Like swine to the slaughter

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.

Anyway, here’s a crosspost from the Retronauts blog so that we’ll all have something fresh(-ish) to read for the next week on the way to Talking Time or Sketchy.

Luca Blight

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.

A post so deadly it had to be continued on another page for your protection!

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.)

32 thoughts on “Like swine to the slaughter

  1. Awesome. A very nice recounting. I’ve really got to play this game at some point. I didn’t get sucked into Suikoden until III, and though I’ve since filled myself in on all the backstory, I haven’t actually played it. Silly ebay prices was my original excuse, though at this point I have to admit I just haven’t ogtten around to it.

  2. Absolutely superb, absolutely true.

    Suikoden II really needs to find another domestic release.

  3. Weird, I was JUST thinking about Suikoden this morning in the shower. But way to reaffirm my desire to finally get into that series; that sounds like just the sort of meaty grudgematch I love. (I still need to play through my copy of the first one, but I’m not sure where I’m going to beg/borrow/steal a copy of #2 from. Of course, that’s all contingent on me having a TV, a PS2, and some spare time at some point in the future.)

    Is this going to be a series? I kind of want to nominate Faulkner from Vanguard Bandits for some sort of prize. Not for any one battle in particular, but he’s one of the few villains who could be relied on to bring all the units he could afford into the fight. It seemed like he was going for overkill in every damn fight, which was part of what made that game satisfying for me.

  4. You know, a sudden-death one-on-one boss fight after thirty minutes of boss fight is one of the many reasons I’m glad the 32-bit era is over. Only way I could envisage playing that is with a savestate.

    Far as I’m concerned, if your idea of creating tension is making me play the whole thing again if I screw up, you can go to hell. There’s hundreds of other games I could be playing. (Final Fantasy XII has been causing some problems in that regard, but then again when I hit a roadblock the answer tends to be ‘you were supposed to flee at that point’.)

  5. I seem to remember Humphrey taking single digit damage from Luca’s attacks just from being Humphrey. Kinda ruined the scene for me. ;_;

  6. If it helps improve my standing here, I’ll mention that I bought Suikoden II when it on release week when it was new. Although it seemed to disappear from shelves altogether shortly after release week.

  7. I bought it before the legendary price hike of late 2002. While I got it used, thus not aiding in its sales, in my defense I didn’t really even own a PS of any sort until 2001, nor was I really informed of the game’s awesomeness until 2001 (which is when I bought it).

  8. As long as we’re spoiling 10 year 32-bit RPG’s, my personal favorite battle was Sadoul, the final boss from Vay. What’s that? You’ve just spent half the game collecting the parts to the legendary mech from space? Well, it turns out there’s been a second one all along, found by the boss moments after the first landed on the planet, and kept secret from the world! Despite the fact that this meant hiding it from the four wizards whom which he helped to seal the Vay armor, thus starting him on the very path that corrupted his soul and turned him evil.

    No transformations in this case, either. Although I don’t think you really need them if you’ve got space armor.

  9. Suikoden II… Definately remember that one. I picked it up when it was at the low price of $86, I think. The game kept me amused for a good amount of time, although not so that I would spend much more of my time to complete it. I guess I probably should because I think I played it some 20+ hours and some of the reviews say this is exactly how long the game is, so I was pretty close. But it’s not worth sifting through my 20+ PS1 memory cards to find out about the save file. As far as that Luca battle is concerned, well, I can’t say as though I remember it. If I did play it, I sure as hell don’t remember.

  10. Suikoden II was about 40-45 hours if I remember correctly, so if you only put in twenty you still had a way to go before you made it to Luca. He was about the 2/3 mark, or maybe a bit earlier.

  11. That is still the best boss battle sequence in any game, ever, in my mind. You pretty much said everything I have ever thought about it, so I will just say ‘Well Done”. You win a cookie.

  12. This is the sort of thing I think Retronauts could really use, more focus on specific fun moments in games. That’s usually how I find conversations with friends go about games, and Retronauts I find is best when it is at its most conversational.

  13. Suikoden 2 also deserves honorable mention for having the worst magazine advertisements ever.

  14. Jeremy, stop: we all love you (you’re the Lou Reed of video game journalism) and the glorious Retronauts, the only podcast you really get anything informative from (beyond great jokes i.e. 1up Yours). Just do an episode on the Dreamcast or Saturn or Sega in general and all will hail our one true retro gaming savior, Jeremy Parish. Please don’t make us wait another week for Retronauts again!!!

    P.S. You should do an all Castlevania (!!!!!) greatest boss battles post, making sure to stamp out the point to try taking on later level battles without any save states. Its been almost two months-I need my Castlevania Retronauts fix.

