I am a huge fan of the Suikoden series. I'll sign any petition to get the Suikogaidens to America, and when the Suikoden Card Game for Gameboy Advance is released, I plan to import it (that is, if it doesn't come to America.) On a list of my favorite RPG Series, I'd put Suikoden somewhere under Lunar but before Grandia. Hopefully this makes you realize how highly I think of the Suikoden series. If my introduction doesn't give you enough reason to purchase Suikoden II, then let me broaden my ideas below.
Suikoden II's story is one of its greatest assets. Let me first make clear that you do not need to play the original in order to enjoy Suikoden II, although I recommend the original as highly as I recommend its sequel. Suikoden II takes place roughly three years after its prequel.
The game starts out in the Unicorn Brigade camp. The Unicorn Brigade could roughly be described as the camp for junior trainees. The main character Riou (although the camp lets you decide your own name) and his best friend Jowy are talking inside their tent. Not long after they have gone to bed, screams are heard throughout the camp. Jowy and Riou quickly exit their tent, already fully clothed, and watch as their camp is destroyed by an 'enemy' attack. Your commander tells you to head north and escape. You follow his orders and run north. This is how the story begins.
The controls in Suikoden II lack any sort of complication. Running and searching within dungeons is easily done. I never once had any problems controlling the characters, exploring towns, or completing the dungeons. The controls are nearly flawless.
One of my biggest complaints, however, is the graphics. The graphics show nearly no improvement over the original. The towns and dungeons are done nearly in the exact style of the original. I believe they used the exact same engine in Suikoden II as they did in the original. The battles are in the same 2 x 3 grid. The original had no CG sequences to speak of, and Suikoden II is exactly the same - save for one time. I thought it extremely odd how they decided to include one beautiful CG in the game and no others.
The sounds and music of this game are very lack-luster. The battle themes are really nonchalant and don't really encourage motivation, as say, Lunar's may. The only real theme I loved in Suikoden II was the theme played when you are in your castle. That theme, though it is very simple, is quite catchy and you may find yourself humming along without even realizing. The only real 'sound effect' in Suikoden II is the noise of your character's running when they play that one CG sequence I mentioned above.
Another of the great things about Suikoden II is its characters. I'd like to say this to begin: there are one hundred and eight of them. Now you might be thinking, 'with a hundred and eight characters, how can each one of them help expand the story line and allow your character to grow?' I can answer this only one way, and this is that not all of them do. Roughly forty of them will have no real effect on the story line save that they will help you progress via battles. But, surprisingly, Konami makes it so that an odd sixty-five of them do allow for story line progression. This is very surprising considering the large number of characters. You'll find yourselves loving some of your allies and hating others, and this is how it should be in any RPG.
Also, another great thing about Suikoden II is the 'army battles.' Suikoden II is complete with two types of battles, and one of those is strategy combat. Surprisingly like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre (save for that you're moving large units instead of single units), you move your units of soldiers around the grid and play a very expansive game of 'rock, paper, scissors.' (Or, in this case, 'Cavalry, Magicians, and Archers.') These battles, while long, are quite enjoyable. These are definitely a benefit received only in Suikoden II, as they were in a quite different format in the original.
One of the things brought back from the original Suikoden is the one-on-one character battles. While there were only around six or seven of these in the original, there are now about twenty. These battles are also in a 'rock, paper, scissors' format. (Although this time it's 'Attack, Critical, and Defend'.) These battles can be quite strategic as your level determines your strength.
Suikoden II is most certainly not a game for everyone. If you mainly focus on a game's graphics and music then this game is most certainly not for you. Still reading? This means you must appreciate a game for its story line. Those who enjoy a change of pace in RPG story lines (this is definitely an 'original' game) and a unique intricate battle system will most certainly enjoy Suikoden II. While I do not recommend this game to all, I recommend it to those who need a change of pace in their gaming.