Normally I use this blogi to talk meta about the Suikoden series as a whole but I’m going to shake things up slightly with a look at the introduction and resolution to a self-inflicted problem: Koolukii.
When Suikoden IV was announced and it was revealed that the antagonist force would be something called the Kooluk Empire, a northern continent nation located to the immediate south of the Scarlet Moon Empire, some lore enthusiast fans had questions. Actually, they really only had one question. Where was Kooluk in the first Suikodeniii?
The idea that there was this large, militaristic nation, one stated to have an antagonistic relationship with its northern neighbour, that was not even mentioned in the first game seemed ludicrous to some fans. It would appear that at least some people involved in the creative end of the series agreed as Suikoden Tactics (Rhapsodia in Japan) would be dedicated to tying up the Kooluk loose-end.
For those unaware, Tactics sees Kooluk embroiled in faction intrigue as the two main forces in Kooluk politics snipe at each other while the country falls into disrepair. Eventually, Iskas, of the Patriarchal Faction, uses an… opened eyeball of an interdimensional fish commonly used in the manufacture of magic cannons to transform members of the ruling Imperial Faction into fishpeople. He is eventually thwarted by the player’s party and the heir to the throne, a young girl named Corselia, decides from her experiences that Kooluk was always kind of a mess so she’s just going to not take the throne. Scarlet Moon swoops in and annexes the placeiv. Problem solved! Tie a bow on it, we’re done. Problem solved.
Wait, what? How about not at all?
Konami managed to stumble across the one scenario where Kooluk’s invisibility in the first Suikoden makes even less sense. Instead of a situation where you have to explain why Kooluk was not involved as an outside force in the Gate Rune War, the question now becomes: Why wasn’t this new region that would make up about 20% of Scarlet Moon (and the Toran Republic) and includes a highly important port town and enormous (former) Imperial capital ever mentioned or relevant to a nation-spanning civil warv?
The question “Where was Kooluk in the first Suikoden?” has so many potential answers. The two easiest and most consistent answers would have been 1) to say nothing, which would have annoyed lore enthusiastsvi, or 2) something as simple as “internal strife” or “war somewhere else”. And that’s if we don’t consider the third option of just not writing Kooluk to share a large, contentious land border defined by decades of constant warfare with Scarlet Moon in the first place.
If that veers too much off what Tactics actually did, then you can just tweak the ending slightly. Imply that the Corselian Dynasty just isn’t a bunch of belligerent assholes. State that the already crumbling strength of Kooluk was forever broken and now it’s a backwater buffer state of low importance between Toran and the Island Nations. Or my pet theory from before Tactics’ release: A series of small, splintered successor states much too small and involved in regional squabbling to be relevant to Scarlet Moon ever again.
Of course, that’s for an outside, lore writing, perspective. If we go in-universe, then we have to analyse the idea that Corselia saw a bunch of in-fighting in her nation that led to suffering for the masses so her solution, that everyone agrees withvii, is to dissolve the entire nation with no replacement infrastructure in place. She just shuts it all down and lets whatever happens happen. What happens is a swift annexation from its eternal nemesis and its apparent hammering into true obsolescence.
To be fair, Corselia is 11 years old. However, Corselia is also flanked by a group of supporters including those from both sides of Kooluk’s factional politics who have used the events of the game to realise their misguided ways. Thankfully, for the sake of making Suikoden Tactics ending a rushed hack job, they have no strong opinions on the matter. In fact, no one in the game has any strong opinions on the matter, pro or con. This only adds further to the disorientating effect of Tactics’ ending.
It almost feels like some post-modern, deconstructionist view on RPG tropes and world building. We’re done with Kooluk so Kooluk just turns to dust even before the end credits roll. It’s like something akin to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance’s storybook motif. It’s mindbogglingly bizarre and completely misses the point of the original question fans were asking.
The core question was not “What is the current status of the Kooluk nation-state by the time of Suikoden? Does it exist? Binary answers only.viii“. Although that is interesting itself, it doesn’t really matter. No matter the answer, Kooluk doesn’t exist in Suikoden or Suikoden II, III or V. Centering the question around past games, whenever they’re set in the chronology of the series is vapid indulgence. The real question was “What is Kooluk’s relevancy, geographically, culturally and politically, in the future?”, a much more interesting way to feed into the series narrative.
Those are two different questions and the writers were so busy falling over themselves to answer the first question that they didn’t seem to notice, or care, about how it would make the second question even more noticeable and more difficult to reconcile. Corselia mentions “people are content” in her postscript, save for those in all the abandoned villages she also mentioned. It’s such a lazy end. Everyone in former Kooluk is either cool with things or have literally vanished.
In retrospect, following Suikoden IV and seeing where the series would go with Suikoden V and (to the Infinity and) beyond, it should not be surprising that the creative powers-that-be missed the end goal of the story and game they themselves were making. Write Kooluk up as “Exhibit K” on why Suikoden as a franchise didn’t stand a chance.