Last week’s efforts to de-hose my hard drive were, alas, in vain. I’m getting the same old problems, so my cranky little MacBook Pro is off to the Apple Store for a replacement drive tomorrow (squeaking in under the one-year warranty deadline by a whopping four days). That means I’ll probably be off the grid for a few days, so no updates here, no Retronauts, no love or joy or happiness. I dunno, unless I update from my phone, which is possible if not entirely pleasant.
Possible for the blog, I mean. I don’t think I can do the podcast editing that way.
I’m trying to get back into the habit of using Retronauts as a catch-all for random classic gaming blogs, especially since the podcast is still refusing to become anything like good no matter what kind of freakishly anal-retentive control I apply to it. So! Here’s a start: a canonization of random but memorable parts of great games. In this case, a totally great battle that sticks out in my mind as one of the most gripping moments of any video game ever — Suikoden II’s epic fight with Luca Blight.
Poor Suikoden II really got short shrift back in the day, thanks almost entirely to Konami’s brilliant decision to release it alongside the single most anticipated RPG ever, Final Fantasy VIII. After VII single-handedly created a mainstream RPG fanbase in America, a literal million fanboys slavered at the prospect of playing the sequel. And one of the best 32-bit RPGs ever created slipped into obscurity. Oh, sure, now you people pay $150 for a copy, but where were you back in the day? Jerks.
I realize calling something “one of the best 32-bit RPGs ever” is serious fighting words, but Suikoden II deserves the claim. And the battle with Luca Blight is precisely why.
Epic boss encounters are pretty much standard fare in RPGs, but they tend to stick to a fairly predictable pattern: You work your way to the big evil guy’s lair, fight through the hardest random encounters in the game, exchange some unfriendly words and proceed to fight through three or four ever-more-intimidating transformations, often including some sort of “fallen angel” motif. But Luca Blight was different — it was an epic multi-part battle, yes, but it had its own unique tenor and feel.
For starters, the battle comes to you; Luca, the mad-eyed warlord of the Kingdom of Highland, is determined to crush the hero’s growing resistance army and launches a secret night raid to that end. Not everyone in Highland approves of Luca’s bloodthirsty despotism, though, and word reaches the resistance of Luca’s plan, and an impromptu trap is laid. So there’s an intense sense of urgency, and of actual war tactics: the resistance’s strategist, Shu, splits the army into three forces and ambushes Luca’s squad with a surprise pincer maneuver. The Highland soldiers move to protect their leader and end up full of arrows for their trouble.
A pretty good prelude!
Luca and a small squad face off against the resistance’s first group, led by Flik, whom anyone with a soul recalls from the first game. The soldiers are just a distraction, though — they can only do chip damage, while Luca is pulling off combo strings. Fueled by the power of the Beast Rune and probably just sheer meanness, he gets three moves per round, and each move consists of three attacks capable of slaughtering a single person or devastating an entire row or column of the player’s formation.
Yeah, you can’t actually win this round. But that’s okay, because the first encounter whittles his health down a bit for the second round, led by Viktor’s team. (You remember Viktor from the original, right? No? Bah.) And once again, Luca annihilates the party in a few rounds.
Fortunately, your A team still has a chance, and the true battle begins. This time it’s one against six, but it’s still a brutal fight. The only real advantage you have is that the hero’s innate Rune is particularly suited to aid the party with defensive boosts and group healing effects. Which are pretty handy, since Luca’s still getting off 9-15 hits per round.
Assuming you survive the grueling fifteen-minute battle, it’s still not over: Luca sneers at the hero’s party and staggers off while some peons run interference.
Then we have a sharp left turn into Awesomeville as Luca stumbles across a strange light in the hollow of a tree and finds a pendant full of fireflies. Though befuddled and angry, he doesn’t have long to rail against the world since the escaping fireflies give a team of archers a signal to pump him full of arrows. Which they do.
But a mere dozen mortal wounds can’t stop his magically-fueled rage and he quickly lashes out at the hero, initating battle four: a one-on-one duel.
The duel against Luca is easily the game’s most heart-stopping moment; by this point you’ve been fighting him for more than half an hour, yet he just won’t go down. And the outcome is down to a just a few turns, forcing you to predict his actions based on his taunts. There’s no healing, no second chances, and even though he begins the duel with barely any health in his meter it’s hardly a free ride. And he hits super hard, too.
Defeated, Luca still has the energy to taunt the hero and boast about being a contemptible bastard. “I am the face of true evil,” he sneers before finally, finally going down.
And all without transforming. Not even a little!
Shockingly, this isn’t the end of the game; even though you’ve overcome the game’s deadliest foe, the leader of the enemy kingdom, the story continues as the hero’s childhood friend (whose name was regrettably translated as “Jowy”) reveals himself to be the true author of Luca’s downfall — and more than happy to continue Highland’s war (albeit in a more civil fashion). As a testament to Suikoden’s innate excellence, the rest of the story doesn’t feel anticlimactic or padded (unlike the second half of Tales of Destiny) — on the contrary, Jowy’s heightened involvement in the war adds a personal diimension to the story, kinda like Ramza and Delita in Final Fantasy Tactics. Except with a fairly coherent (if not especially good) translation.
Still, good as the rest of the game is, it’s the brutal four-part encounter with Luca Blight — a murderous and contemptible madman with no compassion, compunctions or humanity — that truly stands out. I give it a rating of completely rad.
(Also, thanks to whoever uploaded all those Luca Blight videos to YouTube, as they made for convenient screenshot theft.)