Welcome back to The Game Collection. I am
Super Derek, and this is Breath of Fire! You could say I’ve been looking forward to
reviewing this game for a while. And after playing through Hydlide, I felt like I deserved
a little bit of a reward. Breath of Fire was another one of those games I found a long
time ago when I was looking to scratch that RPG itch after playing EarthBound. Its kind
of funny. Lufia left me feeling burned, but Breath of Fire was a breath of fresh air.
Before I get into this though I should mention that because I played this game early on,
I may be a bit biased in favor of this game because to be honest, the nostalgia factor
is in full force, despite my best efforts to remain impartial. But even for those without
some history with the franchise, I know that this game will appeal to a lot of you.
Breath of Fire was the first RPG ever developed by Capcom, the company famous for Street Fighter
and Mega Man. The game was released for the Super Famicom in April of 1993. Because Capcom
hadn’t really dealt much with text-heavy localizations of this magnitude, they handed the game translation
and promotion over to none other than SquareSoft. Due to character limitations of item and character
names that couldn’t be overcome, a lot of the text in the game is abbreviated, which
can make for some confusing moments. But fortunately this seldom affects gameplay.
In Breath of Fire, you play as Ryuu, a young man of the Light Dragon clan. You awaken in
the night to find your village is under attack by the Dark Dragon clan. In an act of desperation,
your sister Sara saves the lives of the village by casting a petrifying spell on the remaining
villagers, and going off to duel with the Dark Dragons. Unfortunately she is captured,
and thus your quest begins. Overall, this is pretty standard stuff, especially
by today’s standards. The story of Breath of Fire isn’t going to compete with many of
the other games I’ve reviewed, and honestly, I’m okay with that. The game’s strength lies
in the smaller, individual character arcs that will hold your attention along the way
to the beginning of the next arc. This makes the game very easy to pick up, even if you’re
new to RPGs. Despite being a mostly typical turn-based
Breath of Fire series offers somewhat of a unique gameplay experience. On your quest
to save your sister and prevent an apocalypse, you make several friends that are compelled
to help you along the way. Each character belongs to a different clan, which are essentially
human animal hybrids, such as wolves, birds, and fish. Each member of the clans have their
own unique ability as well which are useful for travelling or solving puzzles along the
way. Solving puzzles by the way, is a large part
of Breath of Fire. What the game lacks in depth of plot, it makes up for with its unique
dungeon designs. Traditionally, to this point, dungeons in RPGs were mostly grinding grounds.
Stretches of infested territory you had to make it through in order to get to the boss.
However, Breath of Fire’s dungeons are large and full of puzzles.
The layouts of the dungeons themselves are maze-like and full of treasure for those who
like to go exploring every nook and cranny. If there’s one thing that I love about this
game it’s how much you are rewarded for exploring and retracing your steps with new characters
to access new areas. I do have a gripe about the dungeon exploring
experience though, and that is the enemy encounter rate. In some areas of the game progress is
slow and tedious, as every 5 steps or so initiates a new random battle. This wouldn’t be quite
so meddlesome if the battles were quick, or if leveling up occurred frequently enough,
but battles with even normal enemies can be quite lengthy. But on the plus side, once
the game really gets going, the battles are lots of fun!
One of the recurring elements in the Breath of Fire series is transformation. Our hero,
Ryuu, as a member of the Dragon clan has the ability to transform himself into a powerful
dragon, and remain in that state for the remainder of the battle if you so choose. In addition,
later in the game you obtain the ability to fuse party members together, multiplying their
heath, offensive and defensive powers! I should probably mention here that some people
might have a slight problem with this game towards the end. The diligent explorer, by
the end of the game, will have borderline god-like power and invincibility, due to those
rewards and transformations I talked about earlier. As a result, the final few bits of
the game are extremely easy and practically play themselves. However, I think that what
it does well in these final few hours of the game is illustrate the colossal clashes of
power between our hero, and the games antagonist. The battle sequences aren’t just fun though,
they’re beautiful! Entering a battle changes your perspective from the traditional top-down
perspective into the series staple isometric view. And everything is animated masterfully!
Each of the player’s characters have fully animated attack and spell sequences, some
even have idle animations. Enemies move while on the battle ground, and magic attacks look
excellent. Compare that to Dragon Quest, or Final Fantasy titles of the time and you’ll
see that this was really a very big deal. In addition to the stunning graphics, in typical
Capcom fashion, we are treated with some really excellent music that incorporates a lot of
wind and brass synth that’s very up-beat. Some have compared it to the music in Super
Ghouls and Ghosts, only with less of an emphasis on the creepy horror theme. I think that some
parts of the game are reminiscent, but Breath of Fire’s soundtrack has a wide range, and
even includes some piano and some funkier music as well.
In just a couple of months we’ll be coming upon the 20th anniversary of Breath of Fire’s
US release. Unfortunately this game didn’t make it to Europe until 2001 when the game
was ported to the GameBoy Advance. This version of the game features some minor graphical
differences, and the audio is generally a bit worse sounding than the SNES version,
which is pretty standard of SNES to GBA ports. In addition, the mediocre translation was
untouched with the re-release. They did tweak the game’s balancing though, and added a quick
save feature which is good for a handheld to have, but personally, I would still recommend
the SNES version. As of the time of this review, Breath of Fire
hasn’t yet been digitally released for any modern consoles. So at this point to pick
up a copy of Breath of Fire you’ll be paying either $16 for the GBA version, or around
$24 for the original SNES release, which, really, isn’t bad at all when you compare
it to the cost of other SNES RPGs. Upon its release in the US, Breath of Fire
was met with mostly positive criticism, which was great news for Capcom because development
was already well underway for this games Sequel, Breath of Fire 2! But I’ll talk about that
next time, on The Game Collection!