months, and here's hoping 2012 is a year packed with awesome, innovative, clever role-playing experiences. Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you'd like to keep up with my work. Thanks for reading!


Jason Schreier is a freelance writer/editor based out of NYC. He's a contributing writer for Wired.com and occasionally writes for a number of other sites and publications, including Edge Magazine, the Onion News Network and G4TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasonschreier.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.