  15. OK, but… if my computer is in the shop having its hard drive replaced, how do you propose I put together a Retronauts episode this week?

  16. “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.”

    Hey, had I’d known FF VIII would suck I wouldn’t have asked for it on my b-day. As it stands, choosing FF VIII over Suikoden II was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. At least I’m repenting for my sin!

  17. I don’t know, use someone else’s computer or ask someone for help. Or wait another week, whatever, no biggie smalls.

    Also, your greatest boss battles posts sound like a wonderful idea for a Retronauts episode

  18. kmt3, Final Fantasy 8 (or seven if thats what you meant) aren’t horrible, man, come on, don’t start lagging behind on the internet cynicism train, everyone’s way past that at this point

    Torrents/ISOs for this over-priced-on-ebay-and-which-the-original-creators-get-none-of-the-profit-made-from-the-sales-through-internet-auctions are pretty easy to find, if you’re into that kind of thing (I don’t advocate piracy, blah blah, wah wah)

  19. What happened? Suikoden used to be so rad. I bought 2 for 3 dollars at a video store a few years ago. No original packaging but the game works. I loved the story in this one (FF tactics 2?) And Blight was a total badass. I also liked having like an octopus in my party. Its weird pt 1 was 15hours long and 3 was like 80 hours. Its laos weird that 1-3 are so awesome and 4+5 are garbage.

  20. Whoa, whoa, back up the truck, mister. What’s with the Suiko 5 hatred? It was the closest thing to a REAL Suikoden game we’ve seen in years.

    Merus: I would normally agree with you about thirty minute boss fights with uncertain outcomes, but it’s forgivable in Suikoden II because it adds suspense to a memorable fight and illustrates the frightening power that Luca Blight holds. Here’s a guy who can take on four dozen archers, three small armies, two battle-scarred generals, and a partridge in a pear tree, and possibly survive the encounter!


  21. I was lucky enough to get both Suikoden PSX titles when they came out, and they became a couple of the only 32-bit era games that I actually replayed multiple times.

    I ended up enjoying III for what it was, once I gave it a fair chance, but I haven’t been able to stomach IV, and I wish to before tackling Tactics or V.

  22. Maybe garbage is a strong word, but they are mediocre at best. Plus points: 4 had those cat kobolds and I am giggling just thinking about their group attack. 5 made a good attempt and had a pretty sweet story, but there was technical issues ahoy, including some super lame loading, a weird quasi isometric view that made finding anything like doorways to be completely prohibitive. The battles were blase lacking the speed of 1-2 and the strategy of 3. The loading was so meathook savage I’m going to mention it again; especially when you fight the dragons, i hate watching your party load up one character at a time then the enemies, followed by their unimpressive and slow animations. Especially said dragon type who will fly over, attack then slowly fly back, takes about 15 seconds each attack turn. Gar! the only thing more agonizing was those moths on the mountain path in 3, but at least 3 had a super sweet story, the trinity system and a really strategic fighting system.

  23. “Final Fantasy 8 (or seven if thats what you meant) aren’t horrible, man, come on, don’t start lagging behind on the internet cynicism train, everyone’s way past that at this point”

    I didn’t think FF8 was particularly horrible, its just that of the two, Suikoden II has aged much better.

  24. I saw a copy of Suikoden II exactly once in my life. I was 14 and broke; the game was $30 new. I asked my mother to lend me the money, as I knew the game was already rare; she refused. At least I managed to get copies of I, III, and IV. Still, I always regret missing the second Suikoden game. I haven’t played the fifth yet, and it looks as if it’s becoming rarer, so I should probably snap it up one of these days.

  25. Suiko IV was a bit of a low point, but I”m in the camp that completely loved Suiko V. Pretty much the only problem I had with it (well, other than load times… you mean that wasn’t just my gimpy launch-gen PS2 acting up?) was the completely lame town layouts. Other than that, though, I found the story, characters, music and gameplay to be pretty much fantastic.

  26. Oh man, that was an awesome fight. You’d just keep on losing and losing until you equipped your characters just so and leveled up several of the neglected ones. But the payoff was so worth it.

    I couldn’t stomach any of the Suikoden games after they went 3D. The reason that the PS1 games were so playable boils down to this: random battles weren’t annoying. A hole would just open up in the middle of the screen with little or no loading time, and once you chose all your fight options (or used autobattle for the simpler fights) your characters would jump around whacking things, animating quickly, and in parallel when they could.

    This is what made Suikoden great, even more than the coherent storytelling and the nuanced characterization: it removed from the random battle everything that made it annoying in every other PlayStation RPG. Then the PS2 came along and the entire development team forgot everything they learned.

    Anyway, great article here. I’d love to see more of this.

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