Shades of Gray (or Things I Learned About Life from a ’90s PlayStation Game)

February 15, 2012 at 9:09 am (Articles / Interviews) (, , , , , )

This was my submission for Suikoden Day 2011‘s Old Book (ie. essay writing) contest – 500-ish words on why I love Suikoden. There were some awesome prizes up for first and second place. I got third. Ah well. There’ll be another chance in Suikoden Day 2012 (huzzah!).

Also check out my other contribution to Suikoden Day 2011 – a bit of pictorial ramblage concerning Suikoden and alcohol.

* * *

suikoden 2

12-year-old me played Suikoden II on the recommendation of a school friend, who said it was “nice.” I assumed I’d be entertained. But Suikoden II did significantly more than that – it taught me about stories.

Up until then, all the games I’d played featured an intrepid group of characters who go off to defeat a dark overlord. With Suikoden though, it was different. Yes, there were heroes, and they were brave and strong; and Luca Blight was pretty evil, but it was never just a matter of the “good guys” fighting the “bad guys”. It’s like what Rowd says (echoed in Suikoden III by Nash Latkje) – the world is not black and white. There are shades of gray.

suikoden 2 - kyaro village

Seed and Culgan were technically antagonists, but they were doing what they thought was right. Jowy betrayed Riou, but he was right back at his side when Nanami’s life was in danger. Every one of the 108 stars could be counted as “good guys”, whom one might assume will survive til the end of the game, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t feel fear or insecurity – during the periods before major battle sequences, they’d talk to one another, assure each other they’d all still be okay after the fighting, because there was no assurance they wouldn’t get killed.

This kind of richness made me care about the characters more. I wanted to know their backstories, and Richmond investigation secrets. I wanted to see what the full-body versions of their little dialogue portraits looked like. I wanted to see what would happen if Riou met McDohl, or Clive caught up to Elza.

suikoden 2 - l'renouille

Where I ran into dead ends – where the characters’ personal stories remained open-ended, I made up my own stories. I imagined the further adventures of Flik and Viktor, and the tragedy that created Luca Blight, and what happens if you got all Tenkai Stars to go to Harmonia to maybe fight Hikusaak. Sometimes I even wrote those stories down, on pad paper or at the back of school notebooks. I still keep those old, admittedly crappy stories, just to remind myself how much fun I had thinking them up.

suikoden 2 - ending

Fast forward about twelve years. Grown-up me is a journalist and sometime fiction writer. Basically, I’m now in the business of telling stories.

The easiest stories to tell, whether real-life stories or just more crap from my head, are the sort that pits good guys against bad guys – they’re simple, and sometimes people just don’t have time for anything more than that. But I try not to tell those kind of stories because a 1990s PSX JRPG taught me that there is no simple delineation between “good guys” or “bad guys”. The world is far more complex, and everyone is a character in their own story.

Images belong to their respective copyright holders. Screenshots taken from The Let’s Play Archive.



  1. Today in awesome: Top 10 favorite Suikoden moments « In the Grayworld said,

    […] 30 Day Meme, put some pictures together for Suikoden Day 2011, wrote an essay bout how this game can change your life. Recently, challenged people to put down their top 10 favorite Suikoden […]

  2. The game I never thought I’d play « In the Grayworld said,

    […] wide world (one of the few things that gets me blogging regularly is gushing about Suikoden Day, or Why This Game Changed My Life). I got into Suikoden II at around 12, that age where the stories you hear just sort of stick with […]

  3. Frans said,

    Thanks for reminding me of how I loved this game. More power to you bro. :)

  4. Suikoden Day 2013: The top 5 things I want to see in Suikoden VI | In the Grayworld said,

    […] mentioned before that one of the reasons I fell in love with Suikoden was that it taught me a lot about telling stories. One of the things that stood out for me was while the other Play Station games of the period dealt […]

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