There I was, sixteen years old and my first real paycheck in hand. Of course I was going to spend the whole thing on video games, because why not? That’s when I saw Suikoden II on the shelf. I didn’t play the original but had heard good things. Plus, the game was only thirty bucks! I brought it home and was met with instant disappointment. The game was… well weird.
It sat on a shelf for a few years when my brother finally tried it out. The slow start that stopped me from playing further gave way to an epic and grand quest. Suikoden II quickly became one of my favorite role playing games of all time. Today I’m here to tell you about it.
Suikoden II is a direct follow up to the story of the original, but it’s removed just enough that even newcomers can get into it. You play as a young boy named Riou who, with his sister Nanami and best friend Jowy live in the war ravished country of Highland in this fantasy medieval world. Their lives are turned upside down when their squad on the Highland Army Youth Brigade is ambushed by the enemy army from the City States of Jowston. They discover this to be a mere ploy by Highland so that they can invade.
Riou and Jowy escape and find themselves face to face with an ancient magic in the form of a true rune. It splits in half and gives them both its power. Riou joins, and eventually leads a band of rebels against Highland to put an end to the war.
The story may seem cliche and well traveled but it’s extremely rich in history and lore. The world of Suikoden is interlocked and this is but one mere self contained portion of the bigger story. Suikoden II excels because it plays upon this; introducing us to characters and plot points that were important in both the last one and future games as well. Suikoden II is a political and militaristic story but with the trappings of fantasy. It’s an absolutely incredible story that’ll make you laugh and cry. It even has multiple endings.
Suikoden II is a fairly traditional role playing game. You travel a world map containing cities, dungeons, and eventually your own rebel base. Battles occur at random and take place on a separate three dimensional battlefield. You input commands for each of your party members and then trade blows with the enemies. When victorious in combat you’re awarded experience points which make your party stronger and money that can be used to sharpen weapons and buy items. It’s pretty basic stuff but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
First of all there are a whopping 108 characters that join you along the way. Most are met with revelations in the story but many are hidden and require specific pre-requisites to join. You can try to find them all on your own but because many can be missed I highly recommend following a guide online. Not all but most can be used in your party and have different stats and abilities some of which are completely exclusive to them. Taking things a step further many have special combine attacks that can only be used in conjunction with another specific party member. Most of the time you’re given free choice with who you want to use, and given the huge party size of six there are a lot of options.
In addition to the traditional battles you’ll occasionally participate in one-on-one fights in the story. These are played like a game of rock, paper scissors wherein one attack is good against another. Enemies usually give a quick dialogue blurb before each round which gives you a hint as to what they’ll do. These are fun but sometimes feel more like games of chance.
Then there are army battles. These skirmishes play out like a strategy RPG wherein you move units across a grid map. There are different types of units such as foot soldiers, cavalry, archers and mages. When a unit encounters the enemy you’re whisked to a separate screen depicting a miniature real-time battle where the enemy army and yours attack each other head on. When you lose half your men the unit gets a sword through it, and when they lose them all the unit is removed from the battle. Usually they have specific criteria to win such as defeating an enemy, reaching a position, or simply lasting a set number of turns. They could have made an entire game based off of these army battles and I would have been okay with it. They’re an absolute treat.
One of the most interesting aspects of this game is the base building mechanic. What begins as a humble and raggedy abode eventually transforms into a grand palace as you recruit more characters and advance the story. There aren’t really any customization options to be found but it does feel like your army is becoming stronger the more this base is built up. You can eventually recruit a blacksmith who will do the sharpening of you weapons as well as a rune salesman, and item merchant. These transform your base into a town which is helpful because you’ll be spending a lot of time there. It’s actually interesting to just wander around and interact with the characters to learn more about the world’s lore.
Suikoden II uses a pretty interesting graphical style. Outside of battle the action is entirely two dimensional with everything drawn from sprites. In towns it looks amazing with loads of detail and lots of animation on absolutely everything. The world map features tiny characters and a camera that’s way zoomed out. The scenery is sparse and there’s not a lot of detail here. The vast view does help establish the size of the world. The continent is quite expansive and it adds to the air of adventure. Standard battles are the only instances of the game that use 3D graphics. The backgrounds are fully polygonal while the characters are sprites once again. This is a pretty common tactic from this era but here it looks incredible.
The soundtrack here is among the best in any RPG this side of Nobuo Uematsu. It leans more heavily toward its Asian roots (the story is based off of the classic Chinese tale Water Margin after all) and it sounds absolutely wonderful. There’s a lot of pleasant instrumentation with heavy use of flutes and guitars. Each piece of music is full of detail and had a lot of love and care go into it. Absolutely the only issue I have here is that the battle theme is kind of weird and doesn’t necessarily fit. It’s pleasant to listen to so it’s hard to complain too much about it.
Suikoden II is easily the best RPG of the 32-bit generation. Considering that was the time frame in which Final Fantasy VII and Panzer Dragoon Saga were released that’s saying a lot. It’s a bit humble but the huge and overarching story (complete with one of the most sad moments in any video game ever) is incredible. It also helps that the battle system is fun, and there’s a big diversity in gameplay styles. It all comes together to make this an absolutely legendary game. I still can’t believe I paid just $29.99 for it!
