Suikofans: The Gensopedia

Welcome to our latest article series in which we want to present you some of the most amazing fanwork in the Suikoden fandom: Suikofans! We start with an Interview with David aka JohnLayfield, admin of of the Gensopedia, the most comprehensive Suikoden Wiki in existence. But we’ll not only talk with him about his projects, but also about his Suikoden passion in general. Enjoy!

Hey David! Thanks for taking your time. To begin this interview, tell us a bit about yourself and your Suikoden past. Which was the first game in the series you played, how old have you been and why did you buy it?

Back in Ireland, my friend had purchased a used copy of the first Suikoden which I borrowed after they cleared it. It was only the second RPG I had ever played! This would have been around 1998, so I’d have been 13 at the time. I fell in love with the setting and story pretty much immediately but Suikoden II was actually the first game in the series I purchased myself because by that time, the first game was already very rare in Europe.

It probably wasn’t until around 2012 that I actually bothered to buy a physical copy for the first game for myself, so I had a pretty topsy-turvy trek through the series!

David’s vast Suikoden collection

You have a long past in the Suikoden community, being the admin of the fansite theirstar.com (which later changed its name to duefiumi.com). Why did you decide to create your own fansite back then? Can you tell us a bit more about the Suikoden community in these days?

2005 was a pretty exciting time for the international fandom as we had so many games released or announced. Suikoden IV and Tactics came out that year and it was early the following year that Suikoden V was released. So in many ways it was a golden era for activity in the Suikoden fanbase. But at the same time, there was a sense of entitlement and disappointment from older fans who didn’t feel that the newer games, especially IV and Tactics, did not mean their standards or capture their interests.

Partly because of that, the largest English language information sites; Suikosource and Suikox were slow to update with these new games. Although I had helped Suikox with some Suikoden IV entries and with their war game, it eventually became clear that the best way to ensure that up-to-date information was available was to create a new domain where myself and others could quickly update things, rather than having to submit items to an editor or webmaster.

I have to admit that duefiumi was the first English Suikoden community I joined back then, and I remember joining because of your coverage of Suikoden Tierkreis (which was announced in 2008). You even had the whole Japanese homepage of Suikoden Tierkreis translated into English on your site. Wasn’t that an awful lot of work?

Haha, yes, translating the Suikoden Tierkreis webpage and maintaining its entire style and formatting was a lot of work but was very much worth it. At the same time, I had always felt that fans of the series, or any series really, deserved to have as much access to original material as possible, rather than having someone like me or someone working at a localisation company decide for you what you needed to see. I couldn’t teach everyone Japanese, but I could let people see this information as close to the original Japanese homepage as possible.

Was your fascination of the Suikoden series a driving force behind you starting to learn Japanese?

Absolutely, it was. But the funny thing is, originally I never really intended to learn Japanese. It’s just that after a while you begin to pick it up. First with the katakana for character names and then recurring terms, like “fire” or “army” or “crest” and so on. At that point, the hardest part is verbs. You can read that, for example, Viktor is doing something with Fire Spears, but what? After a while, you pick that up too, either through context or memorisation. It’s not a very academic approach to the Japanese language and I always keep a dictionary handy but it’s worked out pretty well!

Now let’s talk about your “latest” project, the Gensopedia. For those who don’t know – the Gensopedia is a Wiki about the Suikoden series which currently features more than 1,800 articles. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

The Gensopedia was originally a project on my fan site, Due Fiumi. The idea was that the concept of static HTML “Biographies” sections were quickly becoming outdated. It also didn’t solve the problems that led to the creation of Due Fiumi in the first place; a lack of speedy updates. So myself, and about 14 other contributors from the Due Fiumi forums and elsewhere, created the Gensopedia as an online Suikoden wiki to great success with 6.6 million views in just over two years.

Today, the revamped and overhauled Gensopedia is hosted on its own domain, gensopedia.com, and is open to editing from anyone. The idea now is that you don’t have to be this workaholic contributor if you don’t want to. If you read an article and think “Hey, it didn’t mention this thing.” or “Wait, Miakis said that, not Lyon”, you can fix it and move on with your day. You don’t need to sit there and write a 3,000 word essay on the life of Qlon to help out.

The Gensopedia article on Sasarai - which is currently the "Featured Article" of the Wiki.

The Gensopedia article on Sasarai – which is currently the “Featured Article” of the Wiki.

What would you say is the most difficult work on the Gensopedia?

I think in general, a lack of contributors makes things difficult in an overall sense as I have to spread myself thin and cannot focus too long on any one thing, like detailing enemies or writing Suikoden Tierkreis articles, etc. Working on overall page templates, like the information boxes we use for characters or items, is probably the most difficult single piece of work as we have to find a way to show information clearly and concisely while still looking good and matching the layout of the rest of the Gensopedia.

The biggest Pokemon-Wiki, the Bulbapedia, features more than 27,000 articles, the Final Fantasy Wiki more than 18,000. What do you think is the limit of the Gensopedia? So far, you only covered topics of the first five games (including spin-offs), but articles on Tierkreis and the latest PSP-entry are still missing.

I think there’s scope for about 7,000 articles on the Gensopedia when all is said and done, including items, runes, books, CDs and so on. There could be room for even more articles but it all depends on how detailed we’re willing to go. Should every spell have its own article? Are “Fire Crystals” and “Fire Runes” two different articles? Is the mobile phone port of Suikoden its own page or a sentence in the main article? Sometimes you can get caught up in the article numbers too much and end up with hundreds, if not thousands, of low content pages which is frustrating for users who are browsing and clicking on random pages. I try to be mindful of that, although the Gensopedia does have its fair share of shorter articles.

