Everyone should give Suikoden a shot because, like you said, it's under 20 hours to complete, which is rare for a JRPG, especially this day and age. I ran through it again recently and finished in it about 15 hours, collecting all the 108 Stars of Destiny and having a good time watching the castle grow. Unfortunately, the combat is fairly mindless, which doesn't result in me wanting to try out many of my new recruits when all I'm going to do is mash attack or see if they have any fun unite attacks (most don't).
Hope you get to Suikoden II soon! It does excel on nearly all the issues you had with Suikoden and has an equally amazing soundtrack, though the translation is still spotty in issues, and you'll find a ton of typos along the way. In fact, I did two posts on this topic over at my blog Grinding Down (sorry for the self promotion!):
Just played through this and found it really enjoyable! That Simon Amstell is very easy to listen to, and I was smiling ear to ear in most parts revolving around doing/not doing what he said. Not sure what some of the collectible stuff means--you can pick up coins and post-it notes--but I'm going to head back in soon for another go.
I've been working my way through Final Fantasy IX, a game I've never beaten, but having replayed the first several hours multiple times. Currently, I'm on disc three, so that's some good progress! For current games, I'm looking forward to the next Fire Emblem.