The 3 Series has been the standard-bearer for BMW – and, it seems, for much of the industry – for decades, but not all versions were created equal.
The BMW 3 Series has long been the standard-bearer for the German automaker. For decades, this automobile represented the best of what the brand stood for: comfortable luxury; attractive but not over-the-top styling; and above-average handling compared to similarly-priced sedans, coupes and convertibles.
Not all versions of the 3 Series were created equal, however.
The drive for increased market share would eventually overcome the actual drive, relegating some generations of this venerable automobile to also-ran status. With that in mind, we’ve put together this list ranking the 3 Series from best to least in terms of impact, driving experience, design and importance.
- 1982-1994 E30
It’s hard to overstate the importance the E30 generation had in establishing BMW’s reputation in North America as a major player in the luxury scene. It arrived at exactly the right economic moment, what with conspicuous consumption defining the mid-to-late ’80s, and sold at the perfect price point for attracting the attention of the stereotypical status-seeking yuppie.
More than that, however, the E30 excelled at proving its mission statement. It proved that smaller cars could be just as comfortable as their larger luxury-land-barge competition, all without sacrificing a fun-to-drive character.
It also demonstrated that sedans and coupes could carve up a road course with just as much focus as a traditional sports car, especially when the homologated M3 model made its first appearance in BMW showrooms. This dual personality would set the template for the 3 Series for the next three decades, and would go a long way towards making the boxy car a modern classic.
- 1998-2006 E46
In many ways, the E46 generation was the last version of the 3 Series to embody the E30’s even mixture of sporty driving and premium accoutrements. While future models would lean hard into the luxury, the E46 presented exceptional balance between the two elements that had to that point defined the 3 Series in comparison to rivals from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Available as a coupe, wagon, sedan and convertible in North America, the E46 would also represent the last time the M3 model would feature a high-revving, naturally-aspirated inline-six-cylinder engine.
Rated at 333 horsepower, it would mark the transition between the M3 as a sport sedan and a muscle car, with the move into V8 and turbocharged models taking place shortly thereafter. It would also introduce BMW’s less-than-spectacular automated manual gearbox, one that foreshadowed better self-shifting performance efforts from BMW in the future.
- 1991-2000 E36
The E36 is the generation of 3 Series that brought the BMW firmly into the mainstream. With styling that was somewhat blander but definitely more modern than the E30 that preceded it, it also featured significant upgrades in terms of features, passenger room, and drivetrains that would give the car a competitive edge in the entry-level luxury segment.
The E36 was light years ahead of domestic premium brands at the time, and managed to distance itself from the nascent Japanese upscale automobiles from Acura and Infiniti that were making a play for the same customer.
- 2019-Present G20
The current BMW 3 Series is a mostly successful attempt from the automaker to get back in touch with the spirited driving feel that was largely absent from the generation that came immediately before it. While there’s no doubt that the G20 hews to the same plush standards that have crept into every entry-level European contender, while also being significantly larger and heavier than past models, it’s an interesting interpretation of the original BMW formula as experienced from behind the wheel.
It also happens to be the mightiest non-M version of the 3 Series ever released, with its turbocharged six-cylinder engine producing a whopping 382 underrated horsepower.
- 2005-2013 E90 through E93
This era of 3 Series marked a period of transition for BMW’s best-selling model. The car grew significantly in size and weight, each body style was denoted by its own model number, and turbocharged engines became commonplace throughout the line-up. The M3 would also gain a high-revving V8 for the first and last time in its history.
Not only was the E90 3 Series the beginning of the end for the car’s traditional emphasis on sporty driving (its heft and suspension tuning was slightly in favour of cruising over canyon-carving, although it was still a competent sport sedan/coupe) but its styling was somewhat controversial as it embodied the ‘flare’ elements common to the Chris Bangle period. Long-term reliability also began to plunge in this generation due to the significantly more complicated engine and transmission designs that would roll out during its reign.
- 1975-1983 E21
The E21 generation is notable for birthing the 3 Series to the world, and helping BMW move past the 02 cars that had served as their calling card on this side of the Atlantic. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with these models, per se, but they lack the panache of the E30 that followed, and don’t feature the same classic styling as the 2002 that preceded them. As a result, they’re more like a respected elder than an object of affection to enthusiasts, languishing largely unloved – through no fault of their own – in the brand’s history books.
- 2012-2018 F30-31, F34
Things went completely off the rails for the BMW 3 Series with the introduction of the F30 sedan in 2012. Primarily, it would be a period of upheaval in terms of branding, as the coupe and convertible models would be shunted off to their own 4 Series line, and the BMW 2 Series would appear as the true entry-level option for the brand, pushing the four-door 3 Series further upwards in terms of size, weight and price.
Worst of all? This was the blandest edition of the car ever built, with styling that pointedly refused to stand out and a dull driving experience that couldn’t redeem it, either. Let’s also not forget – or rather, let’s try to forget – abominations like the hunchbacked 3 Series GT that would occasionally try to force their way into showrooms. Even the M3, the quickest version of the performance model to date, counted on a competent but ultimately uninspiring personality.