One of the games that I have recently completed is Eiyuden Chronicles: Hundred Heroes, which is a spiritual successor of a dearly beloved series Suikoden. This piques my interest to revisit some of the Suikoden games through emulator. I’ve previously written about the Suikoden series as a whole, but this time I want to do it justice and wrote about each mainline game individually. So after finishing Suikoden I (to distinguish it from the series), let’s have a look of what makes this game good and yet very underappreciated.

A story of rebellion and loss

Suikoden I was released back in 1995 (or 1996 in western market), a time where gaming is mostly comprised of either action, platform, text-based, or role-playing games. Final Fantasy VII was still few years away, and most of the JRPG available were very straightforward “lone hero saving the world from the evil big bad” games. And then this game came out, and it tells a story not about the grandeurism of saving the world (although it has that element as well), but rather a story of war – about intrique, backstabbing, betrayal, and corruption, among others.


Tir McDohl in Gregminster

You play as Tir McDohl, the son of a general in Scarlet Moon Empire, an empire that had just began to find its footing amidst many incidents and turmoil. As the situation unfolds, you are thrusted into the centre of the conflict and became the figurehead of a rebel army fighting the injusties of the empire. The conflict between the Imperial City and the Liberation Army is a nuanced one, riddled with political intrigue and moral complexities. The game masterfully weaves political intrigue into the main narrative. You witness the power struggles within the Liberation Army, the delicate negotiations with neutral factions, and the ever-present threat of betrayal.

Against that backdrop of war and all the shenanigans that comes with it, the central theme of Suikoden I is about loss. Both in the literal sense, as well as metaphorical. You see this in perhaps the first hour or two of the game, that Tir would have to lose his best friend Ted. The story continually evolves with the stake going even higher, now that you are the leader of the opposing Liberation Army, and your father is still the empire general.

This creates a believable yet complex narrative of grey areas, although I would personally say being the first game in the series, it’s not exactly airtight and needs a bit more work. For starters the pacing can be off, where the game straightaway opens up without any introductory narrative, as is common with games during those days. Secondly, there are times where the game simply told you what needs to be done without actually properly explaining the context as to why. This can feel like you are just doing fetch quests, but thankfully the story beats kept it interesting enough for you to continue playing.

Unique combat system

Turn-based combat in Suikoden I offers a surprising amount of tactical depth. While the core mechanics are relativelty straightforward, mastering it may require a bit of thoughtful planning. Unit positioning plays a crucial role, with some characters only able to hit enemies from a certain distance. Characters with similar interests or characteristics may also perform a combination attack called Unite that will give more damage. The Rune system adds another layer of strategy, allowing you to equip characters with powerful magic and combat abilities that can turn the tide of battle. There is also the war combat during few key events, where your army will fight against the enemy forces, albeit rather simplistic.

Fighting enemies

One of the criticism of the combat I would say, is the lack of instructions – although this could very well be explained in the game manual, something that I don’t have. Like many games of its time, it simply throw you to the deep end, and expect you to experiment with it. Thankfully the game itself is relatively forgiving and easy enough.

A numerous cast and a world teeming with characters

The true brilliance of Suikoden I lies in its incredible cast of recruitable characters. There are over 108 characters you can potentially add to your ranks, each with their own unique backstory, motivations, and personalities. Some are seasoned warriors seeking redemption, some are quirky chefs with hidden talents, and some are simply ordinary people caught in the crossfire. These characters aren’t just stat blocks – they are the heart and soul of the game. From the shifty looking Krin, gamble-loving Tai Ho, family man Lepant, and narcissistic Milich. Learning their stories, witnessing their interactions, and watching some of them grow alongside you (and your army) makes you feel attached to their character. And if you want the best ending, you need to collect all 108 characters to your entourage.

Jeane, the ever mysterious runemaster

Not only that, as your army grew, the headquarters (or the Castle) for your army also got improved with new features. Hot spring to soothe your tiredness, blacksmith to sharpen your weapon, runemaster to do all your magic needs, and even someone that handles the storage. All these numerous cast of characters keep the game interesting, and also encourages you to explore the world you’ve been given. There are also some minigames to help you pace yourself.

Toran Castle, your headquarters

One criticism is that some of the cities and towns can feel a bit basic and look exactly like some other towns, and their names not distinct enough for you to instantly remember where things are. I cannot be expected to remember that Kaku is the town north of Seika, which is also north of Kouan, if they have similarly eastern-sounding name and look more or less the same.

A timeless classic with a caveat

It’s undeniable that Suikoden I is a product of its era. The visuals, while holding a certain nostalgic charm, are undeniably pixelated compared to modern titles. Menus can feel clunky, and some mechanics might require a bit of patience to navigate. The game also lacks certain quality-of-life features that modern RPGs take for granted, such as there is no way for the main character to run (even though it is coded), and inventory management is very much tedious. Because it shipped during a time where patches were not a normal thing, it suffers poorly from various game breaking bugs. For example, I recruited Lorelai early and upon loading the game again, I found that my character has gone invisible and replaced with a copy of another character – which means I have to restart the game, as I did not keep multiple saves. The translation could also do a little bit more work, it’s acceptable but very to-the-point and abrupt.

However, it is a relatively short game (at under 20 hours). If you are willing to overlook some of the dated mechanics and some of the bugs, Suikoden I offers an unforgettable one-of-a-kind adventure with characters and narrative that leaves you wanting more. It is an underappreciated gem that with a little bit more polish can become a great game. So, if you’re ready to embrace a bit of nostalgia and delve into a world brimming with potential, then Suikoden I awaits you with open arms (and a growing castle full of unique companions). And I am still hoping that Konami continue to do the remaster for Suikoden I & II as they previously announced.