SummaryAn overlooked original and epic RPG.
The GoodToday, I will talk about Breath of Fire. For the story, Capcom published this game during the mid-SNES area. Unlike what most people seems to think, this was not the first RPG by Capcom, because they released two games in the Destiny of an Emperor legacy on the NES prior to Breath of Fire (from now on BOF for short). So BOF is at least the third RPG by Capcom. However, it was the first really big-scale and high quality RPG by Capcom period, no matter how many game they released before, probably none of them are as large and live full as BOF (unless I completely missed something). Capcom had the habit to program great games back then (and still today), but they didn't had the habit to program RPGs, and even less the habit to translate them into English. Just look the "engrish" in the intro sequences in Mega Man games on the NES to see what I mean. So imagine a text-intense RPG game like BOF translated by Capcom themselves ! For that reason, Capcom kindly asked Squaresoft, which was known to have made a great success by commercialising Final Fantasy IV and Secret of Mana in the United States, to translate BOF into English and publish it in the united states and they agreed. So BOF is basically a SNES game by Capcom translated by Square (more specifically, Ted Whoselay to not mention him).
Now I discovered this little gem a long time ago with the help of a SNES emulator at first. I was stuck at one point of the game and I couldn't progress anymore, I was thinking of a bug in the game but in fact it was a stupid detail. Whatever, I stopped my adventure and didn't touch it for some considerable amount of time. Then, I heard of the (this time worldwide) Game Boy Advance remake of BOF, which in fact was released very early in the GBA's life. Since this time the game was released in Europe, I could technically get an actual copy of the game, but for some reason I missed it when it just got out (probably because I didn't have a GBA at the time, nor haven't I even heard of the SNES version). Because the game was out for a very long time, I couldn't just buy a new copy as they were sold out, so I had to wait to have the opportunity get a used copy to play it, and now I have found a used copy, and I have played it, so I'll now seriously talk about it, because personal matters doesn't explain just how the game is.
A little notice : Both versions of BOF (SNES and GBA) are almost the exact same thing, so I'll talk about the GBA version since it's the version I played the most and the only one I actually have a copy of the game, but 95% of the following things applies to both versions. And yes, Ted Whoselay haters, the translation is the same.
The first thing to say about BOF is that it is an overall charming and inspired game. Capcom never run out of ideas, and the design of their worlds are almost magical. The graphics have vibrant colors (even on the GBA small screen), and all of the overworld map, the towns and the instances are artistically designed and feel really good. A lot of very small details, such as having two statues on each side of a important building entrance, or two fountains bordering an alley are the kind of details that make the differences between a bland game and an artistic one.
Not only the backgrounds are gorgeous, but the sprites are nicely animated and large (a completely different style from the more usual ultra-deformed Final Fantasy sprites), and in battle the game switch from the standard top-down view to a nice isometric view ! And the game detects where you are before random encounters and puts an appropriate background, if you are near a wall a wall appear in the background, if you are just between two walls, two walls show up, if you are near a set of stairs, it also show up (this is rare tough), and the go. If you are out of nowhere, the battle background will also be bland flat. Last but not least, the game even made some original and unexpected uses of mode-7 here and here on the field 2 times in the game. You got it, BOF has amazing graphics, in fact even on the GBA it doesn't look displaced at all, as it can almost compete with original GBA games like Golden Sun. And half of GBA games are SNES remakes anyway.
Now let's talk about the world of Breath of Fire itself. It contains lots of different places (such as forests, caves, etc...) but especially a lot of fun and strange people ! Your final party is made up of 8 members, only 1 of them is actually a regular human ! Instead of having the standard set of humans, dwarfs and elves you get humans, dragons, winged people (the wind clan), fox-men (the forest clan), fish-men, metal smiths (aka troll giants), mole people (aka rat-men which can dig), and probably more races I forgot. Your party is mainly composed of Ryu, which looks like an human but in fact is member of the dragon clan and can turn into a dragon in battle, Nina which is a winged woman who can fly (she can barely fly because she's still a teenager, but adults winged people can turn into birds and fly), a fox-man named Bo who is a clone of Disney's Robin Hood (for some reason I just figured that out, probably because he looks really similar AND he has a bow as a weapon), and much more fun characters I'll let you discover in the game. Not only you have an amazing party, but most of them have amazing powers (turn into a dragon !), and the monsters are no less inspired, fun to look at and also have amazing powers. Small details like the animation of bosses transforming while attacking you, or how the bosses goes berserk just when you think they are defeated (because they have a lifebar, but when it's out in fact they have a second wind), is small details what make this game really fun. Not to mention how amazing the characters are and how great they look in battle.
