Growing up I always played games, but only recently would I have ever thought of myself as a “gamer.” I had a Nintendo for several years, then a Genesis, but until Playstation (and High School) I played mostly NBA Jam, and whatever the rest of the kids from school/the neighborhood were playing. This included a lot of games I would now scorn, such as games licensed from movies. I always noticed Genesis games on the shelves that looked as though they might be interesting due to the dragons and medieval knights on the covers, but I was apparently unable to take the plunge at the time.
Come high school, I met a bunch of people different from myself (basically I hadn’t met anyone not Irish- or Italian-Catholic) who did different things (other than play baseball and basketball). One of these was our friend Jay who was kind enough to lend me Suikoden and condescending enough to warn me repeatedly that there were periods with little action, a lot of reading, etc. Basically the warning you would give someone who had only ever played the types of games I had only ever played.
It ended up being the start of something beautiful. Strategic elements, characters, a fantasy based plot; the game had it all. Now I can look back and know that it was a very good, but in no way unconventional RPG. At the time, I was enthralled by everything about it — chasing down a vampire while he played the organ in his castle, finding characters that could improve my weapons (and in this game my castle- still really cool), but most importantly my characters got stronger. I could build an unstoppable army that could have walked to the ending (and on subsequent playthroughs I did, you almost need to if you want every character).
These are mostly things that are general to RPGs, though. Would another one have held my interest initially the way Suikoden did? It’s tough to say. There are certain gameplay elements that I wish we saw more of in RPGs. For example, the more characters you recruited (108 in all) the larger and better designed you castle became. Recruiting an artist added murals, recruiting blacksmiths gave you ready access to their ability to improve weapons, the list goes on.
Also, the battles were more than the traditional turn based party battles. You could team up on enemies with the right combination of warriors. More importantly there were one on one battles with opposing generals as well as battles where entire armies faced off against one another. So my answer is that eventually I would have found RPGs anyway, since the match between them and myself is too good to have gone unnoticed forever, but the fact that my introduction came from Suikoden made the experience all the sweeter.
I have since gone back and played many, but no where near all of the seminal RPGs I missed over the course of my youth while I was wasting my time running around in the fresh air. I have played the early Final Fantasies, the Shining Force games, Chrono Trigger, and a few others.
Since my Suikoden experience I have played a number of other modern RPGs. Probably too many to list here, but ironically none of the sequels to my first. I have thought about playing the rest (the price tag on the second is prohibitive, and could I really play the rest without playing the second? This isn’t rhetorical, I would actually appreciate input) but I must admit, I have been unfaithful. However, Suikoden will always hold a special place in my heart for opening up those doors and introducing me to characters whose stats increase as you play.