As for Suikoden Tierkreis and Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki, it’s just a matter of catering to the games most fans are interested in. There’s also an element of wanting to do the articles justice. I wrote several Tierkreis pages before realising that I would probably need to replay the game to be able to write accurate, detailed entries on a lot of characters. Again, it’s all about trying not to spread yourself thin when outside contributions are low but I hope to revisit both Tierkreis and Tsumugareshi when time allows for me to replay those games in order to produce accurate, detailed content.

You not only relaunched the Gensopedia, but also the theirstar.com domain. You now use this site occasionally to write detailed articles on the Suikoden games and some of their themes. Why do you think the series never let you go that even now, after having your first contact with Suikoden 17 years ago, you feel the urge to write about it?

I think the reason myself and so many others have kept this connection to Suikoden is because it came about at the right time in our lives. I think it’s fair to say that most of us became fans of the series in our teen years, when we wanted more complicated and more nuanced stories to interact with but still with a sense of charm and wonder. Suikoden was able to provide that for us without becoming too bleak or too shocking or even too boring, like other games which try to tackle issues of war and politics.

When you combine that depth of story with such a wide variety of characters, it helps to create a fully realised world and there are few things less resistible to anyone who enjoys fiction than a detailed, realised world that mixes the familiar with the exotic so well. I think that’s what keeps myself, and so many others, returning to the world of Suikoden after so many years; the world itself. As long as we’re able to interact with that world, even if we have to replay old games to do, there’ll be someone out there playing Suikoden.

I happen to know that Shining Force II is your favourite game. Why is it you decided to create the Gensopedia and not a Shiningpedia?

There was already one! Or rather, there were already enough comprehensive Shining Force sites around back then that there was nothing for me to add. The Shining series, like Suikoden, is a series that garnered fandom controversy in its later games. Because of that, and because I was never part of a Shining community at the time, it would feel weird to work on a online encyclopedia for something with so many question marks hanging over it. Although I have toyed with doing something for other RPG series; Ring of Red, Vandal Hearts, Breath of Fire… But that would really be spreading myself thin!

What are your favourite games/game series except Suikoden and Shining Force? Do you have some genres you prefer or avoid? What have you been playing recently?

I’m very much an RPG kind of person, so I’m also a big fan of the Vandal Hearts games as well as the Breath of Fire and Star Ocean series. There’s also this early PS2 Konami strategy RPG called Ring of Red I really enjoy. I try and keep my tastes pretty diverse, I enjoy racing games, platformers, puzzle games and so on. I’m no good at fighting games or first person shooters though, I can barely keep up with what’s going on!

Recently, I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid 4, to try and catch up before the new one comes out. I’ve also been playing Super Mario Galaxy and Mario Kart 8 when I just need to relax with something fun.

Not many know that David also used to draw small comics. Decide for yourself if it was a good idea he stopped.

Not many know that David also used to draw small comics. Decide for yourself if it was a good idea he stopped.

I’ve been playing videogames since I was 10 and over time, I noticed that only few new games intrigue me anymore. In fact, the last RPG I put more than 100 hours into was Arc the Lad II (which I played in 2008), and I invested about 80 hours into Xenoblade for Wii. Did you notice something similar in your own gaming behaviour? Do you think there could be a new game (series) released that makes you think “Wow, I need to start a fansite/Wiki on this!”?
Although I play quite a few modern games, I do find it more difficult to find RPGs that directly capture my interest for so many years like they used to. The last RPG I put a lot of time into was probably Fire Emblem: Awakening and before that Shin Megami Tensei IV. Nowadays, it seems like a lot of RPGs focus on fan service in order to attract more attention. It certainly works, judging from the large amount of JRPGs available on Sony hardware today, but it doesn’t necessarily result in a game I want to play.

Nowadays, most game franchises already have dedicated fansites and wikis but I think it’s possible for a new series to capture my attention the way Suikoden did. Especially today, when there are new games from small studios and indie developers on Kickstarter and the like that are inspired by those classic RPGs I fell in love with so many years ago. I think it’s inevitable that I’m going to see one of those games, something will click and then I’m up way too late piecing together the history of their fake kingdom from NPC dialogue!
That almost concludes the interview – now please answer these questions with short reasoning:
What’s your favourite game in the series?¬†¬†Suikoden III, because it does the best job of avoiding making any faction irredeemably “bad”.
What’s your least favourite game in the series? Suikoden V, as it always felt like it was “designed by committee” rather than a project of passion.
Which game do you think earns more recognition than it receives? And which gets a little too much praise? I think Suikoden Tactics deserves more of a look just because gameplay wise, it’s really quite excellent and skillful. While I really enjoy Suikoden II, I think the amount of attention and recognition it receives directly hurt the series in the long run.
What’s your favourite character? And the least favourite? Thomas from Suikoden III might just be my favourite. He’s not the prototypical Tenkai Star but he has all the attributes that make you realise why people are drawn to him. My least favourite has to Kraze. What a creep. There’s a reason there’s no negative penalty if you kill him.
Thanks for your time! We hope you enjoyed the interview at least a bit. If you have some final remarks, now’s your time!

I just want to thank the SRM for their hard work. In this lean spell for the series, their efforts have been key to keeping this dedicated fanbase running. I’d also like to thank everyone who visited my various projects and contributed to them over the years; I’m more grateful that you can ever know. And of course, thank you for this chance to go on and on about Suikoden!

We would like to thank David for taking his time! If you are interested in helping the Gensopedia or starting a similar project in your language (so far, we only have a German project), feel free to contact him at www.gensopedia.com! Also, be sure to follow it on Facebook. And if you think you need more David in your life, you can follow his tumblr blog.

If you have a great Suikoden-related project or are a fanartist, we would be happy to interview you as well! Just drop us a message.

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