Breath of Fire is a very linear game. While there is some back and forth involved, you often go back just on the search of an item only to go further. A good advantage of this is that you are never lost and always knows what to do next (well, almost). The usual disadvantage of this linear system, that show ups with most Japanese RPGs, is that the whole game consist in "go there, do that, go there, do that, etc...". Breath of Fire remedy to this problem by having very complex dungeons, most of them being hard (but damn fun) to explore due to their complex and often artistic architecture, and, sometimes, set of traps. There is some puzzles involved too (but they are not as much complex as they could be). Sometimes there is traps that just leads you to redo the whole instance, but if you fell in the trap you are rewarded with level ups. Also, I didn't mention that the world map is HUGE and that there is a lot of areas to explore on it.
Most characters from your party have various abilities if you put them in the lead of the party, and their abilities often leads to hidden items or such things. On the beginning of the game, you will notice places which are impossible to reach (and most likely contains treasures), and you will have to remember them to visit them again later to get great and free equipment. Also, Bo can hunt animals on the world map, which is a fun hobby. When you kill an animal you get an item from it, and if you kill a rare animal... of course you get a rare item. Some places on the world map have hidden rare and hard enemies, etc... So when you go back to one place you have already been to find an item to continue your quest, it's a good excuse to explore the area, hunt, and level up so the game is never as linear and boring as it could have been. The only way you can find the game boring is if you closely follow a walkthrough and never exit the main path that is given to you and never take any risk or Whatever. The game has been made to be discovered, not just walked through.
Now about the battle system it is your standard round-based system, and 90% of random battles consist in pressing left+A and watch (selecting auto battle, which orders to the whole party to constantly attack the first monster). You will sometimes have to heal and cast offensive spells for fun, and you're done. The battles are fast paced, and very nicely animated, so they are never getting annoying, no matter how frequent they are. In addiction to normal attacks, and magic, and special powers, you also have items to use in battle, which are somewhat fun. Fruits and herbs heals you, while some items have offensive powers. There is also items that automatically triggers a critical hit (called 'slam' in BOF, for some reason this sounds more like the noise the critical hit does than the critical hit itself), this is great, more games should have included this ! There is also items that pathetically increased one of your stats by one when the stat of the weakest characters are about 50 (and the stats of the best around 150). A good thing is that support magic will automatically take priority over anything else, so when a character is wounded and you heal him with magic, you're sure it will actually be healed immediately and cannot be KO-ed before the healer's turn comes in. However this does not apply to support items, so take care !
The game starts off pretty hard, but soon the difficulty will decrease and the rest of the game will be very easy. In fact BOF is the only RPG with Golden Sun where exploring is actually harder than fighting. Most bosses are easy, and they become a joke if you use your powerful dragon transformations (but that is almost cheating). The only way you can find the game hard is if you only use the warp spell to go from a place to another, and run away on most random encounter (run away is right+A, and honestly, you just have to do left+A (auto battle) which is as easy to do and will take only slightly less time to end the battle in most cases). The last boss, however, was very hard and surprised me, so take care ! I still won on the first try, but I was out of mana on all characters, and out of healing items, one or two more rounds and I'll be out. However, I think I completed the game in 3 weeks and I lost maybe 2 times or so, so this game is definitely easy.
Oh yes, the music in Breath of Fire is amazing ! There is a lot of tracks, and they all sound very good. The overworld music changes 3 times, and the battle music 1 time, so you'll always have a new fresh set of music for a while and you won't never annoyed by hearing the same music again and again (as it's the case in many RPGs) ! Capcom got it all ! And, as a plus the first and last overworld music is AMAZING ! It's the one of the best overworld music ever, only beaten by Final Fantasy IX. Each town typically have a sad music before you save it and a happy music after you save it (but there is many sad musics, and many happy musics). Some towns also have their unique music, and you hear a different music indoors and in shops (the shop music is a kind of funky jazz that rocks !). Instances are less varied in music, as there is only 3 of them, but all 3 are great in my opinion plus those are alterned with the battle music, so this is all right.
I should still mention that the bass on the GBA version sounds GameBoy-ish, and lack the basses of the SNES version which mostly used that weird bass instrument that doesn't sound much like a bass that Capcom also used in Street Fighter 2 and Mega Man X. The few song that had drums also have them lacking, and are replaced by rhythms made of white noise splashes (which sound more GameBoy-ish again), but the important instruments are untouched and they remixed the songs so that it still sounds good even through the GBA's inferior hardware. The sound effects are untouched, and are detailed and exciting enough, while in battle they could be a little more varied. I love the sound effect when someone cast a spell (no matter what the spell is and who cast it there is a jingle before it which sounds cool).
