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Just Breed (NES) artwork

Just Breed (NES) review

"A worthy way to put an end to 2015."

Just Breed could be described as another one of those poor, unfortunate games that never received its just due outside of Japan because it was released too late in the Famicom's life to be considered worth porting to the United States. I would have loved playing Just Breed during that era. It's essentially the 8-bit version of Shining Force. The story is stripped down to its barest essentials, but the lengthy and often stressful battles are enough to claim the undivided attention of any would-be general.

The premise is that you're a knight. On the night of some ceremony, your priestess girlfriend is kidnapped by a really large monster. You and your loyal troops set out to rescue her and, along the way, find out the same thing is happening all over the world. This leads other knights and their soldiers to join your quest as the lot of you discover that shadowy forces of evil are planning to summon a big world-destroying monster because, well, that's what evil villains enjoy doing with their spare time.

Just Breed screenshot Just Breed screenshot

Each general is accompanied by five soldiers -- one mage and four that range from fighter to archer. Generals are easily the best units, able to utilize the finest weaponry to mount massive attacks and cast powerful spells, but the other guys also have their uses: mages are the only non-generals who can attack and heal with spells; fighters use good armor and melee weaponry; archers aren't strong defensively because they can't equip shields, but they can attack from afar. Those last units really shine after you start purchasing boomerangs, since you don't even need to be directly lined up with foes in order to whack them.

In most fights, especially early on, generals and their troops occupy reasonably large areas, facing off against large sums of monsters and/or monster dens which generate new foes. The presence of these dens demands a great deal of strategy, as you have to dance on a fine line between being reckless aggression and thoughtful passivity. Wait for enemies to come to you and the additional ones that are spawned can quickly overwhelm your armies. But if you go all-out, trying to run past foes to get to the dens, there's a good chance a couple of guys will find themselves the focus of monster attacks, leading to their demise and hobbling your armies right from the start. Depending on who falls, this scenario could prove devastating. While the loss of a regular troop just eliminates them from the fray until you pay a small revival fee, a downed general results in the five associated troops retreating. Since you'll only have two to four generals at your beck and call for most of the game, that loss of troops can really tilt the scales in favor of the opposition.

Many levels find your guys traversing the area between one town and the next, with a few of them forcing you to undergo a specific task in order to help people in certain communities. Before the residents of one town will offer their assistance, you have to supply them with water. This means holding up under a vicious onslaught of monsters (who start very close to your location) while a group of townsfolk try digging at a well located to the south of town. After that doesn't work, you'll have to go north and dig an irrigation ditch from a nearby pond to the town -- another fight with a lot of monsters starting nearby, but this time, you'll be without the services of one character who is needed to dig the path for the water. These fights aren't necessarily anything special, but at least Enix was able to give players specific objectives beyond a mandate to simply kill everything. That keeps things from getting overly repetitive.

Speaking of that, other levels eliminate your generals' troops and feature only your main attackers. Usually, these fights take place in a smaller setting, with your best fighters taking on a few powerful foes or even a boss. While a couple of late-game maps following this style require a good bit of strategy, a decent number of them are simple. You save one general for healing and have the others assault the enemies or boss with their best suitable spell. Of course, as you might guess considering that a large number of these levels are boss fights, staying alive is easier said than done -- especially towards the end when you're dealing with very powerful dragon bosses surrounded by a handful of the toughest standard foes. Odds are good that you'll suffer a few misfortunes along the way and find yourself grateful for a spell that allows you to warp back to town.

Just Breed screenshot Just Breed screenshot

While I did like this game a lot, it wasn't perfect by any means. I think the primitive Famicom hardware is responsible for its main flaw, which turned the concept of generals with five troops from a neat feature into an annoyance. During each of your turns in any fight where the common troops are present, you have to pick one general and execute his move, followed by those of his troops. Only after those six have advanced you can pick another general. Each general is essentially the linchpin of his or her army. After one moves, the screen freezes at that location, with the general located at the center. The viewing area will not scroll while anyone else in that army is moving, so they're stuck within a few squares of their leader.

This works in reverse, too, so you might find an entire army's advance stalled temporarily because one guy was lagging behind to help another army seal a couple dens. When you add the fact that your generals tend to have the worst movement capabilities of any unit, it can make traversing larger maps rather tedious. Worse than tedium is the danger posed by this setup, as it's easy to move units past their general, only to belatedly realize they just placed themselves within the combat range of monsters you couldn't see because they weren't close enough to their leader when his turn ended and the screen froze in place.

If I really wanted to nitpick, I'd also comment on how fans of modern strategy games might be a bit baffled by just how little plot progression there is. The main impetus for most of the game is the fact that everywhere you go, priestesses are being kidnapped for nefarious reasons that don't get clarified until you're near the end (unless you talk to everyone and catch an optional play that is being performed in a mid-game village, in which case you'll find yourself "in the know" a bit earlier). But let's be real: if you're looking to play this game, you probably know a good bit about the genre and are ready for the lack of a defining plot in a Famicom strategy title. By those standards, this is pretty cutting-edge stuff!

Although being forced to keep troops close to their generals is an annoying mechanic, Just Breed is a solid strategy game that provides a fair challenge. It's worth playing if you're looking for strategic fights and nothing else, especially since it lacks the lengthy dialogue sequences that crop up between confrontations in most recent genre entries. This might not be the best game of its sort, and it definitely isn't the most accessible, but it offers a fun, no-frills strategy experience where all you have to do is manage your units and surviving tough battles loaded with dangerous foes.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 31, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Never3ndr posted December 31, 2015:

As a fan of RPG's, this is a game I've been interested in playing.

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