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Suikoden 2 spoilers are here en masse
In the Suikoden Games, each one seems to have a "theme" in the background, underlying a sweeping story with a human one. In the first one, I seem to see the background story as "family", in the 2nd game; I see it as "Friendship". Two boyhood friends, Jowy and Riou, are swept into something so much bigger than either of them, and caught in the flow, who is to say where it will take them in the end?
In actuality, I find Jowy one of the more intriguing characters in the story of Suikoden. Of noble raising (not birth), good learning, adept fighting and magic skills, a sensitive and caring soul as well as a manipulative and resolved one; Jowy Atreides comes across as a complete dichotomy of human nature. It is perhaps that struggle in all of us that appeals him to me so much.
Jowy's true father is never revealed. His mother married into the Atreides after Jowy was already conceived, and it seems that this is constantly held against him. He is not treated as a "true" Atreides.
He is taunted as "adopted boy" and "rich kid" by the other children, leading one to believe he suffered a lonely childhood. He watched Riou and Nanami train with Master Genkaku, but was not the one to make an overture of friendship. Riou made the first move, and the two became fast friends. Both of them joined the Harmonian Unicorn Brigade together, and marched off to duty, but both seemed more eager to be home than not. On the night before they can finally leave the military, their brigade is attacked and slaughtered.
If you choose to run North, and not east as your Captain advises, you meet up with Captain Rowd. Jowy, relieved that the captain is safe and that reinforcements have arrived, is quickly disillusioned as Prince Luca Blight makes the scene, revealing that the Unicorn Brigade had been killed by their own forces, and not that of their enemy, Jowstone. It is further revealed that Jowstone will be blamed to whip the people into a war frenzy, to prevent the peace treaty that had been negotiated. You are then attacked by your own troops while the Captain watches on.
If you run east, heeding your Captain, Jowy is the first to realize that there is something wrong. Rather than continue to flee into the forest (into death), he convinced Riou to turn back and report to the Captain. Running past the dead bodies of your comrades, you two stumble upon Luca and Rowd congratulating each other on a job well done. The Unicorn Brigade's massacre will make the perfect catalyst to a new war. Fleeing north, you are overtaken by Rowd, and again forced to fight.
Jowy and Riou promise to reunite at the cliff should they "lose their way and become separated" foreshadowing to the spiritual seperation they would soon suffer. Again, this was at Jowy's instigation.
After jumping to a possible death to escape additional troops, Jowy and Riou are indeed separated. Flik and Viktor rescue Riou, while Jowy is missed and is later discovered by Pilika in Toto Village. Nursed back to health by Joanne and Marx, Pilika's parents. Jowy is for the first time treated with unconditional acceptance. But still, as soon as he hears that there was a captured boy at the nearby fort, not even fully healed himself, he leaves this newfound family to rescue his friend.
After being caught in his breakout attempt, Jowy is undaunted, and stages another escape that very night. This time you are successful, and flee homeward to your families.
Only to find that lies have sped their faster, and you are both arrested as traitors. Jowy, appealing to the man that was his father, is instead disbelieved and disowned. His brother turns his back on him, and his mother will not see him. Told in prison that he and his friends are to be executed as spies to further the warlike ambitions of Luca and the greed of Captain Rowd, made a public spectacle of as he is marched to his death, one can only imagine the thoughts of revenge harbored in his heart.
A last minute rescue grants them a reprieve, and life goes on. The two friends watch town after town crumble under Luca Blight's force, and Jowy finds himself caretaker to a traumatized Pilika. Her mother and father have been murdered, and for the second time, Jowy loses a family. Facing down the mad prince himself, Jowy despairs that he could not even protect one little girl from the evil in the world. But he wants to make it right somehow. At the same time, he wants to go away with his two best friends and live a peaceful life. It can be argued that at this point, there are "two Jowy's". The Jowy with the plan to put everything to right, and the Jowy who is still the Hero's best friend.
until he sacrifices himself and gets captured. His family is threatened by Luca, and Jowy caves in. Maybe he's scared, too tired to fight anymore.
He tells Hero later that he admired Luca's strength, his resolve. He wanted to be strong like that so he could protect the things that were important to him.
Regardless of the real reason, the decision is made, Jowy has promised to betray Muse.
He goes back to Muse and tries to find hope in the Muse resistance. In torment he asks Lady Annabelle why she fights to protect Muse, and is told that she fought because Muse was her home, needing no other reason.
That answer semes to reinforce Jowy's traitorous intent. After all, Kyaro is his home, and he will fight to protect it.
But he still seems unsure. Part of him wants to believe in the ability to resist Luca's onslaught.
If you refuse to join the Muse battle right away, Jowy let's slip that he "wants to make sure...". He wants to make sure that he has made the only, the right decision in turning traitor.