Finally, the only real difference between the GBA and SNES versions (aside of the basses) is the menu system which is WAY improved, as you can clearly see your stats changes when you buy/equip new equipment. Also you can run if you hold B, which can proof useful in some large places, although this is not the kind of game that want to make you to rush. You can rotate the order of the party with L and R buttons, which is useful as you often have to use their abilities as leaders, and this avoid having to switch them manually in the menu like you had to do in the SNES version. Finally, the battle menu prompt is simpler and clearer than on the SNES. So you only get advantages out of the GBA version ! (except if you are a fan of heavy basses). Oh, you also get a couple of Fire Emblem style full-screen pictures here and here for cutscenes, that were added only in the GBA version. That's a fairly good addition.
The BadThis game is amazing, but there is one thing that annoyed me : WHY does there so many people in towns that say the exact same thing ? I mean if 2 guards are guarding a place and both say the same thing it looks alright, but when men, women and children of the same town says all the exact same thing this just drives me mad ! In fact they often talk like normal until you do what you have to do with that town, and then all says the same thing after this, so do never revisit towns (unless of course you really have to). I remember almost going mad having more than 20 people saying "It was 's bravery who saved Nina!" in Winlan, and no I don't exaggerate, 70% of the people (again, including civil men, women, soldiers, children, dogs,...) in that town say this, and the "It was" when this just happened 5 minutes ago just drives me mad !
Another flaw is that the story is very simple. Not bad, but just TOO simple as opposed of what it should have been. The problem is that the introduction is absolutely amazing, maybe one of the best intro of any video game save Final Fantasy VII, raising questions such as "Why are we brought to the world only to depart so quickly ?", intending that the game itself will, if not answer to the question, at least approaches it. But no, this question is completely unrelated with the whole game and no approach of it is mentioned directly or indirectly during the whole game. Those philosophical questions in the intro are just here for the "wow" factor, and are completely pointless when it comes to actually introduce the game (unless they are answered in it's sequel I haven't played yet, but I doubt it). The opening sequence when you start a new game is also amazing.
From there, you get a couple of amazing cutscenes early in the game, but past one point (where the world map song changes for the first time), there will just be no more cutscenes AT ALL. Just like if Capcom ran out of either cash or cartridge space to make more story scenes. All cutscenes from 20% of the game until the end just consist of short lines of dialogue and characters barely moving around. Characters lack moral development (although their look is very developed, and the few sentences they say is typical of them, but there is still something lacking). There is point in the game where major characters, both good and villains, dies, and the scenes were so bad that you don't even know if they are really dead, as the game does not mention dead due to Nintendo's old censorship standards and does not show it due to lack of quality in cutscenes. Even the ending beats Golden Sun when it comes to "well done, thanks for playing, to be continued in Golden Sun 2" (I don't intend to spoil BOF or Golden Sun endings, just say that they are not what they should be). In contrast with the amazingly animated and realised intro/opening sequence of the game, this just make me wondering things.
Very minor flaw : The name of the items sometimes get a bit TOO ridiculous. You eventually get used to it, and the GBA version has icons for items, so you know "BroadSD" is a sword and that "FlameAR" is an armor, but in the SNES version it wasn't the case. In fact this ends up with funny names, especially for key items (this game has a LOT of key items), that almost contribute in the fun experienced in the game, because names such as "WtrJr" (abbreviated Water Jar) will just make you piss of laugh, especially considering that people use the abbreviated form when they talk about the item. One person says : "I'd like to give something to you. It's the WtrJr." LOL ! This also remember me the GovmntCmplx (abberievated Government Complex) of Mega Man Battle Network, I also had a good laugh at this one with a friend.
The Bottom LineBreath of Fire is still an amazing game even today, its originality and inspired characters, creatures and artistically architectured instances are its strong points. Only gamers that dislike running away and that like exploring, and that can live without strong cutscenes will really love it, at least I do ! Breath of Fire is a great game, no matter what people say ! This game has two major flaws (listed above) and a lot of major great stuff ! Even beginners should try it, as it is very easy. If you call yourself a RPG gamer, go play this game now, no matter if you get a real copy or an emulated image, and no matter if it's on the Game Boy Advance or the SNES. This is a timeless classic !