"One could easily say that the Super Nintendo was the first American console system to truly embrace role-playing games. From unforgettable legends such as Final Fantasy 3/6 and Chrono Trigger to more mundane offerings such as the slow-paced initial Lufia game and the confusing action RPG known as Brandish. "
One could easily say that the Super Nintendo was the first American console system to truly embrace role-playing games. From unforgettable legends such as Final Fantasy 3/6 and Chrono Trigger to more mundane offerings such as the slow-paced initial Lufia game and the confusing action RPG known as Brandish.
One excellent series that perhaps didn’t get the recognition that it deserved was the Breath of Fire series. While the plots of the two SNES entries in this series were different, they both had a number of key similarities.
A young man named Ryu would discover that he has magical powers which allow him to change into a dragon. Of course our brave young hero isn’t allowed to live a quiet peaceful life in the countryside, only occasionally turning into a dragon in order to terrorize villagers into bringing him food and gold.
Sadly, Ryu always seems to become more of a wandering, questing dragonboy instead of the morbidly obese couch-potato he always wanted to be. You see, in the worlds that the Breath of Fire games take you to, young fellows changing into dragons on a regular basis is probably the MOST normal thing going on. I mean, if you lived on a world where a god or goddess of some sort was planning destruction while various evil folks were flaunting about their ability to transform into monsters, would you even glance twice at some teenage kid as he turns into a tiny dragon?
Anyway, Ryu meets up with a number of bizarre companions and they go off on the standard RPG epic journey to stop the godlike being from forcing their will upon the world. It was a simple, but very effective, formula in the first two BoF games. Unfortunately, Capcom came to the decision that for the first BoF entry on the Playstation, these fundamental ideas would need to be “enhanced” a bit. Sadly, a number of these attempts to make Breath of Fire bigger and better failed miserably.
Sure, the game starts out innocently. After a little intro segment, you’re introduced to Rei and Teepo, who promptly become Ryu’s new best buddies. The three of you spend a few hours getting into mischief and helping out the townsfolk in your area before a mission to teach a greedy landowner a lesson goes horribly wrong.
Unfortunately for Ryu and company, this greedy landowner has some powerful associates, who brutally deal with you and your two pals. After the conflict, Ryu wakes up alone and determined to rescue his friends.
Of course, things won’t be that simple. Even after finally dealing with the associates, you still will have no clue as to the location of Rei and Teepo AND Ryu will have a new problem to deal with. You see, one of your new allies (a very muscular creature named Garr) brings up some very disturbing questions about your dragon heritage -- questions that you must now find the answers to.
And thus begins the second half of the game. Sadly, a lot of the promise that this game was able to hold through the first half gets smothered by a number of poorly constructed mini-games and ideas that completely ruin the flow of the action. Let’s just take a look at one of these wonderful little quests that is thrown at you during what should have been a very exciting part of the game.
So you want to take a boat to the other side of the world in order to find the answers to the questions that have plagued you from day one? Well, you see, only one guy can give you permission to do that and he’s sick. Why’s he sick? Well, he hates fish and that’s all there is to eat here. Wait! Here's what you can do -- make a fish meal that tastes so good that he won’t know it’s fish. Now go and find the four necessary ingredients and make the meal. If you do it right, you’ll get to go sailing across the ocean. Oh, these items are all over the place. To get one, you might have to go through a map area you visited before. To get another, you might have to go fishing. Hope you aren’t in any hurry, kid....
Now this might seem a bit strange to you. After all, you apparently are on the verge of doing something very significant as far as plot advancement -- only to watch your progress get halted by a long and boring fetch-quest that is nothing more than a glorified mini-game. Well, get accustomed to that happening, because you’ll have to endure something even more annoying once you finally reach the other continent.
Sadly for you, the habitat of the final boss is on the other side of a huge desert. In fact, this desert is so mammoth in its proportions that traveling through it is a mini-game in itself. Before you enter this region, you’re given directions that basically involve what stars to keep in front of you. And then the tedium begins.
When you enter the desert, the view changes to something more commonly seen in a first-person shooter. Your goal? To watch the sky for the correct star and walk in that direction. Occasionally, a battle will take place -- an event that will disorient you and force you to search for that star again. If you stay on course perfectly and don’t run out of water, this area is boring, but not too unbearable. However, any mistakes will likely result in you having to start over -- which is definitely not the desired result considering that after spending a prolonged period of time in the desert, watching paint dry becomes an appealing option.