One gets the impression that he is desperate to be proven wrong, to be given evidence that Highland can be fought, but all he finds is that there is no hope for resistance.
He kills Annabelle with regret and flees with bloody hands to join the opposition.
Despising Luca, he plots his demise. After running into so much deception and frailty, he feels that he knows what needs to be done to fix things.
To do that, however, he needs to first place himself in a position of trust with the now King Luca. He sets that plan in motion by promising to conquer Greenhill with a handful of soldiers and the remaining refugees from Muse.
Jowy's plan of attrition is as cruel as it is mostly bloodless. By flooding Greenhill with refugees, and setting up a perimeter around the city, Greenhill's resources are overtaxed and the city falls without a single shot.
In the search for Teresa, Jowy vows that there will be no bounty for a corpse, and that since the city surrendered, no draconian measures will be taken with the citizenry (a rule obviously not approved of by Rowd) But even through the occupation, he lets hero and co escape from Greenhill.
Even on opposing sides of a war, Jowy values his friendship. He doesn't want Hero and Nanami to be hurt. Rather, he urges them to give up the fight and stop opposing him. Then he tells them to run, stepping aside. To the pursuing Rowd, Jowy lies, blocking their flight by trying to mislead Rowd with near disastrous results. Only the timely intervention of Culgan and Seed saves his life.
Through the downfall of Muse and the Capture of Greenhill, through treachery and betrayal, topped with the plotted murder of Luca's despised father, Jowy gets a chance to make his bid. As payment for his loyalty, Jowy takes the hand of Luca's sister, Jillia, in marriage.
Together, Jowy, Seed, Culgan, and Leon Silverberg stage the event leading to Luca's death and Jowy takes the throne with minimal fanfare as Jowstone celebrates peace at last.
But the war is not over. Feigning a desire for a joint peace, Jowy lures Riou and Teresa to Muse. For Pilika, to protect any other children from suffering, perhaps even to prove to his family that he is "worth something", almost certainly out of jealousy over the hero's easy popularity, Jowy tries to force surrender from Hero.
He had seen from Highland the evil of men's hearts. He had seen from Jowstone the weakness and pettiness of their desires. None of them were fit to rule.
Things look bad for Riou, when suddenly Viktor appears with Pilika, using her to draw Jowy's attention and awaken his conscience. As Viktor bades his comrades to flee, Jowy stops the arrows that were meant to fly at his friend, allowing them to escape while he tells a disgusted Leon Silverberg that he could not allow Pilika to see any more bloodshed.
Leon warns Jowy that he has just doomed them all to a prolonged war. To which Jowy replies that he knows.
The war between friends drags on, and the tide swings in favor of Riou. Their personal battle culminates when Riou leads the charge to conquer Rockaxe.
Jowy arrives to fight his friend, but it is Nanami who is the casualty as she leaps to protect them both from Gorudo's treachery. Jowy joins Riou to defeat Lord Gorudo, and then withdrew the troops from Rockaxe so Nanami could get the medical help she needs.
He threw away the last chance he had to keep control against the opposing army because he wanted to save his friend Nanami.
In the end, he realized that he was wrong, and that he had to "die" because others would try to use him to further their needs and desires.
With much guilt and self-loathing as he had, he chose to leave the woman who loved him and the child he had fought so hard to protect. He saw to their welfare, it was what he thought was the best he could do.
The figure of Jowy is more tragic than anything. It's a case of the road to hell being paved with good and resolute intentions.
I'll be the last one to claim that any type of "Divine" intervention can completely wipe out self determination, but the nature of the two halves of the Rune of beginning raises some possible questions/answers in this situation that can add some additional arguments.
A True Rune represents the "initial chaos of birth" inherent in times of creation. This True Rune is always found separated into the Bright Shield and Black Sword runes, and bearers of these two runes are bound by the rune's power to fight against each other until only one survives to win the other half.
It is simple to see from the above that the Rune of Beginning is a Rune of battle and struggle. An argument can be made that once Riou and Jowy took the Runes, it became their destiny to be on the opposite ends of battle. Once Riou chose to stand with Jowstone, Jowy was by default bound for Highland.
Just as Hans and Genkakku were forced to fight, so too were hero and Jowy.
Jowy displays the fact that he is well learned early in the game at the Sindar ruins where he successfully identifies Runes from that civilization. While he shrugs off the fact that he was able to do so, it is clear that he has quite a lot of book knowledge. He was also very much aware of True Runes and their properties. It is not a stretch, therefore to think that he would know about the Rune of Beginning, and be swayed by his "fate" into taking actions that he may not have normally considered.
At the very end of the game, Jowy seems to concede as much, telling Riou that it is their destiny to fight until one of them lies dead. While in the "good ending" Riou can circumvent this destiny, you can also give in to it, killing Jowy and fulfilling the True Rune's curse.