Suikoden is a legendary and classic RPG series. The games are however very underrated and never really received the attention they deserved. Despite this, anyone who played these games was in for a treat with a story full of political intrigue that focuses on how political movements affect people’s lives, and how characters grow, change, and adapt to change.
Suikoden II is the most popular game in the franchise, and it wears that crown deservedly; Suikoden II is an emotional roller coaster of political movements, character growth and interaction, and tragedy and betrayal all around. It encapsulates the spirit of what Suikoden is and would be for the next few games in the series’ sadly short lifespan. It is beloved by many and, despite a rocky translation, proves that video games as a medium can transcend languages by telling a captivating and moving story.
While I could go on all day about these games, we’re here today to look at a kickstarted album titled Symphonic Tale: The Rune of Beginning (Music from Suikoden II). The music in the early entries of the series was done by Miki Higashino, who managed to create an intricate, beautiful, and majestic soundtrack that added a lot to the story and characters, so much so that I often think of said characters and scenes just by listening to the music. Indeed the cutscenes in the game would come nowhere close to how good they are without the masterful soundtrack.
The Rune of Beginning was done by VGM Classics, who had set out to create orchestral albums for various video games, including Star Fox 64 and Fire Emblem Echoes. However, the Kickstarter pages for those two games are hidden and only the Suikoden II album seems to have come to fruition. The music was composed and directed by Kentaro Sato and performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra.
So how is the actual music from The Rune of Beginning? In a word, stunning. I’ve listened to this album many times because I love it so much. Every single track is handled with delicacy and care and a real love for the source material. Each performance is extremely well done, and you can feel the passion in the music just from how powerful the performances are.
“Prologue” starts powerfully, and is a good barometer for how the rest of the album is going to sound. True to its source material, it’s a powerful song with a sweeping orchestral performance that perfectly achieves what it sets out to do in being an orchestral cover of the original. The original song itself is also orchestral within the constraints of the PlayStation hardware, yet in a way this almost feels like a closer rendition of what Higashino wanted the song to be.
Immediately following that is “Reminiscence.” This is my favorite song from the game, and this version of the song brought actual tears to my eyes the first time I heard it. “Reminiscence” was itself already a powerful song played at the beginning of the game, during a flashback, and properly set the tone for the story to follow. Starting with a beautiful piano solo, the song adds other instruments over time, yet the piano remains the strongest part of the song as the other instruments provide an excellent backup. Just like its source, the song is short at just under three minutes, but every single second of those short three minutes is well spent.
From there we move to “Beautiful Morning” and “Adventurous Journey,” both of which are good in their own right. By this point the album establishes that it adheres to the source material very closely, and in fact a lot of songs sound the way I would expect them to, knowing their source. This is by no stretch a bad thing, and in fact is just more Suikoden music, which is never a bad thing in its own right. I could listen to either version and be just as satisfied, and I think that says a lot about how good this album is.
I’d like to take a special look as well at the final few tracks in the album, “Reunion,” “A New Beginning,” and “Epilogue: 108 Stars of Destiny.” While these songs are similar to the source, they all mesh together very well, as if they were all meant to be a medley in one single song. In fact on casual listens I sometimes never even notice the changing of a track because of how beautifully they flow into each other. I would even go so far as to say that these tracks work so well with each other that missing one would be like taking a part out of the song, maybe in a similar vein to classical music such as “Piano Sonata No. 14”, popularly known as “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, which has multiple movements that link to each other to create a whole.
Next up is “Passion Sets History in Motion,” a track that was sadly omitted from the Western version of the game during the ending sequence. That being the case, I imagine a lot of fans might not even know that this song exists, despite it being an extremely powerful yet short vocal theme in Italian with lyrics that properly summarize the theme of the game.
This version contains no lyrics, but still manages to stand on its own as an excellent piece in its own right, driving the album towards its conclusion with proper aplomb. With a similar sound to the first song on the album, “Prologue,” this track seems to lead into a conclusion that mirrors the beginning, making the whole package feel complete.
Lastly we have “Victory and Beyond,” a track that wraps The Rune of Beginning up in a nice package. It contains motifs from the first song in the album, “Prologue,” bringing the album back to the beginning in a cohesive and meaningful way, which makes it a fantastic finale and conclusion overall.
Suikoden as a series resides in a special place in my heart. It’s thanks to these games and their wonderful stories and soundtracks that I was inspired to try writing. For me, this album elicits a ton of emotions which contributed to my wanting to put thoughts to paper. Because I feel this way, I think this album is an absolute masterpiece, beginning to end. From performance to track selection, this album was all I’d hoped it would be and more.
To be able to write about Suikoden in any capacity is a huge honor just because of what this series means to me. The music ultimately elicits the same feelings that the games did, so this album was nostalgic for me in many ways: not just in terms of the music and my memories of the game, but how I’ve grown and changed as a person and as a writer. It’s a reminder of how powerful music can be when the material can transcend beyond its intentions. Being able to write about this album helped revitalize those feelings and reminded me of the passion and love that I have for games, VGM, and writing as a whole. It should come as no surprise then that I recommend this album with full marks. The Rune of Beginning is a tribute to a game that is far more than the sum of its parts in what it has represented and done for people, and to a criminally underrated series that means so much to me and so many others, and it is worthy of respect and admiration.