To be honest, the way this game gets completely bogged down by these pointless and tedious quests is a true shame, as Breath of Fire 3 was shaping up to be a very good RPG. Many of the characters were portrayed very well. At the beginning of the quest, a carefree aura permeates the words and actions of Ryu, Rei and Teepo -- three young men who seemingly have absolutely no problems at all cluttering their little heads. Then, as the quest goes on and Ryu and company start to realize more about the current state of the world, a darker attitude makes its presence felt. Ryu and Garr (in particular) find themselves struggling to find the truth behind their purpose on the planet no matter what the cost. Even a couple of the villains (especially the horse-like Balio and Sundar) are portrayed well, outshining the actual player characters during the scenes they’re in.
The battle system is nice and simple, just like the previous BoF games -- with a couple of changes. While random encounters are quite common in dungeon levels, you won’t have to deal with them in the overworld. However, if the appropriate symbol appears on screen while you’re walking along, you can enter a small area complete with random battles and an item just ready to be found. You’ll want to take part in many battles, though -- and not just to gain levels. You see, most enemies have a special ability which you’ll be able to steal, adding to your own collection of powers.
Your party can also gain new special powers by getting tutored by one of the many masters scattered throughout the land (assuming you can meet their requirements). Not only will these masters gradually teach an apprenticed character abilities they likely would never acquire on their own, but they also affect the actual growth of that character. Pick a wandering mage to be a character’s master and upon leveling up, that character will experience a huge growth in magic points and intelligence. Pick a fighter and hit points and strength will go up quickly. Of course, there is a dark side to those masters, as well. Under the tutelage of that mage, a character will experience next to no improvement in power stats, while the apprentice of a fighter will struggle to acquire enough magic points to cast the truly powerful spells.
Obviously, this allows you to have a field day customizing your characters. By picking the right apprentice(s) and spending enough time, you can turn Ryu (or any other character) into an offensive tank, a brilliant mage or a well-rounded jack-of-all-trades. While being able to have that degree of control over the growth of characters is commonplace in the RPGs of today, it was still a reasonably fresh idea when this game initially came out.
It’s particularly easy to customize Ryu, as you can also find items that potentially will enhance his dragon attacks. With the correct combination of items being called into use, Ryu can transform into a massive and supremely powerful instrument of carnage and death -- a major improvement over his early-game transformation into a less-than-imposing baby dragon.
When not in the mood to build up and customize characters or advance the plot, there are a few fun ways to waste time in Ryu’s world. The fishing game and fairy village are both addictive and potentially very useful. By catching enough fish (or the right type of fish), you can get access to secret shops, access new masters and get powerful healing and attack items for next to nothing. After saving the village from an Australian dolphin-like monster (in one of the funniest scenes of the game), you get to be in charge of regulating its growth. But this isn’t simply some town-building sim. As the population of the village grows, you gain the ability to open new shops and businesses, allowing you access to a variety of useful items and equipment.
Breath of Fire 3 also made a huge aesthetic upgrade over the two SNES games in the series. With the exception of the aforementioned desert area, most of this game is set in a three-dimensional world (think Grandia), giving outdoor regions and dungeons an element of vastness that is not present in the old-school 2-D overhead view. The music and sound effects are also done well. While there’s nothing overly memorable, you shouldn’t find it annoying.
But when making a final decision on the merits of a game, the most important question to ask should always be, “Is this game fun?” Sadly, that is where Breath of Fire 3 fails. You see, it doesn’t matter how much you can customize your collection of heroes or how cool a couple of minigames are if the actual game is lacking in the all-important enjoyment factor.
Early in the journey, this is a very fun game. With a number of intriguing characters and a storyline that flows well, Breath of Fire 3 looks like a classic for quite some time. Unfortunately, as you get closer and closer to the penultimate confrontation, it seems like the designers ran out of intelligent ways to extend the game and relied on annoying and boring quests that destroyed the continuity of the plot and sapped the enjoyment from the playing experience.
While this game is definitely a bit better than average, it is hard to give it a ringing endorsement due to the way the story essentially collapses down the stretch. There are plenty of worse RPGs on the market, but there also are a number of better ones that you could spend the required 40-plus hours attempting to beat.
Community review by overdrive (March 26, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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