Suikoden’s True Runes meld gameplay and lore

When it comes to games, storytellers go out of their way to make excuses for why particular people or groups of people are somehow the chosen ones destined to save a town, kingdom or world. There is McGuffin that explains everything and makes it okay. Suikoden is no different. It has a True Rune mechanic that always offers a plausible excuse for why ingénues are suddenly leading entire armies and deciding the fate of a nation. These True Runes act as an origin story, make ordinary people extraordinary and even provide a reason for entire wars.

It all starts with a foundation. In Suikoden, generic runes are items that can be tied to an individual or piece of equipment to give them unusual magical or physical abilities. They are a way to assign skills. The True Runes are something special. The universe’s creation myth suggests the Rune of Beginning, which is separated into the Bright Shield and Black Sword, led to the creation of the other 27 True Runes and world itself. Allegedly, a sword and shield fought for a week straight to determine who was strongest, destroying each other in the process. The Sword became the sky, the Shield the earth and all of their adornments became the 27 True Runes.

Whether that in-game legend is true or not, these 27 True Runes are sentient beings. They are supernatural forces with powers beyond imagination. They pick their bearers, which can be a blessing or curse, in the name of achieving their own unknown goals. In some instances, they become an Incarnation; they are a dangerous and intimidating creature to face. The Night Rune is a True Rune that appears as a sword. They work both against and with their bearers and individuals to shape the world.

Because of this setup, it makes it easier to understand why our avatars are suddenly one of the most important people in the world. Each Suikoden game has certain True Runes featured in it. Tir McDohl possesses the Soul Eater in Suikoden. Riou and Jowy have the Bright Shield and Black Sword True Runes in Suikoden II. We see the True Fire Rune, True Lightning Rune and True Water Rune divided up among the heroes of Suikoden III. Lazlo is cursed by the Rune of Punishment in Suikoden IV. And in Suikoden V, Freyjadour Falenas bears the Dawn Rune. Now, it makes sense for some of these characters to be leaders. Freyjadour is a prince, albeit in a Queendom where he won’t inherit. Chris Lightfellow is the Zexen Knights captain. Geddoe is the Twelfth Unit of the Southern Frontier Defense Force captain. But the other avatars are beginners and youths who may have an impressive background, but no experience. Being chosen by a True Rune lends them credibility and purpose.

Having a True Rune also gives a plausible reason as to why these people are somehow better and more suited to leadership than anyone else. As I have said before, True Runes have power. They are enhanced versions of standard runes. That means they possess unique skills and spells, ones that overshadow all others. Even the bearers themselves become better. Some people who have a True Rune stop aging and, while they can still be hurt or die, will not have to worry about diseases. In some cases, as in the Rune of Punishment, using the True Rune’s power can kill the bearer. But in others, it might use special powers when its bearer is in danger. These boons make people more suited to leading the way into battles and gathering together an army.

It is also important to note how often the True Runes themselves provoke action. Many of the Suikoden games’ wars are fought over these items. Windy is searching for Ted’s Rune of Life and Death, the Soul Eater. She is supporting the Scarlet Moon Empire in the Gate Rune War, while her clan sister, Leknaat, supports the Toran Liberation Army. This is notable, as the two each have part of the True Gate Rune, with Windy having the Front and Leknaat the Back. When the Rune of Beginning appears in Suikoden II, its appearance marks a historical moment. Split between Riou and Jowy as the Bright Shield and Black Sword True Runes, it gives the two major armies the power of a True Rune and forces the two bearers to fight one another. In each situation, the power of True Runes is propelling action forward.

But then, these True Runes can start wars too. Think of Suikoden III. The Holy Kingdom of Harmonia’s Masked Man is trying to find the True Earth Rune, True Fire Rune, True Lightning Rune, True Water Rune and True Wind Runes. Why? Because of a desire for the power they possess and ability to destroy the unimaginable with them. The events of Suikoden V occur because factions are fighting over the Queendom of Falena’s Sun Rune. This True Rune is balanced by its fellow Dawn and Twilight True Runes, ensuring the prosperity of an empire. People want it for its power to destroy.

With the Suikoden series, Konami did something rather remarkable. Its True Runes provided a creation myth for the games’ world, an basis for its ability and magic system, an excuse for its avatars’ sudden importance and an excuse for installments’ conflicts. True Runes helped make the games memorable and plausible.

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